Read about Rob Feeney's role in the resdiscovery of the lost ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz here.
In the space of an hour, Rob Feeney can barely get through the CliffsNotes version of his life as a movie/television prop collector, reseller and supplier to production companies. There are too many storied details. Too many “you can’t script this” twists in the plots. And, honestly, not enough space to write about it all with descriptions and details he deserves.
There was the time Feeney found himself in Somewhereville, Ky., staring at a barn full of entertainment memorabilia, one of which was the original Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) sign, which had been missing from the Culver City, Calif., east main parking lot for several years. “Anybody who was anybody—an actor in the movie, a janitor, whoever—went underneath this sign between 1929 and 1986,” Feeney says. There it was. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he says.
The man wanted Feeney to sell it for him, and so began Feeney’s first experience reselling with entertainment memorabilia folk. Feeney put it up on eBay, and 24 hours and 4,000 views later, he was deeply woven into comment threads, the authors of which met newcomer Feeney with some skepticism.
Other experiences rush out of Feeney with equal parts enthusiasm and urgency to get to the next story. “There’s a guy … [when he] first moved to L.A. back in 1990, he didn’t have a lot of money, and he needed a bed for his place. He ended up buying the bed that was used in that movie with Sharon Stone [the opening scene of Basic Instinct (1992)]. There’s another guy that I know that bought a bed from another Judy Garland film, and he sleeps in it.”
“There’s one guy that I know who collects all the classic outfits from the from the 1950s and ‘60s sci-fi movies,” Feeney says. “He’s got most of the Star Trek outfits. He’s just got everything you could imagine.”
Then there’s another guy … and another …
“Some collectors just store this stuff, and pull it out when they just want to look at it, wear it or display it,” Feeney says. While others just want bragging rights or are in business buying/selling. “You’ve got some collectors, who have all the money in the world, and they just want to connect to their past or their childhood,” he says.
Feeney keeps his collection locked up in an undisclosed location, but when he met with Southwest Metro Magazine, a handful of movie props were on display in his Chaska home, including a wad of fake cash, used in Eddie Murphy’s 48 Hrs. (1982) from a Los Angeles prop company that also makes cartridges for fake cigarettes and an arrow from The Last of the Mohicans (1992).
Rob Feeney enjoys collecting prop items, including an arrow from Last of the Mohicans, a prop gun from GoldenEye, faux money from 48 Hrs. and a prop badge.
But what got this cinephilia’s cinematic blood pumping was a tunic, said to be worn by Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). Flynn wore three tunics in the film, and Feeney says the one in his possession was used in opening scene, when Major Geoffrey Vickers (Flynn) rides up on his horse. (Western Costume’s name is stamped in the inside of the tunic, and it has the telltale 10 buttons, rather than eight or 12 sewn on Flynn’s other tunics.)
Feeney’s collection began about 10 years ago when he purchased the prop gun used by the villain in GoldenEye (1995) from a prop house in the United Kingdom. “I bought it, and I just got hooked,” he says. “This is my favorite piece … I paid $1,400 for it in 2008. It’s probably worth double, maybe even triple.”
“I’ve always been a movie buff,” Feeney says. “I’m a huge James Bond fan.” Owning pieces of entertainment history is gratifying for Feeney. “Having something tangible or real from something that’s make believe is, to me, it’s kind of like having a photo album. It’s a token of a memory,” he says. “There’s nothing more thrilling than actually watching the scene, and you know that piece is in your house.”
“That James Bond gun is so significant to me,” Feeney says. “My very first memory as a kid was being in the movie theater with my parents and family and seeing Live and Let Die in 1973 … It’s really nostalgic for me. Every time a James Bond movie came out, my dad was really into it, too. That was our thing.”
Feeney doesn’t just collect (he has about 15 key items); he sells items from his and others’ collections, including the tunic worn by Claude Rains (Prince John) in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). “I sold it for a lot of money,” he says. “… I just sold the dagger that was used [in a scene between Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz] in Gangs of New York (2002). I sold it to some collector in Australia. [He] offered me so much money, I just couldn’t turn it down. That was from my personal collection.”
Also on the market is The Horse of a Different Color Carriage from The Wizard of Oz (1939). It’s owned by Jon Miner, founder of the Judy Garland Museum. Feeney says its price tag is in the millions. “It might be worth that much for the right people, but, again, it’s been really hard to sell.” That’s hard to believe, given the film’s cultural and entertainment significance. Interestingly, the carriage is said to be one of three owned by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, notes Feeney. And…it was in nearly 200 other films, including John Wayne’s final movie, The Shootist (1976).
Having money in the bank to purchase such items isn’t the only qualifier to purchase these iconic items, Feeney says. He’s careful to vet purchasers, in hopes that they’ll respect the cultural and historical significances of the items. “It’s really a Wild West industry, and you would not believe the caliber of human beings that own some of these pieces,” he says. “You just wouldn’t believe it. Some of these people have no business owning some of this stuff.”
While it’s hard to narrow down the list to just a few, Feeney says many collectors search for items related to Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. “[An item’s] value is broken down by the actor. That’s just a small part of it,” he says. “It’s also the scene in the film and how classic [the film is]. The ruby slippers are considered to be the Holy Grail of collecting. You got Judy Garland. You got The Wizard of Oz —the first movie that went from black and white to color; it’s the most watched film of all time.”
Collectors also seek items associated with super hero movies, Gladiator (2000), Jurassic Park (1993) and Harry Potter films, for example. “It doesn’t need to be an old movie for it to be valuable,” Feeney says. “It’s like a stock,” he says. “Over time, usually, the stuff becomes more classic and more valuable and, obviously more rare, so it’s all those things. But the funny thing is, you never know what’s going to be valuable. Star Wars (1977) was supposed to be a flop, and so they only made, I think it was, 200 stormtrooper helmets, and they literally threw [most of] them in the trash. Twenty-five [helmets] remain. Those are worth a fortune.”
But even Feeney gets a few unpredictable inquiries. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately for ‘80s wardrobe pieces from [nighttime TV soap opera/drama] Dynasty for some reason,” he says. “If you can believe that.”
While he balances his job doing legal research, Feeney continues to provide props, too. “There’s very few key companies in the Midwest that supply movie and television companies with props, so that’s been a huge thing. I’m constantly getting calls for that stuff,” he says.
For his personal collection, Feeney says he would like to add James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder (aka Little Bastard), which he crashed in 1955 and is rumored to be hidden in a parking garage’s wall. “... and so that’s the next thing I’m going to start looking for. I’d love to have that,” he says.