OUTSIDE EDGE / The Epsom autograph-hunters searching for Rin Tin Tin's co-star

WHEN Austin and Howard Mewse, 20-year-old twins from Epsom, write to Hollywood, Hollywood jumps. It all began in 1986 when the brothers dropped a line to Lillian Gish asking for her autograph. Gish's reply, which arrived in a tea-stained envelope, was unexpectedly lengthy and triggered a correspondence that was to continue until her death. 'Her last letter came four days before she died,' says Austin. 'It was short, which was very unusual for her'.

The twins were so chuffed by their postal friendship with 'the first lady of cinema' that they decided to write to the second, and the third, and the fourth . . . Seven years later, Austin and Howard Mewse, who have just approached their 350th lady of cinema, have in their possession the biggest collection of letters and autographs by faded Hollywood stars ever to be owned by 20- year-old twins from Epsom.

Their archives include signed photographs from Elizabeth Taylor and Deanna Durbin, polite jottings from Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum (their brief soon stretched to include men), and scrawled notes from Katharine Hepburn ('Thank you very much - I'm fine. All Exaggerations'). The bulk of their postbag, though, is from the forgotten co-stars and silent goddesses from the Twenties and Thirties, the Laurel and Hardy leading ladies, the early child stars, whose names they've come across in film books and whose faces they've glimpsed in black and white Sunday afternoon movies. Their homes they tracked down through a combination of blood, sweat (Who's Whos, the Academy, phone directories) and Earl Grey tea - this last a vital tool in bribing the American author Richard Lamparski (he of the Whatever Became of . . ? series) for his connections. Sometimes they'd find an address that was 30 or 40 years old; more often than not, it still worked.

Nowadays, their contacts come through word of mouth. Howard and Austin's polite missives and detailed questionaires ('What happened to your career when talkies came in?'; 'How did you get on with Louis B Mayer?') has made them friends. 'Often they're delighted to find a link with their past,' says Howard, 'Many haven't received fan mail for years.' Lillian Gish answered their questions about Rudolf Valentino ('oh yes, he used to come to our house and eat spaghetti'), but was just as happy chatting on about the weather in New York or recent films ('she was just like our grandmother really,' says Howard). The twins sent a photograph of themselves, on request, to Anna Lee, and birthday presents to Ethlyne Clair and Eleanor Boardman. In return, Boardman (who remembers teaching Greta Garbo 'to talk like an American') passed them on to her neighbours, who just happened to be Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell.

Over the seven years, some of the Hollywood pen-pals have died. The Mewse brothers, who want to write a book on the subject, have an increasing sense of urgency. They're still searching for Audrey Ferris, Rin Tin Tin's leading lady, for Eve Gray, Errol Flynn's co-star, for Molly Lamont . . . 'But time's running out,' says Austin, 'pretty soon there'll be no one left.'

As far as the book's concerned, the Mewse brothers are still looking for a publisher. They went to see someone in Covent Garden who listened to what they had to say and then asked, 'So where does Marilyn Monroe fit in?' They weren't impressed.

'I Used to be in Pictures', an exhibition of Austin and Howard's autographs and correspondence is at the Museum of the Moving Image, South Bank, London SE1 from 30 June.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones