Destined for Stardom: Celebrity Childhood Memorabilia
From Neil Armstrong's dream of flight, to John Lennon's defiance against authority, these items of childhood memorabilia reveal the seeds that grew into greatness.
John Lennon's school detention sheet
John Lennon had an anti-authoritarian streak a mile-wide, and spent his life raging against everything from Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, to the oppression of women and outdated drugs laws.
But long before he was hosting conducting demonstrations from his bed, Lennon was fighting the good fight against an equally oppressive regime – his high school teachers.
Lennon spent his teenage years at the Quarry Bank High School in Allerton, Liverpool, where he created The Daily Howl – an unofficial school newspaper which lampooned his teachers, to the delight of his classmates.
In an interview in 1980, Lennon recalled his rebellious nature as a young boy: "I was the one who all the other boys' parents—including Paul's father—would say, 'Keep away from him'... The parents instinctively recognised I was a troublemaker.."
His school reports called him "hopeless", and a "class clown" that was "certainly on the road to failure".
His ongoing battle of wills with his teachers was revealed years later by the discovery of his old detention sheets, dating from 1955-56.
They listed the numerous reasons why Lennon had been punished, which included "Nuisance in class", "silly conduct", "Foolish remarks", "Not wearing school cap", "Inattention", "Failing to report for class detention" and "Groaning at me".
They also included details of one particular day in September 1955, in which Lennon had been given five detentions for "impertinence", "Talk after 2 warnings" and "No homework".
The sheets had originally been found in the 1970s, when a member of staff at the school was asked to clear out several storage rooms.
Most of the old paperwork was thrown on a bonfire, but whilst flicking through some old books at random the staff member spotted Lennon's name and kept the pages as a memento.
Decades later they made news around the world when one hit the auction block at Sotheby's, where a Beatles collector snapped it up for £2,500 ($3,792).
Neil Armstrong's toy airplane
Some kids go through school with their heads in the clouds, but in Neil Armstrong's case it was the literal truth.
Having taken his first trip in a plane with his father at the age of five, Armstrong spent his childhood dreaming of flight.
He began taking flying lessons in 1944 at the age of 14, in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, and earned his student flight certificate on his 16th birthday – becoming the only kid in school who could legally fly a plane before he could drive a car.
At age 17 Armstrong began studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, in a scholarship deal which included flight training and Navy service as an aviator, and after graduation in 1955, he joined the brave band of experimental research test pilots.
By 1958 he had been selected for the U.S. Air Force's Man In Space Soonest program, and in 1969 when it came for NASA to pick the commander of the first mission to the Moon, there was only ever one choice.
The rest is history.
(Image: Heritage Auctions)
This vintage toy airplane is a wonderful reminder of Neil Armstrong's lifelong passion for aviation.
It was discovered in the attic of Armstrong's childhood home at 601 W. Benton Street, when his parents sold the house to new owners in 1964.
The Miller family found several mementoes, including a red toy wagon which they later donated to a local museum, and the plane, which Neil and his younger brother Dean had played with as children.
The well-worn toy was later authenticated by Armstrong's mother Viola, who remembered her son loving it as a child.
The toy plane crossed the block at Heritage Auctions in 2013, along with a signed photograph of Armstrong's childhood home.
Described as "one of the most interesting and unique Neil Armstrong-related lots we've had the privilege to offer", it sold for $10,755.
Kurt Cobain's teenage artwork
Although Kurt Cobain hated the idea of being the 'voice of his generation', his music touched and inspired millions of fans around the world.
He was in equal parts highly creative and self-destructive, two sides of his personality which he spent years trying to reconcile, from his childhood to the untimely end of his life.
Cobain's creativity was encouraged from an early age. His love of music and performing was inspired by his family's musical background, and his talent for drawing was nurtured by his grandmother Iris Cobain, who was a professional artist.
However, when his parents divorced in 1976, nine-year-old Kurt's personality changed drastically.
