This summer, a recession-plagued public has shaken its collective head in disbelief over the jaw-dropping sums paid for a couple of well-publicized pop-culture artifacts. Several weeks ago, when 1946 Oscar winner Harold Russell put his statuette for The Best Years of Our Lives on the auction block, the gilded gewgaw fetched a tidy $55,000. Determined to own the baseball that figured in one of the most notorious errors in the history of the sport, actor Charlie Sheen recently forked over $93,000 for a ball that allegedly rolled through Bill Buckner's legs, a gaffe that probably cost the Boston Red Sox the 1986 World Series.
So maybe it should come as no surprise that a Phoenix man is trying to sell a Bob Crane autograph--possibly the last one signed by the TV star before Hogan's Hero was murdered 14 years ago in a Scottsdale apartment. The price for this relic? $1,000 or best offer.
Doug Doiron, 32, says he obtained Crane's signature in late June of 1978, when the actor bought a pair of shoes from him in Diamond's department store at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Two days later, Crane was found bludgeoned to death in the apartment where he'd been staying while performing at a local dinner theatre.
As brushes with fame go, the Doiron-Crane encounter was no big deal. "It wasn't like I was a big fan," says Doiron, who admits that even though Crane looked "very familiar," he had no idea where he'd seen him until Crane volunteered the information and scribbled an autograph on a piece of scratch paper.
The meeting was so unmemorable, in fact, that Doiron confesses he'd "half-forgotten" about the incident until just a few months ago, when he ran across Crane's autograph in an old briefcase where he'd stashed it years ago. "I guess I'm like everyone else," says Doiron. "I'd watched Hogan's Heroes and seen some of his movies like Superdad, but it's not like I'd followed his career or anything."
In light of the price tag he's attached to Crane's John Hancock, Doiron better hope that others feel more strongly about Crane's career.
"I really do believe it's that valuable," insists Doiron, who pulled the $1,000 value out of the air. "Unless I'm mistaken, I really don't believe that many people have his autograph."
To date, however, Doiron appears mistaken: His classified ad has generated just two calls.
"To be frank, I'm kind of into a 'starving musician' deal right now," says the struggling songwriter, who currently makes his living as a bellman at Scottsdale's La Posada hotel. "Right now, I need finances to finish off a musical project I'm working on. I realized this autograph could be a possible way to procure some financing."
But neither of the two calls he's received bodes well for the future of Doiron's finances.
"One guy called up just to tell me Bob Crane was old news," reports Doiron. "He told me I was wasting my time."
Another caller left a chilling message on Doiron's answering machine: "You better change your ad. You didn't get the last autograph. My girlfriend was with Crane two hours before he died and she got the last one."
The Crane murder remains unsolved (although Scottsdale police recently swore they've finally cracked it). In any case, Doiron was spooked by the message.
Whether the case is cracked or not, however, the asking price for the autograph is cracked, according to one of the country's top autograph dealers.
"A thousand dollars?" says George Sanders, owner of North Carolina's Autograph House. "You can buy a Greta Garbo signature for $1,000, and that's very rare because she seldom signed anything. But Bob Crane? He's never been considered rare."
Sanders' advice to Doiron: Knock $950 off that asking price.
No stranger to Crane's current status in autograph circles, Sanders recently obtained a contract the actor had signed with ABC-TV in 1969. Were Sanders to put it on the market today, he claims that the document (far more valuable from a collector's standpoint than a mere signature) would sell for only $190.
Sanders claims that, despite what seems like a public mania for obtaining autographs, most people seriously overestimate the value of a rather routine celebrity scribble.
"People write to us from all over the world, telling us what they've got," says Sanders, co-author of The Price Guide to Autographs, the autograph hounds' bible. "We say, 'If you want to sell that to us, fine. ~What is your price?' Then, when they finally come up with a price, you realize they intended to send their children through college with it. I'm not kidding."
Doug Doiron, admittedly no expert about autographs, remains hopeful that Crane's scrawl will provide the much-needed scratch to launch a music career. "It doesn't take a million people out there to be interested in it," insists Doiron. "It only takes that one."
THE ACCIDENTAL TURISTA... v9-09-92