Einstein – 1930s Film Footage

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I’ve been working on a lot of old films lately. One of the most interesting examples was a reel of 16mm footage featuring Albert Einstein on vacation in the Adirondacks. Films like these are fun to work on because they give me the opportunity to play detective. First I had to try and identify whether the footage was original. The edges of the Einstein film were black, which was a good sign because it indicated that it was most likely shot on reversal film which is appropriate for amateur home footage, whereas commercial or reproduced footage would usually have clear edges. Also, the fact that the reel was composed of several different film stocks (Kodak, Agfa, Kodachrome) and because the splices were all hand-executed using vintage film cement also provided additional evidence that the footage was original. The little plus sign and solid circle symbols you can see on the edges of the film in the second image shown above are date codes. Kodak used combinations of such symbols to indicate the year in which the film was produced. The footage could have been shot years later after the film was first produced but we can establish that Einstein was living and working at Princeton University in the mid to late 1930s and the date symbols shown here corresponded to this time frame. In order to identify the exact locations shown I had to examine individual frames with a jewelers loupe. In one frame I could see a sign advertising cabin rentals. A Google search showed that the company name was still in business around Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks. To verify that this was the same location I matched the mountain landscape from one frame of the film to a modern photo taken in the same area, which you can see compared in the third and fourth images shown above. The last piece of the puzzle required checking into the provenance of the film. The amateur footage was said to have been shot by the son of Dr. Gustav Bucky, a German scientist and close friend of Einstein’s. Because the client providing the film had direct ties to the individuals shown in the film (one of which was Dr. Gustav) and because I could not locate any examples of the footage published elsewhere I was able to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the work was original and unique. Case closed!

This film was later sold through Julien’s Auctions for $6,400

Patrick Swayze – Saturday Night Live Script

Just finishing up work on the Patrick Swayze estate. I delivered one of the original surfboards from Point Break over to the studio of talk show host Zach Sang to help promote the upcoming auction. Zach was nice enough to take me across the hall to where Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols broadcasts his daily radio program “Jonesy’s Jukebox” on KLOS. Unfortunately Jones was out of town on a book tour but I got to see Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters filling in for him instead. The Swayze auction is scheduled to take place next month. A lot of props and costumes from his most iconic films will be on offer. One of my favorite items is this unbound script from the 1990 episode of Saturday Night Live in which Swayze plays a stripper competing against Chris Farley for a coveted position at Chippendales!

Johnny Cash – 1964 Driver’s License

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One of the coolest photo documents I’ve had the pleasure to appraise was Johnny Cash’s driver’s license. It was issued to the rock and roll legend in 1964 and remained valid until his 35th birthday in February of 1967. Johnny Cash carried this well-worn ID through some of the most turbulent years of his life, a time plagued by excessive drug use, arrests, extramarital affairs and other conflicts, including his highly publicized incarceration for smuggling amphetamines out of Juarez, Mexico, and an incident in which his camper caught fire during a fishing trip and burned several hundred acres of the Los Padres National Forest. When questioned by the judge as to why he had started the fire, Cash reportedly said, “I didn’t do it, my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.” Things eventually began to look up for Cash though as evidenced by the hit single “Jackson” which was released only a few weeks before the license expired and which Cash recorded with the love of his life, June Carter, whom he would later marry that same year.

The license was featured on the History Channel television series Pawn Stars and subsequently on an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman before being sold at Julien’s Auctions for $4,480.

Frank Zappa – John Lennon Signed Book

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I recently spent the morning working at Charlton Heston’s house and the afternoon working at Frank Zappa’s. It was quite the contrast to say the least! Heston had a luxurious mid-century modern home with large open rooms and amazing views of the canyon. His sense of décor was classic and refined (lots of marble and wood). Zappa’s Tudor style house on the other hand featured an endless array of small exotically painted rooms, hallways, and lofts overflowing with artwork and antiques. The style was eclectic and zany …borderline mystical. I was brought into the Zappa estate specifically to hunt for any books that might be a good fit for auction. I found a lot of cool stuff as you can imagine. One of the most important books I discovered was this tattered anthology of poetry by John Lennon published in 1965. This particular copy was signed on the frontis page “To Frank, with love from John, June 71.” The date is of particular interest because it marks the first meeting between Lennon and Zappa, which took place in New York City and culminated in the two performing together on stage later that same week at the Fillmore East. Yoko Ono was there too of course and she presented Zappa with a signed copy of her book Grapefruit.

