William Shatner signs off on new video autographs

SIGNING OFF: Actor William Shatner gestures during an autograph session for LiveAutographs.com in Culver City, California.
SIGNING OFF: Actor William Shatner gestures during an autograph session for LiveAutographs.com in Culver City, California.

William Shatner sat in a drab office staring at a TV monitor displaying a message he was supposed to read to a fan while signing an autograph, but Star Trek's Captain Kirk wasn't very happy.

"I can't do this, this is crazy," Shatner said.

The message on screen - which was submitted by the fan - was just too odd. But as an investor and partner in Live Autographs, a new video service in which celebrities appear on camera to deliver a personalised greeting as they sign an autograph, Shatner had to say something.

"Are you nuts? You want me to say, 'When I'm smoking and sipping whiskey with Allen' - who's Allen? - 'I'm secretly thinking of you and your dog?'

"I can't say that," Shatner added, glaring into the camera, his words dripping the trademark irony he has summoned in countless TV performances, including his Emmy-winning role as Denny Crane on the ABC courtroom drama Boston Legal.

And with that, and his signature, it was over - costing the fan US$149 and Shatner a bit of improvisation.

In the latest twist to the age-old practice of handing out celebrity signatures, customers of Live Autographs get not just a signed photograph, book or napkin; they receive a customised video clip with a short personal message from the star.

Other celebrities who have agreed to participate include auto racer Danica Patrick and actress Carmen Electra.

Rough estimates place the value of autographs bought and sold in the United States at US$2 billion a year, said Steven Cyrkin, editor and publisher of Autograph magazine.

The firm Julien's Auctions last year sold an autographed Marilyn Monroe picture for US$18,000.

But with the incidence of fraudulent autographs on the rise, Live Autographs bills itself as a service that helps authenticate the celebrity signature.

Shatner, 77, launched the business on Wednesday, signing pictures, mugs and even a toy "communicator" from Star Trek, the 1960s TV space adventure that made Shatner a star.

Before starting the taped autograph session, Shatner - whose signature is in high demand from Star Trek fans - told Reuters about all the things he has signed at live events.

"Bras and panties and rear ends - that's true - and babies and marriage certificates and checks," he joked.

Shatner has had a sometimes contentious relationship with Star Trek devotees, poking fun at fans in a 1986 Saturday Night Live skit in which he told a rabid Trekkie to "get a life".

Responding on tape to a written query from a Live Autographs customer asking if he would rather captain a starship or be an entertainer, Shatner replied curtly: "I can't even understand your question, but I want you to understand - I'm an actor."

But for others, Shatner was more amiable. In one video, he recorded a wedding announcement for the parents of a couple who secretly got engaged at a Star Trek convention.

Many of the autographs were bought as gifts.

"Someone's going to wake up tomorrow morning and on the TV is going to have Shatner saying, 'Hey Johnny, happy birthday.' And they're going to get the shock of their lives," said Live Autographs Chief Executive Officer Rob Dwek.