I was a teen Keanu capitalist
Young Chicagoan cashed in on crush
A lucrative lesson in eBay economics
Keanu Reeves actual signed 8X10 Photo. Buy it now — $39.99
Given that more than 800 Keanu Reeves-related items are selling on eBay at any given time, it's unlikely the actor would remember what she had done.
Who could blame him for forgetting? There were so many girls, early in 1995, hanging around the stage entrance to the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Some, shivering in skirts and light jackets, had come all the way from Japan.
It was in winter, alas, that the film actor was playing the lead role in the stage production of Hamlet. And it was to Winnipeg that a lass, Julie Piotrowski, was determined to travel to see him.
So she journeyed from Chicago, an innocent figure skater just 16 years old.
The wide-eyed teen was just one of hundreds of young fans (women, mostly,) who had come looking for a handshake, an autograph, a memory, a moment.
But Julie Piotrowski would leave with much more. In fact, what transpired would bring her many thousands of dollars.
"I'd say at least $8,000 (U.S.) over eight years," says Piotrowski, who's now 25 and a healthcare journalist based in New York City. She's currently completing a fellowship in public-health journalism in Atlanta.
Today, for the first time publicly, she reveals her dark secret.
What Piotrowski admits was a "teenage obsession" began years earlier. She and a group of other young girls were absolutely smitten with the Lebanese-born, Toronto-raised actor.
They haunted Chicago video stores for used copies of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure or My Own Private Idaho. They held secret get-togethers where they'd flip through magazines and coo and gurgle about what a hunk their hero was. They plastered their bedrooms with posters of the young Mr. Reeves.
"I did. I'm ashamed to say I did," she confesses.
In July, 1994, an article in Vogue briefly mentioned that Keanu's next gig, following the imminent release of the movie Speed, would be as Hamlet in Winnipeg. It did not say where in Winnipeg or when.
The resourceful Piotrowski went online, on that fledgling thing called the Internet, to see if she could hook up with other Keanu fans.
"It turned out there was this whole community of hundreds of women who saw the same Vogue article who knew far more about Keanu's quality-of-life habits than I ever could have assumed a person might know — from the kind of cereal he ate, through to the shoes he wore, to the make of his motorcycle."
Piotrowski started stashing babysitting money to pay for her trip. She even convinced her father, a doctor, to take time away from the hospital. He did. They went. It was freezing.
"We'd line up outside of the theatre door in the hope of catching him. It was bitterly cold, and at some point you'd have to either go inside or be prepared to go to the hospital," she laughs.
There were fans — but especially female fans, it seemed — from everywhere: Japan, Korea, Germany, Australia, the U.K. They showered Reeves with gifts, ranging from flowers and stuffed animals to live ones (someone sent two goldfish in a bowl). A couple of eager fans even trailed him to a greasy spoon in search of a souvenir.
"Some of the kids who were following him, they snapped up his fork," laughs Joan Stephens, director of marketing at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. "I guess it's better than tattooing his name on your ass."
Piotrowski did neither (unless there's another secret she's yet to reveal). But when the curtain fell on The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, then Julie, Teen of Chicago, saw a golden opportunity. Scattered on a few seats in the theatre, on the floor, in the lobby, were programs. Programs bearing Keanu's name and a small photo.
She scooped as many as she could — about 50. She also bought at least a dozen T-shirts and posters and took everything back to Chicago. It was a side of Julie her dad had never seen.
"At times, I felt that we did not go as father and teenage daughter," he says. "I was her agent and she was the buyer, and we were on some kind of safari."
At first, Julie dutifully mailed some programs off to her heart-broken online pals who'd been unable to travel to see their sweetheart perform. But then an upstart called eBay came along. And the young Ms. Piotrowski was no fool. "I realized those are pretty valuable."
She put the first program online. Then she waited. And waited. For days, it sat at five bucks.
"All of a sudden, in the final five minutes, it would go up to $250 or $300! I was also selling the posters and T-shirts I bought for about $250 or $300 apiece."
Knowing the market for programs would collapse if she dumped everything, she has been wise, selling them sparingly over the years. She has also kept her eye out for other Keanu collectibles, and has, on one other occasion, shown remarkable resourcefulness.
At a concert by Keanu's band Dogstar, Julie noticed some young women tossing their bras onstage. That didn't interest her. What did was when Keanu finished a beer during a set.
"I took his beer bottle off the stage — and sold it on eBay for $260." (It was a Heineken, by the way.)
In all, she calculates that she has made at least $8,000 — nearly everything the result of that one night she spent with Keanu in Winnipeg. As for her father, he jokes that he has yet to receive any compensation for his efforts.
Keanu, Julie often says, "Paid for my U-Haul to New York City ... and has sort of carried my bank account when it was at the bottom of things."
Despite the fact Piotrowski eventually left Keanu behind (to go to college, where she "got a life") (Lives are overrated. - Anakin McFly, who is in college and running this archive), she's still in possession of a few choice nuggets waiting for the right moment to sell, including — wait for it — a 1989 box of Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal. The unopened, and likely inedible, collectible will go, some day, to the highest bidder.