The Pictures on Our Postal Stamps : Lobbyists Work for Their Choice, but There Are Rules

Times Staff Writer

A serious effort was once made by a large group of Americans to persuade the postmaster general to put an outhouse on a postage stamp.

But that suggestion--to honor the toilet's contribution to public health--was rejected.

Recently an unusually vigorous outpouring of support for a Laurel and Hardy stamp met with defeat as well. The comedy acting team was not selected for a 1986 commemorative despite letters from Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Danny Thomas, Sid Caesar, Lily Tomlin, Lana Turner, Steve Allen, Soupy Sales and Jeff Goldblum.

It is not easy to get one's favorite people and things put on a stamp. Others have lobbied for a "Hate" or frowning face stamp, counteracting the "Love" stamps, to put on bills and letters to people they do not especially love. And correspondence flows in almost constantly on behalf of an Elvis stamp--even though the late rock and roll king does not meet the requirement of having been dead for 10 years.

An Exception to the Rule

There are many requests for John Wayne and John Lennon stamps but they, like Elvis, have not been dead long enough. Presley died in 1977, Wayne in 1979 and Lennon in 1980. U.S. Presidents are the only exceptions to the rule that people must be dead for 10 years before appearing on a stamp.

Entertainer Red Buttons wrote to the postmaster general, "Laurel and Hardy said to the world, 'Look at us, nobody's perfect.' The world laughed and we all felt better for it. That deserves more than a stamp--it deserves a medal, but we'll settle for a stamp."

Buttons will have to hope to settle for a stamp some other year, because Postmaster General Paul N. Carlin, on the recommendation of a 19-member advisory committee, decided that the 1986 performing arts commemorative stamp would bear the likeness of Duke Ellington.

Other new stamps coming out in 1986 include a new "Love" stamp, sesquicentennial stamps of Arkansas statehood and the founding of the Republic of Texas, nine deceased Presidents and the Statue of Liberty.

But the drive for a Laurel and Hardy stamp may continue.

"There could be another opportunity for the stamp," said James Van Loozen, a spokesman for the Postmaster General. "Perhaps the 75th anniversary of their partnership would be a good time."

Post Office Gets Suggestions

The Post Office receives about 6,000 suggestions for the 25 to 30 commemorative stamps newly issued each year at the going rate for first-class letters. The most requested stamp subjects are George Washington, the first President; and Benjamin Franklin, the first postmaster general; and they have appeared on the most stamps.

Citizens writing in for a Jack Benny stamp "have suggested that he be put on a half-cent, or penny stamp," Van Loozen said of the self-proclaimed tightwad comedian. "But we wouldn't do that. We would treat it in a serious manner."

Despite having so many suggestions, the Post Office occasionally picks a bomb.

"We had a stamp that said 'Alcoholism: You Can Beat It,' and it didn't sell," Van Loozen said. "Apparently people felt that putting that stamp on a letter was suggesting to the person receiving it that he has a drinking problem. You have to be careful what you put on stamps."

Even the "Love" stamp, first issued in 1973, has been controversial. One of the early stamps, issued in hippie days, featured a printing of the word that moved many people to write in complaining that the letter "O" looked like a drug capsule. Despite such travails, the stamp has proven so popular that the Post Office has decided "there will always be a current 'Love' stamp," said Van Loozen. The 1986 "Love" stamp will the fifth version.

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