Joe Maddalena interview, Hollywood Treasure on Syfy delivers the goods

“Hollywood Treasure” is a new half-hour weekly reality series premiering on Wednesday October 27.

Syfy will air two back-to-back episodes every Wednesday at 10:00 and at 10:30. The series delves into the fast-paced wheeling and dealing world of showbiz and pop culture memorabilia. 

“Hollywood Treasure” centers on Maddalena, who offers a tour of his Calabasas headquarter facilities, as he introduces his right arm, Brian Chanes, and Jon Mankuta, Tracey McCall and his support staff.

The show is a fast-paced race to get the goods, authenticate what is being pitched to him and then prepare it for an auction that will be accessible to a world-wide audience.

The premiere sees an original Mary Poppins carpet bag found in a Mid-western basement, as well as some amazing reproduction work by a talented man in Detroit who builds his own Batmobile from scratch and takes Joe for a ride in the neighborhood.

Joe Maddalena, owner of Profiles and History, based in Calabasas, California, spoke to journalists on a conference call about his fascinating new series.

On how the series came to be:

Joe Maddalena: For years I’ve done lots of press, from Bill O’Reilly…hundreds of interviews. And every time I do an interview a reporter will say to me, you should have your own show. You have such great stories.
Years ago I hooked up with Jerry Hurst, who’s the producer of this show and did a show called ‘Incurable Collectors,’ so I’ve known Jerry for years. And, basically out of the blue he came to me and said, do you want to do a show?  Then it happened.

On the most interesting piece of memorabilia he has run across ever:

Joe Maddalena: Wow, that’s a tough question. There was a movie called Miracle on 34th Street, and there’s this famous scene in the movie where Santa is walking down the street and he looks into this window display on Madison Avenue and he sees Santa Claus, his sleigh and reindeers, and I just unpacked this item from a box a few minutes ago. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen because the reindeers are about 12-inches tall.

On the holy grail of collectors:

Joe Maddalena: The ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. There are things that are missing but I mean the ruby slippers to me are like van Gogh’s Starry Night. They are the most symbolic thing of film history. So,  there are four pairs that survived.

There’s a missing pair that we think existed that no one knows what happened to it. There’s the rumor Toto might have eaten a pair. And then 2005 a pair was stolen out of the Judy Garland museum so one of the themes of the show is we’re searching for the ruby slippers everywhere.

I think the touring pair belonged to Michael Shore and in 2005, the week of Katrina, the Judy Garland museum was robbed and the slippers were stolen.  It didn’t get very much news because it was the week of Katrina and it wasn’t a big news story obviously, so we’re basically picking up that trail of 2005 and we’re actively searching and trying to source that. We’re offering a $10,000 cash reward to anybody with the leak that leads to the recovery of these slippers.

And, there’s a rumor that the Tin Man’s costume is in Colorado.

See, what happened is in the 60s and the 70s, the studios broke up and it was the end of contract players, the end of the massive, massive studio lots like Fox became Century City.

MGM liquidated everything, so they sold just stuff en masse, especially in the 70s, the MGM sale, they liquidated the entire lot so most of this material is scattered around the world. I found the hourglass from the Wizard of Oz in Napa, California ten years ago.  That’s worth probably $1 million today, so these things are just everywhere.

So one of the things we do – it’s very much like CSI and a lot of investigation work is tracking these pieces down because a lot of them exist. It’s just finding them again. It’s these trails have been cold for 30 and 40 years and a lot of that is what we do, we put up our wish list on the board and then try to find these things.

On what items he might be tempted to collect for himself:

Joe Maddalena: You know, I’d love to keep everything but I learned many years ago – my parents were antique dealers and the rule of thumb is once you do this for a living you can’t really keep anything because your collectors will think you keep all the good stuff. I collect things that are sentimental to me. In my office I have items from Buck Rogers – I have Twiki, the little robot who is Buck’s sidekick and around his neck is Theopolis. I bought that because when my son was six-years-old, we met Felix Silla who was the actor and they bonded and it was this whole thing and that’s something sentimental to me.

