Gift Ideas: From Reel Clocks To John Wayne's Toupee

by Leonard Maltin
December 7, 2010 5:30 AM
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As promised, here is a wide-ranging selection of gift ideas for that special film buff in your life. When I started collecting 8mm films as a boy, and then graduated to 16mm, reels and cans were strictly functional items. I never dreamed that I’d see the day when they were pieces of décor or objets d’art. I started thinking along those lines in recent years when I came upon especially attractive or distinctive reels or Kodascope library cans from the 1920s which polish up to a high shine. But now, the oldest name in this field, Goldberg Brothers of Denver, is manufacturing all sorts of neat items based on 16mm and 35mm reels, which has been their specialty for the greater part of the last century. Apparently some theaters are using 35mm reels cleaved in half as door pulls, while movie buffs of all stripes can enjoy wall clocks and end tables fashioned from brand-new metal reels. I happened upon these products in the airline gift catalog called Sky Mall, which you can access HERE or by calling 1-800-759-6255. You can see even more products at the Goldberg Brothers website, but they only sell their products through—

—licensed distributors. (If you live in certain major cities you may be able to purchase them locally; a list is provided on the site.) My wife and I agreed that we had no space in our house for any of these products—and then ordered several of them.

Speaking of Goldbergs, if you’re trying to please a mama, papa, grandma or grandpa you might consider giving them The Ultimate Goldbergs, a six-DVD set that will bring back warm memories of broadcasting’s best-loved Jewish family. The first disc is the best, as it gathers together restored kinescopes of the earliest live TV broadcasts; later filmed episodes were not quite as earthy but still provide good entertainment. There are some fine bonus features, as well. You can also download twelve episodes of Gertrude Berg’s daily 15-minute radio serial, which predated the TV show. And best of all, if you order your DVD directly from HERE you support UCLA Film and Television Archive, which restored the original programs. (You might also consider buying Aviva Kempner’s excellent documentary, Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a revealing look at the proto-feminist named Gertrude Berg who created and enacted the character of Molly, the quintessential wife and mother.)

The Bing Crosby estate has been busily mining the singer’s vault and coming up with golden goodies. There’s a new Crosby Christmas special DVD and a companion CD that incorporates holiday-themed vocals you won’t find elsewhere. But I am most enthusiastic about a couple of new audio releases produced by Robert S. Bader that aren’t tied to the season. Bing Crosby: A Southern Memoir is an absolutely delightful album that Bing self-financed and recorded in 1975. Such was the state of the music business even then that no American label was interested in releasing it, and it only came out on LP in England. It’s a most enjoyable session in which Crosby sings Tin Pan Alley favorites from the era when paeans to “the South” were legion. Backed by a jazz-oriented band, arranged and led by that prodigious pianist Paul Smith, Bing is in surprisingly good voice for that period. One can tell from an interview in the British album’s liner notes—and the way he laughs in an outtake after Smith delivers an overly ornate piano intro—that he was having a great time warbling these wonderful songs. My favorite: “Cryin’ for the Carolines.”

Also notable is Bing & Rosie: The Crosby-Clooney Radio Sessions. These fifty-nine tracks were recorded for various CBS radio programs featuring the harmonious vocal partners, who clearly enjoyed working together. One couldn’t find two mellower, more listenable voices and it’s a pleasure to listen to every one of their duets. (I don’t know that we needed to hear two or three versions of some songs, integrated into the program instead of being added as bonus tracks, but that’s a minor quibble.)

My enjoyment of these discs is enhanced by the warmly written, well-informed liner notes by Arne Fogel and Martin McQuade. Another new release that I haven’t had time to dive into, Bing Sings The Frank Sinatra Songbook, features notes by none other than Michael Feinstein. All of these CDs, plus the previously mentioned Christmas albums and DVDs, are available exclusively from Collectors Choice Music. You can learn more about other Crosby activities and products—and listen to a Crosby jukebox—at www.bingcrosby.com.

For the Disney buff in your life, you should consider one of the limited-edition statues, or “maquettes,” offered by the good folks at Electric Tiki Design. I’ve loved their renderings of heroes like The Lone Ranger and Zorro; now they’re appealing to the true Disney connoisseur with figures based on the much-admired concept artwork of Mary Blair. Sculptor Kent Melton has rendered petite, three-dimensional figures of Alice and The March Hare from Alice in Wonderland and they’re wonderful. You can see them, as well as an upcoming piece based on animator Fred Moore’s private sketches of pin-up girls, at electrictiki.com. You’ll have to follow assorted links to actually make a purchase. Sideshow Collectibles is sold out already, and Entertainment Earth is out of stock, but I’m told that if you’re patient, EE will eventually have more Alice pieces, if not in time for Christmas.

If you know someone who’s crazy about Saturday matinee serials, check out restoredserials.com. Most of the films they offer on scratch-resistant DVD and Blu-Ray are available elsewhere, and the quality of the restorations varies from title to title, but the bonus material is enticing. The Houdini serial The Man From Beyond looks especially good and comes with bonus newsreel footage of the legendary escape artist at work; if you pop the disc into your computer you can read a typed script treatment for the picture and peruse the fascinating original pressbook in PDF form. The Green Archer is dupey, as we used to say in the 16mm world, and cropped slightly on the right-hand side of the picture. On the other hand, there’s an enjoyable conversation between its star, Victor Jory, and the late, great serial buff and author Alan G. Barbour, as well as PDF versions of its pressbook and many chapter lobby cards. Other titles in the catalog include The Green Hornet Strikes Again and Young Eagles.

If that film buff in your life seems to have everything already, consider purchasing Kevin Brownlow’s The Search for Charlie Chaplin, an account of the Oscar-winning historian’s adventures while preparing (with partner David Gill) the extraordinary documentary series Unknown Chaplin. This modest paperback book slipped through the cracks, and I only recently became aware of its existence. To purchase a copy click HERE.

Perhaps you’re a high roller and seek something more extravagant this holiday season. In that case, you should consider bidding on the original watercolor-and-gouache artwork of the RKO Radio Pictures end-title logo in Profiles in History’s upcoming auction. (I’d love to have this framed on my wall!)

Or perhaps you like more personal memorabilia. I can’t think of anything more personal than one of John Wayne’s toupees, which has been consigned to Bonhams and Butterfields by a makeup artist who kept this and other Duke-related materials since the 1960s. Not only does this item have the markings, and the provenance, to prove it authentic, but your own eyes can tell you it’s the hairline we associate with Wayne!

You never know what’s going to come up at auction nowadays: in the same sale you can bid on a bottle of cough syrup prescribed for Wayne while he was filming on location in Tucson, Arizona. I’m not sure this is the way I’d want to remember one of my favorite stars, but to each his own.

Finally, if you want to give something to a silent-film buff this year but haven’t money to throw around, here’s a wonderful present that’s absolutely free: a subscription to the online journal The Silent Treatment. This labor-of-love newsletter from Brandee Cox and Steven Hill arrives in your e-mail box every other month in PDF form; you can read it on your computer or print it out, as I do. Peruse back issues at tstnews.net or subscribe for free by e-mailing the editor-publishers at tstnews@yahoo.com.

For more ideas, I encourage you to use the content bar on the left-hand column of this page to consult book and DVD reviews I’ve posted throughout 2010…and I’ll have more of those coming up in the days and weeks ahead.

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