Gonzo godfather enraged by letter loon

THE letters first started arriving in the mid-1990s showing up in hotel managers' in-trays, tourist attractions and airline customer-service departments across America.

In some, the writer was a prospective guest with special requirements:

Would it be all right if he dressed as a giant shrimp while gambling at the blackjack tables of the Flamingo Hilton Inn in Las Vegas?

Could he travel on a Greyhound bus dressed as a slab of butter, for professional reasons?

Could he travel on a Hawaiian airline dressed as a rotting radish?

In other letters, he made some unusual offerings:

Would the Baseball Hall of Fame be interested in receiving the toenail clippings of a certain star player?

Each crazy letter had one thing in common - they were all signed Ted L Nancy.

The mystery of Mr Nancy's identity has surfaced sporadically in the US ever since speculation which has not harmed the sales of three compilations of his letters.

But it has come to prominence more than ever this week thanks to the furious intervention of one of Nancy's "victims", Hunter S Thompson. The high priest of gonzo journalism exploded at Nancy's written request for toenail clippings to be displayed in a Hunter S Thompson mausoleum he planned to open.

And now, Thompson says, he has just been asked to sign a form allowing the correspondence to be used in a Ted Nancy television show.

"This is a poisonous bucket of rocks we've got on our hands, bucko," Thompson snarled at his agent in a letter leaked to the US media. "Because those letters are full of pure foul-hearted rage..."

So who is Ted L Nancy?

Speculation is mounting that the man behind the poison pen is none other than king of comedy Jerry Seinfeld. Three spin-off books Letters From a Nut, More Letters From a Nut and "Extra Nutty! Even More Letters From a Nut carry introductions by Seinfeld.

Seinfeld is also involved a forthcoming ABC show based on the letters. He was spotted at meetings with the TV network earlier this year.

But he has always denied being Nancy. Instead, he says, he thinks he may have met the man himself when he was watching television at a friend's house and picked up a stack of letters that someone had left on the coffee table.

Realising their comedic potential, he says, he sent them on to his literary agency, but not before reading them out loud to the assembled guests. Everyone laughed except one man, "who just kind of nodded approvingly as each letter was read," he said in a television interview. "I guess I didn't realise it at the time, but I am convinced that that man was the real Ted L Nancy."

In the meantime, the madness goes on.

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