Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to take part in a teleconference Q&A session with Joe Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History, an auction house that deals in Hollywood memorabilia and is the subject of Syfy’s new unscripted series, Hollywood Treasure [Wednesdays, 10/9C]. The series of twelve half-hour episodes, run in two-ep blocks, has a unique hook: it follows Maddalena and his Profiles in History colleagues – Brian Chanes, Jon Mankuta and Tracey McCall – as they track down and acquire unique movie and television items to auction – and then actually auction them off.
Maddalena, who has a very natural onscreen presence onscreen, proved to be a cheerfully gregarious spokesman for the series.
Hi, thanks so much for talking with us today.
Joe Maddalena: Happy to be here, thank you.
Great, now we’ve all read your bio and we have some idea of what kind of guess started in all of this but how did the idea for making this into a television show come about?
Maddalena: You know, for years I’ve done lots of press. I’ve done, you know, from Bill O’Reilly to, you know, you name it I’ve done, you know, hundreds of interviews. And, you know, every time I do an interview a reporter will say to me, you should have your own show. You have such great stories.
Years ago I hooked up with actually Jerry Hurst who’s the producer of this show and I did a show called Incurable Collectors so I’ve known Jerry for years. And, you know, basically out of the blue Jerry came to me and said, do you want to do a show, and then it happened.
Well, great. And let me ask you, what’s the most interesting piece of memorabilia you’ve run across in all of your years in doing this?
Maddalena: Wow, that’s a tough question. You know, I just unwrapped a package, there was a movie called Miracle on 34th Street. And there’s, you know, Santa Clause obviously and there’s this famous scene in the movie where he’s walking down the street and he looks into this window display on Madison Avenue and he sees Santa Clause, his sleigh and reindeers, and I just got it in.
I just was unpacking the box a few minutes ago. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen because it’s – you know, the reindeers are about 12-inches tall. When you think about the magic of moviemaking it’s just such a cool thing.
What I really wanted to know is out of everything in this world that is entertainment collectibles what’s the holy grail above everything else?
Maddalena: The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. You know, there are things that are missing but I mean the ruby slippers to me are like van Gogh’s Starry Night. They are the most symbolic thing of film history. So, you know, there are four pairs that survived.
There’s a missing pair that we think existed that no one knows what happened to it. There’s the rumor Toto might have eaten a pair. And then 2005 a pair was stolen out of the Judy Garland museum so one of the themes of the show is we’re searching for the ruby slippers everywhere.
Cool, all right. Congratulations on getting the Witch’s hat from Wizard of Oz.
Maddalena: I know, it was cool.
Well, can you talk about some of the other items that you’ve been waiting just as long to get your hands on, aside from the ruby slippers?
Maddalena: Well, you know, there’s a rumor that the Tin Man’s costume is in Colorado. See, what happened, people don’t really understand, is in the 60s and the 70s the studios broke up so the end of contract players, the end of the massive, massive launch like Fox became Century City.
MGM liquidated everything, so they sold just stuff in mass so especially in the 70s, the MGM sale, they liquidated the entire lot so most of this material is scattered around the world. I found the hourglass from the Wizard of OZ in Napa, California ten years ago. You know, that’s worth probably $1 million today so these things are just everywhere.
So one of the things we do – it’s very much like CSI and a lot of, you know, investigation work is tracking these pieces down because a lot of them exist. It’s just finding them again. It’s these trails have been cold for 30 and 40 years and a lot of that is what we do, we put up our wish list on the board and then try to find these things.
How much of this stuff do you want to keep for yourself and what items do you try to buy?
Maddalena: You know, I’d love to keep everything but I learned many years ago – my parents were antique dealers and the rule of thumb is once you do this for a living you can’t really keep anything because your collectors will think you keep all the good stuff. I collect things that are sentimental to me. In my office I have from Buck Rogers – I have Twiki, the little robot who is Buck’s sidekick and around his neck is Theopolis. I bought that because when my son was six-years-old we met Felix Silla who was the actor and they bonded and it was this whole thing and that’s something sentimental to me.
So if you came to my office, I have an eclectic mix but it’s what I grew up with. It’s memories of my parents, memories of my childhood, memories of my son so you’ll see comic art. You’ll see animation art. You’ll see illustration art. You’ll see Mickey Mantle all over the wall, you know, just very eclectic so it’s more of sentimental things that I collect for myself.
