Where did it all go and who has what? Tracking down some of the mysterious mysteries in finding prints — and where the original materials went.
Late at night, often beyond what most of us would consider a reasonable hour, tireless Disney and cartoon scholar Dave Gerstein sends me a Facebook message. I’m a little blurry from not enough sleep and honestly way too many hours working on additional steady and a lot of single frame fixes on Flip the Frog cartoons, but I can’t help but read with excitement the latest thing he’s discovered from here or there. Although Dave is often much too professional to note that he’s often the true person that discovered this or that, he’s quite happy he’s been able to do very well what he’s done very quietly for decades now – find rare print and film material that helps all sorts of projects. Dave is the project partner on Flip, and I honestly probably wouldn’t have taken on the task without him along for the ride. He continues to be a rare secret weapon.
While I can’t specify Dave’s secret sauces and trade secrets, often he’s found things through educated luck, knowing that so many films are missing their titles or fragments exist rather than the whole film. One of my favorite stories involves Dave finding an otherwise lost cartoon if just a piece of it, but with children’s drawing all over it! It was bought in modern times by a school teacher who let her class draw all over it with magic markers- then this ancient nitrate print was actually projected for those kids at a cinema. It’s a really good thing that nothing burned down!
It really varies! After collecting films this many years, I run into a small pool of collectors I’ve known for many years. They can help sometimes if they have a good version of what you’re looking for. Some of the best material is in private hands, and we’re all really lucky that many of those people recognize that as durable as film is, it’s not forever sometimes, and getting that print scanned at least makes sure there’s a version that exists.
Besides a private collector, what is the other ways things are found? Through research of course and a lot of luck! If you’re working directly with a company that owns the film, they in theory may have the best version of that particular thing— but sometimes not! Archives are also helpful, but there are always things to work out to be able to access this material- and sometimes there just isn’t any possible access. At some point, people at the archives know you, and if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool collector like me, there’s a pretty good chance that things you used to own are now at some of those archives (especially if they are nitrate). A good reputation and developing those relationships allows you to borrow from archives and private collectors too- but convincing them to lend things really varies since letting a rare item out of their hands even for a minute means they need to trust you.Since I was first collecting films, I’ve also been incredibly interested in finding and sharing the most obscure things or trying to get good copies of things that were hard to find in good quality copy of. An article on lost cartoon title cards and a follow-up article on lost cartoons (in a collector’s newspaper, Movie Collector’s World) by our own Jerry Beck is pretty responsible for many of these pursuits, as was Jeff Missinne’s love for Ted Eshbaugh shorts and finding them in color.
One of the most fun aspects of this particular pursuit is when things show up that you *really* didn’t think would, ever. The discovery that there really were completed Romer Grey cartoons that existed was astonishing in a way that made me have great hope that other things would show up.
Still, figuring out what the things to pursue and when is one of the big overarching factors. All this stuff takes time and patience, and if you waited to get one set done or another before tackling another project then none of them would get done, or only one thing would happen every 2 years or so… or less! I just turned 54 and realize I’m moving WAY too slow if I’m going to get done the things I hope to. What this means is that it makes some sense to keep many projects moving along with the hope the other missing pieces on some of them while they’re still in play.
The *other* ways that the rarest stuff shows up is from people selling them — sometimes (but rarely) on Ebay, and more often in an estate sale or private sale. The rarest stuff is often known as rare in the film world already since the collectors often are educated on what they have or what their friends had.
For me, the biggest mysteries of what exists in any copy (and my biggest wants) continue to be this small list:
• Finding Eshbaugh’s Goofy Goat in color
• The other two Flip Cartoons that were shot in color (those would be of particular help right now!)
• The negatives for the Van Beuren sound cartoons
There are other things of course and we’re continuing to pursue some things, but these days I don’t show advance photos here of that stuff. Lesson learned!
There are a few (three or so) of the Van Beuren sound negs that exist in 35mm. They have survived by *accident* since they were left with master materials owned by Screen Gems/ Columbia, who released them to TV in the early 50s. On occasion, a rare 35mm print will show up of this one or that, but they’re pretty few and far between.
I do think, at some point one way or another, most of the things I’ve really been wishing to be out actually will be. The tasks never end though— there’s TV stuff that all of us should already have been able to see that exists, but who knows HOW long it will— film isn’t always forever.
Here’s to finding the unfindable – and thanks to all that help!