The formerly happy and excitable boy became withdrawn and rebellious, and he was shuffled between the homes of his estranged parents, relations and family friends, before eventually leaving home for good at the age of 17.
Throughout this difficult period, Cobain's work in art class remained one of the few bright spots in his school life.
In an interview with Artspanart, Cobain's high school art teacher Robert Hunter recalled: "Kurt loved Art!!! He was a prolific drawer even after he left high school. His style was somewhat of hard-edge realism with a strong cartoonish bent to it...
"He also had a distinct fetish for drawing Smurfs. He must have drawn hundreds of these, seen attacking each other with spears and bows & arrows."
(Image: Heritage Auctions)
Cobain's childhood love of music was reignited again in 1981, when he received a second-hand electric guitar as a gift from his Uncle Chuck, and it changed his life.
He found solace in music as his home life disintegrated, and began channelling his anger and frustration into writing songs as he discovered the growing punk rock scene in Seattle.
His tentative home recordings grew into his first band Fecal Matter, and although the group was short-lived, it led to his collaboration with Krist Novoselic, with whom Cobain later formed Nirvana.
This piece of artwork, created by Cobain circa 1982-84 whilst a high school student in Aberdeen, combines the two passions of his teenage life.
As he later became well-known for favouring Fender guitars, and even designed the Fender Jag-Stang, it's interesting to note that Cobain was already a firm fan of the instruments as a teenager.
And the phrase in the drawing "Trash all others! Buy a Fender" is ironic, as throughout his career Cobain trashed countless guitars on stage – including several Fenders, which were smashed to pieces at the end (or sometimes the start) of Nirvana's fiery live shows.
Signed "K Cobain" in orange felt tip, and accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Hunter, the sketch sold at Heritage Auctions in 2008 for $1,912.
Babe Ruth's High School baseball glove
Babe Ruth changed the sport of baseball forever, and is regarded as one of the most iconic athletes in US history.
This baseball glove is a memento from Ruth's formative years, as the young tearaway found his true calling in a concrete Baltimore schoolyard.
The only thing bigger than Ruth's hitting was his personality, and he was described by biographer Robert W. Creamer as "one of the great natural misbehavers of all time".
At the age of just seven years old, Ruth was already running amok in his neighbourhood – getting in trouble with the police, skipping school, and sneaking beer from the saloon his father owned.
Unable to control their son, Ruth's parents sent him to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore, a reformatory and orphanage which helped troubled kids get back on the straight and narrow.
The school was run by the Xaverian Brothers religious order, and taught boys work skills such as tailoring and carpentry alongside giving them an education.
To help instil discipline, all boys were also instructed to join a sports team, and Ruth fortuitously chose baseball.
There was space on the team for a catcher, so Ruth grabbed the only glove he could find amongst the school's donated equipment.
Although famously left-handed, he began life on the baseball field wearing a right-handed glove, and learned to play in an unorthadox, but highly effective style.
(Image: Goldin Auctions)
Ruth's talent on the field was instantly noted by the school's Prefect of Discipline, Brother Matthias Boutlier, who became his mentor.
Ruth later said "I think I was born as a hitter the first day I ever saw him hit a baseball." He quickly became known as a talented pitcher, with the ability to hit enormous home runs, and by the age of 18 he was allowed to leave the school to play for local community teams.
By now he was a force of nature on and off the field and in 1914, aged 19, Ruth signed his first professional baseball contract with the Baltimore Orioles. He was on his way, and baseball would never be the same again.
He took his childhood glove with him, and later gifted it to Edward Petschke, a young clerk in a local drug store, whilst on-loan to the minor-league Providence Grays.
For decades it passed down through Petschke's family, and its historical importance was forgotten. It became simply a battered old catcher's mitt, used by kids to play ball in their back yard, which is probably how Ruth would have wanted it.
But eventually the true nature of the glove shone through, and it became one of the most popular exhibits at the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore.
As the only authenticated game-used baseball glove from Ruth's entire life, the mitt sold at Goldin Auctions in 2016 for $334,600.
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