Friday, January 17, 2014

Recent Archival Discoveries

The calendar year of 2013 brought us a large number of discoveries; each giving us a reason to cheer. Three archives housing transcription discs were opened for collectors of old-time radio braodcasts. Of the estimated 2,000 recordings, about 220 were formerly classified as "lost" recordings and not available in collector hands for decades. Among them: The Witch's Tale, The Mysterious Traveler, all the missing second season episodes of The Big Show, a few The Lone Ranger, Mr. I.A. Moto, A Date with Judy, and Hop Harrigan among others. Details regarding their release cannot be made available yet but in 2014, do not be surprised if a number of these recordings become available either commercially or as round robin sales among collectors. (Please do not e-mail me asking for details. The only answer you will get is "see my blog post." When details are available, I will post them on my blog. (Hopefully that will curb the numerous e-mails I get every week.)) It just goes to show you that after all these decades, "lost" recordings are still bound to be found.

Doctor Who combats a robot Yeti.

Speaking of "lost" recordings… Doctor Who fans will be able to buy nine early episodes of the series not seen since they were screened in the 1960s, after tapes of the lost adventures were discovered in Nigeria. Regarded as the most significant haul of missing Doctor Who episodes for three decades, they feature Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play the itinerant Time Lord in the long running sci-fi show. The recovered material includes four episodes of a six-parter, The Web of Fear, a "quintessential" Doctor Who story in which the Time Lord battles robot Yetis spreading a poisonous fungus on the London Underground. Since one episode existed prior, that means only episode three is still missing. It also features the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, a popular recurring character on the series and its spin-off The Sarah Jane AdventuresAlso included were five episodes that now complete the six-part 1967 Doctor Who story, The Enemy of the World, also starring Patrick Troughton. The BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, made the episodes available on Apple's iTunes store for sale in advance, but the DVD releases (England gets first dibs) are slated for 2014.

Patrick Troughton in an episode of "The Web of Fear."

There have been rumors that other episodes, including the final episode with William Hartnell (the first Doctor), was among the find but whether or not this is true remains improbable at the moment. Reason is because too many people began reporting the details of the archival find and exaggerations began hitting the internet faster than they could be corrected. The Troughton episodes above were confirmed by the BBC so for now, that's all we have to report. But thankfully we have something to look forward to on DVD in 2014.

The notorious Clara Bow painting that was not.

Days before Thanksgiving, Bonhams in New York auctioned off a rare Clara Bow painting… an often-rumored painting of the actress in the nude. Okay, maybe we are not surprised that the "It" girl posed in the nude. But the history of the painting may be of amusement. According to the auction house, in 1929, "stage and screen actor Bela Lugosi was touring the United States appearing in the play Dracula, soon to be optioned by Universal for a film adaptation. One of the audience members at a Los Angeles performance was the silent film star Clara Bow. Sound films had recently taken hold in Hollywood and Bow was anxious about whether her thick Brooklyn accent would appeal to audiences. Having read in the press that Lugosi spoke his lines phonetically without knowing English, Bow was determined to find out more about the Hungarian actor. Bow biographer David Stenn describes their meeting: "Clara sat transfixed through Dracula, and when the final curtain fell, she made a beeline for Lugosi's dressing room. 'How d'ya know your lines?' she immediately asked him. Lugosi, who still spoke no English, gesticulated that he learned from cues by other actors. Without further ado, Clara invited him home'" (Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild, NY: 1988, p. 140)."

Their relationship was brief but apparently had a lasting impact on Lugosi as he commissioned a fellow Hungarian, artist Geza Kende, to paint this portrait of Bow. It has been verified that this painting did in fact hang in the living room of Bela Lugosi's house. But it is not believed that Bow posed for the painting herself, and Bow historian David Stenn states she never posed nude. In short, this painting is not of Clara Bow. She could have been the inspiration and it remains possible that Lugosi commissioned a portrait in her likeness. The companion painting, a portrait by Kende of Lugosi himself, sold at Heritage Auctions in 2004 for $86,250. The beautiful Clara Bow painting has on occasion been debated whether or not it really was Clara Bow -- even though the most knowledgable historians says it is not so. The buyer has only the auction house catalog to go by and this reminds me of the old adage that if you are going to spend a lot of money buying something, do your research first.

Thomas Edison's Frankenstein from 1910?

Speaking of doing your research… a 35mm nitrate master of Thomas Edison's Frankenstein went up on eBay in December with a starting bid of $100. The seller, Interfilmartentertainment, had a feedback rating of 21 at the time the auction went up online. Their description of the item stated: "Up for bid is an original 35mm nitrate motion picture print from Thomas Edison's "FRANKENSTEIN" - there is a version currently on DVD but this print far exceeds the running time on this original archival film print which is an amazing 32 minutes of undiscovered rare lost footage.  This is a unique opportunity to own an authentic uncut original version of this lost vintage classic. The copyright status of this film is in the Public Domain.  The print is basically in acceptable if not good condition.  Remarkably, there are no sprocket holes torn.  There is no fading but given the age of this vintage print, it is considerably much better than the current releases on DVD.  SERIOUS BIDDERS ONLY. I am looking for a qualified and verified buyer whom is willing to go as high as $15,000.00.  Otherwise I am not interested in counter offers unless it is a fair offer.  Payment is by PAYPAL ONLY.  FREE SHIPPING!"

While they do sell 35mm reels, the Edison film was a bit questionable for a number of reasons. No one knew of a 32 minute version and a screen capture of the film short, posted alongside a can of film (pictured above) was a screen capture of a recent DVD release and that was a reconstruction of a title/dialogue card, not from the original film. Needless to say, the auction ended early and no bids were placed. So was there really a 35mm master of Thomas Edison's Frankenstein from 1910? Film historians found many reasons to question the auction but if a real print did exist, the lucky buyer probably got their money's worth. Time will tell.