I just wanted to say quickly, I actually about 11 years ago I saw the – I assumed they were one of the real pairs of ruby slippers that were at the Fox slot on display when we were at the set there and they were beautiful.
Maddalena: I have a feeling that that’s the pair that was stolen. I think the touring pair belonged to Michael Shore and in 2005, the week of Katrina, the Judy Garland museum was robbed and the slippers were stolen.
It didn’t get very much news because it was the week of Katrina and it kind of went – you know, wasn’t a big news story obviously so we’re basically picking up that trail of 2005 and we’re actively searching and trying to source that. We’re offering a $10,000 cash reward to anybody with the leak that leads to the recovery of these slippers. So we’re out there trying to find them.
Cool, so I know you talked about how you turned it into a television show but what kind of in the beginning made you want to, you know – I know you started selling historical documents and that was kind of a love of history or is it something more behind that?
Maddalena: No, love of history. My parents were antique dealers so being a young, you know, kid hanging around with them, you know, the oriental rugs and china and porcelain just bored me to tears so I found the paper things, whether it was documents or rare books or comic books or baseball cards, something that at least I was interested in.
So like them, I’ve started collecting them and buying and selling them. When I started by company in 85, you know, I still to this day sell historical documents. We’re probably one of the largest dealers in the world.
My favorite theme was American literature, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, James Joyce. And I realized that some of the greatest movies ever made were written by these guys. So I started to say, I wonder how much different Hammett’s screenplay is than the book and I realized, wow, Hammett didn’t write the screenplay, somebody else did.
So I started to collect this stuff and I started to collect themes related to these movies and people would come in the office to buy other things and they’d like, wow, this is so neat; where did you get this costume sketch; where did you get this prop, and that’s how I kind of started.
Cool, now I know at the conference you started to talk some about the Lost auction that you did. Can you talk a little bit more about that kind of, like, maybe what went for the most or some of the other popular props sold?
Maddalena: Sure, and the Lost auction I think the most expensive thing that sold was the Dharma van. It was a VW van. It was the really nice (unintelligible) van. It brought $47,500. I guess the coolest thing was, you know, a 12-pack of open cans of Dharma beer sold for $5,000. You know, it’s just – I think what’s happened is that the studios have become aware that this is a vital part of marketing, that to have these auctions help their brand – it helps get the word out so I was fortunate to do this auction.
Last year, Michael Bay during the Transformers 2 movie came to me and said, I want to get some of this stuff out to the fans and we sold Transformer 2 things while the movie was out. We sold the Bumblebee Car, the 18-food Bumblebee, you know, animatronics feature.
So I think it’s a great way to promote movies and television shows and I think people are starting to become more aware of this because these are – pop culture is really an international currency. You can go anywhere in the world and they know who Harry Potter is. They might not remember who Mickey Mantle was but they remember the Terminator. And I think because it’s a global collectible it’s growing and growing.
When I was watching the premier, the screener they sent out, I was really involved in the story of the Mary Poppins carpet bag because that’s a really odd set of circumstances, what with the raffle and everything and being in a basement for some years. What are the strangest circumstances under which an item came to you and what was that item?
Maddalena: This is kind of a fun story. In 2000 my secretary comes in and she says, there’s this guy on the phone, his name is Herb Solow, he says he created Star Trek. He’s kind of arrogant and he wants to talk to you. I’m like, he didn’t create Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry did. I hadn’t even heard of this guy. He was pretty persistent so I got on the phone and he corrected me real quickly and said, yes, I was the executive in charge of product for NBC, Desilu, I bought Star Trek from Gene Roddenberry. And he was right.
Herb and I became friends immediately because he’s just a total character and, you know, he helped me get Matt Jefferies, who was the Star Trek set designer for the original series collection. And when I was working with Matt to sell his archive of Star Trek memorabilia I said to him, what else do you have that you took home that was cool?
And goes, you know what, in my airplane out in Camarillo I had the original carpeting from the bridge of the Enterprise. I said, why do you have it in your plane? He goes, well, instillation. My brother and I, when we yanked it off the floor of the bridge, we used it to insulate our little prop planes.
So we went out there and we pulled out a section as big as we could pull out and we put it in Matt’s auction because I thought it was just going to be, like, a curiosity. You know, here’s bridge from the Enterprise, (unintelligible) carpeting, it’s worth $1 a yard. And we had it at $200 to $300. It sold for $14,000 so that one I’ll never forget.
