You’d think hitting a few imaginary home runs with one of Babe Ruth’s 1927 bats might be the capper for the day. Nah.
We could have spent days checking out the treasures in Steve Geppi’s office but he was eager to give us a tour of his pride-and-joy museum.
Somewhat reluctantly, Herman Rush and I followed Steve to his car. We drove from Diamond’s Timonium, Maryland headquarters to Baltimore, specifically, to Camden Yards, where Oriole Park, M T Bank Stadium and Geppi’s Entertainment Museum are located. There are also restaurants and upscale shops in the complex, plus two other museums.
At that time, Steve was a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles, so he could park in the special reserved area right outside the ballpark, close to the museum. Groovy.
I had been to the museum once before, to attend the spectacular Opening Gala Steve threw on September 7, 2006, the day before the museum opened to the public. What a party! I still have the invitation. It came in this box:
Here’s the box opened. Yes, that’s a black tie and a “champagne bottle,” filled with glitter, resting in a bed of paper straw mixed with glitter:
There was also an engraved invitation, which is in some file somewhere. I’ll show it when I come across it. Here’s a better shot of the champagne bottle:
There was a Who’s Who of comic book people at the party, as well as celebs from other fields. Somewhere, I have a great picture of 6’7” me and 6’8” Mike Richardson, Master and Commander of Dark Horse, flanking somewhat less-tall Steve. I also have some great pix with Bob Overstreet, Chuck Rozanski, Paul Levitz, and other industry leaders, plus assorted geniuses and what have you. I’ll find them someday.
Naturally, the party-goers swarmed the place. Though it was crowded, especially around the most “wow” of the exhibits, being a head taller than most, I got a fairly good view of everything. My poor girlfriend mostly saw a wall of humanity between her and the goods. Lots of people there that night. It was the place to be.
>Merely getting a decent view is faaar different than being given a guided tour by the man who built the place on a fairly quiet, un-crowded day.
I can’t begin to describe what we saw. There was a political cartoon by Benjamin Franklin, which Steve said was the first of its kind, worth millions. Disney memorabilia, items from TV shows and movies. And toys! Examples of every great toy I’d had as a kid. A Davey Crockett coonskin cap. A One-eyed, One-horned, Flying Purple People-eater mask. Everything else you’d expect—Silly Putty, Super Balls, Slinkies, Hula Hoops….
The one thing that was missing, and I called Steve on it, was a Zorro Sword. When Zorro became a fad-hit in the 1950’s, a toy sword with a chalk-holder tip was the rage. You could make Zorro’s “Z” on walls or whatever with your sword! So hep! Steve knew about Zorro Swords and was on the lookout for one. I wonder if he’s found one yet.
Once, I spent an afternoon in Ray Harryhausen’s home, which was filled with models he’d created. I had the same sense of wonder there, but it was focused on the stop-action animation movies he’d done effects for. At Geppi’s museum, it was overwhelmingly broad and vast.
Steve recounted the adventures he’d had acquiring many things, some of which were as remarkable as the items themselves. He explained that if he found an item he was bent on acquiring, even if it wasn’t in great condition, he’d buy it. Then, if a better specimen turned up, he’d buy it, sell the first one, trading up.
About so many items he said things like, “the original,” “the only one left,” “one of three in existence,” etc.
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is a blast for anyone who had a childhood. Or ever enjoyed a movie or a TV show or any popular culture at all. For folks like us, you and me, it’s heaven. Highly recommended.
Fans of opera, abstract expressionism and 16th Century Intellectual Satires may be disappointed.
Our last stop was the museum gift shop, where Steve loaded us up with freebies.
Among the ones I was given was this:
Time came to go. Steve drove us to the train station. Pretty much exhausted but abuzz with ideas, Herman and I made our way back to New York.
One thing that occurred to both of us was to create a virtual, online tour of the museum with clickable, drill-down-able information about the exhibits. Many other ideas of ways we could work with Steve, and he with us.
Right about that time, the sub-prime mortgage crisis was hitting its stride and the general economic collapse was collapsing thunderously.
The effects were devastating to a lot of people. Two of the richest people I know—and I know some rich people—lost everything and are now as poor as me.
Steve apparently weathered the storm, and I’m sure Herman Rush did. But there must have been some impact, if, as I’ve been given to understand, Steve sold his interest in the Baltimore Orioles. Steve loves the Baltimore Orioles.
Steve and Herman apparently became interested in or consumed by other matters. Nothing ever came of our meeting or the grand dreams Herman and I had on the way home.
But, it was a gem of a day.
Here’s the brochure I picked up:
Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article on Geppi’s Entertainment Museum:
NEXT: Items of Interest – And Gary Gygax
@Kid: FYI, the original Megatron toy from Transformers was based on a Walther P-38 from "U.N.C.L.E.".
More info here:
This site has a picture of the original Japanese version, which has "U.N.C.L.E." written on the box. Unlike their American counterparts, the Japanese ones fired little plastic bullets.
