Movie Poster a Treasure For California Family

Movie Poster a Treasure For California Family

In 1978, Anne Stafford was shopping for a gift for her husband’s birthday.

“He is a B horror movie fan and he loved Dracula and Sherlock Holmes and stuff by Roger Corman,” says the California mom.

Stafford ended up in an antiques store, not certain what she was looking for or what she would find when a stack of movie posters caught her eye. She began flipping through the sheets when one in particular stood out. “When I saw it, it was just stunning,” Stafford recalls. “I knew I had a terrific hit on my hands.

“It was the perfect gift,” she continues. “There were maybe 10 movie posters on that table, but honestly I don’t remember what the others were. I just remember the ‘Freaks’ poster.”

Stafford paid $10 for the 14-by-36 inch poster and her husband was delighted with the gift.

When released in 1932, ‘Freaks’ shocked moviegoers. It was based on a short story about circus performers published in February 1923 in Munsey’s Magazine. Rather than using actors in costumes and makeup, director and producer Tod Browning cast real performers as “freaks.”

It was too much for audiences of the time and MGM quickly pulled the movie from theaters. The studio called it an error in judgment, but decades later, it would become a cult classic at revival houses and on college campuses.

For 30 years, the Staffords had little idea that the poster hanging on their wall was one of the last remaining original posters for the controversial movie. “Movie posters from the original release are virtually unheard of,” says Grey Smith, director of vintage movie posters at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. “It’s one of the hobby’s greatest rarities.”

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While researching the poster, at least one dealer offered the Staffords $60,000. But the family decided an auction was the best option for them. In March 2009, an East Coast collector purchased it for $107,550 at a Heritage auction.

“We all like nice things,” Stafford says, “but we certainly can’t take it with us. We enjoyed it for 30 years. It was fun having it.”