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Smith Brothers' Family Business Remains Stuck on the Stars

September 29, 1985|Associated Press

CANTON, Okla. — There isn't much chance that Bob and Charles Smith will ever enter the computer age.

They are so busy with their business they don't have time to count the number of pictures they have, estimated at more than a million. And they believe that trying to put it all on computer would take even longer than their time-honored methods.

"Now, if they could come up with a computer which could locate a certain picture in here, make a copy of it, print the copy, wrap it, mail it and refile the original picture and the negative . . . well, then I might be interested," Bob Smith said.

Collect Glossy Prints

The Smith brothers operate a unique family business: "Film Favorites." They collect 8-by-10-inch glossies of movie stars and movie "stills"--the photos from a movie set often displayed outside the theater to attract customers.

The daily mail brings a new batch of orders from people worldwide for copies of rare original scenes from the age of silent movies right up to the present.

Authors buy the prints for books. Fans of particular actors or actresses buy them. People interested in costuming and furniture styles send for them. Film festival planners order them for brochures. Sometimes even the actors and actresses themselves write for a certain shot.

The Smiths, who are twins, began their love affair with moving pictures in 1919 when they were fourth-graders in Sand Springs. They were hired to help pump the water out of the organ pit at the Liberty Theater, which flooded every time it rained.

"We were fans from the very first," Charles Smith said. "We were hooked the first time we saw a moving picture." The first show they can remember seeing was "The Border Wireless," starring William S. Hart.

Cleaned Theater

"So we got hooked on the movies and got a job cleaning up at the theater, and then as the boys who put up and took down the posters," Bob Smith said.

"Those days, the theater owner had to buy the posters and the pictures. Usually these were just thrown away, but the owner of the theater let us have them instead," Charles said.

The brothers stored the posters in a shed at their home. In 1926, they dropped out of high school, loaded up the car with posters and went to Tulsa with $40 to start a business.

In the ensuing years, their poster business continued, though both brothers at various times owned theaters and lived in other towns in Oklahoma.

Bob and his wife, Pauline, bought a theater in Canton in 1959 and moved here. Eleven years ago, when the twins reached their 65th birthday, they decided to retire and spend the rest of their years together.

"So we moved to Canton, right next door to Bob and Pauline," said Charles' wife, Ruth.

Business Sold to Son-in-Law

The poster business was sold several years ago to a son-in-law of Bob's, and the twins concentrated on building up the glossy print collections each had amassed through the years.

Although they still collect posters and will occasionally sell an original, they never sell their original prints.

When they opened their business, most requests were for pictures relating to horror and science fiction movies.

"But now that isn't quite so big," Charles said. "John Wayne is popular right now, Will Rogers is a favorite and one of the biggest collectibles is Marilyn Monroe."

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