These books later sold at Julien’s Auctions for $4,480

Barrie Chase – Bob Mackie – Mad World Ball Gown

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Click here to view the whole scene!

I met with Barrie Chase today. She was Fred Astaire’s dancing partner in the late sixties. She was showing me her collection of costumes designed by Bob Mackie and the vintage photographs of her wearing them on the set of Astaire’s TV show which were taken by legendary Hollywood photographer John Engstead. She also had a black sequined ball gown designed by Manuel Pertegaz which she’d worn to the Premier of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Casey Productions, 1963). I asked her if she was in that film and she said she was …then it suddenly hit me! She was the woman who does that odd shimmy dance with her stoned boyfriend at the beach house, the best scene in the whole movie!

Eisenhower – Presidential Helicopter and White House – Circa 1959

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In July of 1957 Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first U.S. president to fly in a helicopter. While digging through a large collection of tourist slides I came across these early color images (circa 1959) of Eisenhower’s Sikorsky H-34 helicopter lifting off from the White House lawn. The wheels are fitted with inflatable skids allowing for a water landing if necessary. This same aircraft was later used to transport John F. Kennedy.

Leon Trotsky – Signed Autobiography – 1930 – Istanbul

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An interesting volume I discovered in an archive of communist literature, a first printing of Leon Trotsky’s autobiography “My Life” (NY, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930) signed and inscribed by Trotsky himself on the half-title page.

The inscription reads…

“This book, among the very few saved from the fire on Prinkipo, and bearing its traces, for happy remembrance, to dear comrade Louis   – L. Trotsky 30/I 1934, France.”

Trotsky was banished from Russia by Stalin in 1929 and found exile in Turkey, the only country that would grant him asylum. There he lived in several locations, including in one of Istanbul’s grand wooden mansions on the Island of Prinkipo. During his first year in Istanbul Trotsky wrote his autobiography, “My Life.” Pictured here is Trotskys’ personal copy of that publication which narrowly survived a fire believed to have been set by Russian agents working for Stalin. It is known through CIA reports that teams from the Soviet consulate were sent to monitor the house where Trotsky stayed and attempt to destroy his personal library and archives through arson. Trotsky’s description of one such event, taken from a letter he wrote, was published in Dimitri Volkogonov’s biography “Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary” (NY, Free Press, 1996)…

As soon as Trotsky had settled on Prinkipo, he was put under Soviet surveillance, and strangers, who were neither journalists nor supporters, started appearing in the little village a few hundred meters from his house. On one occasion a certain Valentin Olberg urged Trotsky to take him on as a secretary, but was turned away after warnings came from friends in Paris. Olberg later gave evidence in the Moscow trials against Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev. Others offered their services as bodyguards, but Trotsky politely turned them all away. One night in March of 1931, the house burned down. Trotsky wrote to Max Eastman’s wife, Yelena, in Paris: “Along with the house, everything we had with us and on us also burned. The fire happened in the dead of night … Everything, from our hats to our boots went up in smoke, including my entire library, although by chance my archive was saved, or at least the most important part of it.” Later on, when he was in Mexico, Trotsky concluded that the fire had been deliberately set.

Another account of the incident, described by Esteban Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson, was published by the “International Marxist Tendency.”

“I also recall the fire which broke out in the house. This made a great impression upon me at the time. It happened during the night [of February 28th to March 1st 1931]. I was sleeping and was dragged out of my bed when the fire was discovered. Unfortunately, a considerable number of books and part of Trotsky’s archives were consumed in the flames. A Russian encyclopaedia which was damaged in this fire can still be seen in the house Trotsky lived in later on, in Mexico. Years later, in that same house in Mexico, I lived through a similar experience when [on May 24th 1940] GPU agents, after having tried to kill us with machine-gun fire, threw incendiary bombs with the specific aim of destroying the archives.”

This book eventually made its way back home to Istanbul after I sold it to a client with plans to open a Trotsky museum on Prinkipo Island.

Photograph of First Hollywood Film

SQUAW MAN - Photograph - 1914It was obviously taken on the set of an early film but no one could figure out which one it was. I had a hard time myself but after a few hours of research I finally found the answer. This photograph documents the filming of the opening scene of the first feature length movie ever shot in Hollywood, Squaw Man (1914). That’s Cecil B. Demille on the right in his first motion picture assignment!