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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

"I think that my influence as a collector has rubbed off on my children. They've seen the value of committing to something you really like to do, and they all turned out real good," Brandt said with a smile. "All seven of them."

Rare Videotapes

To keep up with the times, he expanded into the video rental market in 1978. Brandt knew from the start that he could not compete with the chain stores, so he bought hard-to-find Western serials and horror films .

"Over half of my 6,000 titles are vintage old movies and TV shows that you can't buy anymore," he said. And, for those who love truly esoteric films, there is "The Terror of Tiny Town," a musical Western with an all-midget cast made in 1938.

Although Brandt's video rental business is growing, most of his income is derived from selling stills. Certain actors and scenes from classic movies are perennially in demand. According to Brandt, there are constant requests for photos of stars who died tragically, such as James Dean, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe.

Accustomed to Rush Orders

Brandt regularly handles rush orders from harried television producers. "When 'Entertainment Tonight' wants something, they want it now," he said.

Some publications have actually insisted on paying more for a still than they were charged. Recently, a book publisher requested a photo of a Western posse. Normally, this would be an easy order to fill, but in this case, there could be no recognizable faces in the picture. It took hours for Brandt to find the right still, but he billed them only $5. "They sent me a check for $150," he said. "I was informed that they always pay that much for a cover shot on a book."

Many of Brandt's customers have never seen the inside of the store. They are part of Brandt's extensive, international mail order business. "We get orders from Australia, Denmark, England, you name it. Errol Flynn is big in France, and Laurel and Hardy are popular all around the world," he said.

Nostalgia Chic

Other customers are more interested in decorating than in collecting. As the Hollywood motif has come more in vogue, Brandt has seen a growing use of his items in real estate offices, legal offices, restaurants and nostalgia theme parties.

Less traditional requests include scenes of men in garters; women in bathtubs, and men and women in drag. "I refuse to even respond to orders for spanking or bondage photos," he said.

Recently, Brandt acquired a vast supply of photographs being thrown away by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. "I couldn't believe it. This guy pulled up in a truck. He'd been turned down by every store in Hollywood, and he was on his way to the dump," Brandt said. The truck was loaded with valuable pictures of politicians, criminals, musicians, disasters, city landmarks and so on, dating back to the 1920s.

With a growing clientele and children old enough to soon take over the business, the future of the store seems secure. "It's a family-run operation," Brandt explained. "My daughter, Heidi, and my son, Donovan, are going to make it a family tradition. They're both collectors. Like me, it's born in them. I'm lucky. I sure would hate to sell to a stranger."

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