The Fixer Uppers - Preservation

A new, safety film, 35mm fine grain master, and dupe negative, were manufactured in 1993, using the studio's original, nitrate, master positive "lavender." Both the camera negative and the work print, or "cutting master," did exist, but were too worn to fix up and print from. The converted safety elements are now stored, utilizing the so-called and so-cold FICA storage method, at an underground facility located on the outskirts of Munich, at 14 Gramercy Place. Presumably now this material is safe from enemies on the planet Mongo who would certainly covet or seek to destroy it.


Fortunately the lavender we worked from contained all the original titles. For this film about an artist, the titles were beautifully designed by an artist to suggest Christmas cards, and were presented with optical page-turn dissolves. The cards featured candles as a theme, even through "The End" title.

During the sound films era, nearly all of the imaginative Hal Roach opening title card sections were conceived and drawn by Louis McManus of the studio's editorial department. The written internal work order, created by editorial department head William Terhune, still exists, showing five cards were ordered at a cost of $10 apiece. Hal Roach's friend since boyhood, Mat O'Brien, then a studio vice-president, approved payment. The total remittance due McManus was $50.

One can only imagine what amount this original art might fetch today at a Christie's or Sotheby's or Internet auction of motion picture memorabilia. A few still photos exist showing some of the cards being photographed onto motion picture film, but not a single example of the physical art titles themselves has ever surfaced. Certain advertising accessories such as lobby cards and one-sheet posters may survive today as one-of-a-kind items, but at least those were printed in quantity. Original art, obviously, is unique.

Special effects wizard Roy Seawright, who photographed the FIXER UPPERS cards with his stop-motion camera and created the page-turn dissolves, gave me some now quite fragile black and white text title cards fashioned for silent films. But they all contained mistakes. That's how Seawright was able to take them home in the first place -- they were rejects.

I once showed these discards to Hal Roach and asked if he knew the disposition of the studio's used main and end and production credit title cards. His expression indicated he wasn't much interested in the question.

"I haven't the least idea," he answered, though cheerfully enough. "They were always piled up in the art department. I suppose we threw them out as we needed space for new production. What else was I going to do with them?"

This was the prevailing attitude which made archival preservation difficult. So difficult. So still we ask of those desired title cards, where are they?

Or, in the words Ollie asks Stan in THE FIXER UPPERS, "Have you got a card?"

-- by Richard W. Bann --