In prior issues of HORROR-WOOD, we explored the world of collecting posters and lobby cards, as well as collecting autographs with Dennis, of "The Harry Thomas Web Page." Now, we're entering a whole new strata of...

HORROR MOVIE PROP COLLECTING

(Dennis, an avid collector who has contributed a very special movie prop collectible to the Harry Thomas Halloween Horror Art Contest, kindly consented to be interviewed on the subject of collecting movie props and other memorabilia. The interview follows below.)

HORROR-WOOD: Dennis, I've heard of collecting movie memorabilia like posters, lobby cards, and autographs, but collecting movie props seems unique. How long have you collected props and what got you started?

DENNIS: Renfield, prop collecting can be a unique hobby. Many of the low-budget movies from long ago only made one of each prop. Unlike today where multiple copies of major props are made in case one is lost, stolen or damaged. Here is a wonderful story... I am not sure if it is true or not but it sounds very possible. Years ago, Clint Eastwood was filming one of his spaghetti westerns in Italy and someone stole his famous hat. It wouldn't make sense for his character to change hats in the middle of the movie for no reason so filming was stopped for several days while a replacement hat was found in a local shop. I got started collecting props in the late 1980's. The first prop I ever got was the head alien's eyes from Killers From Space. They arrived in the mail with Harry Thomas' return address on the package and the rest is history.

Jason's machete
Machete used in Friday the 13th Part 4 (or 5)....note the notch and blood tube.

HW: You have an extensive collection of movie props, some of them tied to the memory of makeup maestro Harry Thomas. Which of the props from Harry Thomas are you fondest of? Which would you consider your "top prop" of all?

D: I think my favorite Harry Thomas prop has to be the eyes of the head alien from Killers From Space. I was very excited to get them and it was a thrill to hear Harry tell the story about how he attached thread to the eyes and placed them over a second set of eyes. Then he pulled on the string to move the eyes for the camera. It is a very clever effect and you can see the eyes move a little in the finished movie. I later found an original 8x10 still of the head alien and you can see that he is wearing both sets of eyes. My favorite prop changes sometimes when I get something new but I think I like my hockey mask from Friday the 13th Part 6 or my Mantis from The Deadly Mantis best.

Jason's Mask
Jason's Friday The 13th mask, slightly used.

HW: I've heard of movie props at auctions going for many hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Can an average person with an average income afford to collect props?

D: Props can sell for huge amounts of money at auctions but this is usually the result of two bidders getting carried away. I usually avoid the big auctions because Planet Hollywood and other big bidders drive the prices above my reach. There are some great bargains out there if you search. I've bought props for between $5 and $1,500 so it depends on what you are looking for and how badly you want a specific prop.

HW: Which kind of props are most collectible--costumes, set dressing items, weapons, gadgets? Which kind are likely to appreciate faster in value?

D: All of these items are collectible and can increase in value. I don't collect very many costumes because they are difficult to display unless you buy mannequins. Set dressing items are fun to collect and are usually the least expensive. Weapons are very collectible and expensive especially if you have a "working" weapon used in close ups as opposed to the "non working" model that was carried by the actor during most of the film. It is usually made of a lightweight material. The "Sandman" gun that shoots fire is an example of a "working weapon". There are a lot of replica weapons out there so be careful. I like collecting props that were seen on the finished film and instantly recognizable by anyone who saw the film. For example, many props from Titanic are for sale on the Internet. I'd rather have a life vest from Titanic than a butter knife from the dining room scene. FYI--Some people have been searching the dump in Mexico looking for Titanic props.

Titanic Props--the true story:

Back in the summer of ’97 the filming had finally ended filming. We had delivered our last model (the 1/4 scale poop deck) and shot it. Everything was in the can - as they say. The people I work for had a dispute with the company we were subcontracting for. They were not willing to pay the taxes (resale) for the models we had provided them for the filming. So they gave the models back to the people I work for in lieu of payment. So they returned the 16’ long, two story tall stern of the Titanic to our shop with all of the deck detail that wasn't stolen during filming. Having been in this business for 14 years we were real weary of people and model parts walking off the set, so we were able to save most all of the parts from the filming. OK, so now we have this 16’ long, two story tall model of the Titanic "Titanic" Lifesaver Propsitting in our parking lot. That was all that was left after filming the sinking sequence. They cut the boat up as it sank because they didn't have a deep enough tank. Now it’s hard to hide a model that big. Agree? We weren’t trying to hide it. The movie hadn’t come out yet and at that time people were thinking it was going to be another Water World. So there wasn’t much interest in it. Not long after the film came out and started doing well the ‘E’ channel asked to come out and film the boat and ‘Entertainment Tonight’ came out and did a piece on the models and a casino in Mississippi wanted to purchase the remaining model to display in their lobby. So, since there were no other takers - and my bosses were calling all over to any one who might be interested (Planet Hollywood and such) - we started rebuilding the boat, adding 10 feet and getting it ready to haul to Mississippi. Skip to the Academy Awards or slightly before. The casino got its boat. We delivered it and finished installing it the very night of the awards. The casino was going to unveil the display on the anniversary of the sinking (OK, casinos deal in bad taste). The casino, being proud of their coup, advertised the unveiling. The Paramount/Fox Police got wind of this and that’s when the "fit hit the shan." Paramount/Fox claimed they owned the boat--the company we did the work for denied they gave the model to us. How we snuck a 16-foot long, two story tall model out from under the noses of anyone is beyond me (they even delivered the models to us--twice--the first model was the 1/8 scale boat and the second was the 1/4 scale poop deck which was about 10-foot long). So now Paramount/Fox claims that everything belongs to them. They want the boat back from Mississippi and everything we have. There is one bright point in this story. A smart young employee of J. Petermans Catalogues bought the licensing for the movie Titanic from P & F (Paramount/Fox). So they are the only people on God's green Earth that can legally sell anything pertaining to the movie The Titanic. I’m not sure where P&F stand on the people who are selling the pieces of the full-size set. I guess since there is a legal battle going on with the models and all of the parts--they're being real pissy about anyone selling anything. Also everything I've seen on Ebay has been stuff that was bought from the Peterman catalogue, china, and necklaces. So come fall J. Peterman is putting out a catalogue which will be featuring repros of the parts we made for the Titanic--parts like theTellometer, the ships wheel, the compass thingee, a mockup of the stern of the boat, chairs and benches. Oh yes, how could I forget, we will be making a mock up of the bow of the boat. The place Jack and Kate fly/kiss We are going to be making all of the pieces for them to sell through their catalogue at, I’m sure, very big prices. The guy from Peterman told the people I work for that he knew someone who would pay $10,000 for one original-in-the-movie bench mounted on a piece of the deck with some railing.

--As related to Dennis from a source.

HW: What about having celebrities autograph props? Does it affect the value of the props?

D: I like having the celebrity who used the prop autograph it. It really helps with the authentication and will make it more valuable. You might want to have it autographed on the back so it doesn't interfere with the display.

Vincent Price's Corkscrew "Dawn Of The Dead" Hammer
Corkscrew owned and autographed by Vincent Price Dawn Of The Dead sledgehammer signed by Tom Savini and Taso (the biker who carried and swung it).

HW: Is there any kind of "price guide" to movie props that you use? Are price guides useful in determining a fair price to pay for a prop?

D: I am not aware of any price guide for movie props. The best way to determine the value is to ask around (other prop collectors), shop around, and watch the auction houses.

HW: What are good sources to buy props from? Do you have anyone specifically to recommend? What should a novice buyer take into consideration when dealing with dealers and private owners of movie props?

D: The Internet has been a great source of props for me recently. I like to shop at Ebay http://www.ebay.com . You can view the feedback on sellers at Ebay to give you an idea on if the seller is honest or not.

Planet Of The Apes facial makeup appliances.

HW: How can you authenticate props? How can you discern a "real" Star Trek prop from a reproduction? Are there professionals who can authenticate props?

D: Authenticating props can be difficult sometimes. First, buy from someone you feel you can trust. Try to buy props from people who worked on the finished film. If their name is in the credits, that is another plus. Ask for a few behind-the-scenes photos from the seller if he worked on the film. These photos will help authenticate the prop and verify that he was actually on the set of the movie. Ask for references and follow up. ALWAYS get a letter of authenticity from the seller with details like where he got it from, was it used on film or was it an extra prop, etc. Usually the more I am paying for a prop, the more authentication I'll want with it. Show the prop around and ask others for their opinion. Take your new Star Trek prop to a Star Trek Convention and show it to some of the dealers selling reproductions and ask for their opinion. If there is a cast member from Star Trek signing autographs, have the item with you and ask for their opinion too. Get as many opinions as you can but keep in mind that that's all they are is opinions. Here's a story to tie it all together... I used to own a pink nightgown that was worn by Lilly Munster in The Munsters TV series. I sent photos to Yvonne DeCarlo and she wrote back saying that she wore it in the series. I asked several people who specialize in wardrobe pieces and they both said it looked good. Then I talked to a self proclaimed "Munsters expert" who is "the foremost authority on Munsters props and is often asked to authenticate Munsters props for the big auction houses." He went on and on about how Yvonne DeCarlo is now an old drunk and she wouldn't know what she wore in the series anymore, etc., etc. My point is that sometimes even the experts don't agree.

HW: What kind of prop (hopefully not too expensive) would you recommend a "newbie" to look for to being his or her collection?

D: Search Ebay and some of the other online auctions, then buy what you like and can afford.

Jimmy's Air Force wings Harold Lloyd's glasses
Jimmy Stewart's Air Force wings. Harold Lloyd's trademark glasses.

HW: Any final words on the subject of collecting movie props?

D: Yes, prop collecting should be fun. Buy the props you like and can afford and display them for you, your family and friends can enjoy. If anyone has questions regarding props or where they can find that special prop, they can e-mail me.

Thanks as always, Dennis! This interview should "prop" up the plans (ouch!) of horrors fans wanting to venture into collecting props. Cheers!

 

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