That’s quite the story. What are the greatest lengths you’ve had to go to to obtain an item and what was that?
Maddalena: We travel around the world. The furthest place I’ve been is Tokyo. I bought an archive of Toho posters, Godzilla, Ultraman, a very large collection of important Japanese movie posters and Japanese film culture, Seven Samurai, (Unintelligible), things like that. In this show you’re going to see us traveling to England in search of really great things. So we go anywhere we can find, you know, wherever films were made we’re searching.
My question is, when you were filming the show and, of course, I’m sure you have an idea of how you want it to go, what is your hope or what was your hope that people who are watching this type of a program for the first time are going to take away from this? Like, what type of an experience and what they’re going to get out of the show?
Maddalena: I did this because I really, really love what I do and I really think it’s important to take care of these artifacts because I really feel they’re a part of our culture. And I just want people to enjoy the ride, the fun that we go through, how exciting it is to find these things, the amazing people we meet and the great stories.
I mean that’s what it’s all about. It’s this great journey and unlike a lot of other shows you actually get to see the fruits of our labor because at the end of all we do we actually sell the items or try to sell the items. There’s actually a final beat of what happens and you get to go back to the person who consigned it and you hear from them what their experience was. So I really enjoy it. I love being out there and meeting the people and I love finding the stuff.
Yes, when I was watching the rough cuts of the first two episodes you really – I mean I love it because the site and I love doing this, you know, finding the items and it’s like you’re part of the film and you’re saving it.
I think everybody, whether they’re somebody who’s done this before or does it because it’s a passion like yours and like mine, that they’re going to become involved and that they’re going to want to see more of what’s going to happen and are you going to get the item and is it really the item and who ends up – you know, what home it goes to and the fact that everybody’s really saving a part of Hollywood history I think is very important and you should be commended for that.
Maddalena: Thanks, that’s the journey. I mean that’s what I hope everybody gets to go on. It’s fun. Like I said, there’s a little CSI, little detective work. Sometimes we run into stonewalls, quite often, but, you know, I hope everybody enjoys it as much as we have. It’s been a lot of fun making the show.
What was the one thing that you thought was impossible to find but you actually ended up finding anyway?
Maddalena: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Wow, that must be amazing. We’ll look forward to hearing that.
Maddalena: Yes, it was amazing. You know, the car had been off my radar forever. I mean I’d just look at it and say, that’s one of the most iconic cars in film history and how we tracked it down and basically the owner, the man that – basically he traded a year’s wages working on the movie for the car. And he basically got the car instead of a salary. And just, you know, we had to travel to England to find this car. So when you see the car and you realize what it looks like it just takes your breath away because – the first time I saw the car, just being in its presence I literally couldn’t speak. It’s that powerful when you see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So that was – that did it for me.
Wow. And besides ruby slippers, what’s next on your list to find?
Maddalena: Wow. See, I’m a Wizard of Oz obsessed person so I know the Witch’s broomstick is out there, the Tin Man’s costume is out there. There is so many things that are lost, you know, almost everything is lost. There’s all these great biblical epics, you know, I’d love to find Charlton Heston’s staff from The, you know, Ten Commandments, you know, his Moses costume. There’s so many amazing things out there that we still, you know, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
There’s just so much stuff out there. How do you know where to start? How do you just – does stuff come to you or do you just pick an item and say I’m going to go try to find it?
Maddalena: You know, it’s a combination of both. You know, because I’ve been doing this for almost three decades now and we’re here in Los Angeles, you know, we’ve built up this amazing network and my success is really based upon the clients and the people that I’ve dealt with for decades because they’re your ambassadors.
They’re out there at cocktail parties with friends, you know, at movies – and they’re always like, hey, you have something, call this guy. So when we’re not sure of something we reach out to people and say, have you ever heard of – like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We reached out to 20 or 30 people who thought might have an idea and one guy was, like, yes, I can help you with that.
So we – you’re going to see a lot in this show. You’re going to see a lot of us going to experts, people who are, like, movie historians, people who really do specific things in one genre of film collecting and we reach out to them and they help us find things, authenticate things, so that’s definitely – it’s both.
Either we take a cold lead and look for somebody to help us who might have either worked in the production or been a collector at the time, and then try to resurrect the lead because most of these things are out there but people that have them don’t know.
