Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hugh Hefner, Film Preservationist, Dead at 91

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
A lifelong champion of film preservation and restoration, Hugh Hefner, passed away yesterday at the age of 91. No doubt the news will focus primarily on the founding of Playboy, a men’s lifestyle and entertainment magazine, which played an important role in the sexual revolution, many failing to mention how the magazine showcased the works of Harvey Kurtzman, Jules Feiffer, P.G. Wodehouse, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Ian Fleming, Gore Vidal, and exclusive interviews with public figures. The news media (being what it is) will no doubt focus on the controversy of the magazine’s liberal editorial stance with photographs of Playboy Playmates, rather than the untold millions he donated to film preservation.

For the record, Playboy rarely featured full frontal nudity for the first two decades. The cheesecake photos were to simulate “the girl next door” with teases of suggestive nudity, but competition in the field it founded – especially from Penthouse and Hustler – caused Hefner to apply a more cultural relevance. Amidst battles with the United States Postal Service, Congressmen and anyone who sought publicity by going up against him, Hefner prevailed and his magazine established him a very wealthy man. There will no doubt be those who speak ill of the dead and choose to judge a man by what the public manifested over the years, an image of wild pool parties and sexual conquests... and then there will be those who defend the man who literally changed the landscape of society – one page at a time.

Hugh Hefner's favorite movie was Casablanca (1941).

At his prime, the best-selling issue was the November 1972 edition, reaching a circulation of 7,161,561 copies. Playboy became the first gentleman’s magazine to be printed in braille. Hefner used the magazine to help lead the civil rights movement in the 1960s, advocate equal pay for women, and fight against draconian drug laws. He used his short-lived Playboy After Dark television program to highlight the talents of black entertainers. (The series had to be syndicated because none of the major networks would consider airing a program where blacks and whites partied casually.) He was an advocate of jazz music and invested money for the annual Playboy Jazz Festival. Ray Bradbury’s critically-acclaimed novel, Fahrenheit 451, was first published in serial form within the March, April and May 1954 issues. The magazine became notable for the exclusive interviews with Martin Luther King, Jr., Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, and was responsible for the famous quote delivered by the then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in the November 1976 issue, in which Carter stated, “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

The Big Sleep (1946)
But what the major news outlets will forget to mention is the fact that Hefner spent millions restoring vintage Hollywood motion-pictures. A big fan of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies, he was dismayed when he learned that most of the archival negatives were in poor condition. Some of the 1993 Key Video releases featured the wrong closing credits, missing scenes and inferior picture and sound. From 1993 to 1995, Hefner funded fifty percent of the cost to the UCLA Film Archive to restore all 14 of the Sherlock Holmes films. "Worth every penny," he proudly told me. If you have those MPI DVD releases and admired the superior picture and sound, you can thank Hugh Hefner for that.

In cooperation with UCLA’s film preservation efforts, Hefner wrote check after check to cover the expenses for dozens of movies including the three Warner Oland Fu Manchu movies (1929-1931), Howard Hawk’s The Big Sleep (1946), Pandora's Box (1929), and many others. In 2005, he endowed the on-going Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program, to assure classic movies would be screened for the benefit of Los Angeles audiences for years to come. At USC, the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive preserves student films, vintage newsreels and tons of silent motion pictures.
Pandora's Box (1929)

Return of Fu Manchu (1930)
His personal interest in crooner Al Bowlly, who died in 1941, led to the preservation of films featuring the under-appreciated singer. This led to Hefner executive-producing several documentaries about silent screen actors, including a critically-acclaimed documentary about Louise Brooks (pictured above in Pandora's Box), and another about Clara Bow. Discovering the 'It' Girl was responsible for re-introducing Clara Bow to a new generation, myself included. When asked why he chose to preserve her legacy, Hefner remarked: "Nobody has what Clara had. She defined an era and made her mark on the nation." The documentary was released on DVD through Kino on Video many years ago and has since gone out of print. Just try to find a copy on DVD at an affordable price today.

Mary Pickford at the camera.
He donated millions for the restoration of classic movies because, in his opinion, they were historically and culturally significant. This includes movies with Mary Pickford, Olive Thomas, Marion Davies, Lon Chaney, Theda Bara and Rita Hayworth. Devoted followers of the Vitaphone film shorts can thank the man for underwriting restoration and preservation costs for numerous musical band shorts. Many of Mary Pickford's silent movies were restored and released on DVD and Blu-Ray. The most recent release featured restoration funded by Hugh Hefner. 

Not only did he donate millions for film preservation, but also for the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign. Featured prominently along the hillside, Hefner saved and restored that sign – twice. In the 1970s he started a campaign to restore the sign that was crumbling and falling apart. Years later he started a campaign to save the land surrounding the sign. For his efforts, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

So the next time you watch an old movie, including a Sherlock Holmes film starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, remember the man who made a fortune with the Playboy empire was responsible for the restoration. Thank you, Mr. Hefner.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Happy Trails Film Festival

Earlier this year I reported of a recent decline in cowboy film festivals. An aging fanbase was the primary cause of two conventions closing doors, scaling back on the number of fan gatherings catering a generation who grew up with heroes to aspire to such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Johnny Mack Brown. Well, it seems Dr. Fred Eichelman decided to carry the torch with the newly-formed Happy Trails Virginia Style film festival. "It was created for the purpose of celebrating the great Western films and TV shows that we loved in the past and to encourage a new crop of film makers to bring back those great days of yesteryear," Fred told me in an e-mail. "There is a hunger for the values expressed in those films and we see too seldom today."

