Category Archives: movies

Collecting the Dream of Flying in Space

America’s space flight initiatives are in an odd place right now – trying to privatize our programs, but not offering very good reasons for companies to do so (i.e., financial reasons). A fair number of people feel that with the end of the shuttle program, the U.S. is giving up on the dream.

But oh, we want that dream so badly! For all those who grew up on Robert Heinlein novels and 2001: A Space Odyssey, who would have committed murder for a chance to go to space camp or to experience weightlessness, the days of NASA’s glory in the 1960s and ‘70s were a time when literally anything was possible. There is nothing like living in a nation that is in the process of dreaming big and bold.

And we did it! We held our collective breath and jumped into the starry abyss. Some died, others suffered. We spent millions of dollars that maybe we didn’t quite have. But we had a dream, and we had heroes, and we finally had success. We went to the moon.

Ever since, collectors have assembled some impressive collections of space stuff. From autographs, badges, and vintage programs to equipment, flown items, and even spacesuits, collectors maintain the hope of space flight and of mankind expanding out into the universe. As we’ve built the space station, gone to Mars, sent out flying labs – we keep hanging on to the dream.

A couple of days ago, President Obama announced a new NASA mission to find, capture, retrieve, and explore an asteroid. The goal is to deliver a crew to an asteroid parked near the moon by 2021, as a move toward sending humans to Mars while also learning about how to protect Earth from asteroids. Some hope for the future, certainly.

See one awesome piece of space nostalgia at my shop CollectibleCool.

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Filed under Antiques and Collectibles, Historical Memorabilia, movies, NASA

Charlie Chaplin the Great – Or Not, Depending

Right upfront, I have to confess to being a silent film fanatic. I adore early films. I’m not referring to what many people of my generation got all too used to seeing – action too fast, bad acting, terrible print quality.  I’m referring to the films that today we recognize as masterpieces of the time. Today we understand that they run at a different frame rate. We’ve got good clean prints. And we know that many outstanding actors were beginning to explore and exploit acting techniques to work for the camera, rather than the stage. Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton (my all-time favorite), Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks…. The list goes on.

And then of course, there’s Chaplin.

Charlie was hugely popular in his early career, making a fortune from his Little Tramp movies, such as Gold Rush, The Circus, and City Lights. However, in the 1940s his career went downhill after a paternity suit, a couple of movies that were considered “progressive and amoral,” and government accusations of being a Communist. Finally, the Truman administration waited until he had gone abroad for a vacation, and then filed charges (sound familiar, Roman Polanski?). Charlie was never able to reenter the U.S.

Did he deserve all this? Frankly, no. But Charlie was never exactly Mr. Tact – he had offended a lot of people and it came back to bite him. But he was also brilliant in front of the camera and is still the single most recognizable actor and director of the silent era.

Chester Conklin, in the Kevin Brownlow book, The Parade’s Gone By, described the initial creation of the Little Tramp: “I remember one rainy morning, Roscoe Arbuckle, Ford Sterling, and myself were sitting in the dressing room playing pinochle. Charlie wanted in and went up to the make-up bench… he held up various pieces of crepe hair under his nose…. Finally, he found a piece that he liked, stuck it on with spirit gum, went over and got Roscoe Arbuckle’s hat and his pants, my [cutaway] coat…. He took his own cane and went out … into the lobby and started clowning around doing the drunk act he’d done on vaudeville. He’d get his foot stuck in the cuspidor and couldn’t get it out – all that kind of thing.

“Everyone had gathered around and was laughing. [Keystone Director Mack] Sennett stood back of the crowd and watched. Finally he went up to Charlie and said ‘Listen, do what you’ve been doing when we shoot this picture with Mabel and Chester.’ Of course, it wound up that he stole the picture from us.”

Chaplin I found myself thinking of all this as I looked at a lithograph I just put up for sale on my shop, CollectibleCool. It’s a single page by caricaturist Henry Major, and appeared in a limited edition book of 800 called Hollywood in 1938.

Out of all the images in this book, Major chose to show Charlie in three different aspects: As the Little Tramp twice, and as a wild-haired character who looks more like the role he played in Limelight much later. Was Major trying to convey some of Charlie’s complexity with these sketches? It’s as though he was having a hard time deciding who Charlie was.

See what you think.

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Filed under Antiques and Collectibles, Art, Historical Memorabilia, movies, silent film, Uncategorized