Gimme Gimme Gimme More Movie Posters
There used to be memorabilia stored all through old theatres. The Liberty had a room filled with them. I was years laying hands on these because Col. Forehand always maintained he might be playing the movies again (Devil Bat coming back in 1968?). A driver’s license widened nets I could throw at small town houses within a gas tank’s distance. We skipped school one day during senior year to visit a retired showman in Taylorsville. I asked for posters and he slammed the door in my face. Next day I knocked again with all-I-had-in-the-world fifty dollars in my hand. He turned nice at the sight of that and gave me my first big collecting score. This was in 1971. Nobody thought such junk had value then. You could go to most venues and they’d be glad for the free janitorial service. A lot of drive-in screens were hollow. Within these were piles of advertising materials and display frames. Our Starlight was such a place. Looking at a drive-in screen from the inside was quite an experience. It wouldn’t be long before they’d knock that down for a super market. What I took was less for the junkmen to worry about. Old-timers were slow but sure getting wise to value of inventory they’d kept. Through the eighties and nineties, I’d guess every theatre in the country was accounted for in terms of owners and managers being tracked down and questioned by dealers and collectors.
Treasure hunting nowadays is kind of a pathetic enterprise. Everybody’s traveling an antiques roadshow, it seems. Ebay opportunists dream of coming across the last great stash. Some NC guys recently got in the newspaper upon finding a one-sheet for The Eddy Duchin Story in a long-shuttered downtown Bijou they were remodeling. Treasure hunters have long since gone to the other extreme as to presumed values. Every poster that turns up now is worth a fortune. Didn’t we all read about that Dracula original that went for half a million? These folks expect all of them to go for that. Collecting brings out the beast in otherwise docile personalities. After my success in Taylorsville, I figured the whole state and ones surrounding were ripe for plucking. Not that I was looking to profit from my finds. This was an aesthetic pursuit. My justification was not unlike that of art collectors looting Renaissance churches. To preserve and protect was the slogan I might have painted on my car as it rumbled through town and country in search of loose memorabilia. Even in the early seventies, there were sometimes guys who’d got there ahead of me. How many times did exhibitors say: Oh yeah, I had a room full of that stuff, and some feller came just last week and took every bit of it. It was always just last week from these people. Never ten years ago, which would at least have cushioned the loss for me.
Interesting what these showmen had chosen to save. One had a set of rolled, laminated oversize displays for Cheyenne Autumn that were stunning. Another kept lobby cards from Seventh Heaven since 1927 because he’d liked that silent movie. None of them differentiated between titles represented. A Jezebel one-sheet was no more precious than a same-sized Audie Murphy (in fact, they were less likely to part with western material and far more willing to trade whenever I brought such goods along). Certain vets seem to have possessed crystal balls back in the day that told them what to save. One gentleman ran a Charlotte venue in 1941 and guessed that Citizen Kane would be a classic. Acting on said instinct, he filed back two one-sheets (of the rare and more desirable "B" style), plus a window card and a pair of pressbooks (RKO issued two). Some were wise enough to know I was there to snooker them out of something worth cash. I never had much of that, and often got laughed right out of their yards. Such things happened more and more as media started noticing what old posters could bring. The collector shows I began attending in 1976 represented quicksand of unexpected depth. Slicker dealers would prey now on this country cousin and suddenly it was me getting snookered. I’ve lately reviewed a ledger of trades made during those trips and could cry for having been such a chump. No matter how smart you think you are at hustling collectibles, there’s always someone (in fact, lots of them) smarter.
There was one event where I came across a lobby set of eight cards for A Hard Day’s Night. This was around 1984 and the seller only wanted $40. I whipped out those bills like lightning. Boy, had I gotten the best of him. Boasting of my find across length and breadth of the room, I noticed another lobby set for A Hard Day’s Night, this one for $35. Then another … and another. Something smelled of fish. A rival bargain hunter smiled when he told me that my cards were counterfeit. He even showed me how an experienced collector could tell the difference. I felt like Scott Carey down in that basement. Or Sydney Greenstreet hacking away at the plaster Falcon. Either way, I’d been neatly routed for my determination to put one over on a seller whom I reckoned not to know what he had. Collecting’s playing field would be further leveled when some of those smart guys got together and published a Price Guide for movie posters. As soon as that got out, the party was over. How could you take advantage of a seller’s ignorance with these books putting everyone wise? My first taste of the new order came when I asked an old-timer at a western con how much he wanted for an Oklahoma Kid lobby card. Jes’ a minute, he said, reaching under his dealer’s table for the Guide. That’ll be four hundred dollars, son. Here then was the moment I knew a poster-collecting era had come to an end.