Chris Lucas has been a habitual letter writer since childhood. Thanks to this, he’s been able to make connections with people from all walks of life and all around the world.
His daily correspondence has also contributed to the success of his career as an actor, with starring roles in popular video game series and animated films, as well as spots on TV shows like “One Life To Live”, “As The World Turns”, “30 Rock” and “Boardwalk Empire.”
He’s also made guest appearances on NBC’s “Today Show”, ABC’s “The View”, Entertainment Tonight, ESPN Sportscenter and The CBS Early Show.
Lucas’ work has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, People Magazine, Soap Opera Digest and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications.
The most important letter he ever wrote was to his wife when they first met, asking her out on a date. It’s brought him great benefits ever since.
“Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” – Proverbs 25:11
The following is an excerpt about Chris from his book “The Guide to Writing Letters to Celebrities” in which he shares just a few of the interesting results he’s had from his letter writing campaigns, personally, professionally and in service to others.
“I come from a family of writers, and I’m proud to say that I had an amazing combination of New Jersey Public School, Catholic School and home school education, so it’s in my blood.
My Grandfather worked for the New York Times and there was always a paper around to be read. He would often compose letters to friends and family at home and overseas.
My Grandmother believed in the therapeutic value of letter writing. When my Dad, Ed Lucas, was 12, he was hit right between the eyes with a baseball. He lost his sight completely. Like anyone at that young age would, Dad became depressed. He figured that he’d be spending the rest of his life standing on a corner with a tin cup and a cane begging for loose change. My Grandmother was determined to show him how much potential he had.
Dad loved baseball (ironic, given the way he went blind) specifically the New York Baseball Giants (now playing in San Francisco.) In fact, the last thing my father saw before he ran out to play that fateful day was the historic 1951 playoff game winning home run by the Giants’ Bobby Thomson, his hero. As Dad lay in his hospital bed sinking deeper and deeper into gloom, my Grandmother sat down to write letters to the manager and players on the 1951 Giants and Yankees, who played against each other in the World Series that year. Her intention was to just collect a few autographs, perhaps get a “keep your chin up” or “get well soon kid” for him.
Then an amazing thing happened.
Just a few days after her letters were mailed, my Grandmother started getting phone calls from the baseball players. These were superstars of their day, and they were taking the time to reach out and respond to her. A few even visited Dad in the hospital, but two of them in particular made a HUGE impact.
Leo Durocher, the manager of the Giants at the time, invited my Dad to be his personal guest in the dugout and clubhouse during the 1952 season. Though he was just a kid, each and every one of the players treated him like royalty. The lift Dad got from that season had a lasting impact.
Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto came to see my father and started a friendship that lasted over fifty years. He actually did the most to boost Dad’s spirits. Mr. Rizzuto took my father under his wing, encouraging him to continue with his passion for baseball, channeling it into a life as a writer and broadcaster. It led Dad to an Emmy winning career. (More on that later.)
When Dad was away at a boarding school for blind students, he followed my Grandmother’s lead and wrote letters to some of the biggest stars of the day, inviting them to the school. A great majority of them came by to visit and share their wisdom with the students. As a student at Seton Hall University, Dad was able to book A-list talent on his radio show on WSOU, again from writing letters directly to them.
Of course, I caught on to the concept pretty quick. I got A plus grades in a number of school assignments by writing to celebrities and asking for their advice, opinions and first-hand accounts of historic moments. A few even phoned for an interview or visited my school.
I also wrote to people that inspired me, like President Reagan, Christopher Reeve (both wrote back) and George Lucas (No relation to me, by the way. I’m the Lucas that’s NOT swimming in piles of “Star Wars” money.) The first “grown up” movie I ever saw all by myself was “Poltergeist” in 1982. I contacted the whole cast and crew and heard back from most of them. I still cherish those letters (though, sadly, I lost some in a flood) and have remained friends with a few of them.
As I stated earlier, letters have also served me well when I want to help others.
In the early 1990’s I worked for a school for the blind in New Jersey. There was a mini-recession going on and, like many other charities at the time, donations had dried up. The employees and the administrators of the school got together to come up with some fundraising ideas. The traditional ones were brought up (bake sales, raffles, etc.) and then someone mentioned a silent auction and dinner with a celebrity host. I immediately knew that I wanted to be part of that team.
