The book 'Starstruck' is one man's dream collection of vintage movie posters
Feb 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Movie memorabilia collector Ira Resnick has had the same dream for years.
"You are walking along and you come to a door of an old movie theater that's being torn down," he relates over the phone from his home in New York City. "The door opens and there is a room in the theater that hasn't been opened in years and all the posters are there for the taking in their original wrappers . . . ."
Although he's never found that door, the 60-year-old Resnick has collected some 2,000 vintage posters and some 1,500 stills and lobby cards in the last 40 years.
Now 258 posters from his collection are reproduced in his book "Starstruck," which came out earlier this month. More than just a picture book of some of the most beautiful and rare posters from 1912 to 1962, "Starstruck" also is an exploration of one man's unending passion. (Resnick will be at Book Soup in West Hollywood on March 14 to sign copies of the book.)
Resnick fell in love with movies as a kid in New York, watching vintage films on television. "I went to NYU film school for my junior and senior years," he says. Martin Scorsese, who wrote the foreword to the book, was one of his instructors.
Two years before he graduated in 1971, he learned about a movie memorabilia store, Cinemabilia, in Greenwich Village. "Those were the years of the excitement of Bogart, Mae West, Fields and the Marx Brothers," he says, explaining that those anarchic screen legends had become idols of the counterculture Woodstock generation.
He went into the store and bought a lobby card from the 1937 Katharine Hepburn classic "Stage Door" for $50 and paid $35 each for one-sheets for the 1936 comedy "Love Before Breakfast" and 1937's screwball "The Awful Truth." He still owns all three posters.
"That started it," he says. "That was the way I could own a piece of the original production. I started my travels and buying at flea markets, antique stores and the few memorabilia shops that there were in those days."
A photographer by trade after graduating from college, Resnick opened his own movie memorabilia shop in 1982, the Motion Pictures Gallery in New York City. He still has the gallery, but now it is in New Jersey. "People don't come to galleries very much anymore," he says. "Much of the business is done on the telephone and the Internet."
Besides having the gallery, Resnick is a trustee of the Film Society of Lincoln Center -- he was its chairman of the board from 1999-2005 -- and is also a trustee of the International Center of Photography and MUSE Film and Television.
Today's movie posters are generally created from photographs and images from the movie. But in the old days, movie studios had art and publicity departments that would create fanciful, elaborate and astonishingly gorgeous graphic posters. Al Hirschfeld, Norman Rockwell and Thomas Hart Benton were among the many acclaimed artists who designed posters.
The posters, says Resnick, were far more important then than now. "It was the way they had to sell the film," he says. "A one-sheet today is such a minor part of selling a film. It just fills a hole in a movie theater or a multiplex. In those days, it was what brought the people in all over the country and all over the world to see what was coming next. It whetted their appetite. The artists took a lot of pride in it."
Posters are divided into such titles as "The Silents, 1912-1929"; "The Golden Age of the Talkies: The Men, 1927-41"; "From Citizen Kane to Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1941-1962"; "Great Directors"; "Classic Films"; and "Little Known Movies With Great Graphics."
He also lists his 50 favorite one-sheets. Among his faves are the posters from 1949's film noir "Gun Crazy"; the 1929 mystery "The Canary Murder Case," which was Louise Brooks' last major Hollywood film; King Vidor's 1925 World War I epic "The Big Parade"; and the 1924 version of "Peter Pan."
Perhaps the rarest poster in the book, says Resnick, is from the 1927 Babe Ruth film "Babe Comes Home," which the Sultan of Swat made the year he hit 60 home runs for the New York Yankees. "Only one or two exist," he says. "Film people and baseball card people consider it the best of its type." If he sold that poster today, it could easily go for six figures. But being a die-hard Yankees fan, he says he would never part with it. Besides, Resnick adds, "it hangs in my 9-year-old son's room."