So if you came to my office, I have an eclectic mix but it’s what I grew up with. It’s memories of my parents, memories of my childhood, memories of my son so you’ll see comic art. You’ll see animation art. You’ll see illustration art. You’ll see Mickey Mantle all over the wall, you know, just very eclectic so it’s more of sentimental things that I collect for myself.

On his antiques, historical ephemera and his background and training:

Joe Maddalena: My parents were antique dealers so being a young kid hanging around with them,  the oriental rugs and china and porcelain just bored me to tears so I found the paper things, whether it was documents or rare books or comic books or baseball cards, something that at least I was interested in.

So like them, I’ve started collecting them and buying and selling them. When I started by company in 1985,  I still to this day sell historical documents. We’re probably one of the largest dealers in the world.

My favorite theme was American literature, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, James Joyce. And I realized that some of the greatest movies ever made were written by these guys. So I started to say, I wonder how much different Hammett’s screenplay is than the book and I realized, wow, Hammett didn’t write the screenplay, somebody else did.

 So I started to collect this stuff and I started to collect themes related to these movies and people would come in the office to buy other things and they’d like, wow, this is so neat; where did you get this costume sketch; where did you get this prop, and that’s how I kind of started.

Dharma Van at Calabasas Profiles in History, photo by April MacIntyre ©M&C Galaxy S Captivate SAMSUNG

Dharma Van at Calabasas Profiles in History, photo by April MacIntyre ©M&C Galaxy S Captivate SAMSUNG

On the famous Lost auction this past August:

Joe Maddalena: The Lost auction, I think the most expensive thing that sold was the Dharma van. It was a VW van. It was the really nice van. It brought $47,500. I guess the coolest thing was a 12-pack of open cans of Dharma beer sold for $5,000. You know, it’s just – I think what’s happened is that the studios have become aware that this is a vital part of marketing, that to have these auctions help their brand – it helps get the word out so I was fortunate to do this auction.

Lost Beer at Calabasas Profiles in History, photo by April MacIntyre ©M&C Galaxy S Captivate SAMSUNG

Lost Beer at Calabasas Profiles in History, photo by April MacIntyre ©M&C Galaxy S Captivate SAMSUNG

Last year, Michael Bay during the Transformers 2 movie came to me and said, I want to get some of this stuff out to the fans and we sold Transformer 2 things while the movie was out. We sold the Bumblebee Car, the 18-food Bumblebee animatronics feature.

So I think it’s a great way to promote movies and television shows and I think people are starting to become more aware of this because these are – pop culture is really an international currency. You can go anywhere in the world and they know who Harry Potter is. They might not remember who Mickey Mantle was but they remember the Terminator. And I think because it’s a global collectible it’s growing and growing.

On the strangest circumstances under which an item came to you and what was that item?

Joe Maddalena: This is kind of a fun story. In 2000 my secretary comes in and she says, there’s this guy on the phone, his name is Herb Solo, he says he created Star Trek. He’s kind of arrogant and he wants to talk to you. I’m like, he didn’t create Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry did. I hadn’t even heard of this guy. He was pretty persistent so I got on the phone and he corrected me real quickly and said, ‘yes, I was the executive in charge of production for NBC, Desilu, I bought Star Trek from Gene Roddenberry.’ And he was right.

Herb and I became friends immediately because he’s just a total character and he helped me get Matt Jefferies, who was the Star Trek set designer for the original series collection. And when I was working with Matt to sell his archive of Star Trek memorabilia I said to him, what else do you have that you took home that was cool?

And he goes, ‘you know what, in my airplane out in Camarillo I had the original carpeting from the bridge of the Enterprise.’  I said, ‘why do you have it in your plane?’  He goes, ‘well, insulation. My brother and I, when we yanked it off the floor of the bridge, we used it to insulate our little prop planes.’

So we went out there and we pulled out a section as big as we could pull out and we put it in Matt’s auction because I thought it was just going to be, like, a curiosity. You know, here’s bridge from the Enterprise, shag carpeting, it’s worth $1 a yard. And we had it at $200 to $300. It sold for $14,000 so that one I’ll never forget.

