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Collector's Mementos of Silver Screen Turn to Gold

May 08, 1986|R.J. JOHNSON and GINGER MYERS | Johnson and Myers are Los Angeles free-lance writers. and

In 1972, Eddie Brandt put his wife and children into the family's small camper and drove to Oregon. The collector of Hollywood memorabilia had heard that the Pacific Poster Exchange in Portland was selling its inventory, and the prospect of acquiring the goods was an irresistible lure.

"When I got there," Brandt recalled, "I found this 20-foot-by-40-foot room, stacked 12 feet high with boxes full of very old posters, lobby cards and stills. The owner wanted $15,000 for all of it."

Brandt had only $5,000 to spend, but after a verbal promise to pay the balance in two years, the deal was consummated. And Eddie Brandt was in business.

Investment Paid Off

"I guess people were more trusting then," he said. "Anyway, our business went so well that I paid it back in one year."

Although Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood is not listed as a tourist attraction in any official guidebook, visitors from all over the world make his store one of their first stops in Los Angeles. Brandt's vast collection of 2 million movie and TV stills, thousands of film posters and rare videocassettes attracts an array of customers, including some of the most famous names in Hollywood.

"What started out as a hobby has turned into a very successful business," Brandt said. Burt Reynolds once came in to buy photos of Sally Field in "The Flying Nun," Brandt said. Steven Spielberg rented "The Black Pirate" video to view a stunt he wanted to re-create in "Back to the Future." And Gene Autry bought thousands of dollars' worth of Western posters for his museum.

Childhood Fascination

Brandt's fascination with movie memorabilia started when he was 10 years old and living in Chicago. "My father would drive me to the film distributor's office, and they'd give me posters, stills and press books," he said. Later, Brandt became an usher and eventually an assistant manager at a local theater. This also gave him access to many items he added to his collection.

Brandt's collecting days were interrupted by World War II. Afterward, he was discharged from the Navy in San Diego and migrated to Hollywood. "I got a job at the Egyptian Theatre. It was the only work I knew how to do," he said.

A chance encounter with a friend led to a job with Spike Jones. Brandt worked his way up from band boy (hauling equipment and shopping for props) to writer for Jones' stage act. "Working for Spike meant traveling a lot. And, in every city, I found things for my collection," he said.

When Jones died in 1965, Brandt went to work writing story lines for the Hanna-Barbera animation studio. But, by the late 1960s, there was only enough work to keep him employed for six months out of the year.

Fortunate Accident

To supplement his income, he opened a "junk" store in 1968 called Eddie Brandt's Garage Sale. Selling items from his collection happened quite by accident. Brandt could not afford to fix up the building, so he put posters on the walls to cover the holes.

"One day, a man came in and bought the posters to decorate his bar," Brandt said. "It hurt to sell those first pieces from my collection, but I knew there was a market for movie memorabilia."

Until then, Brandt had saved just the items he personally liked, and his inventory was only large enough to keep him in business for six months. "I soon realized that, to be successful, I had to offer a variety of items, something for everybody," he said. "And I would have to get much more stock."

After buying out the Pacific Poster Exchange, Brandt and Larry Edmunds, another Hollywood memorabilia dealer, purchased an enormous collection from the Southern Poster Exchange in New Orleans.

"There was over 2,000 square feet of stuff dating back to the 1930s. Some of the boxes had never been opened," said Brandt, still excited about the memory of that moment.

Over the years, Brandt has learned the market value of the items he buys and sells; but sometimes even a shrewd expert can be fooled. "A guy at the swap meet insisted that his 'Wizard of Oz' poster was an original. But it was framed in glass, and the back was taped up. When I got it home, I took it out of the frame and discovered it was an inexpensive reproduction. I should have known better," he said.

As a lifelong collector, Brandt has witnessed an evolution in the types of people who share his fascination with movie memorabilia.

Fans Are Younger

"When I first started this business, it was all older men," he said. "Now, there are men and women from ages 15 to 50."

He prefers the collector who buys a variety of items and thinks that it is not healthy to get carried away with one person. "I know a man who has 7,000 stills and clippings of Jeanne Crain," Brandt said. "These kinds of customers are obsessed."

In his opinion, collectors are usually shy, lonesome people, and those who do not collect anything are often empty inside.

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