See, like baseball cards and comic books and stamps and coins, we all know they’re valuable. We’ve taken them out of the boxes. We’ve told the sad stories of Mom throwing them away and the ones that have survived. You know, they’ve been graded and sold. These things, people really don’t know they have them because – oh yes, Uncle Bernie, he was a filmmaker. We have these boxes in the basement. They don’t realize that they could be Stop Motion puppets for some 1950s, you know, B movie that I would kill to get my hands on. So it’s out there.
All right, well, it’s fascinating. Can you tell us a little bit about guest stars like Dawn Wells and Stan Lee and what connection they have to the memorabilia?
Maddalena: You know, one of the constant themes of the show is I’m always, like, we need to reach out to the people who worked on these shows, especially the celebrities because they may have things. So you’re going to see me – we have a lot of celebrities on the show where we’re basically going to them and looking at what they have and possibly selling it or appraising it or valuing it.
It’s – most of the show is about finding the material because we don’t get everything we go after right away so we’re trying to identify where it is and who has it and then we help a lot of these celebrities either archive it, take care of it, preserve it, and a lot of them are surprised what it’s worth one way or the other. Either they think it’s worth a lot more than it is or a lot less than it is so you’re going to see a lot of that interaction.
You’re going to find me searching for these things that are just so iconic and the people who help me along the way are just – you know, you’ll see celebrities.
I was actually wondering, is there a market for items that never appear on the screen but become a part of the myth of a film or TV show or some other pop culture? And if so what is the most popular item that you can think of that never made it to it?
Maddalena: Give me an example you’d be talking about so I can better answer your question. What would – give me an example of what something like that may be so I can understand the question better?
Well, one of the things I’m thinking of is with Disney. There was a – at the Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World there was the hatbox ghost and supposedly there is a prop from this ride of the hatbox ghost that is out there somewhere according to what I have heard but it never made it onto the ride. So people are still searching for this thing based on my understanding. Is there anything that you can think of that’s like that that never actually made it?
Maddalena: Well, like Disney attractions we do – you know, we’re very interested in, like – one of the themes that we have coming up in our December auction – when you go to the Haunted Mansion in California and you go into the room, before you go down into the cars, the ceiling, you know, elongates and those giant paintings appear on the wall. Well, those paintings for years were real paintings and now they’re copies that are put up there but every so many, you know, decades they would take them down.
In the 60s they took them down and put a new set up, one of the ones with the girl with the umbrella with the guy on the tightrope above her, we actually have that painting. You know, so it’s probably one of the most important pieces of Disneyania in existence. So it didn’t make it into the Haunted Mansion movie but it’s super valuable because it’s part of the Haunted Mansion mythology.
Okay, and is there a specific – particular director or filmmaker that is really protective of their memorabilia, of their props? You know, they just don’t want it out there, don’t want it to be sold, you know, out on the open market. Is there anyone that’s especially protective of their stuff?
Maddalena: Well, I think, you know, everybody’s protective of their stuff to a certain point. It’s just a matter of how it’s put out there. There are so many charity auctions that people participate in. I mean Lucas Films is very protective of everything but, you know, George Lucas has donated a Darth Vader helmet to the Directors Guild years ago. He’s very good about donating things. So I think it really is how it’s presented.
I mean every wants to protect their IP, which is so important but also simultaneously they want to work with the fans to make sure that, you know, this is their bread and butter of how they, you know – we’re the ones who dictate what’s good and what’s not good because we put our money down or flip the dial.
So I think that it’s more a matter of being respectful of all of these people and what they do and making sure that the things that come out are legitimate.
We know a little bit about what you’re looking for for yourself but what is the item that when your friends or when new people meet you and find out what you do, what is the item that people say, if you run into this set it aside for me?
Maddalena: I would say that the – Stan Winston was a dear friend before he passed away and, you know, for two or three years I worked very closely with Stan and was fortunate enough to take care of his collection and sell off his collection. Now I work with his family, his wife and his kids and stuff, and I archive all their assets.
And Stan obviously did Iron Man. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a phone call, can’t get an Iron Man? No, can’t get an Iron Man. I mean it’s the most requested thing because they know I have the direct connection. The Iron Mans are all owned by Marvel Entertainment Group. They’re not being sold and it’s probably the most requested thing I get.
I know you’ve been long recognized as a pioneer in the hobby with your auction house events, which have always attracted a lot of mainstream media attention because you’ve sold a lot of important pop culture artifacts. And of course, the prices realized is usually what attracts the attention of the mainstream media.