On the greatest lengths he had to go to to obtain an item:

Joe Maddalena: We travel around the world. The furthest place I’ve been is Tokyo. I bought an archive of Toho posters, Godzilla, Ultra Mana, a very large collection of important Japanese movie posters and Japanese film culture, Seven Samurai, things like that. In this show you’re going to see us traveling to England in search of really great things. So we go anywhere we can find, you know, wherever films were made we’re searching.

On why he did the show for Syfy:

Joe Maddalena: I did this because I really love what I do and I  think it’s important to take care of these artifacts because I feel they’re a part of our culture. And I just want people to enjoy the ride, the fun that we go through, how exciting it is to find these things, the amazing people we meet and the great stories.

I mean that’s what it’s all about. It’s this great journey and unlike a lot of other shows you actually get to see the fruits of our labor because at the end of all we do we actually sell the items or try to sell the items. There’s actually a final beat of what happens and you get to go back to the person who consigned it and you hear from them what their experience was. So I really enjoy it. I love being out there and meeting the people and I love finding the stuff.

On the one thing that he thought was impossible to find but actually ended up finding anyway:

Joe Maddalena: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  You know, the car had been off my radar forever. I mean I’d just look at it and say, that’s one of the most iconic cars in film history and how we tracked it down and basically the owner, the man that – basically he traded a year’s wages working on the movie for the car. And he basically got the car instead of a salary. And just, you know, we had to travel to England to find this car. So when you see the car and you realize what it looks like it just takes your breath away because – the first time I saw the car, just being in its presence I literally couldn’t speak. It’s that powerful when you see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So that did it for me.

I’m a Wizard of Oz obsessed person so I know the witch’s broomstick is out there, the Tin Man’s costume is out there. There is so many things that are lost, you know, almost everything is lost. There’s all these great biblical epics…I’d love to find Charlton Heston’s staff from Ten Commandments,  his Moses costume. There’s so many amazing things out there that we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

On how things come to him:

Joe Maddalena: You know, because I’ve been doing this for almost three decades now and we’re here in Los Angeles, we’ve built up this amazing network and my success is really based upon the clients and the people that I’ve dealt with for decades because they’re your ambassadors.

They’re out there at cocktail parties with friends, at movies – and they’re always like, hey, you have something, call this guy. So when we’re not sure of something we reach out to people and say, have you ever heard of – like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We reached out to 20 or 30 people who thought might have an idea and one guy was, like, yes, I can help you with that.
You are going to see a lot in this show. You’re going to see a lot of us going to experts, people who are, like, movie historians, people who really do specific things in one genre of film collecting and we reach out to them and they help us find things, authenticate things, so that’s definitely – it’s both.

Either we take a cold lead and look for somebody to help us who might have either worked in the production or been a collector at the time, and then try to resurrect the lead because most of these things are out there but people that have them don’t know.
See, like baseball cards and comic books and stamps and coins, we all know they’re valuable. We’ve taken them out of the boxes. We’ve told the sad stories of Mom throwing them away and the ones that have survived. You know, they’ve been graded and sold. These things, people really don’t know they have them because – oh yes, Uncle Bernie, he was a filmmaker. We have these boxes in the basement. They don’t realize that they could be Stop Motion puppets for some 1950s B movie that I would kill to get my hands on. So it’s out there.

On the guests Dawn Wells and Stan Lee and what connection they have to the memorabilia?

Joe Maddalena: One of the constant themes of the show is we need to reach out to the people who worked on these shows, especially the celebrities because they may have things. So we have a lot of celebrities on the show where we’re basically going to them and looking at what they have and possibly selling it or appraising it or valuing it.

Most of the show is about finding the material because we don’t get everything we go after right away so we’re trying to identify where it is and who has it and then we help a lot of these celebrities either archive it, take care of it, preserve it, and a lot of them are surprised what it’s worth one way or the other. Either they think it’s worth a lot more than it is or a lot less than it is so you’re going to see a lot of that interaction.

You’re going to find me searching for these things that are just so iconic and the people who help me along the way are just – you’ll see celebrities.

Stan Winston was a dear friend before he passed away and,  for two or three years I worked very closely with Stan and was fortunate enough to take care of his collection and sell off his collection. Now I work with his family, his wife and his kids and stuff, and I archive all their assets.

