When your hobby turns into one of the most comprehensive movie poster collections in the world, what do you do for an encore? A local collector once had 45,000 posters and lobby cards. He sold some, donated others and kept the cream of the crop.
Mark Vitali: From a giant Spanish poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “North by Northwest”…
…for a rarity featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – the prototype for Mickey Mouse…
…and enough lobby cards to fill the lobbies of a hundred cinemas.
It’s a collection from the golden age of the silver screen, when color movie posters made the first lasting impressions.
Dwight Cleveland, Collector / Keeper: 100% of the advertising budget went into the posters, and they hired important artists and had graphic art departments that put these together. It’s the first thing people see, of course when movies first evolved, it was the only form of advertising. This was meant to grab you by the collar and say ‘go to this cinema and see this film.’
Vitaly: Dwight Cleveland has had a passion for posters and lobby cards since the 1970s. He has work from 56 countries.
Cleveland: When many of these posters were made, the way foreign distribution worked – and I own a lot of foreign posters because I feel they have superior graphics – a foreign artist would have designed the poster. So you will see different artwork on the domestic poster than you saw on the foreign poster. But today the campaigns are kind of global, so if you even go to another country, you’re going to see exactly the same artwork that you’re going to see here in the cinema, so it’s not really that interesting to me.
Vitaly: His collection was the focus of a book, “Cinema on Paper,” with an introduction by Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies.
Cleveland: I collect differently than most collectors, who collect by movie genre, or specific movie stars, directors, things like that. I first fell in love with the posters and the artwork, and then learned to love the movies after that. So everything I own I love artistically.
It is difficult to define in words. It’s more of a visceral reaction that I get when I see something, and I just know that I have to own it. He just talks to me and says ‘Take me home’.
Vitaly: He began his collection as a teenager with the lobby card for “Wolf Song,” an early sound film with Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez.
A high school teacher was also a collector and asked him to find posters on his “wish list.”
Cleveland: While hunting for things on his list, I fell in love with other posters and just got hooked, and it’s been my drug of choice ever since.
Vitaly: He continued the collection through a career renovating historic Chicago
the houses. He handles the film’s story with the same care.
Cleveland: I started as a collector, then I learned about restoration, archiving, cataloging and all these things, and now I’ve become more of an advocate in terms of uplifting the art form.
Vitaly: Cleveland reduced its film stock with donations to the Library of Congress, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and other institutions.
His collection is currently the basis of an exhibition on the role of women in early film history at the Poster House Museum in New York City.
His advice to aspiring collectors?
Cleveland: I think the best advice I can give is to just buy what you like. I mean, that’s what I did and everything fell into place. I think when you try to buy art and know the market and treat it as an investment, it’s a really difficult task and it’s not something I would want to take on. So just buy what you like and be very thorough and understand the concept of ‘caveat emptor’. It is very important in auctions and when dealing with dealers.
Vitaly: Now with a smaller collection, he is looking to his future.
Cleveland: Most of the ones I own are one of a kind or only slightly known, so it’s very hard to value something like this, but I’d like to see it in an institution that will treat it properly and make it available for film scholars and the general public, and how that happens, I don’t know yet, but I’m certainly getting calls for it.
More on this story: There’s more from collector Dwight Cleveland, including his book, “Cinema on Paper.” And if you find yourself in New York City, his Women in Early Hollywood exhibit is on at the Poster House Museum through October 9.