Alfred Hitchcock Auction at New York’s Swann Galleries

26 03 2012

On April 4, Swann Galleries in New York City will auction “Property from the Estate of Filmmaker Gary Winick.” Winick, a producer and director who died in 2011, left behind a substantial collection of photographs, books, posters and other items, including more than 30 posters from films by Alfred Hitchcock.

I had the opportunity to talk with George Lowry, Chairman of Swann Galleries, on March 23 about the collection. We focused on the Hitchcock portion of it, naturally, but I encourage you to check out the online catalogue or visit the gallery in the coming days and see this collection, which includes photographs by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Eadward Muybridge, Alfred Eisnestaedt and Cindy Sherman; illustrations by Andy Warhol and Garth Williams; animation art from Disney cartoons, “Fantasia” and “Yellow Submarine,” and, besides the Hitchcock material, movie posters from “All About Eve,” “The 400 Blows,” “Some Like It Hot,” “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and more.

Adam Philips: Tell me a little about Mr. Winick and his collection.

George Lowry: Gary Winick became a very prominent movie producer and director at an early age. He died at the age of 49, he was a lifelong New Yorker, and he began his career with digital films, basically small films with a handheld digital camera. He ended up becoming a reasonably well known Hollywood producer/direct, and one of his last films before he died was “Charlotte’s Web,” which got pretty good reviews. He died of a brain tumor, I believe, and he had become a serious but small collector in the short time he had money and the time to collect, and he collected photographs, important photographs by important photographers, miscellaneous works on paper meaning things done by artists, including a very nice Warhol drawing. Some of this is quite valuable. He collected books and memorabilia including Hitchcock posters. As far as your readers are concerned I think the most interesting thing is the lot of about Hitchcock posters, which represent every movie Hitchcock made since 1940, I think excepting only “Rebecca.”

AP: There are probably some movies that have two, even three posters in this collection. And these are all first-run movie posters, right?

GL: From the little bit of research we were able to do, because we’re not experts on movie posters, not yet anyway, we believe that these are all first edition posters. We’re not guaranteeing them, but all the posters are illustrated in our catalogue, our printed catalogue, and they’re illustrated in our online catalogue. We’re available to answer questions, so that if there’s a particular issue point on a poster that you’re curious about, all you have to do is call us and we’ve got people who provide that kind of information. If there’s a particular catch or mark in the lower right hand corner, we’ll take a digital picture and email it to you.

AP: And can you tell me about the overall condition of the collection?

GL: We have graded these posters on the basis of how we would grade product posters from the turn of the century. For example, we have “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Paramount Pictures, published in 1956. We say, condition B+, folds and pinholes in corners. That’s a paper poster. If you take that to a restorer, for a hundred or a hundred-twenty dollars, they will mount it on linen and those pinholes and the folds will disappear. And I would say that generally, all the posters are in that sense in excellent condition. There are some posters that are mounted on linen which have some problems with them, so they’re not all perfect, but the ones that are on paper, if you spend a hundred dollars on them, they’d come out looking like new.

AP: Modern movie posters are printed on two sides, so they can take advantage of the lights behind them. Is that the case with some of these?

GL: First, there are a few posters that are not Hitchcock posters. There’s a French poster for “All About Eve,” there’s “Au Revoir Les Enfants,” there’s “The 400 Blows,” there’s a Marilyn Monroe poster for “The Misfits,” but these are all printed on one side. Because don’t forget, the latest posters would have been from the 1960s, into the 1970s. Those are all one-sided posters.

AP: I’m looking at the website as we speak…do you know if there are lobby cards as well?

GL: There are window cards, but most of them are regular posters. There are a couple of three-sheets, and “Foreign Correspondent,” for example, is a half-sheet poster. There are a couple of half-sheets and a few three-sheets, but most of them are one-sheets. Lot 95, which is “Rear Window,” is an insert, which is a tall skinny poster.