And Stan obviously did Iron Man. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a phone call, ‘can’t get an Iron Man? No, can’t get an Iron Man.’ I mean it’s the most requested thing because they know I have the direct connection.

The Iron Mans are all owned by Marvel Entertainment Group. They’re not being sold and it’s probably the most requested thing I get.

On the dangers and pitfalls of fraud in the marketplace:

Joe Maddalena:  One of the predominant elements as you watch this season go on is authentication. We’re meeting with so many experts finding out how things are made. You know, we encounter things that aren’t authentic and we explain how we know.

And that’s one of the biggest things, we’re very skeptical of everything we encounter. So even with the carpetbag there was, like, we weren’t 100% sure until we could get it back and actually spend hours examining it and then we were able to forensically pinpoint the pattern of the fabric of the carpet and know it was that specific carpet.

So yes, a very big concern is making people aware of, you know, how you authenticate this material,  just the whole process of how it’s made. We’re visiting prop makers, prop shops, producers, directors. We’re learning about the whole process and one of the great parts, I hope, is the studio’s continuing to sell things. In my November auction that we’re doing in conjunction with the show, SYFY was great and they gave us stuff from Caprica and Eureka and Battlestar Galactica.

So more materials are coming out of the studios because of a show like mine that would never come out before. In this auction in November we’re doing with Variety Kids, which is a California-based charity for at-risk and abused kids, we have the identity disk for Tron. So here’s an opportunity for somebody to get something right from Disney of a movie that’s going to be a blockbuster.

So it’s kind of like – I think it’s going to be self-policing in that regard because I think more material like that is going to come onto the marketplace and that’s what I’m going to try to really urge people to pay attention to because of the source of origin.

There’s a lot of forensic-type examinations and we bring in people and we bring in experts and there’s a lot of that in the show. You can see what we go through to authenticate something to the point of where you’ll laugh.

We actually had something that was brought in by the actor who wore it, and we were nervous because he took it out of the box and, I’m saying, here, ‘you wore this costume?’  He picks it up and he looks at it and he goes, ‘this is my costume,’ I can’t believe it. And then he goes into the detail about, ‘see, that hole? Do you know how that happened? I got caught in the door…’ It was just great to hear that, and that’s one of the cool things about the show.

But, again, hopefully after a couple of seasons somebody at home will be able to learn how to do that themselves where they basically do what we do, match these things up, ask the questions, only buy from people where you can get your money back. I mean it’s the same thing as anybody else, the best collector is an informed collector and that’s what I’m hoping to do is teach people about this great hobby and how we go about doing what we doing.

On people’s reluctance to part with their treasures:

Joe Maddalena: For sure, lots of them, lots of them. But those are kind of some of the surprises of the shows that I don’t know if I can tell you specifically what they are but, yes, I do bang my head on the wall where it’s, like, I find something that’s worth $1 million and they’re just not going to sell it. So yes, there’s a lot of that for sure.

I think a lot of people just don’t know what they have one way or the other, especially when you deal “with the public” as opposed to the studios and production companies. We had somebody come in with a spaceship and she said she heard her grandfather tell her it was from Flash Gordon. Well, in two seconds I figured out it wasn’t from Flash Gordon.

And, it took six months for us to get her on the phone again to tell her to come in a pick up this spaceship. In that ensuing six months another guy walked in and he goes, where did you get that? I’m like, why? He goes, ‘my God, I haven’t seen that in 50 years!’
I say, ‘You know what that is?’

And he goes, ‘Yes, I worked on that film. It’s from Adam Versus Superman.”
I’m like, ‘You’re kidding.’
He goes, ‘No, no, let me go home and do some research.’
He came back and lo and behold, this was it.  I mean this is Lex Luther’s space ship!  So the girl was blown away because all she had was her grandfather’s recollection who worked in the film industry what this was.

She either heard the story wrong, or made up a story in her own mind from recollections and for me it was, okay, this is obviously – it’s not from that, it can’t be. You know, I can’t wish it to be so it was just serendipity that somebody else came in and that’s one of the great parts.

On an auction item that fell flat:

Joe Maddalena: It happens a lot. You know, and it’s very odd that something will…I’m really, like, costume sketches and stuff, and it really surprises me sometimes how valuable some are and how valuable some aren’t. You could have two Adrian designs of Greta Garbo and one is worth is 20,000 and one is worth 2,000 because two collectors think one is better than the other.

