I am featured in the History Channel’s popular cable reality series, Pawn Stars, in the latest episode debuting this week, “Rick’s Roulette” (Season 2015, Episode 27). I served as the Hollywood memorabilia expert and authenticator for one of the segments of this episode, taking a look at a prop model attributed to the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. This was filmed in December 2014 at Julien’s Auctions, when I was in town helping Colin Cantwell bring his Star Wars original artwork from 1974/1975 and other movie and television memorabilia to auction. I wanted to share some thoughts about the Flash Gordon prop rocketship model and appearing on the show in general.
Regarding the show itself, on the production side, I was impressed to see how “real” the reality show actually was…
Back in 2012, I did visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas where the show is filmed (see feature), and I was surprised at how small the story itself actually was inside (the magic of television and wide angle lenses!). In day to day operations, it was not quite as exciting as the show, as the principal players – Rick Harrison, his son Corey, “The Old Man”, and Chumlee – were not working in the store at the time of my tourist-oriented visit.
This new episode airing this week, “Rick’s Roulette”, was a rare one in that Rick left Las Vegas to come to Beverly Hills in order to auction off material he has purchased on the show over the years via an auction event with Julien’s Auctions.
For this episode of Pawn Stars, I was asked to discuss a rocketship model that was claimed to be from the 1930s-era Flash Gordon serials.
I was already aware of this model and had previously done some research into it, as attempts were made to sell it publicly on eBay in the past, which resulted in public debate and discussion that caught my attention.
Talking with Rick Harrison, I was impressed with him and his knowledge about movie props and this art market. He’s truly a savvy guy in this arena.
I thought it would be worthwhile to memorialize my research notes below, in the event that the model should again come up for public sale and/or continue to be an ongoing topic of public interest, debate, and discussion.
“Just Imagine”/”Flash Gordon” Rocket Ship Analysis & Notes
An item’s claims of attribution to a film or television production is inconclusive unless proven to be 1) authentic or 2) inauthentic; if neither can be proven, it remains inconclusive. I have not personally seen verifiable proof that it was made for and/or used in either Just Imagine (1930, Fox Film Corporation) or the Flash Gordon serials (1936, 13 installments, Universal Pictures). Conversely, one would need to determine what this is and what it was made for in order to arrive at the conclusion that it is absolutely inauthentic. The origins of the piece remain a mystery to me personally.
Fox Film Corporation and Universal Pictures:
It is documented that props from earlier Universal productions were recycled for use in Flash Gordon. Rocket ships from Just Imagine were used in Flash Gordon, however, these appear to have been limited to the 1:1 ships, not scale models – in my research I did not find any scale models seen on screen in Just Imagine.
Prior Public Sale Attempt History:
Item in question was offered for sale on eBay, most recently in November 2013 (one year ago) with a $250,000 “Buy It Now” price [see: http://www.ebay.com/itm/310668324539].
Notes Comparing Subject Model with Just Imagine and Flash Gordon:
- I could not locate images of this style of rocket ship appearing on screen in the serials that match the specific details of the example model
- The shape of the front of the cockpit, in the nose area, is more pointed as seen on screen compared with the example model, which is flatter at the very front
- The front canon/antenna is smoothly tapped as seen on screen compared with the example model, which stepped in three pieces of smaller size outward from the nose of the cockpit
- The front cockpit windows as seen on screen have a wider frame down the center, are more recessed, and have no rivets, compared with the example model, which has a narrow frame down the center, is more flush with the exterior, and exhibits rivets
- The body as seen on screen is smooth, compared with the aluminum example model, which shows pits
- The landing gear wheel wells as seen on screen are straight down and closer in on the body, compared with the example model which has larger wheel wells that protrude out more to the side
- The windows on the side of the rocket ship, as seen on screen, have different shapes and placements compared with the example model; window alignment in relation between door and cabin is different; the front window is in a different place
- The wings as seen on screen begin at the end of the tubes around the cockpit, while the example model the begin on the other side of the door
- There is a lower wing that extends under the door as seen on screen, while the example model has a separate step instead
- There are no visible rivets in the models seen on screen, while the example model features many rivets
- The model would have no need for a practical opening door (only the full-scale prop); the door is never seen opening on the scale models
- I found no evidence of ANY scale model of rocket ship being used in Just Imagine, as the full-sized ship is always on the ground; when on Mars, it is dragged right to left and when it takes off, there is just a cloud of smoke, no flying shots of the rocket ship
- The rocket ships seen on screen feature no studio tags/badges, while the example model features two badges; studio stamping/badges would not be affixed to props where they would be seen on screen
- The example model’s Universal Pictures badge is cast into the fin, which would not have been done to a production prop
- Aluminum casting is not consistent with confirmed authentic models from productions of the same period, which were made of wood, fiberglass, brass/copper/steel, not aluminum
- The condition of the subject model is not consistent with 80+ year old props compared with confirmed authentic models from productions of the same period
- To my knowledge no photos exist of ships being made for Just Imagine or Flash Gordon, nor any behind the scene photos which would indicate scale; the size of the example model scale appears large for this type of filming and production
- A recent search through the photo files at the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences resulted in no matching reference photos
- “Fox Films Corporation” (as stamped on piece) did not exist – Just Imagine was distributed by “Fox Film Corporation”
- The “Universal Moving Pictures” stamp/badge was 15-20 years out of date at the time of these productions; Universal Film Manufacturing Company / Universal Moving Pictures was established in 1912 and renamed Universal Pictures Corporation in 1922 Source: Library of Congress [http://id.loc.gov/authorities/names/n85138017.html]
Image Comparison (click for higher resolution):
NOTE: Some of the information included in my notes about the subject model and prior public eBay auctions came from reading online discussions from a variety of sources, including public online discussion forums, which I then evaluated and compiled and included in my own notes for my own personal research.