Mini strip malls dot the length of Chillicothe Road in rural Lake and Geauga counties, cropping up mostly at the intersections of country routes. They're stocked with the usual dentist's offices, hair salons, pizza parlors, and real estate agencies.
But open the door of one such anonymous space — marked only with a sign sporting the cryptic initials "LMPC" — and you're transported to another world: classic Hollywood in its heyday. Inside, the cavernous room is haphazardly stuffed with boxes, shelves, and file cabinets. In each corner and on every surface sits one stunning movie poster after another.
Over here, there's The Maltese Falcon, featuring Humphrey Bogart with guns blazing and a seductive Mary Astor.
Next to it, flapper Alice White cavorts on a poster for 1929's Hot Stuff.
A promo for Rasputin: The Mad Monk, a 1966 film starring Christopher Lee, bears the come-on "Disguise yourself from the forces of evil! Get your Rasputin beard free as you enter the theater! Given to guys and gals alike!"
All of them mingle with piles of theater lobby cards, boxes of movie stills, and other memorabilia.
Welcome to the "organized mess" of Morris Everett Jr., the silver-haired, 70-year-old proprietor of the Last Moving Picture Company, owner of the self-proclaimed largest movie poster collection in the world, and one of the top dealers in movie posters and other film memorabilia. Posters? He's got 40,000 of them in his Kirtland storefront, plus thousands of vintage photographs. Thousands more posters — his most valuable — are stashed in a couple of off-site storage vaults, the locations of which he doesn't readily disclose.
Though he's known by only a handful of serious buffs in his own town, Everett is a pivotal figure in the often high-stakes world of movie collectibles. He and his co-worker, Dwayne Pinkney — an expert in the perennially popular genres of science fiction and horror — work the phones and computers from amid the clutter in Kirtland. But Everett is the face of the operation, staging auctions in Paris and London and New York, and seemingly all points between and beyond.
Everett holds up a cardboard-backed, cellophane-wrapped poster from director F.W. Murnau's 1926 film Goethe's Faust. On it, a striking red devil looms over a comely blonde avidly combing through a stash of jewelry. Everett recently hawked the poster, along with hundreds of other items, at a Columbus gathering of movie buffs and assorted nerds.
"We expected it to go for $800 to $1,000," he says of Faust. "It went for $11,000. We had two guys who didn't want to lose, which was great for us."
Once upon a time, movie posters were manufactured strictly for the movie trade. They were sent to theaters, along with other promotional materials like lobby cards and still photos, to display until the film's run ended. Then they were tossed in the trash. Unlike today's posters, which are often cheaply mass-produced to be hung on dorm-room walls, the originals couldn't be bought. And frankly, few folks wanted them anyway.
But Morrie Everett always did. Before he was a dealer, Everett was a collector, and before he was a collector, he was a movie buff. As a boy growing up in Northeast Ohio in the 1940s and '50s, he loved what all little boys loved: adventure films. "Movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938, with Errol Flynn," he says, reeling off the particulars as if they were catalogued that way on his tongue. "Good guys beat the bad guys."
He bought his first scrap of movie memorabilia when he was in college in 1961: a promotional card for Charge of the Light Brigade, the 1936 film starring Flynn, and a poster for Splendor in the Grass, the Natalie Wood/Warren Beatty drama that had been released earlier that year. He was drawn to collecting — "I come from a collecting family," he says, although he doesn't say exactly what his family squirrelled away. Back then, though, his enthusiasm was random.
"When I first started collecting, I collected on 20 people, and the group made no sense," he says. "Why would someone collect on Tuesday Weld and Basil Rathbone?"
A turning point came in 1967, when Everett made his first volume purchase: a collection of 6,000 stills dating to the 1920s and '30s.
