Inside The Last Moving Picture Co., boxes are stacked on top of boxes, old magazines litter the desk and cabinets are bursting with files. The vintage movie poster store, located in Kirtland near some horse farms, a flower shop and a cemetery, looks like a suburban home in the midst of being unpacked.
Morris Everett Jr., the 71-year-old owner, points to one of the few clean surfaces: a formal, wood-carved dining room chair covered in plastic. The chair, Everett explains, once belonged to Sylvester T. Everett, the former Cleveland treasurer who lived in one of the largest manions on Millionaires' Row. He also happened to be Everett's great grandfather.
Everett first spied the chair at a cousin's house sale. The cloth was tattered, the legs scratched. But Everett, who majored in history at the University of Virginia, had to buy and fix it. "I couldn't have it just go off into Never Never Land," he explains. "I feel this need to save things."
It is this obsession that has spawned a multimillion-dollar movie poster enterprise.
Everett, an animated, silver-haired historian who wears his glasses on a chain around his neck, has always loved the movies' therapeutic qualities; the way viewers can escape into narratives and plot and how good movies can release floodgates of feelings. "Whenever I watch Jiminy Cricket sing When You Wish Upon a Star' [in Pinocchio], I get emotional," he says. "It feels good when I have tears."
Today, with 180,000 movie posters and 3 million film stills, Everett owns one of the largest private supplies of entertainment photography in the world. Under the title Everett Collection Inc., he licenses the rights to these images to print, digital and TV outlets who want authentic photos to supplement their stories.
"On any one day, I can open up a paper and see a photo credit with my name," he says. When Frank Sinatra died in 1998, Time magazine's cover shot of the young smiling singer with his jacket strewn casually over his shoulder and his left hand tipping his hat came from Everett's collection. So was the National Enquirer's front-page photo of Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk after his death in 2009.
"Morris has some of the greatest and rarest gems [of the industry]," says California-based vintage movie media collector and dealer Walter Reuben. "He definitely has the largest collection in the country, and probably the world. His collection is just awesome."
And Everett's not done yet. His goal is to own a poster or photo from every single American film ever made, although he knows this is not entirely realistic. "It's impossible to categorize what a full collection is," he admits, digging deeper into the question. "Would you count made-for-TV movies? Movies that went straight to video? Cartoons shown before silent movies?"
To find these old posters and stills — which were produced as promotional pieces for theaters to display in their lobbies (and then often thrown away) — Everett attends and runs movie poster auctions around the globe, acting as a seller and a dealer. Every Memorial Day weekend for the past 20 years he has organized the Hollywood Poster Auction during the Cinevent Classic Film Convention in Columbus. It's one of the biggest film memorabilia auctions in the world, attracting 80 dealers and 1,000 attendees.
Through all these dealings, Everett has gained an international reputation as a poster collector, able to discern the authenticity of a poster by its texture or the way it's folded.
Almost every day, Everett fields phone calls from people who want to know the value of old movie media found in their attics or at garage sales.
Take the couple in Washington renovating their 85-year-old home. When they knocked down a wall, they found crumpled movie window cards from 1927 that had been used as insulation. One of the 70 posters found, advertising the silent movie Babe Comes Home, starring Babe Ruth, is extremely rare. Everett represented the couple's finding at auctions, netting them $100,000.
"And they still have one floor and one wall left to renovate," Everett says excitedly. "Who knows what they'll find there?"
Morris Everett was born into a family of collectors.
Growing up in Cleveland, his brother amassed toy lead soldiers. His father collected Confederate stamps used during the Civil War.
Though Everett innately understood the passion and excitement of collecting, "stamps from the British empire just didn't do it for me," he says.
In 1961, Everett wandered into a New York store filled with vintage movie stock. As Everett flipped through the glossy stills and painted lithographs, his mind reverted back to the excitement of watching Errol Flynn on the big screen, and he thought, Ahhh, this is for me.
That day, he bought a lobby card from Flynn's 1936 movie Charge of the Light Brigade and an 8-by-10 photo from the Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty film Splendor in the Grass.
He put them in a desk drawer in his fraternity house, unable to shake the feeling of his first purchase and the impact movies had on him.
For Everett, movie photos and posters are portals to the past, able to transport a viewer to the exact place and state of mind they were in when they first saw a film. Whenever he walks past a poster of Charge of the Light Brigade, he still "feels an inner glow," he says.