As retired teachers, Fred and Carolyn Eichelman used many of those productions in their classrooms and found that children today are not too different from those of the past. There is an interest in quality Westerns held by all ages and Fred, along with a staff of volunteers, plan to pick up where two prior events succeeded. 

"We were approached last October by friends in the Roanoke Valley who had worked with us when they were much younger and remembered that we once helped run media events here that were very popular, not Western but more of a general media nature," said Fred. "It has been said the day of the Westerns are long gone and cannot be brought back. We disagree. Our title was inspired by our friend Dodie Rogers, the youngest daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and she has been an enthusiastic supporter of this idea. This is true of all our guests."

Attending this year's event is Morgan Brittany of Dallas and Rawhide, Don Collier of High Chaparral, Geoffrey Duel of Chisum, Kathy Garver from Family Affair, Barbara Luna from The Big Valley, Jon Provost (best known as Timmy from Lassie), Rudy Ramos from The High Chaparral, and many others.

Advanced ticket sales (for those who want to purchase admission at a discount price) indicates a strong attendance and Fred already scheduled a three-day event for October 2018. 

The one-day event will be held at the Holiday Inn in Roanoke, Virginia, on October 7, 2017. For more information you can call Fred personally at 540-819-2032.

A copy of their promotional flyer can be found below. 


Friday, September 8, 2017

Treasures at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention

Next weekend marks the 12th annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, held at the Hunt Valley Delta Hotel on Shawan Road. Thousands of people show up every year from all over the country, and a number from Canada, Finland, France, Belgium, England and Australia. For three days film buffs can sit in a dark room and watch vintage movies and television programs -- many never seen in decades. (This year's offering includes the unaired 1949 television pilot for You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx.) Throughout the day there are slide show seminars conducted by magazine editors, museum curators, authors, historians and other experts. This year's highlight is a presentation on the history of Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 1960s by the curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

The two highlights of the event, however, are Hollywood celebrities signing autographs for fans, who take time to pose for photos as well. This year's celebrities include Patrick Duffy, Shirley Jones, Dawn Wells, Paul Petersen, Cindy Williams, Gary Conway, Larry Storch, Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, Olivia d'abo, and Bond girls, among others. Fans line up to get their autograph. Photos appear on Facebook doubling as bragging rights to their Facebook friends. Last year Robert Conrad (of Wild, Wild West fame) was so popular the autograph line was four hours long outside the hotel all day. 

The other highlight are the vendor rooms where more than 100 vendors set up to sell vintage merchandise and collectibles. Every year I tell myself I will not spend more than $100 in the vendor room but I always exceed that number. Too many good bargains. The variety is so diverse that attendees have been quoted of saying, "I spent too much money here. There is so much good stuff." And the prices are beyond reasonable.

In past years I was able to find a movie poster from 1954 promoting Creature from the Black Lagoon in almost mint condition. The poster was linen backed to ensure all of the creases would no longer show (standard at the time as all movie posters were mailed out to movie theaters and folded and placed into envelopes). Linen backed posters add value as it makes sure the poster will stay in superb condition and not worsen over time. The vendor was asking $600, I bought it for $400. 

As a fan of The Lone Ranger, I found myself collecting all of the hardcover novels and comic books. Not counting the comic books produced today by Dynamite, there were almost 200 Lone Ranger comics published. I am missing four of them to complete my collection. Crossing fingers, I will be able to find them this coming weekend. Of the 18 hardcover novels, the last three are the most difficult to find. The early novels in the series were reprinted many times but towards the end, the final three received only one printing. Thus the average price for a Lone Ranger hardcover book is $5. Those last three sell for anywhere from $40 to $80. I stuck gold when I came across one of them, The Lone Ranger and the Code of the West, for $40. 

Books without dust jackets are cheap in price. Find any Lone Ranger hardcover novel with the original dust jacket and the price goes up -- based on the condition of the dust jacket. I have never seen any Lone Ranger hardcover novel sell for less than $20 and that was with a dust jacket in poor condition. The dust jacket for Code of the West was in great condition. $40 was a bargain. (And yes, I have since read the novel.)

As a collector of Amos and Andy merchandise from the 1930s, I was shocked to discover a vintage advertisement for the two RKO cartoons based on the popular radio program of the same. Not colorful, I give you that, but it was something I did not have. The vendor had a ton of these vintage type advertisements, all originals, for $5 each. All in plastic sleeves.

I know for a fact that vendors this year will be offering old-time radio shows on CD for $1 a piece, bookshelf albums of OTR for half the retail price printed on the insert sleeve, discounted pricing for newly-published books, glossy photographs of old movies for $3 each, and comic books for as cheap as .50 cents. Keep mind there is a reason why some items will be offered at $3 and similar items for $10, based on condition and the specifics of the item itself. But enough about the treasures I have purchased over the years. If you live within driving distance of Baltimore, Maryland, and want to spend an afternoon with thousands of people who share a common interest, consider attending the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention on September 14, 15 or 16. A website link is enclosed below for your convenience, along with a dozen photos of some cool merchandise available at past shows.