(HarperCollins) Guest Review By Madeline Bocaro
In the mid-1990s, out of sheer boredom, then 30- year old Bill Geerhart started writing letters asking for advice and opinions in the guise of an 8- year old boy. The letters were addressed to the infamous, the notorious, pop culture icons, politicians, and institutions. All the charm lies in his kid-style pencil writing on ruled paper, complete with spelling errors and his daring, seemingly innocent questions. The replies he received are incredible.
I came across Billy’s wonderful web site via Radar magazine a few years ago, and enjoyed reading many of these letters, especially those from members of the Manson Family and Mister Rogers, whom little Billy offers one of his kidneys. I recently noticed that the web site was gone, and in a fit of panic, I wondered what had happened. Thankfully, amazon.com sent me one of those ‘If you liked THAT book, you will also like THIS book’ emails based on my order history. Thank goodness I have very sick literary taste…Little Billy’s Letters was published in book form this month, and was highly recommended to me!
Every prankster, jokester and comic, (even myself) wonder, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ How cute that it’s dedicated to his little sister!
The author requested that first letter printed in the book be the reply he received from the legendary Art Linkletter, host of TV programs featuring children since the 1950s. The first chapter features letters from little Billy, asking if he should drop out of school. It’s amusing that Mr. Linkletter’s 1999 response mentions the age of information, technology and the world of computers, however it is written on a primitive manual typewriter - not even an IBM Selectric!
Right away, we are dazzled by a response from Charles Manson. Most fascinating is the pre-printed return address envelope, with a design resembling a swastika (but not quite) and German style lettering from his residence, State Prison at Corcoran. Charlie also made some interesting doodles on the letter and envelope, which is also imprinted with Manson’s ATWA web site address. Manson’s weird response avoids Billly’s question entirely.
Replies from the Unabomber, Son of Sam, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins and the Menendez brothers (all emphatically encouraging Billy to stay in school, and not to do as they had done), are sandwiched between letters and autographed photos he received from young TV stars such as Tori Spelling and Claire Danes. Richard Ramirez has his own printed stationery, emblazoned ‘The Night Stalker’. He asks little Billy if he knows any Asian girls for correspondence, and requests pictures of girls in bikinis. It’s amazing that prisoners are allowed to have pre-printed return addresses and designs on their envelopes. (The late) Susan Atkins’ cell number MB-127-LX was manually crossed out when she was moved to 116- LX. She is quite prolific in her advice to Billy, and tells him of her continuing prison education, and how busy she is every day.
I was worried when at first I didn’t see the creepy old black & white photo of the shack that was on Billy’s web site, which Manson had enclosed with his letter…but there it was on the next page. The small run- down shack is in the middle of nowhere, and Manson wrote, “I bet you don’t remember this – you don’t even know where it is HA HA…” It gave me the creepiest feeling ever. Whatever had occurred at that unknown location, we will never know. Apparently, Billy was highly concerned about it as well. He made an inquiry of Manson Family member Susan Atkins about it in 1999, and again in 2007 to Manson himself, but no further info was provided.
Billy doesn’t stop at humans. The First Cat and First Dog (Socks and Buddy Clinton) are propositioned, as are the NESQUIK bunny, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun and Tony the Tiger. There are also some cool Fun Facts throughout the book, such as, “The Son of Sam attended Woodstock”, AND, “Lucky Charms can be purchased in Ireland, although they are hard to find.”
Billy always mentions that his letter writing was instigated by his friend Eddie, whom he mentions every time. This seems to lend credibility in the minds of the respondents (who assume that Eddie is older). Many of them say ‘hi’ to Eddie in their replies. Billy sometimes mentions that he is writing for a school project, or that his parents are helping him write the letter, which also gives him cred with his bemused readers. The Young Communist League accepted his application!
Little Billy’s parents have allowed him to chose his own religion. He surveys Krishnas and Moonies, the Mormons, the Churches of Satan, Scientology and many others, on what’s cool about their religion.
He asks career advice from McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC and Dr. Kevorkian. Billy mentions to each that he would like to work in their field, but his #1 job choice would be 7-Eleven. The National Hobo Association responds about how Billy can become a good hobo with one of the most glowing and touching praises of their association that I have ever read about anyone. (This led me to check out the fascinating ‘What Is a Hobo’ section at www.hobo.com).
Billy surveys U.S. Supreme Court justices on their favourite MacDonald’s menu items. He asks NASA to build him a time-travel ship to send his annoying little sister back to the time of the ‘dinosores’. His second response from Manson, received in 2008 has a smiley face sticker on the envelope. It’s the weirdest piece of nonsense ranting ever.
In the unanswered ‘Dead Letters’ chapter, is Billy’s letter to O.J. Simpson. Billy writes, “My whole family thinks you’re guilty but I do not. I want to help you find the real killer…” and sends O.J. his allowance of $1.68 in cash. There are also unanswered letters to J. D. Salinger, O.D.B. (Old Dirty Bastard), and most ironically, the Make A Wish Foundation, whom he asked for a visit from the Olsen twins, a swimming pool and his own room.
This is the ultimate gift book for your most demented friends. It’s also a wonderful collection of memorabilia that runs the gamut of pop culture. An exhibit of original letters, autographed photos, trading cards, and promotional items he received should tour the country as Little Billy’s Museum.