For five years, Everett dabbled in collecting, picking up small posters and lobby cards of films he liked. His first major foray into the field came in 1967 when he spotted a small ad in an 8mm film collector's newsletter about photos for sale. After asking the seller a few questions, he bought the entire 6,000 print collection for a few hundred dollars without ever seeing it in person.
When Everett received the collection, he was shocked to find it filled with stills of Vaudevillian actors such as Jack Benny and Laurel & Hardy from the 1920s and '30s. "They were all so gorgeous. I couldn't choose just one or two prints," Everett says.
And just like that, he was addicted.
Everett spent the next few decades traveling to auctions in small, one-restaurant towns such as Canton, Okla., which housed one of the largest independent poster exchanges in the country. He'd plant himself in a cheap motel room, and once spent three weeks flipping through old movie posters.
In the process, he acquired some real gems: a poster from the original 1939 Gone With the Wind before it was re-released, and a still from the 1933 horror movie The Invisible Man with Claude Rains.
But it was only by chance that these images became the basis of Everett's career.
For most of the 1980s, the collector owned a fundraising consulting business, helping places such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Play House solicit money. Yet for all his expertise in the field, Everett couldn't keep track of his own money.
"I overextended myself," he admits reluctantly. By 1990, he was broke.
"I had to look at my assets," he says. "I hadn't invested in the stock market. All I had was these prints."
So Everett and partner Ron Harvey, who he'd met at a movie convention in New York and had a background in movie photo leasing, opened a business in New York City licensing these images. In 1991, he loaded his truck with hundreds of thousands of prints and drove through the Lincoln Tunnel. "I had no money at all," he says. "I was surviving on a wing and a prayer."
In New York, Harvey catalogued and advertised the collection. When media outlets learned of the extent of his photos, the phones didn't stop ringing. He got orders from magazines in Hollywood and Hong Kong. Six months into his business, Everett was back in the black and had found a new calling.
He opened a store in Hollywood and another on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, selling duplicates from his own collection and tracking down posters for patrons. But multiple robberies forced Everett to close the Euclid Avenue location in 1999. In 2001, he closed the Hollywood spot and moved to Kirtland, where he lives with his second wife, Diana, who has her own collection of
Everett's children and stepchildren have also inherited the collecting bug. His son Morris Everett III runs his own rare movie poster dealership, MoHollywood, in California. "I learned the art from my dad," Everett's son explains. "I grew up watching him thread reels and show vintage movies. When I was 4 years old, I was fencing with the shadows of Errol Flynn and learning to love Hollywood."
But the best gift Everett passed on, his son says, was the knowledge that he could turn a passion into a career. "My dad didn't start out thinking this would be his livelihood, but I grew up knowing this could be my livelihood," Everett III says.
"Papa has five decades of experience," he adds. "He knows his stuff better than anyone else I've ever met, and I've been in the trade for 33 years."
Despite Everett's obsessive searching, there are still some posters that elude him. "There are a few Holy Grails in the movie picture world," he says, citing a silent film with Conrad Veidt titled The Man Who Laughs. "It's extremely difficult to find anything on it," he adds. "It's like a lost film."
Another collector recently acquired a rare poster from the 1931 Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. movie Little Ceasar for $35,000. The most Everett has ever spent on an image was $11,000 for a lobby card from the 1932 movie Freaks. "It was a very strange film, and there wasn't much out there on it," he says.
The thrill of finding one of these gems keeps Everett's mind flickering like a projector. "Morris wakes up every morning excited and engaged," says Walter Reuben.
But Everett also spends a lot of time pondering the future of his vast holdings. "I will not let anyone separate the collection and sell the pieces individually," he says firmly. He intends to sell it one day as a single lot.
It's almost impossible to place a value on Everett's collection. A large portion of the movies made before the 1930s were lost, so Everett's collection is "really an invaluable document of American history," Reuben says. (Images of movies from before the 1930s make up about 15 percent of what Everett owns.)
But for now, movie fanatics with shallow pockets wanting to view history can buy a book. Eight years ago, Everett and his wife, Diana, put out a 300-page tome of 600 posters titled Movie Posters: 75 Years of Academy Award Winners, and hopes to produce a second book soon featuring 1,000 lobby cards.
"The Motion Picture Academy of America could never do a project like that," Everett says proudly. "They just don't have the collection."
12:00 AM EST
May 16, 2012