The first year was a modest success. Thanks to my Dad’s connections, we were able to get Jay Johnstone, former baseball player for the Yankees and Dodgers, then broadcasting for the Yankees, to emcee. He came to our Saturday night event straight from the Stadium, and brought a few players with him. People enjoyed it, but we knew that we could do more.
At our meeting to review the event, someone suggested writing letters to celebrities around the world to ask for autographed items which we could auction. This was during the infancy of the internet, so whoever took the job of writing would have to spend hours at the library researching contact information. Guess who got the job? Yours truly (I actually enjoyed it, and I still get a thrill out of the search for elusive addresses. It makes me feel like a detective, hence the name of my company.)
Over the next few weeks, I mailed out 350 form letters. By the time the auction arrived ten months later, we’d gotten 35 items. A 10% return rate. Still better than what we had at the auction the year before (mostly local items and baskets) but I knew we could do better.
My mistake? Form letters.
So I personalized the letters the next year, and increased the celebrity contact list to 500. Using the average from the last mailing, I assumed we’d get 50 items. Imagine my delight when we got over 250 items! Many of the autographed items came back with personal letters, wishing the children at the school well.
I sent thank you notes out to each person as soon as we got their reply.
After that, we expanded our auction night to include a golf tournament and awards dinner honoring local nominees for their contributions to charity. That gave me another idea.
Why not pick a theme, honor a few celebrities for their charitable works and invite them to our dinner? We made a list and chose “TV Legends” as our theme for that year’s event. We chose three notable TV figures that had local ties: ESPN’s basketball analyst Dick Vitale, Buffalo Bob Smith – the creator and host of the Howdy Doody Show – and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, a TV/radio sports host (who now has his own channel on Sirius/XM satellite radio.) I then composed a personal letter, thanking them for their charity work, telling them a bit about the school and congratulating them on the award they were chosen for.
My thought was that if one or all of them declined, I would move on to the next celebrity on the list until we had three that were available to attend and accept. To my astonishment, all three said yes immediately!
Now I had another problem. How would we get them to the event and house them without eating up our budget? (Vitale lived in Florida, Smith in North Carolina. Russo was at least within driving distance to our New Jersey banquet hall.) Again, the magic power of letters. We wrote personal letters to a major airline’s CEO and to the CEO of a national hotel chain and offered them free advertising and participation (a full table at the awards, sponsorship banners, etc.) in exchange for airfare and lodging. They both agreed. We were set.
The event that year was one of the biggest fundraisers ever held for a charity in our area and certainly the most successful in the history of the school.
How could we possibly top that?
In 2000, we decided to honor our military, specifically those that served in World War II. This theme was picked largely because of the involvement of Dad’s old friend Phil Rizzuto, and his teammate, Yogi Berra, both of whom were decorated WWII veterans.
The first task was to find well known honorees that had either served or had a connection to that time period. The first person to come to mind was NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, who had just published a best seller about “The Greatest Generation” as he called the WWII veterans. A day after getting my letter, Brokaw called me at home to accept. He also offered to send 600 free copies of his book as a gift for our dinner guests. (Due to breaking news on the actual event night, Mr. Brokaw had to cancel his appearance, but he was able to speak to us by satellite from the NBC News desk, which was really cool.)
Someone also suggested Bob Hope as an honoree, given his 50 years of service entertaining the troops at home and overseas. Despite my previous letter writing success, I was very skeptical. Asking Bob Hope to take part in our little charity event was like asking the President or the Pope, he was that big. I mailed the letter, expecting a form response or none at all. (Mr. Hope, who was in his 90’s, was quite ill at the time.) Five weeks later, surprise! I got a call from Mr. Hope’s personal secretary informing me that he would not be able to attend.
I expected that, and was happy to just hear back from them. What she said next completely blew me away.
Though Mr. Hope could not make it, he felt bad and wanted to participate in any way he could. On our behalf, he placed calls to the heads of all branches of the military asking them to reach out to us to offer help. He also called the USO, which is the organization that he toured with for years, and told them to “put on a show” in his absence.
