Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Freaks' find acceptance – an update on a very cool movie poster…

March 24, 2009
Posted by Noah

You may recall that, oh, exactly 14 days ago your humble blogger looked into the churning fog of his crystal ball and recognized an absolute gem just dying to be discovered in Heritage’s March movie poster auction. The humble little prize was a very rare 1932 original Freaks movie poster. I’m not saying that I personally made it a great poster – you flatter me, you flatterer you – I’m just sayin’…

That poster sold last weekend for more than $100,000, and was the second highest lot in the entire auction, right behind an exquisite 1931 Dracula one sheet that I also wrote about more than a month ago in these very pages. Let me just say that, yes, the thing still creeps me out.

The story behind the Freaks poster – which hopefully will become very familiar to everyone soon if it gets picked up off the AP wire and distributed nationally – is one of those great tales that makes the final sale of it that much better.

I had the good fortune to help with the crafting and pitching of the story and to talk to the consignor, one Anne Stafford, out of Southern California. She bought the poster in a dusty old antiques story in Corona Del Mar in the early 1970s. She and her husband were young and struggling at the time – the way so many of us struggle(d) at that age – and she agonized over the $10 the dealer wanted for it. Her love for her husband, and his love of B-movies, was greater than the immediate hardship caused by the missing sawbuck. He loved the poster, they hung it on the wall with tacks until years later when Anne decided to have it framed. Fast forward almost 40 years and the thing sells at auction for 10,000 times its original price. Pretty good investment, yes?

I love stories like this not just because they end happily with the consignor getting justly rewarded for a true treasure, but because the original purchase of the thing, and its subsequent preservation, was an act inspired by the love of a wife for her husband. I don’t have to tell anyone that the journey of a marriage is sometimes biting and sometimes bit – to paraphrase Russel Hoban in Riddley Walker – but ultimately worth it when you give yourself over to what it represents. I like to think that this poster was a witness to both the good times and the bad in their marriage, and ultimately a witness to the value of the institution itself.

Things like the story of this poster are what the story of marriage is built on, what generations relate down the line. That story, with the poster’s auction, is now part of the public domain, and the poster is now in a new home. All these years the Staffords had been sitting on a museum quality rarity, one of the greatest posters in the entire hobby, and one that is worth every cent the buyer ultimately paid for it. Had I had the cash then you can bet I would have dropped it on the thing in a second. For them, however, it was simply that great birthday present from the early 1970s that seemed to cost so much at the time.

Still married, and waiting for that healthy payment check for their consignment, they can laugh about the initial stress of that original purchase, and wish that they had bought a few more posters, spending a few more dollars they weren’t sure they had.