A Golden Age of Hollywood Emerges in Vintage Photos of Movie Stars

Many of Joan Moore’s photographs are autographed, but probably not by the stars.

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Growing up in the early 1950s, Joan Moore collected autographed photographs of movie stars.

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Every Sunday, she sat down with her friends, Bruceen McKay, Joyce Pradinuk and Kay Hassard, and sent letters to Hollywood studios.

“My mother provided the envelopes, the paper and the stamps, and we wrote to movie stars from Universal Studios, MGM and Warner Brothers,” she says. “We all wrote the same letter: ‘Dear Elizabeth Taylor, since I have always been a fan of you, I would appreciate it if you would send me a signed photo of yourself. Sincerely,’ and we would sign our names. Then , we were waiting and the pictures were coming.

She still has 128 photos of movie stars and 48 old movie photos in two binders. Walking through them is like traveling back in time to the 1950s, when stars like Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh were in their prime.

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Most are autographed, and some are even personalized.

“To Joan, Warmest Regards, Marilyn Monroe,” reads her most glamorous photo.

Moore said an appraiser on the PBS Antiques Roadshow television show appraised Monroe’s “exact same photo” and autograph at $4,000 to $6,000 several years ago. So she contacted the Vancouver Sun to see if it was the real deal.

We emailed one of Antiques Roadshow’s top reviewers, Laura Woolley, to ask her what she thought. She called back within minutes.

“I’m calling because this is actually one of my biggest pet peeves,” she said over the phone from Los Angeles, where she owns a company called The Collector’s Lab.

“That’s always been a bone of contention for me, (because they said the exact opposite of the truth with those signed photos in that segment. They said the reds were usually by her, and that’s actually green ink which is more often signed by Marilyn.The red is almost always secretarial.

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Basically, the studios would ask people to sign photos, rather than letting the stars do it themselves.

“If you write in the studios, 99% of the time it’s secretarial or in-picture signatures,” Woolley said.

This means that the 8x10s and postcards Moore has of Burt Lancaster, Betty Grable, Ava Gardner, Farley Granger, Piper Laurie, Cyd Charisse, Jane Russell, Jane Wyman and Spencer Tracy, among others, have collectible value as as vintage photos, but not as autographed ones.

Joan Moore with other promotional photos of 1950s movie stars from her collection. Clockwise from left: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Gig Young, Burt Lancaster and Fernando Lamas. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Woolley said you could separate them and sell them on eBay, but the easiest thing to do would probably be to auction them off as a group.

“You’ll see lots like this come up for auction and often they’ll put it up in one big lot and there’ll be an estimate of US$200 to US$300 to US$500,” she said.

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Either way, looking through the photos is gassy. Tough guy Jack Palance (or his secretary) signed his photo “A lot of luck” in white ink. Taylor was photographed in a one-piece swimsuit at the beach, with the message “Best wishes forever”.

Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan’s signature (or facsimile) is hard to make out, as it blends in with his dark sweater. A Laurie signature also fades, but the photo of the star with a dog is still sharp.

Moore was born in Edmonton and moved to Vancouver in 1951, where her parents and grandparents ran a rooming house at 1562 Barclay Street in the West End.

“The West End was all rooming houses,” she said. “There were a few three-story walk-up apartment buildings here and there, but they were mostly rooming houses. It was wonderful.”

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Every Saturday she went to the cinema on Granville or the Bay Theater on Denman to see the latest movies. Her favorite actor was Betty Grable; she loved musicals of the 40s and 50s.

When she retired, she went back to living in a flat in the West End, but her way of watching movies has changed: these days, she’s into science fiction.

“The other night I watched Earth Vs. Flying Saucers and the week before watched Tarantula,” she said. “The tarantula escaped from a lab where they were experimenting to make things bigger , and they injected something into this tarantula. Of course, he grew up, he was as big as my apartment. Before that, I watched Creature from the Black Lagoon.

When asked if she had ever had the creature’s autograph, she laughed.

“No, I didn’t,” she said. “Unfortunately.”

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Joan Moore with her picture of Ronald Reagan.
Joan Moore with her picture of Ronald Reagan. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Elizabeth Taylor.
Elizabeth Taylor. PNG
Jack Palance.
Jack Palance. PNG
PiperLaurie.
PiperLaurie. PNG
Tony Curtis.
Tony Curtis. PNG
Janet Leigh.
Janet Leigh. PNG
Cyd Charise.
Cyd Charise. PNG
Elizabeth Taylor.
Elizabeth Taylor. PNG
Clark Gable.
Clark Gable. PNG
Ava Gardner.
Ava Gardner. PNG
Joan Moore with her picture of Betty Grable.
Joan Moore with her picture of Betty Grable. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG
Burt Lancaster.
Burt Lancaster. PNG
Joan Moore's collection also includes many film stills, such as this photo of Errol Flynn in the 1950 film Rocky Mountain.
Joan Moore’s collection also includes many film stills, such as this photo of Errol Flynn in the 1950 film Rocky Mountain. PNG
A promotional photo of Singin' in the Rain' featuring Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly from the Joan Moore Collection.
A promotional photo of Singin’ in the Rain’ featuring Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly from the Joan Moore Collection. PNG
Farley Granger.
Farley Granger. PNG
A memo by Farley Granger, from Joan Moore's collection of 1950s Hollywood promotional photos and autographs.
A memo by Farley Granger, from Joan Moore’s collection of 1950s Hollywood promotional photos and autographs. PNG

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