Thursday, June 18, 2009

Movie props, and their history, up for sale

Have you ever wondered where the sofa from The Golden Girls ended up after the show was canceled? What about J.R. Ewing's desk from Dallas? Well, they are part of an impressive and awe inspiring collection at the 20th Century Prop warehouse in North Hollywood. Seriously, this collection is absolutely amazing because of the history behind so many of the pieces. There are 93,752 items in all, ranging from teacups to a life-size submarine. You should check out the slideshow to see some of the items for yourself.

Unfortunately, all of the pieces and their history are about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Harvey Schwartz, the owner of 20th Century Props and curator of this amazing treasure trove, plans to go out of business next month and has no choice but to auction the inventory. Battered by the recession, the surge in on-location movie / TV production and the rise of reality TV, the once-thriving business — one of a handful of its type remaining — is failing.

Great American Group will liquidate the company’s inventory during the last week of July. The vast inventory is insured for about $8 million, but the true value is said to be priceless. Especially for some collectors.

Mr. Schwartz, a trained aerospace engineer, decided to go into the furniture business in the '70s. He opened a small store near Beverly Hills and CBS Television City, a cluster of studios that is now home to shows like FOX's American Idol. 30+ years later, he's gone from the small store to a warehouse. But, Brooks Barnes of the NY Times reports that on Tuesday, Mr. Schwartz stood in his colossal warehouse, in tears. “I ran out of money three months ago, and I don’t know what else to do,” he said softly. “It’s terrifying. I’ve devoted my entire life to something that is over."

Set decorators are equally upset. “The closing of 20th Century is a disaster for us,” said Melinda Ritz, who won three Emmy Awards for her work on Will & Grace. “Harvey is a great person, and it’s one fewer place that offers one-stop shopping.” She added, “The fabric of Hollywood is fraying so fast that it’s scary.”

“He’s got a collector’s eye and has developed an inventory unlike anybody else’s,” Ms. Ritz said of Mr. Schwartz. “He’s got quirky, interesting pieces.”

For some time, Mr. Schwartz has been looking for a way to keep the collection together — via an investor or a sale to another prop company — but has yet to find one. So, the sale must go on. What a shame.

[Photos - Top Left: Various props in the 20th Century Props warehouse. Bottom Right: Sofa set made by 20th Century Props for a New York City Chanel store opening. Both by Marissa Roth for The New York Times]

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