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Ira Resnick’s girlfriends used to complain that he was in love with dead actresses. And it wasn’t just any Hollywood beauties who were their rivals. Instead, it was the screen goddesses transformed by the work of the top poster designers of the Golden Age, when movie posters and one-sheets could be works of art.
Resnick, now 60, had become a collector of, and then an important dealer in, these pieces of printed ephemera, opening his first gallery for them in 1982. And now his passion has resulted in a book, “Stagestruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood” (Abbeville Press).
In the book, he writes about his obsession with a vanished constellation of actresses and actors, and shows, of course, plenty of his remarkable holdings. There are great stories about stars known only to dedicated film buffs, such as the extravagantly beautiful Corinne Griffith, who was called the Orchid Lady of the silents, and was one of the few screen goddesses to have a successful second career after acting ended for her. She was an astute investor in real estate, at one point owning four major office buildings in Los Angeles, while her third husband owned the Washington Redskins and she also wrote their fight song. When she died in 1979, she left an estate worth $150 million.
Her savvy wasn’t shared by the iconic Louise Brooks, who in fact seemed to have a self-destructive streak both professionally and personally. Two splendid 1929 film posters of her hang in Resnick’s 58th Street office in New York, one for “The Diary of a Lost Girl,” the other for “The Canary Murder Case.” It was in connection with the last film that Brooks ruined her career. She had gone to Europe and the film’s producers wanted her to come back to the U.S. to redo some of the sound in the picture. She refused to do so, and, although she did amazing work for Pabst abroad, including, of course, “Pandora’s Box” (1929), she was essentially blacklisted in Hollywood. At one point, Brooks was found working at a Saks Fifth Avenue store. It was James Card, the film curator for George Eastman House, who discovered her living in New York and persuaded her to come to Rochester (where Eastman House was) and write about film, which finally presented her with a second act, albeit not a particularly lucrative one.
Another of Resnick’s favorites was Ida Lupino, whom he likens to a young Katharine Hepburn — not surprisingly, another actress he particularly likes. He treasures a poster of a film Lupino made early in her career, “Ready for Love” (1934), which shows her as a vibrant young girl, not the film noir temptress of later roles.