A few weeks ago when Catcher in Rye author J.D. Salinger died, I came across a post on the website LettersOfNote.com about a letter Salinger had written explaining why he would never sell the film rights to his famous novel. LettersOfNote.com archives all sorts of famous letters and other forms of correspondence, and often includes scans of the original items. It’s immediately fascinating and addictive, and I found myself scouring it for all sorts of literary treasures. There’s a letter from The Clash’s Joe Strummer on why “Bruce is Great;” a letter from Harvey Weinstein to director Errol Morris telling him he’s boring; and a letter from Mark Twain to a medicine salesman, whom he calls “the most ignorant person now alive on the planet.”
I’m not sure anything, however, beats Frank Sinatra’s letter to Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko in May 1976, in which the Chairman of the Board responds to a Royko column that accuses the singer of wasting taxpayer money on extra police protection, hanging around with “flunkies,” and wearing a wig. Sinatra was having none of it, and retaliated with a letter in which he calls Royko “a pimp,” wonders “why people don’t spit in (Royko’s) eye three or four times a day,” and suggests they make a wager on whether Sinatra wears a hairpiece. If Sinatra wins, he gets to punch Royko in the mouth. It’s hilarious.
Imagine my delight, then, when on this week’s ANTIQUES ROADSHOW from Madison, Wisconsin, someone actually brings in the 1976 letter. Appraiser Simeon Lipman valued the letter at $15,000, causing the guest to request a stool so she could sit down. She started hugging everyone. It was a great ANTIQUES ROADSHOW moment, due in part to Sinatra calling someone a pimp and threatening to punch him in the mouth, and a woman in Madison, Wisconsin wondering if there was any value in that.