Ever since, he's done what a lot of collectors do: bought tons of stuff, kept some, and sold the rest to cover the original purchase. In the late '80s, following a divorce, he realized he needed to ramp up his game. At the same time, the market for movie collectibles was heating up, with sales taking place for the first time at venerable auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's. Everett opened the Last Moving Picture Company downtown on Euclid Avenue in 1989. In those days, his shop sometimes played host to the likes of Metallica and the Ramones, both of whom would comb the stacks for anything rock, sci-fi, or horror.
Throughout the '90s, Everett also had a store in Los Angeles, at the legendary corner of Hollywood and Vine.
"I had a good friend who was willing to be manager, and at the time, it was the place to be to buy movie memorabilia," he says.
Back then, his guests were as famous as the stars he traded in. And they didn't always come during calling hours.
"Michael Jackson used to come in, before it opened or after it closed, with two bodyguards. He'd say to me, 'Mr. Everett, do you have any Shirley Temple or Disney or child stars?'"
Everett has done business with Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clint Eastwood, among others. The stars tend to seek his counsel when buying film-related items as gifts.
By the end of the 1990s, he had closed the Hollywood store after his friendship — and the neighborhood — fell apart. "We had a porn theater open down the street, and people were panhandling for money," he remembers. "It wasn't paying its bills anymore."
In 2000, he also shuttered his downtown Cleveland store after weathering his ninth break-in — almost one a year. Every time, the crooks took money and equipment, but never posters.
Far from the lights of Tinseltown — or even C-Town — Everett opened up shop in Kirtland, where he lives. He does little walk-up business there, but also little commuting. "And out here in Kirtland," he adds, "I have been broken into zero times."
Every once in a while, an avid collector — maybe 20 of them a year — will find his way to Everett's strip-mall home to root among the cartons and stacks. He welcomes them all.
"We had two guys from California who spent nine days here," he recalls. "I've got a man here from California right now who comes in once a year. This guy is a high-end dealer, looking for important stuff. He's looking to buy a lot and wants a discount."
In Hollywood's early years, more posters were printed in Cleveland than anywhere else, thanks to a concentration of companies specializing in the stone lithography process used to manufacture posters into the 1940s.
One inevitable by-product of poster making was overprinting — printing-press flubs that have gone from worthless to (in some cases) priceless.
"You're running a poster, then you run another poster, and one poster prints over another at the end. Then you had two or three overprints on one sheet," says Bob West, a professor in Kent State's journalism and mass communications department.
In the 1960s, West worked for an ad agency that used one of Cleveland's main lithographers, Continental Lithograph Printing, which is still in operation on East 72nd Street near St. Clair Avenue. (It's known today as Continental Franzen Litho.)
"They just gave them away, to me anyway," he says. "I used them to wallpaper my house. I think other people used them for decoration too. Now they're valuable — one of a kind — but I moved a long time ago. Maybe they're still in that house."
In other instances, the houses themselves are stockpiles of memorabilia.
Years ago, once a movie's theatrical run had ended, posters that weren't trashed sometimes fell into the hands of area home-builders: Promotional window cards, measuring 14x22 inches, were printed on heavy cardboard stock that, back then, was used as insulation in houses.
Today, Everett is sometimes called on to assess the treasures hidden in the walls of homes. As he puts it: "Death brings the good and the bad." And the death of an old house can yield a treasure chest of movie memories.
"We sold $100,000 out of the floorboards of a house in Washington," he says. "They were almost all from 1927, when the house was built. The guy must have worked for a theater or lithograph company."
Everett has seen much of the same here. "Cleveland is rich in history. We know there are more houses with posters in them. We find them when they are renovating or tearing them down. They're all on the West and South Side. We haven't found a single one on the East Side. I think it's because the homes there are older."
Cinevent in Columbus is one of the premier film-collectible gatherings anywhere. It's held every year over Memorial Day weekend, and it specializes in drawing out the diehards.
"Nothing could prevent me from going," says Chicago collector Dwight Cleveland, a real estate developer by trade, but a cinema nut by passion. "It's the ultimate movie poster orgy."