With the launch of Hollywood Treasure you’ll likely cement your position not only in the public face but the field that will likely become recognizable as a personality to the masses, kind of like Pawn Stars and American Pickers.
So with that, I think you’re going to have more of an ability to shape the future of the hobby and I kind of see the TV show as really something that’s happened and the short time I’ve been collecting is something that’s really going to change things more so than anything since I’ve been around. And with that, you’re going to be framing a lot of non-hobbyists general understanding of what the hobby is, how it works.
So my question is, do you have plans to in some way incorporate into your new television series information that can serve kind of as a warning to potential collectors of some of the dangers and pitfalls that they may see such as fraud in the marketplace?
Maddalena: Yes, absolutely. One of the predominant elements as you watch this season go on is authentication. We’re meeting with so many experts finding out how things are made. You know, we encounter things that aren’t authentic and we explain how we know.
And that’s one of the biggest things, we’re very skeptical of everything we encounter. Like the carpetbag that you or Jason was involved in helping me find the carpetbag that without Jason I would never have gotten that lead.
And, you know, so even with the carpetbag there was, like, we weren’t 100% sure until we could get it back and actually spend hours examining it and then we were able to forensically pinpoint the pattern of the fabric of the carpet and know it was that specific carpet.
So yes, a very big concern is making people aware of, you know, how you authenticate this material, you know, just the whole process of how it’s made. We’re visiting prop makers, prop shops, producers, directors. We’re learning about the whole process and one of the great parts, I hope, is the studio’s continuing to sell things. In my November auction that we’re doing in conjunction with the show, SYFY was great and they gave us stuff from Caprica and Eureka and Battlestar Galactica.
So more materials are coming out of the studios because of a show like mine that would never come out before. In this auction in November we’re doing with Variety Kids, which is a California-based charity for at-risk and abused kids, we have the identity disk for Tron. So here’s an opportunity for somebody to get something right from Disney of a movie that’s going to be a blockbuster.
So it’s kind of like – I think it’s going to be self-policing in that regard because I think more material like that is going to come onto the marketplace and that’s what I’m going to try to really urge people to pay attention to because of the source of origin.
Yes, I was impressed because in that one episode you do kind of go into the screen matching of that carpetbag, which I think is good because it really elevates people’s understanding of what you have to go through to really authenticate something rather than it just comes with a COA and it’s on EBay for instance.
Maddalena: And there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of work like that. There’s a lot of forensic-type examinations and we bring in people and we bring in experts and we bring in – you know, there’s a lot of that in the show. You can see what we go through to authenticate something to the point of where you’ll laugh.
You’ll be like, oh my God, we’ve actually – you know, we actually had something that we’ve actually brought in the actor who wore it, and were nervous because he took it out of the box and, you know, I’m saying, here, you wore this costume and he picks it up and he looks at it and he goes, this is my costumer, I can’t believe it. And then he goes into the detail about, see, that hole? Do you know how that happened? I got caught in the door. It was just – it was great to hear that, you know, it was just – and that’s one of the cool things about the show.
But, again, hopefully after a couple of seasons somebody at home will be able to learn how to do that themselves where they basically do what we do, match these things up, ask the questions, only buy from people where you can get your money back. I mean it’s the same thing as anybody else, the best collector is an informed collector and that’s what I’m hoping to do is teach people about this great hobby and how we go about doing what we doing. And there are – and then nothing is free.
I think just from the two episodes I watched I think it really underscores the fact that no one is an expert in everything. You really have to do a lot of, excuse me, networking and, you know, getting in touch with people from the productions that can actually, you know, share information.
Maddalena: Yes, absolutely. And film historians and – you know, we go everywhere. We don’t leave a stone unturned in that regard. You know, we’re going to the people who actually made the stuff and that’s why one of the things we have are the celebrities on the show and, you know, going to them for, you know, information and recollections. And, you know, it’s really comprehensive because, you know, we’re going after two or three things per episode.
So it’s, you know, we can really focus on those but it gives people an idea, you know, of what, you know, they can do too because it’s fun. I mean you get something it’s fun to screen match it and say, oh my God, there’s my piece I matched in that scene. You know, because it’s painstaking, laborious to do that but you can do it with DVDs and Blue Rays, all that’s possible now.
Is there an item that you’re really looking for that you found that just the person will not part with, kind of like what happened originally with the hat?