So a lot of this is just what people decide they want, so I’m always surprised one way or the other what things sell for. I would be, like, ‘wow, that one for 20,000 and that one for 10,000.?’  It doesn’t make sense to me but it doesn’t have to make sense to me because I’m not the collector who collects one thing over the other.

I can tell you this, men’s fashions are pretty uncollected in general. It’s very hard to sell men’s wardrobe unless it’s a real contemporary film like Russell Crowe from Gladiator but if you just have a John Wayne jacket from one of his million movies they’re not very valuable. If you have something from one of – The Alamo or one of his famous films, they’re very valuable.

When Marlon Brando died, a reporter called me and said, everything of Marlon Brando must have went up. I’m like, actually the opposite. Nobody cares. I mean unless it’s from A Streetcar Named Desire or the Godfather it’s worth a few hundred dollars but those are worth tens of thousands of dollars.

But in the end that information is only meaningful today because we have such a small group of people who collect this. If the base of collectors doubles all of it will be valuable because more people will start collecting things.

 Because the collectors now, we already know how they, we know what they collect. It’s not to say, somebody might come along and say, I want to collect John Wayne, I want to collect Marlon Brando, I want to collect James Dean and as people have access I think that will be kind of like – the disappointment factor will disappear as much.

On a valuable colectible that was abused and neglected:

Joe Maddalena: Well, there’s the story of the Captain Kirk’s chair then with it being in the bar. You know the story?
There’s so many things it’s like, when MGM liquidated the lot a lot of the things that they had were bought by theme parks and attractions. I mean I got a phone call from a bar in Florida that had all this Mutiny on the Bounty stuff because the previous owner had bought it at the MGM sale for décor.

So this was this little hole in the wall bar and basically it was like a dive and all – it was all this stuff from Mutiny on the Bounty and the new owner says, ‘I think when I bought this thing the guy told me but I’m not sure.’  You find that pieces were being used for dartboards and I mean no idea.

It was just furnishing because the guy in the 70s that went out to the MGM sale bought this stuff as décor for, you know, a few hundred dollars and used it in his bar. And suddenly –  again, when the guy realized that stuff was worth tens of thousands of dollars it quickly came off the walls.

On what foreigners outside the USA love in collectibles:

Joe Maddalena: Jurassic Park is huge in Japan. When I sold Stan Winston’s first round of his material a lot of the Jurassic Park stuff I sold ended up in Japan. Japanese are huge consumers. But, you know, we have people from 150 different countries who call us. I mean Spain, Greece, Germany, France, South America, Brazil, you know, Canada, I mean China, just everywhere, Russia. I mean, you know, it’s amazing to me the interest but I would say Japan is definitely a large consumer of American pop culture.

On the largest prop sold:

Joe Maddalena: The largest? I’ll tell you two stories real fast. So I get this catalog one day from an English auction house, it’s about 15 years ago, and I see this miniature model of Titanic. And it’s basically the hollow Titanic and it has Titanic on it. I’m like, oh this would be cool. I’d like love to have this on my desk, 22-inches long. I’m like, perfect, I’ve got a great spot for it.

So a few months later, one of the girls that works with me comes in and says, what are you going to do with this thing? And I’m like, put it on my desk. And she’s like, Joe, it’s in a tractor-trailer truck. I’m like, what are you talking about? Well, I didn’t read it carefully. It was 22-feet long and it was about six feet tall and about eight-feet wide and no wonder it cost so much money to get here.

To make a long story short, I had that thing in storage forever so finally we cut off the front of it and just sold the Titanic piece. And the guy that bought it, I convinced him he should make a bar out of it. I was happy to get rid of it.

So that’s the biggest, hugest mistake that I’ve ever made but, no, we’re moving things all the time.

The Stan Winston stuff just keeps coming back because these T-rex heads were the size of Volkswagens. I mean we were moving things that weighed thousands and thousands of pounds. We’re moving vehicles all the time. But I would say, the Stan Winston,  the full-sized dinosaurs, they were pretty enormous.

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