Thanks to Mr. Hope’s generosity, we now had a dinner show starring the USO Girls, The famous US Army Band (“Pershing’s Own”) and comedian Robert Klein, all for the cost of a letter.
The heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all showed up for the dinner that night, bringing along servicemen and women, Admirals and Generals, all in full dress uniform. It certainly added a great atmosphere to the evening.
Just those two alone would be success stories enough, but we were very lucky. I also wrote letters to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who had just collaborated on “Saving Private Ryan.” We wanted to acknowledge their work on that film and the awareness it helped bring of the sacrifices made throughout that war to today’s generation. Neither man was free that night, but they, like Brokaw, made a generous donation of 600 copies of “Ryan” for our dinner guests.
Cartoonist Mort Walker, creator of the Army themed comic strip Beetle Bailey, was our third honoree. He was so touched by the letter I wrote that he asked the CEO of King Features Syndicate, the publishers of “Beetle Bailey” to donate 600 books, keychains, dolls and bags. He also had the main characters of the strip (actually costumed versions of them) show up that night to take pictures with the crowd. Universal Studios Florida had just opened a themed area featuring Beetle Bailey, and they donated eight round trip grand prizes to visit their resort.
All of these things happened for no cost at all, simply from writing a carefully worded letter to a celebrity or CEO, using the methods outlined in this book, to great success.
I left the fundraising board of the school shortly after that, but still consult with them on marketing strategy from time to time. I’m happy to say that with the help of these celebrities, and the items and time they donated in response to our letters, the school has raised millions of dollars in the last two decades.
I am still in awe of the power of letters, especially when they are used to help others.
Finally, I’d like to share a few stories as to how letter writing has helped to advance my career.
Other than my father, Walt Disney is the person I most admire. Unfortunately, he died a few years before I was born so I couldn’t write directly to him. About a decade ago, I decided to create and perform in a one person show about his life. No easy task, believe me. I read all I could about Mr. Disney, but I still needed that personal connection, so I sat down and wrote letters to a few people who had worked closely with him.
A few days later I got a call from Art Linkletter, a broadcasting legend. Linkletter held the record for most hours appearing on television, before Regis Philbin broke it just a few years ago. In addition to his role as occasional host of a Disney TV show, Linkletter was Walt’s best friend.
To hear from Art Linkletter was almost like hearing from Walt himself. Nobody in Hollywood (aside from his wife and daughters) was closer to Walt Disney. Mr. Linkletter gave me some solid insight about Walt and advice on creating my show. He kept in touch with me on occasion until his death in 2010, and his wisdom and guidance made my performances even better.
This is not the only time that writing letters has helped my career as an actor.
In the early days of my career, I spent countless hours, indeed years, doing “traditional” marketing. I submitted my headshot and resume to all of the same casting notices as every other actor in the business, just as we were instructed to do. That’s what the conventional wisdom said you should do. I had a few successes, but no big breakthroughs. It just wasn’t working.
On a whim one night, I repeated what I’d done back in 1982. I wrote letters to the producer, director and star of an independent film I’d just seen that impressed me. I was not asking for a job, just commending them on a great job. One week later, I got a phone call from the producer thanking me for the compliment, wishing me well on my career, and asking me to keep in touch. (I did, which resulted in a few introductions to and meetings with other industry players.)
The light bulb went off in my head.
Why wait for casting directors to put me in front of producers and directors when I could just do it myself?
I started doing research and finding out what projects were coming up (just as I do now as CEO of CelebrityLetters.com, which lists addresses like the ones I found.) I wrote letters every day and it boosted my bottom line. Here are a few more examples of how letters helped my career:
I’ve always been an admirer of legendary director Sidney Lumet (“Network,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico”)
He was such an inspiration to me that I contacted him by mail to let him know that I often referred to his films while giving tours of New York City (my “side job” while building my career.) I also asked him for any words of wisdom for a young actor, that he might have gotten early on in his life.
