Cataloging The Phantom's Archives Part 1
When legendary film journalist Joe Kane passed away in November 2020, I had the opportunity to talk at length with his wife, Nancy Naglin. At first, the discussion concerned what could be done with The Phantom's vast archives of movie stills, press kits, and slides that he had accumulated throughout the first decade of publishing The Phantom of the Movies Videoscope magazine from 1991 to the early 2000s. My business partner Rob Freese had thrown my name out to her as a guy who may be able to help with some options for moving the collection into the hands of someone who might appreciate it.
Nancy explained that every picture that appeared on Videoscope's pages was from movie marketing material supplied by studios, distributors, or film producers during its first ten years. Additional images required for the mag were purchased as needed from places like Ohlinger's Movie Materials on the east coast or Hollywood Book & Poster on the West. With the advent of the internet and film distributors increasingly leaning towards digital press kits, Joe went all-digital, for the most part, after 2002.
As a collector with a considerable collection myself, Nancy and I talked about her options with this content that occupied myriad file cabinets in her home. She wasn't keen on selling it off one piece at a time via eBay. To undertake a task like that would essentially result in running a full-time store, complete with daily trips to the post office. That did not appeal to her, and after several phone calls over many months, I felt like my recommendation to her would be to try to sell the entire collection to a single person. One that wouldn't parcel it out on eBay, but perhaps somebody could make use of it and see a value beyond a simple dollar amount. Nancy agreed with my suggestion, and as our phone conversations continued, I was clearly talking about myself, although I hadn't realized it at first.
I made Nancy an offer, and we negotiated a fair price for the entire collection. Adding a chunk of movie marketing history to my collection and a bit of magazine publishing history was hard to resist. Couple that with the fact that it all belonged to Joe Kane, the first guy to ever pay me for stuff I had written down; well, it was clear what I needed to do.
Now, keep this in mind. Neither Nancy nor I knew the exact contents of Joe's archives. There was just too much to go through and catalog. On a few occasions during our phone conversations, Nancy would grab a file from a cabinet and go through it with me. She would share stories when a particular photo jogged her memory of a quick trip to Ohlinger's, or we would discuss the films represented in the file folder. Writing down the entire contents of the archives would have involved months of time and energy, so I let her know that that would be the first thing on my agenda once I took possession of the collection.
Nancy went about boxing everything up, which took considerable time and effort. While she was busy with that, I had a magazine to work on and a few adjustments to accommodate this addition to my movie paper collection. Since I would be the first to catalog what this collection entailed, I would cut no corners. I would enter every single item into a spreadsheet with as much identifiable information as possible. I would create a searchable database that would serve as the official catalog of Joe's collection and a working archive that my business partner and I could use in our publishing endeavors.
Writing down what the collection contained was one thing. The other half of this adventure involved making digital copies of everything. I purchased three different scanners to complete this project. A 11X17 flatbed scanner, a document scanner, and a film/slide scanner. This amount of equipment to scan paper products may seem a bit over the top, but one must consider the various sizes of movie marketing material and numerous formats. You have press books, stills, slides, press kits, and their respective foreign counterparts (have you ever tried to scan an Italian fotobusta using an 8X10 scanner? Not going to happen).
The collection arrived in January 2022. I immediately cracked open a box and went through it. I lost nearly an hour just marveling over the first four file folders, each 3" thick with 8X10 stills. There were 8 boxes in total. All packed to capacity, and all containing some pretty fantastic things.
From my talks with Nancy, I understood this archive to contain the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s movie marketing material. This proved accurate; however, a jaw-dropping find would rear its head on occasion. Like the one I will share with you now.
I am sure all of you are aware that before Videoscope magazine, Joe wrote for the New York Daily News, where he honed his Phantom persona as their resident genre movie critic. But, a decade before Joe started writing for the News, he was the editor of The Monster Times. Published, sometimes erratically, between 1972 and 1976, The Monster Times (TMT) showcased some fantastic writing and artwork, all by individuals who loved what they did and had the same affection for the movies they covered. TMT is arguably where the birth of the modern-day film fan mag happened, and if you are not familiar with its existence, then brother, you better get caught up with your film journalism history.
TMT's run was 48 issues and a handful of specials, but it has had a lasting impact on me and a whole gaggle of other guys and gals like me who yearned to write about, for whatever reason, movies. The illustrations and images from TMT were burned upon my brain most compellingly. I still use those now yellowed issues for reference when researching or writing. To the extent that when I run across a still from the late 1960s or early to mid-1970s that was used in an issue of TMT, my antenna goes up. I don't have instant recall of what issue etc., but enough memory that I know it appeared in one of those 48.
In a file folder that contained movies that began with the letter "C", I found myself holding up a still from the 1972 20th Century Fox film Countess Dracula. The still features a heavily made-up Ingrid Pitt gazing into a hand mirror while the lifeless body of yet another murdered virgin rests not so peacefully just beneath her. There were very distinct markings from a grease pencil on this still. My recall buzzer was going off. I knew I had seen at least part of this still within an issue of TMT. It was then that it dawned on me. Was it possible I was holding an original Countess Dracula still Joe Kane had marked up for inclusion in an edition of TMT?
Thankfully, when researching anything that involves pouring over the entire life span of TMT, one need only rummage through 48 issues. I started with issue #1, and issue by issue, page by page, I flipped through until my overfilled mind exploded with enough feel-good vibes to last me a year. On page 12 of the February 19, 1972, edition of The Monster Times was the result of Joe's grease penciled edit. TMT's review of Countess Dracula was lukewarm, but Joe thought enough of the film overall to include the Ingrid Pitt with hand mirror pic. Ingrid Pitt, with mirror, sans murdered virgin beneath, of course.
I was holding a piece of movie marketing material that could actually be documented as being used to help market a movie. I was holding in my hands, this grease pencil marked 8X10, and a copy of the publication the photograph ultimately appeared in was, in my mind, akin to adding Dorothy's ruby slippers to my collection. It rarely gets any more satisfying for a collector of movie paper than that. The Countess Dracula film still/TMT connection was the first of such moments while I spent months digitizing and cataloging Joe's archives.
The first, but certainly not the last.
To be continued...