Maddalena: For sure, lots of them, lots of them. But those are kind of some of the surprises of the shows that I don’t know if I can tell you specifically what they are but, yes, we do – I do bang my head on the wall where it’s, like, you know, I find something that’s worth $1 million and they’re just not going to sell it. So yes, there’s a lot of that for sure.
Have you come across something where maybe you’ve gone to, you know, really far lengths to find out about and then find out that the person – either that they didn’t know it was fake or maybe that they did know it was fake and they, you know, dragged you all the way out there? Has that happened?
Maddalena: I think a lot of people just don’t know what they have one way or the other, you know, especially when you deal “with the public” as opposed to the studios and production companies. You know, we had somebody come in with a spaceship and she said she heard her grandfather tell her it was from Flash Gordon. Well, in two seconds I figured out it wasn’t from Flash Gordon.
And, you know, it took six months for her to kind – for us to get her on the phone again to tell her to come in a pick up this spaceship. In that ensuing six months another guy walked in and he goes, where did you get that? I’m like, why? He goes, my God, I haven’t seen that in 50 years. I’m like, you know what that is?
And he goes, yes, I worked on that film. It’s from Atom Man Vs. Superman. I’m like, you’re kidding. He goes, no, no, let me go home and do some research. He came back and lo and behold, this was it. I mean this is Lex Luther’s space ship so the girl was blown away because she really – all she had was her grandfather’s recollection who worked in the film industry what this was.
She either heard the story wrong or made up a story in her own mind from recollections and for me it was, okay, this is obviously – it’s not from that, it can’t be. You know, I can’t wish it to be so it was just serendipity that somebody else came in and that’s one of the great parts – like Jason’s question, there’s so many people out there. This guy literally came in to bring us something else and saw it and was like, oh my God. So there’s a lot of that.
We’ve asked a lot and talked about kind of what’s been worth the most money but is there anything that you’ve come across that you really were so excited to get? And then when you put it up for auction it didn’t do as well as you had hoped?
Maddalena: It happens a lot. You know, and it’s very odd that, you know, something will, you know – I’m really, like, you know, costume sketches and stuff and it really surprises me sometimes how valuable some are and how valuable some aren’t. You could have two Adrian designs of Greta Garbo and one is worth is 20,000 and one is worth 2,000 because two collectors think one is better than the other.
So a lot of this is just, like, what people decide they want. You know, so I’m always surprised one way or the other what things sell for. I would be, like, wow, that one for 20,000 and that one for 10,000. It doesn’t make sense to me but it doesn’t have to make sense to me because I’m not the collector who collects one thing over the other.
I can tell you this, men’s fashions are pretty uncollected in general. It’s very hard to sell men’s wardrobe unless it’s a real contemporary film like Russell Crowe from Gladiator but if you just have a John Wayne jacket from one of his million movies they’re not very valuable. If you have something from one of – The Alamo or one of his famous films, they’re very valuable.
When Marlon Brando died, a reporter called me and said, everything of Marlon Brando must have went up. I’m like, actually the opposite. Nobody cares. I mean unless it’s from A Streetcar Named Desire or the Godfather it’s worth a few hundred dollars but those are worth tens of thousands of dollars.
So you – there’s all of the – but in the end that information is only meaningful today because we have such a small group of people who collect this. If the base of collectors doubles all of it will be valuable because more people will start collecting things. You know what I’m saying?
Because the collectors now, we already know how they, we know what they collect. It’s not to say, somebody might come along and say, I want to collect John Wayne, I want to collect Marlon Brando, I want to collect James Dean and as people have access I think that will be kind of like – the disappointment factor will disappear as much.
How long of a process is it to make sure that the item is actually real and not fake? How long do you actually take to go through it and make sure that everything is actually…
Maddalena: There’s no time, like, it doesn’t take a certain amount of time. It takes however long it takes until we’re sure. You know, so it could take a day. It could take a year. I mean it just depends on what the piece is. Like the spaceship I just described, it was six months before we even knew what it was.
So, you know, with the carpetbag we spend several months on the Mary Poppins carpetbag working on it because we had to get high-enough quality resolution images and then – you know, it’s carpet so we really had to go through and match up everything angle to determine which bag it was. So a lot of effort goes into it.
Some things are self-authenticating, you know, like when Disney mails me an identity disk from Tron, it comes from the production company, it’s pretty straightforward. You know what it is. Some things, you know, people – commonly people will make the mistake and say it’s one thing and it turns out to be another. I mean that’s very common.
