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Movie Stars of the 1940s and 1950s -

Autographed photos from Helen's collection

One fine day in 2007 I spied a box of things at Spence's auction in Dover, Delaware, that had a board game or two of interest on top. When I rooted to the bottom I found a big batch of photographs of movie stars. Many of them were autographed. I probably know less about movies and movie stars than anyone in America, but I could tell this was something very special.

When the auctioneer got to the box, I put in the opening bid of $2 - and no one else joined in! A moment later, when I pulled the collection out onto an empty table, you should have seen the people gathered around pointing and poking at the photographs exclaiming, "That's... that's... You know! He was in... C'mon! You know who that is! Sure you do! Remember???" And even if the poor lady couldn't quite bring the actor's name to mind, there's no doubt it was in there somewhere. I'd've given her full credit on Jeopardy.

It's clear that all of the photos came from the collection of a young fan name Helen Kowalczyk who lived in New Jersey. I don't know about you, but I get a bit of a vicarious thrill when I think of Helen opening up an envelope and finding a personally autographed photo from one of her favorite stars! Young people today couldn't possibly know the excitement of getting something, anything, addressed to yourself in the mail back in them "golden" days. A cheap toy you got by sending in cereal box tops might as well have been a thousand bucks.

The batch of movie star pics included 49 "eight by ten" (8 in. x 10 in.) publicity photographs and 354 smaller photos ranging from about 2 in. x 3.5 in. (wallet size?) to 3.5 in. x 4.5 in. There were also 14 snapshots presumably taken by Helen on a trip to Hollywood, and 12 taken off a tv screen.

I'll never know what portion of Helen's complete collection these 400-plus photos represent. Many of them are hand numbered on the back, and I see numbers at least as high as 566. But a couple hundred of the smallest ones, what I'm calling "wallet size", are not numbered, so you wouldn't think they count towards the 566. I have a feeling the cream of the crop got separated. After all, there are no Katharine Hepburns or Elizabeth Taylors or John Waynes (you could spout off many more superstar names) in this batch. I hope those are still together and in appreciative hands somewhere.

Of these 400-plus photos, about 80 have "real" autographs. What I mean by "real" is that they are almost certainly hand-signed. I have no reason to doubt the star himself signed it, but if you pinned me down, I couldn't swear in any case that the butler didn't do it.

So here are the photographs with real autographs, conveniently alphabetized. It would be nice to put up all 400+ photos so you could have the fun of riffling through the whole collection, but, whew, these 80 were work enough!


And now, meet our friend Helen:


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Helpful keywords not in the main text: film stars; tv stars; television stars; 1 in. = 1 inch = 2.54 cm.

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