A local movie buff ’s stuff

Seventy-five years from now, some movie fans might be showing off Bruce Dern’s plaid shirt from “Neb
Wayne Newcomb poses for a picture with his "Wizard of Oz" costumes, part of his personal golden era movie memorabilia collection.
Wayne Newcomb poses for a picture with his "Wizard of Oz" costumes, part of his personal golden era movie memorabilia collection.

Categories: Life & Arts, News, Schenectady County

Seventy-five years from now, some movie fans might be showing off Bruce Dern’s plaid shirt from “Nebraska” or Sandra Bullock’s spacesuit from “Gravity.”

Wayne Newcomb Jr. will be out of the movie-wardrobe collection game by then. And, nothing against two of the films nominated for honors in tonight’s 86th annual Academy Awards, but they really aren’t Newcomb’s favorite flicks.

Newcomb, a Capital Region real estate agent for Yankee Realty, is bullish on Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” the star-and-studio system that lasted from the 1920s through the early 1960s. He so appreciates stars such as the tragic Jean Harlow, tough guy Humphrey Bogart, boisterous Judy Garland and friendly Frank Morgan — the old Wizard of Oz himself — that he has collected shirts, blouses, suits and shoes worn by the stars in some of their most famous films.

The 42-year-old collector has been on the job for the past 23 years and has about 200 pieces. The fascination started when Newcomb screened the documentary film “MGM: When the Lion Roars” during the early 1990s. An existing love of movies became a devotion to old-time Hollywood.

Other people have caught the fever, thanks in part to reality television shows such as “Beverly Hills Pawn” and “Hollywood Treasures,” where memorabilia items are often the stars.

“It all started, I think, with the regular ‘Pawn Stars’ and now it’s branched out,” Newcomb said. “ ‘Beverly Hills Pawn’ is a big one and now they have ‘Hollywood Treasures,’ which is Profiles in History, the auction house, and that’s where I got a lot of my stuff from.”

The “stuff,” most of it stored in a warehouse, is impressive. The tall, black leather shoes once owned by the Wicked Witch of the West — they were apparently waterproof — are part of Newcomb’s “Oz” portfolio. A Kelly green and cream-colored “Oz” guard uniform and a Munchkin outfit are other pieces Newcomb owns from the 1939 fantasy musical famous for its vicious tornado, flying monkeys and genius scarecrow.

Wayne’s world also has the dark blue pinstriped suit Bogart used as Vincent Parry in the 1947 film noir “Dark Passage.” And the deep green blouse Ingrid Bergman wore in 1944’s “Gaslight,” the film that won the Swedish beauty an Academy Award for best actress.

Newcomb has the green and burgundy coats that Bud Abbott and Lou Costello wore in “Lost in a Harem.” He recently secured the burgundy trousers the comedians clowned around in during the 1944 film. He’s got a few Judy Garland pieces, including the light blue blouse the actress wore in “Meet Me in St. Louis” from 1944 and a cream-colored military-style dress — complete with red sash and red and blue brooch — from 1941’s “Babes on Broadway.”

Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart are with Newcomb, in fashion spirit. Gable’s light-colored safari shirt from 1953’s “Mogambo,” complete with an interior tag that contains the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer name, Gable’s name and the production number, is on display. Jimmy’s jacket from the 1939 western “Destry Rides Again,” in which the actor played a reluctant hero gunman, is also hanging around.

Newcomb has a Gable favorite — a telegram the actor received in 1931 from a 9-year-old girl named Jean Darling. The little girl wrote she liked Gable more than her dolls, and almost as much as her dog. Gable must have gotten a kick out of the Western Union message. “He kept it all those years,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb’s curios also include photos and autographs of the stars. Some of them are baby pictures. One of the quirkier souvenirs is a lock of baby hair from Katharine Hepburn, a keepsake once mailed between family members.

Most of the pieces have come from auction participation.

“It’s very competitive,” Newcomb said. “In fact, I’m glad Debbie Reynolds is basically retiring from it. She sold a lot of her items and her final auction is coming up in May. But she used to have the money to eat up anything she wanted, so it would be difficult to beat her on some items.”

Sometimes, when collectors purchase a shirt or suit, they lock it up for a few decades.

“I have a limited budget and what happens is a nice piece will come up,” Newcomb said. “I’ll get beat out at an auction and I’ll never see that piece again because they’ll hold it for the next 30 years. That’s why it’s bittersweet.”

The new searchers, inspired by the “Pawn” and “Treasures” programs, aren’t really causing much trouble for Newcomb. He said they’re mostly interested in recent movies, or films that were popular 10 or 20 years ago.

Newcomb stays away from the 1990s and 2000s; he won’t even stray into cinema culture from the ’70s and ’80s.

“There are movies that I grew up with that I would love to have,” he said. “The problem is I have to stop myself from doing that. I’m afraid I would branch out and with a limited budget you just can’t do it.”

Newcomb’s main competition — older movie fans who enjoyed the films from 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s — are passing away. That leaves fewer people looking for Bogart’s trench coat from “Casablanca,” and the yellow bricks and ruby red slippers from “Oz.”

“Pieces from the Yellow Brick Road, people would die to have them,” Newcomb said. “Nobody knows what happened to it. There was a rumor that it was under one of the sound stages at MGM. They checked it out and it’s not there. The ruby slippers are considered the crème de la crème, but the next best thing would be the Yellow Brick Road. You tell me an item you can think of that would be more desirable besides the ruby slippers or the Maltese Falcon?”

Maybe Boris Karloff’s neck bolts from “Frankenstein.” But someone might already have them.

“The horror genre is unbelievable for collectors, especially from Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman,” Newcomb said. “That stuff is huge for some reason, and those collectors pay more than anybody else does for stuff. A lot of people will go with the golden age with that stuff and incorporate it with nowadays stuff. Horror is horror to them. If they can get it from the beginning of the movies, they’ll take it.”

Some people might think a framed lock of Hepburn’s hair is a little creepy. Newcomb will laugh them off.

“I think it’s neat,” he said. “I don’t care what they say.”

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