To my astonishment, Mr. Lumet called me a few days later and invited me to audition for his next film. (I honestly didn’t know he had one in pre-production.) I booked the role and got to work with Mr. Lumet – still one of my greatest professional thrills – all because of a 40 cent stamp
While giving tours, I’m often told that I sound like and resemble “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. I’ve always liked Mr. Leno, so I wrote to him and invited him to take a tour the next time he was in New York.
One week later, I came home to find a message on my phone from Jay Leno. He said that he was sorry he missed me and would call back at 3PM, which he did! We spent fifteen minutes on the phone together, during which Mr. Leno gave me valuable career advice and asked about my tours. He closed by saying that he looked forward to having me on his show someday.
A classy guy indeed.
In the late 1990’s MTV (which used to actually show music videos all the time, but that’s another discussion) premiered a clever show called “Celebrity Deathmatch.” It basically was a battle of claymation replicas of real celebrities in a faux boxing ring. They even had two commentators and Judge Mills Lane as the ref. While it could be silly at times, it was a nice take on pop culture and became an instant hit.
I used to do lots of celebrity impressions in high school and when I (briefly) did stand up comedy, so I took a chance and found the address for the creative director of “Deathmatch.” I wrote him a nice letter praising the show and mentioning my aptitude for mimicry.
A few weeks later, he called me in to read for the show, and I booked the job (a starring role as four people, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.) I also contributed my voice to several other episodes.
A dream job getting to play famous people on TV, all from a simple letter.
I’m not much of a singer or dancer, so I’m limited as to which roles I can audition for on Broadway. Even so, I enjoy going to see shows with my wife as often as I can. They are learning experiences for me as well as entertainment.
One of the ones I really liked was “Mamma Mia!” which I saw shortly after it opened. I wrote letters to the cast and creators expressing my admiration. I dropped them off directly at the Winter Garden stage door.
Six months later, they were re-casting one of the male leads and I was called in by the CD to read. All because of my letters!
I didn’t book the job, but I did stay in contact and it led to other auditions and roles.
By far the letter response that I’m proudest of is the one that’s the most personal to me.
As I mentioned earlier my Dad, Emmy winning broadcaster Ed Lucas, has been an inspiration to me my whole life. In addition to not letting his blindness stop him from enjoying six decades of professionally covering the game he loves, Dad raised my brother and me pretty much all by himself when my Mom divorced him. He then had to fight for custody of us a decade later, going all the way to the highest court and eventually becoming the first handicapped person in world history to win custody from a non-disabled spouse.
If you said that his life sounds like a Hollywood movie, well I felt the same way and was determined to do something about it.
In 2006, I wrote a letter about Dad (shown above at a Yankee championship celebration having champagne poured on his head by outfielder Nick Swisher) to Sports Illustrated, which published a story about him in their February 27, 2006 issue. (Pictured at right)
Director Penny Marshall read the story and was interested. She came to New York to meet Dad and was even there when he married his second wife Allison on home plate at the old Yankee Stadium (the only couple ever to do so in the entire history of that fabled place.)
I wrote Ms. Marshall a letter of thanks and she and her partners bought the rights to his story.
Then they flew us out to California to discuss Dad’s story in detail, and had some A list talent work on a script and pre-production.
Fast forward seven years and they are about to make a feature film biography of my Dad’s life story, called “Ed Lucas,” Academy Award nominee Stanley Tucci is involved, as well as other major A list Hollywood names.
Again, all from writing letters.
Another generation has now taken up the habit. My sons, who are in third and fourth grade, have started writing letters. Already they’ve gotten original paintings from their favorite comic book artists, and have been given a private backstage tour by the star of a Broadway show. Recently they wrote to the star of a hit network TV show. It turns out that the actor has relatives in our town and he told my sons that the next time he visits our area, he’ll pop by our house too.
I’m not guaranteeing that you will have the same success (the lawyers made me write that last part) but if you write letters consistently, you will see some positive results.
On average, I get a 10 – 15% response rate to my letters. Simply put, for every 100 letters I mail, I’ll hear back from 10-15 people (That was for those of you who are math challenged like me. Remember, there are three types of people in this world, those who are good at math and those who aren’t.) The 10-15 % of responses makes all the effort worth it.
So, whether you’re writing letters for business or pleasure – get started!”