After hearing you answer everybody’s questions and obviously we could see this with the show, your enthusiasm, how much you love the items as much as we do, you know, the ones of us who, like, also collect and, you know, preserve items and it just brings back so many good memories. And a lot of people also focus on, you know, what something can go for and, you know, what’s the highest and this and that.
But I think you touched on what really – one of the most important things is is to each person it’s going to be like an individual feeling as to why they like doing what they’re doing or why they collect.
And it seems like watching you do it is, like, everybody else can be more involved and then they realize, what was my favorite film. And I think that’s great. It’s very important on, you know, how you authenticate items and what things are worth but when it comes down to the end of the day it seems like you do it just because it brings so much enjoyment to you.
Maddalena: No, for sure. I mean I love to see people’s faces because – any skeptic will come in a say – I mean you’ve got to have a favorite movie. Okay, and then you break it down. You wouldn’t buy that? Of course I would buy it. And it’s so funny that, you know, that they’d buy that one thing if they could ever find that one thing because you do have a favorite thing. I got a guy emailing me the other day and he’s like, oh my God, the Batman bus, the Shakespeare bus, I would that.
This guy would never – he has no interest in collecting until he saw that, that piece had resonated with him because he remembered it from his childhood and that’s the great part, exposing all of these things to people and saying, what was your favorite? It’s all about nostalgia. It’s all about, you know, surround yourself with things that make you happy and this is what this is. It’s pop culture and it’s very nostalgic.
And I think the good thing is with the Mary Poppins bag is when you showed the screen grab and the, you know, matching photos is it’s great when people can do that. And I love to do that with some of the items that I have, but people have to got realize also, you can’t always do that.
And on the other side of the coin, things can be seen far away or close up so it’s kind of like a bonus when you can do that and I think that’s great. And it’s good to check different ways that people can authenticate items and that is more than just one way. It’s good that you point that out in the show so people have all…
Maddalena: Yes, like lots of things. Like, one of the things we sell are matte paintings – and just to understand what a matte painting is, we just got some Syd Mead matte paintings in from Blade Runner and when you look at them on the face you’re like, what are they? And then when you look at the movie, I’m like, that effect is basically a painting, an area then where the live action was filmed in but this one part was an effect. And until you understand a lot of that goes into filmmaking you might not realize that what that matte painting was even used for. It takes a lot of these things.
I mean people always say to me, what’s – why is one prop so well made and one prop’s not as well made and they’re both used in the same film. And it’s just like our TV show, like with Star Trek, you may have a hero principle prop that’s used in close-up sequences that actually illuminates or does something. You may have a static prop, which is when they were running around or throwing them or putting them in their side holders that wasn’t as well made. It didn’t have to be.
So they’re both real. They’re both production made. They’re both screen used but the one that’s the close-up hero that does something is more valuable. And that’s one of the things people are going to learn about from the show, all those nuances about why one is more valuable than the other even though they’re both used on the show.
I just could tell from watching the first episode it’s apparent that you’re going to be known as – if you’re not as I know already but for the people who don’t, you know, follow the hobby that it’s going to bring all good for it and educate people and let them know, you know, where they can turn to and how they – who they can ask in the different areas they can check out and things they can do. So I think…
Maddalena: Yes, there’s a wealth of resources and that’s what we’re trying to do, present all these resources to people so they know how to do it themselves. And that’s part of the journey.
What is the – aside from the Captain Kirk chair, what is the most abusive use of an item? Like, something that’s worn out about town or…
Maddalena: Well, you know the story of the Captain’s chair then with it being in the bar. You know the story?
Yes, yes. That the gentleman uses it as his barstool, right?
Maddalena: Right, right. God, there’s so many things it’s like, you know – when MGM liquidated the lot a lot of the things that they had were bought by theme parks and attractions. I mean I got a phone call from a bar in Florida that had all this Mutiny on the Bounty stuff because the previous owner had bought it at the MGM sale for décor.
So this was this little hole in the wall bar and basically it was like a dive and all – it was all this stuff from Mutiny on the Bounty and the new owner was like, you know, I think when I bought this thing the guy told me but I’m not sure. You find that pieces were being used for dartboards and I mean no idea.
It was just furnishing because the guy in the 70s that went out to, you know, the MGM sale bought this stuff as décor for, you know, a few hundred dollars and used it in his bar. And suddenly – you know, again, when the guy realized that stuff was worth tens of thousands of dollars it quickly came off the walls.
