San Bernardino twins share a love for collecting celebrity autographs that span four decades
The 57-year-old Brawleys have collected more than 75 autographs from the rich and famous starting in 1970 with David Cassidy.
“We were just 14-year-old bobby-soxers,” said Karen, a San Bernardino resident. “He was at The Tyler Mall in Riverside promoting ‘The Partridge Family.’ It was right before the show came on, but the record was out.”
The twins were at the front of a very long line when a young, scared looking, Cassidy emerged driving the crowd wild, she recalled.
“Everyone started pushing and we were shoved into this table that was set up for him,” Karen said. “I was scared we’d be crushed. You could tell (Cassidy) wasn’t expecting anything like that. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Security finally came and controlled the crowd.”
Even at 14, the twins were comfortable mingling with celebrities and asking for autographs. It was a passion handed down from their grandmother, to their mother, to them.
“Our grandmother was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and started collecting autographs in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Sharon, who like her sister is a freelance writer. “Her name was Jennie Alvarez and when she was a little girl she would sit on Pancho Villa’s lap. She used to get autographs from bullfighters, matadors, which were a big deal back then.”
The twins have both their grandmother’s and mother’s autograph book, but neither have the quantity or name recognition as the twins’ book.
Autographs in the book include those from Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston, Zeppo Marx, Henry Winkler, Rob Reiner, Jacqueline Bisset, The Smothers Brothers, Desi Arnaz and Susan Hayward, who was wearing a white polka-dot dress and who’s skin, said the twins, was luminescent.
But that’s just the short list.
Karen and Sharon have been to numerous events, tapings and plays — on both coasts — to collect signatures and stories from many of the world’s most popular people, including Jack Lemmon whom Karen recalled was “one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.”
“He even called us ‘dear,’” Karen said, giggling.
Sharon loved meeting Bob Hope during the Bob Hope Classic. He signed their book while crooning, “ba-ba-ba-boo — ba-ba-ba-da.”
Sharon, who attended a taping of ABC’s “Mork & Mindy” (which ran from 1978 to 1982) without Karen, got two autographs from the show’s star Robin Williams.
“We were up in the nosebleed seats and Robin Williams came out to warm up the crowd dressed as Mork,” Sharon said. “He started taking questions and I raised my hand and asked for an autograph. He started yelling ‘Don’t, don’t, don’t’ but it was too late. I was already running down to him. When I got to him he said, ‘OK, I’ll give you an autograph,’ and he signed ‘Erik Estrada.’ Then he signed his own name. Something most people don’t realize about Robin Williams is he has the most beautiful blue eyes.”
Musicians’ signatures in the book include Robert Goulet, Barry Manilow, Patty LuPone, Petula Clark and Cher — while she was shopping at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island with her then-boyfriend, Rob Camilletti.
They also met Harry Nilsson at Beatlefest who made their day with a hug and a kiss and joining them in a chorus of his hit song, “Are You Sleeping.”
During the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs, Andy Williams gladly signed his John Hancock. He was also grateful to the twins for supplying him with countless tissues to aid his unexpected allergy attack.
The book also includes astronaut Alan Shepard; sports stars like Arnold Palmer and political figures from Tip O’Neill to Tom Hayden and President Gerald Ford.
“So many people, including us, love looking through the book,” Karen said. “Just seeing the signatures brings back so many memories.”
The twins also have additional signatures, not in the book, but on various pieces of memorabilia including Jerry Seinfeld, who signed a program from his one-man show, and the autograph of Elizabeth Montgomery, who signed a restaurant menu. They even have Andrew LLoyd Weber’s signature on a record jacket of “Jesus Christ Super Star” as well as Sir Elton John’s autograph on a CD of his “Road to El Dorado” album.
“We got to shake Elton John’s hand and were amazed that he had such stubby hands and fat fingers,” Karen said. “Not at all what we expected for such a great piano player.”
Financial limitations has significantly decreased the opportunities for the twins to add to their collection. Three years ago, times got so rough they parted with their most prized signature.
“We sold our George Harrison (autograph) to a dealer for $900,” Karen said. “I had gotten his autograph when we were at dinner at Spago celebrating our brother’s birthday. I ran up to him and asked for his autograph and he turned to who he was with and said, ‘No rest for the wicked.’ I’m sorry we had to sell it.”
Sharon and Karen believe the book brings so much enjoyment because of the relationships the public forms with celebrities persona.
“They come into your home and become part of your family,” Karen said. “They feel so familiar. Then when you see them in the flesh and meet them it puts a whole different dimension to the relationship. You’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s really you! You’re really here.’”
To see a celebrity in a casual setting is a surreal experience, Sharon added.
“It’s like, ‘They are actually talking to me, calling me by name,’” Sharon continued. “They are giving you whatever little time they have to give and you own that time. It’s a memory you can hold onto forever.”
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