As a kid, Cleveland, like Everett, was among the few obsessed with movie swag.
"You had to go to the theater and beg for the poster," he says. "They had a usable life of three or four days when the film ran, and then they were garbage. The fact that these things survived is remarkable. People loved to draw mustaches on Greta Garbo."
Cleveland says he's spent a lifetime on the hunt for classic posters.
"I would visit old theaters; I would find people who worked there. I would go to flea markets at five in the morning with a flashlight. I would make a lot of calls, follow a lot of leads. I would visit antique malls when I was on the road. I have visited every continent except Antarctica."
Thanks to Cinevent and other soirees like it, the hunt has been tamed to a great degree.
But for 19 years and counting, one of the highlights of each Cinevent is the auction of Morrie Everett's vintage posters. This year, he put 700 lots on the block and has brought in $162,000 so far — he's still tallying business from last month's fest.
This time around, Faust and Hot Stuff were among the hot lots. Neither one had ever been offered at auction before, says Everett.
"The hunt is part of the fun," he admits, in an echo of Cleveland's words. He enjoys recounting the story about someone who bought a sealed briefcase at a garage sale. When the man got home and opened it, he found a promotional piece called a "six sheet" for the 1931 Universal Studios classic Frankenstein. It was the only known copy. Since it was a private sale, no one's sure what it brought. But Everett has heard the rumor that the owner turned down a million dollars. It might have been worth $3 million, he says.
Local author, radio historian, and movie lover Mike Olszewski has known Everett since the 1990s, when he first wandered into his downtown store. He's been a regular at Cinevent since 1995, forever looking for Cleveland-related stuff and all things pertaining to radio or television.
"I always keep an eye out for anything to do with Superman," he says. "I always loved the idea that Superman came from Cleveland."
Those who flock to Everett's film-feast auctions are a mixed bag of the hardcore and the humble, and Olszewski seems to know his place.
"I could spend every penny in my pocket," he says. "My wife gives it to me in increments."
There is disagreement over the most expensive movie poster ever sold, but it wasn't sold by Everett. He is certain it's one for Metropolis, director Fritz Lang's groundbreaking 1927 expressionist film about the conflict in capitalism between workers and owners. He's heard it went for $600,000, but it could have been more. "No one knows the exact number," he says.
Everett's personal best falls somewhat short of that mark. He's had four pieces exceed $80,000, including a 14x30-inch Invisible Man insert that sold in the high $80,000s. "We have yet to breach the $100,000 price tag — but we will," he says.
"What makes my collection valuable is not the individual pieces, but the breadth and depth," he says. "You can name any title, and I will have something on it."
Sure enough, he makes good on the challenge immediately: At the request of a reporter, Everett produces material on the obscure 1962 Disney film In Search of the Castaways, based on a Jules Verne adventure novel and starring Hayley Mills.
(Everett's encyclopedic range is evidenced by a second business he owns in New York: a firm that leases photos and movie art to various publications. His collection numbers more than 3 million photographs.)
He says horror is the most popular genre, with films by legendary actors like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff at the top of the list.
"Our Gang is hot. The Three Stooges are still hot. And animation. From a collectible standpoint, we have a better chance with young people with those things than '40s film noir."
Ahh ... young people. He sees few of them, but holds out hope that their interest will be sparked in time to carry the pastime forward.
"The youngest person who sat through the whole auction, bid on a poster, and won, was 30," he says. "That's not typical. The average is about 60. You have to tie a young person down to watch a black-and-white film."
The key, Everett believes, is in looking for where young people's interests cross over into film collectibles. He's excited about an upcoming show presented by a young (fortysomething) man in Erie, Pennsylvania, in November. Everett plans to attend, after a sweep of events in Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles.
"We do have an advantage over markets in jeopardy. You go to postcard shows, and everyone is over 70. Movies are still hot. Europeans and Japanese love American movies.
"We have a business we can expand and sell to young people," says Everett. "We still can survive."