Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hollywood Treasure Star Joe Maddalena’s Quest for the Ruby Slippers

Photo by By sultmhoor

Ever wish you could own a piece of movie history? What would you pick? We personally would love to have Mary Poppins carpet bag. And, interestingly enough, we just talked to the guy who has it.

Joe Maddalena is the master of movie memorabilia. The son of antique dealers, Maddalena has always had a passion for collecting and even started the first baseball card show in Rhode Island when he was just 12 years old.

He went on to found Profiles in History, the premiere memorabilia company on the planet. It seemed only a matter of time before Joe got his own show and that time has come. Hollywood Treasure premieres tonight at 10:00 PM PST/9:00 PM Central on Syfy.

We recently spoke to Joe on a conference call interview and he told us about how the show came about, some of his best finds, and the ongoing quest for Dorothy’s ruby slippers ($10,000 reward and all).

Q: How did the idea for making this into a television show come about?

JOE: For years I’ve done lots of press. I’ve done from Bill O’Reilly to you name it. I’ve done, hundreds of interviews. And 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 [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, basically out of the blue [Jerry] came to me and said, “Do you want to do a show?” And then it happened.

Q: On the show, do you plan to help potential collectors avoid pitfalls like fraud in the marketplace?

JOE: 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. We encounter things that aren’t authentic and we explain how we know… So yes, a very big concern is making people aware of how you authenticate this material, 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.

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.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about guest stars like Don Wells and Stan Lee and what connection they have to the memorabilia?

JOE: One of the constant themes of the show is… we need to reach out to the people who worked on these shows, especially the celebrities because they may have things.

So… 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.

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… you’ll see celebrities.

Q: What’s the most interesting piece of memorabilia you’ve run across in all of your years doing this?

JOE: Wow, that’s a tough question. I just unwrapped a package. There was a movie called Miracle on 34th Street. And there’s 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 reindeer. 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 the reindeer are about 12-inches tall. When you think about the magic of moviemaking it’s just such a cool thing.

Q: Out of everything in this world that is entertainment collectibles, what’s the holy grail above everything else?

JOE: The ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. 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 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 in 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.

Q: About 11 years ago there was a pair of the real pairs of ruby slippers that were at the Fox lot on display and they were beautiful.

JOE: 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… 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.

Q: Congratulations on getting the witch’s hat from The Wizard of Oz.

JOE: I know, it was cool.

Q: Can 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?

JOE: Well, 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 lots 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. 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 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.

Q: How much of this stuff do you want to keep for yourself and what items do you try to buy?

JOE: 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—just very eclectic so it’s more of sentimental things that I collect for myself.

Q: What are the strangest circumstances under which an item came to you and what was that item?

JOE: 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 Solo. 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 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 he 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, insulation. 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… a curiosity. Here’s the bridge from the Enterprise—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.

Q: What are the greatest lengths you’ve had to go to in order to obtain an item and what was that?

JOE: We travel around the world. The furthest place I’ve been is Tokyo. I bought an archive of Toho posters, Godzilla, Ultra Mana, a very large collection of important Japanese movie posters and Japanese film culture, Seven Samurai. 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—wherever films were made we’re searching.

Q: What was the one thing that you thought was impossible to find but you actually ended up finding anyway?

JOE: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang… 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, basically the owner… he traded a year’s wages working on the movie for the car. And he basically got the car instead of a salary… 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… 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 did it for me.

Q: How do you know where to start? Does stuff come to you or do you just pick an item and say, “I’m going to go try to find it?”

JOE: It’s a combination of both. Because I’ve been doing this for almost three decades now and we’re here in Los Angeles, 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, 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 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 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. 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, B movie that I would kill to get my hands on. So it’s out there.

Q: 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?

JOE: Give me an example you’d be talking about so I can better answer your question.  

Q: 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… but it never made it onto the ride. So people are still searching for this thing... Is there anything that you can think of that’s like that that never actually made it?

JOE: Well, Disney attractions… we’re very interested in… 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, 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 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. 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.

Q: Is there a particular director or filmmaker that is really protective of their memorabilia, of their props?

JOE: Well, I think, 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, 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… 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.

Q: What is the item that people say, “If you run into this set it aside for me?”

JOE: Stan Winston was a dear friend before he passed away. 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 I 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.

Q: Is there an item that you’re really looking for that you found that the person will not part with?

JOE: 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, I do bang my head on the wall where… 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.

Q: 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?

JOE: It happens a lot… 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 what people decide they want. 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 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… 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.  

Because the collectors now… 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… the disappointment factor will disappear.

Q: Aside from the Captain Kirk chair, what is the most abusive use of an item?  

JOE: Well, you know the story of the Captain’s chair then with it being in the bar. You know the story?

Q: Yes, yes. That the gentleman uses it as his barstool, right?

JOE: Right, right. God, there’s so many things… 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 a dive and… it was all this stuff from Mutiny on the Bounty. And the new owner was like, “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, the MGM sale bought this stuff as décor for, a few hundred dollars and used it in his bar. And suddenly… when the guy realized that stuff was worth tens of thousands of dollars it quickly came off the walls.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the Lost auction?

JOE: I think the most expensive thing that sold was the Dharma van. It was a VW van. It was the really nice… van. It brought $47,500. I guess the coolest thing was, a 12-pack of open cans of Dharma beer sold for $5,000… 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-foot Bumblebee, 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… 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.

Q: And what is physically the largest item that you’ve had to deal with?

JOE: 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, 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, I’ve ever made. But, no, we’re moving things all the time. 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. We’re moving vehicles all the time. But I would say, the Stan Winston, the fill-sized dinosaurs, they were pretty enormous.


  1. Thanks for the mention.

    Come and get me! —— and reinstall me inside The Haunted Mansion.

  2. Our first comment from a spirit... COOL! Happy Halloween Hatbox Ghost.