The Celebrity Collector
Veteran Character Actor Curtis Armstrong Collects Books
By Ken Hall
Veteran character actor Curtis Armstrong has been interested in books and
reading all his life. He recalls the time at age 5 when he got into an argument
with his mother and announced he was running away from home. He went to his room
and packed a suitcase with nothing but books! "I dragged this heavy thing down
the street before my father came and got me," he said with a laugh.
father, it turns out, was an avid reader and so was his father before him. "I
was always given books and books have always been a part of me," Armstrong said.
A child of the '50s and '60s (he was born in 1953), Armstrong devoured the books
on horror and the supernatural given to him. One was a later edition of
Frankenstein, brilliantly illustrated; another was a copy of Dracula.
book his father gave him struck a note. It was The Sketchbook of Geoffrey
Crayon, by the American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859). "I liked it
because it had these wonderful illustrations, some of which were later used for
his signature work, 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,'" Armstrong said. His
fascination with Irving eventually led to a collection of the author's
In the early '60s, Armstrong's parents began giving him hardbound
copies of classical works by writers like Poe, Doyle, Twain, Verne, Kipling and
Stevenson. They were published with kids in mind, by Platt & Monk, and they
left an imprint on young Curtis. "They had these eye-catching dust jackets and
were just intelligently put together," he said. "And they got me started on a
Armstrong might have spent more time in front of a TV set, like
the rest of his baby boomer brethren, were it not for the fact that his father
who worked for Chrysler Corporation was transferred to Switzerland when Curtis
was a boy. "There was practically no TV there, and kids were restricted as to
what they could even see in movie theatres," he recalled. "So I did a lot of
It was during this time that Armstrong developed a fondness for
Arthur Conan Doyle and the many Sherlock Holmes books. Today, the Holmes
component of his collection is the largest. It includes the sleuth's earlier
appearances in the magazine Strand (he was serialized before being issued in
book form); rare and first-edition copies; letters written by Doyle and even two
of his pipes.
"I bought the pipes at a Sotheby's auction around 1988,"
Armstrong said. "I was a phone bidder, actually, and I really wanted those
pipes. At the time, I was pretty much single and unattached and spending a good
portion of my income on my collections."
Today, a basement room is dedicated
almost entirely to Sherlock Holmes and the British author P.G. Wodehouse,
another favorite of Armstrong's. The Holmes section is divided into displays:
one for movies, plays and pastiches; one for early editions of "The Baker Street
Journal" (the official publication of the Baker Street Irregulars, a club for
Holmes aficionados); and one for books.
The books include English
first-editions of classics like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs of
Sherlock Holmes, Hound of the Baskerville's, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and
The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. "I collect the authors," Armstrong said of his
collections. "My interest is not so much condition, state or dust jacket. First
and foremost, I have to like the author."
One of the seminal moments in
Armstrong's life as a Sherlock Holmes collector came a couple of years ago when
he was invited to a dinner hosted by the Baker Street Irregulars. "They are a
very exclusive club, so when I was invited that night I was honored. Then, this
year, they asked me to join. It was a complete surprise."
The Baker Street
Irregulars began in the 1930s as a branch of the New York literary scene. It was
only a few years after Doyle's death, so the memory of the author was still
fresh in the minds of members, most of whom were professionals and
intellectuals. The founder was Christopher Morley. He ran a kind of social club,
but the Irregulars all had in common a deep love of Sherlock
Armstrong began collecting the works of P.G. Wodehouse around the
same time he started collecting Sherlock Holmes books in the early '70s.
Initially it was his dream to acquire first-edition copies of all 90 or so of
Wodehouse's titles, in both the English and American versions (there are textual
differences). "It was a cost-prohibitive dream," he sighed, "but I still have
all of his books."
Armstrong also owns letters penned by the author.
"Wodehouse was a tireless letter writer," he said. "It makes for a nice addition
to the collection, but when you talk about serious P.G. Wodehouse collections,
mine is nothing compared to that of a friend, Elliott Milstein. He even has
articles of Wodehouse's clothing and other belongings. His place is like a
Armstrong said his Washington Irving collection is, "the
most important, in many respects." It began, of course, with his father giving
him The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. Then, in the fall of 1983, Armstrong was
living in New York City when the desire to re-read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
came over him, quite strongly. He went to a bookstore on Fifth Avenue and bought
"From the very first sentence of the book, I had the feeling I had
discovered something very important to me," Armstrong said, adding, "I think I
read that book from start to finish without stopping to eat." From that point
forward, collecting Washington Irving became paramount. Armstrong has all of the
author's first-edition works, English and American (textual differences there as
He also has manuscript pages; letters written by Irving; books about
the author; an original newspaper front page with Irving's obituary, the day
after he died in 1859; and a library slip issued to Irving when he was
researching a book. Armstrong called Irving one of the world's most
underappreciated writers. "Dickens' Christmas stories were strongly influenced
by Irving's essays," he said.
Curtis Armstrong was born November 27, 1953, in
Detroit. He studied at the Academy of Dramatic Art at Oakland University in
Michigan and was a co-founder of the Attic Theater Company in Detroit. The first
ten years of his professional career were spent on the New York stage, on tour
and with regional theater productions. In 1983, he accepted a role in the hit
film Risky Business.
In the movie, which became a teenage classic starring
Tom Cruise, Armstrong played Miles, and two of his lines are often repeated:
"I've got a trig midterm tomorrow and I'm being chased by Guido the killer
pimp!" and (to Cruise), "Sometimes, Joel, you just gotta say, 'What the
(expletive).'" His very next film role as "Booger" in Revenge of the Nerds
propelled Armstrong to stardom.
More movie roles followed. In 1985, he played
the character Charles De Mar in Better Off Dead and delivered the line, "This is
pure snow! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?" The
following year, he had a starring role in One Crazy Summer and, the year after
that, he reprised his "Booger" role in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in
Next up was TV. From 1986-89, Armstrong played Herbert Quentin
Viola on the hugely popular ABC series, Moonlighting. Since then, he has been on
numerous TV shows. He had recurring roles on Felicity and Ed, and he's also been
on Grey's Anatomy, That '70s Show, Las Vegas, Third Rock From the Sun,Murphy
Brown, Ally McBeal, and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
2004, Armstrong played Atlantic Records owner Ahmet Ertegun in the hit movie
Ray, the story of music legend Ray Charles. Jamie Foxx won the Oscar for Best
Actor in the title role. This year, he appeared in another film, Akeelah and the
Bee, a film about spelling bee competitions starring Lawrence Fishburn and
Angela Bassett. Armstrong played Mr. Welsh, a school principal.
projects include film roles in movies that have not yet been released. They
include Smokin' Aces (a funny but violent gangster-comedy, starring Jeremy
Piven, Alicia Keys, Andy Garcia and Ben Affleck); Southland Tales (a sci-fi
horror thriller, with Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson and Sarah Michelle Gellar); and
Searching For Mickey Fish (a comedy starring Daniel Baldwin).
in Los Angeles with his wife, Elaine Aronson, and their 10-year-old daughter,
Lily. Lily, like her dad, is a voracious reader. She and a classmate started a
reading club to feed their appetite for books. Fans of Curtis Armstrong may
visit the star online at www.charlesdemar.tripod.com, a website begun by a fan
of the actor.
Curtis Armstrong has loved books since he was a kid, when his father and
grandfather gave him copies of Frankenstein and Dracula.
A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, by Washington
Irving, sits on a shelf in Armstrong's home.
Armstrong purchased these two pipes that once belonged to Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle at a Sotheby's auction in London, in 1988.
Jeeves Omnibus, by P.G. Wodehouse.