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Heritage Auctions Sells 'Freaks' Insert From Original 1932 Release, One Of The Greatest Rarities

by Hector Cantu

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," Stafford says. She ended up in a southern California antiques store, not certain what she was looking for or what she would find.

But then, a stack of movie posters caught her attention. 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. 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 poster and her husband was delighted with the gift.

When released in 1932, Freaks shocked moviegoers. It was based on a short story 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 circus "freaks." The MGM movie was quickly pulled from distribution, called an error in judgment by the studio, and it disappeared from theaters, only to become a cult classic decades later at revival houses and on college campuses.

For the past 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 Heritage Auctions. "It's one of the hobby's greatest rarities."

While researching the poster, at least one dealer offered Stafford $60,000. But the family decided an auction was the best option. In March 2009, an East Coast collector purchased it for $107,550 at Heritage Auctions' Vintage Movie Poster Signature™ Event.

"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."

Freaks, 1932, MGM, Insert (14 x 36 in.)
Sold: Heritage Auctions, March 2009, $107,550

Heritage Magazine Summer/Fall 2009 Copyright ©2009 by Heritage Auctions, Inc.

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