AP: How did you get involved in this particular sale, since, as you said, you don’t usually handle movie posters?

GL: We were called in because his collection included watches, prints and paintings, books, movie posters and memorabilia. And none of it was of extraordinary value. It’s good, middle-range valued material. There aren’t too many auction houses that handle across the board. We don’t handle furniture, we don’t handle watches and clocks, but we made a proposal and said, ‘listen, the things that we specialize in and that we’re known for are photographs and books and prints and posters, and I guess we made a good case for it. They sent the furniture someplace, they sent the jewelry someplace, they sent a couple of very, very important primitive paintings someplace, and the rest of it came to us. There’s no mystery about it: Auction houses compete for material.

It’s an amazing collection. If you look at number 45, which is an Andy Warhol shoe design, estimated at $15-20,000. And there’s a photograph in here, number 6, which is a major, major photograph (by William Eggleston), estimated at $30-40,000. In a sense, the movie posters may be the most interesting for you and the most interesting for me, but they’re not the most valuable items for sale. I’d be surprised if any one of the posters brought more than maybe $5,000 or $6,000.

AP: I wouldn’t mind having a few of those myself, of course.

GL: Listen, you’re welcome to bid, you know that.

AP: Thanks, I appreciate that.

GL: To me, the biggest curiosity is number 99. This is a 24-sheet horizontal poster which, if it were opened up, would be almost twenty feet long and nine feet high. It’s called a 24-sheet, and it’s also called a billboard. It may sell for a lot of money, and it may not sell, because nobody has the space to display it, except that it’s a curiosity piece. And we’ve never opened it because – I believe it’s never been opened – because it’s very brittle. We opened it just enough to see what it was. Anybody who gets it probably would have to professionally have it opened, and you do that by putting it in a damp atmosphere so the paper softens, so it doesn’t crack when it gets opened. It’s a spectacular poster.

It’s also possible that as a result of this sale, we’ll be getting into more material of this kind. Look at number 100, which is for the Polish release of “Spellbound.” It’s very interesting. For me, I’ve been with Swann’s since before 1970, and it’s very sad to see a young man who apparently had great promise in the movie business die so young. In fact, he was mentioned at the Academy Awards as an important figure who died during the year. So, here’s a guy who really was very talented and had a great sense of aesthetics judging from what he collected. You can make that my final statement. (laughs)

GL: Thanks, I appreciate your time today.


A New Perspective on “Vertigo”

4 03 2012

Authors Wendy Powers and Robin McLeod provide a new perspective on Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo” with their novel “The Testament of Judith Barton.” Where the events of “Vertigo” (which I wrote about here) are seen through the eyes of its hero, John “Scottie” Ferguson, this novel looks at one of the most remote women in the Hitchcock canon: Judith Barton, who portrayed Madeleine Elster, whose actions helped drive Ferguson to the brink of insanity, before falling victim to forces greater than herself.

Powers and McLeod ask the questions that Hitchcock ignored: Who is Judith Barton, and how did she become involved with Gavin Elster and, ultimately, with John Ferguson? The novel lays out a rich background for Barton as she grows up in Kansas, in the shadow of her older sister, worshipping her jewelry-repairman father and getting reluctantly drawn into the theater. But after her father’s death, the two sisters decide to strike out for California, with Judy heading for San Francisco, where she studies theater and struggles to make ends meet. A chance meeting with Gavin Elster at a jewelry shop sets brings her story into sync with “Vertigo” as Elster hires her to portray his wife to throw off the man who he claims is following her.

That man, of course, is Ferguson, and while Judy never gets a clear picture of Elster’s true plan – to use Ferguson as a puppet in a scheme to murder his wife – she falls in love with the former police detective. Anyone who has seen the movie knows that there is only one possible outcome for Judy, though, and it’s not a good one. But you may find yourself rooting for Judy to find a way to escape her fate in “The Testament of Judith Barton,” as I did. You can order the book from Amazon here.

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