Yes, I know. I guess the other kind of question, sort of the very modern question is do you every think about the fact that with all these special effects, the visual effects, the CGI, that there might be a drop off with movie memorabilia? I mean in the future will there be just less of it to go around, less of it to auction off?
Maddalena: No, I think the opposite will happen because I think that we’re in love with CGI and 3D and next year we won’t be in love with CGI and 3D. And no matter how well they do CGI it doesn’t look as really as the models and the miniatures. And you could already see stop-motion movies are coming back. You know, Guillermo del Toro has got a new movie coming out. Tim Burton, you know, Henry Selick, you know, Coraline, more people are going back to that form. You can’t take a miniature ship and make the CGI version of it look as good as the model.
And I think what’s going to happen is as these filmmakers are pressing their boundaries with CGI they’re going to come back and say, there’s only so much you can do where it’s now become not real looking. You know, it’s too – I think that was the recent Star Wars movies, they’re just too perfect. There’s no imperfections in them.
I mean we all – I got bored with them because it was like – nothing looked real, just looked surreal. Where the original movies were hooky and great because they were real sets and models and miniatures and I think that you’ll have a forever ending cycle of it will be one way and then it will be another way. You know what I mean? So I think that will always change.
And they’ve been making movies a long time. There is – all over the world there are things in Italy and France and Germany and England so I think it will be quite a while before we exhaust what’s out there but – and they’re making new ones everyday. I mean the new Tron movie, you know, it’s all props.
I mean there’s a lot of CGI but the identity disks, the costumes, the vehicles, those are always going to be part of the – if they get it down to where it’s basically an actor’s voice and it’s CGI it’s a cartoon so I don’t think that will happen. You know, I hope not. I think it would be a travesty to film making.
Has there been a prop or an item that has resonated especially overseas from an American movie and, you know, something that is very big in Japan for instance?
Maddalena: Jurassic Park is huge in Japan. When I sold Stan Winston’s first round of his material a lot of the Jurassic Park stuff I sold ended up in Japan. Japanese are huge consumers. But, you know, we have people from 150 different countries who call us. I mean Spain, Greece, Germany, France, South America, Brazil, you know, Canada, I mean China, just everywhere, Russia. I mean, you know, it’s amazing to me the interest but I would say Japan is definitely a large consumer of American pop culture.
And what is physically the largest item that you’ve had to deal with?
Maddalena: The largest? I’ll tell you two stories real fast. So I get this catalog one day from an English auction house, it’s about 15 years ago, and I see this miniature model of Titanic. And it’s basically the hollow Titanic and it has Titanic on it. I’m like, oh this would be cool. I’d like love to have this on my desk, 22-inches long. I’m like, perfect, I’ve got a great spot for it.
So a few months later, you know, one of the girls that works with me comes in and says, what are you going to do with this thing? And I’m like, put it on my desk. And she’s like, Joe, it’s in a tractor-trailer truck. I’m like, what are you talking about? Well, I didn’t read it carefully. It was 22-feet long and it was about six feet tall and about eight-feet wide and no wonder it cost so much money to get here.
So to make a long story short, I had that thing in storage forever so finally we cut off the front of it and just sold the Titanic piece. And the guy that bought it, I convinced him he should make a bar out of it. I was happy to get rid of it.
So that’s the biggest, hugest mistake that, you know, I’ve ever made but, no, we’re moving things all the time. When I – the Stan Winston stuff just keeps coming back because these T-rex heads were the size of Volkswagens. I mean we were moving things that weighed thousands and thousands of pounds. You know, we’re moving vehicles all the time. But I would say, the Stan Winston, you know, the fill-sized dinosaurs, they were pretty enormous.
Yes, well it’s too bad you had to get rid of the Titanic. I think it would – I think you should have just gotten a bigger desk.
Maddalena: You know, but it’s funny. This guy came into the auction and I had tried to sell it a few times to this one guy. I’m like, do you a have a bar in your house? And he’s like, why? I’m like, I have an idea. And he’s like – he started laughing and he bought it for $600 and he just thought it was the funniest thing in the world and we just cut off the corner of it and he put it in his, you know – and he said it was great. But it was just the perfect accompaniment.
Photos by Akira Suemori, Evans Vestal Ward and Nicole Wilder/Courtesy of Syfy