OREM — Autographed photos of Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and other Hollywood stars were part of the collection Betty Nichols recently donated to the SCERA Center for the Arts.
Nichols, 85, started collecting the autographs when she was 12 years old and living in Helper, Utah. Bedridden by a doctor’s order after developing rheumatic fever, Nichols started sending letters to celebrities of that time, soliciting an autograph from them.
“It was very boring, having to be in bed all day every day,” said Nichols in an interview with the Deseret News. “Luckily my mom let me send three letters per week.”
Much to her surprise, she quickly began receiving responses.
“I was flabbergasted,” she said.
Even after she recovered from her fever, Nichols continued to collect celebrity autographs until her marriage 10 years later. Over that time, she was able to fill two albums worth of 5-by-7 autographed pictures.
Of all the autographs, a few stand out in Nichols’ memory more than others.
“Laraine Day, because she was born in Utah,” said Nichols of the movie and television actress who had a notable role as the nurse Mary Lamont in a series of Dr. Kildare movies. “And obviously Ronald Reagan, because he went on to be president.”
Before entering politics, Reagan was an actor who appeared in a number of films during the “Golden Age of Hollywood” including “Knute Rockne, All American,” from which he acquired his nickname “the gipper.”
With her increasing age, Nichols recently decided that she needed to find a permanent home for her collection.
“I thought my kids might throw them away when I die if I didn’t do something else with them,” she said.
Last summer, Nichols contacted Orem’s SCERA Center for the Arts about the possibility of donating her autograph collection. Much to her delight, SCERA gladly accepted her donation, she said.
The SCERA Center was founded in 1941 and includes a theater for feature films and stage plays, a gallery for art exhibits, the Orem Heritage Museum, and an outdoor park, according to their website at scera.org.
Nichols chose to donate all but one of her autographs, that of Ronald Reagan, which she keeps at her Orem household.
SCERA managers are currently in the process of determining where and when the autographs will be displayed, according to April Berlin, SCERA spokeswoman.