Someone also made a real working version of it.
Remember back in the 70's when there was a teaser at the bottom of every page of the comic? They would say something like "The Fabulous FF battle The Frightful Four and Dragon Man in Fantastic Four #148 ON SALE NOW!" I loved those as a kid. The ad coversation made those pop in my head. Ah the Silver Age…where for art thou?
The annoying plethora of advertising pages, often outnumbering the story pages, was a major reason why I recently stopped cycling into town every Thursday to pick up the few increasingly expensive comics I was still buying. The trades seem to represent much better value. You don't have to wait that long for a six issue story arc to be collected and you can read your comics without ploughing through 'got milk' and army recruitment ads. Credit Warren Ellis with understanding the importance of these elements to the reading experience and devising a bespoke format for Fell.
For a while back there the ad pages seemed to be connected either side of the staple, ie. on the same page, front and back, so with a little cunning origami and careful tearing you could customise for yourself an ad-free comic. I wonder if the advertisers grokked this and, realising their expensive ad pages were susceptible to excision, requested a change in format.
I thought it was a kind of unanswerable question, but I felt I had to ask. Damn those Ads! 🙂
Ads fall in place according to a line-up, or order of pages usually set by the editor and/or publisher. The line-up is determined by a number of factors including obligations to the advertisers, who pay for certain positioning, being on a right-hand ("recto") page as opposed to being on a left-hand ("verso") page, or occupying the center spread. Because advertisers generally buy space in a month's worth of comic books at a time, i.e., all Marvel issues coming out in December, generally, comics have standard line-ups — that is, the ads fall on the same pages in every book from that publisher that month. There are exceptions, of course. Given the ad obligations, to the extent that it's possible, editors and publishers try to plan line-ups that make the reading experience as enjoyable as possible. Few creators I know worried much about the line-up because it wasn't in their control. But, the line-up is usually known in advance, and I can think of a few cases wherein a creator planned to have a "reveal" after a page was turned.
I don't know why comics seem to fall open to ad pages. They sort of do, though, don't they?
For trade paperbacks, hardbacks, etc., the editor will usually use whatever small flexibility he or she has to make the story or stories begin on a recto page, and address other book-design considerations, but there's only so much that can be done.
Apparently you can still get a Zorro sword with chalk…
As a current D&D geek, I can't wait for the Gygax story either.
According to Wikipedia, the museum is still there…
Hi Jim, Jay Jay.
A wee bit off topic, but this question just occurred to me.
Do writers and artists know where the adverts will be in a comic? If so, do they use them to full effect, for a last page reveal for instance? Kirby's use of the double page spreads on pages 2 & 3 was obviously with the knowledge there would be no ads on these pages. If the last two pages are facing each other, won't it detract from any kind of suspense building, cliffhangers etc. Is there/was there a known deliberate pattern of adverts throughout comics? Some comics you pick up, and at first, they seem to open randomly at different ad pages no matter what you do, is this a trick? Finally, how (if the writer and/or artist take advantage of the ad layouts to build suspense etc) does that affect the story/reveals when collected in a tradepaperback? Or do editors just not care by that time, as they've had your money twice anyway? 🙂
Just a thought for the day.
As a former D&D nerd, I can't wait for the Gygax story.
Loving this blog of yours, Jim. It's some of the most entertaining content on the internet for anyone who was a comic fan in the 1970s and 80s.
The downside of being European with an interest in modern American pop culture: all the cool stuff is on the other side of the ocean.
I remember having a "Man From U.N.C.L.E." triangular shaped button/badge with the text half worn off. I don't remember where it came from. Possibly a toy I had.
Geppi was winning most of his lawsuits, but that can be expensive either way. I had a friend that was a much smaller scale version of Steve. Disney animation cels, some only known surviving movie posters from the 50's. I'd walk in and he'd be showing me Detective Comics #1 or something I never thought I'd see. I can relate to the story.
Roger Owen Green
Yeah, THAT'S the comic book I read to the Daughter.
Thanks for the account of the personal tour. I was hoping some of your readers have visited this museum, and at least one has, judging from the comments I see above. Pastor Dave Mason is a geographically lucky man. I won't be going to Baltimore any day soon, so I just ordered the Free Comic Book Day issue of Jughead.
I can't believe it cost only $1.59 to ship that bottle to you!
Will there be anything from today that'll be as elusive as a Zorro sword? Hmmm, maybe one of your readers owns one …
Cute names in the pamphlet: Meg ("Gem" backwards) and Pup Culture.
JayJay, I once had a Man From Uncle spy suitcase, containing gun, silencer, shoulder-support, etc. (When I was a kid.) Back in the '90s, my collection of classic toys was showcased on TV, but just before my spot was one on a guy who collected old fountain pens. One of his treasured possessions was a Man from Uncle invisible ink fountain pen. Again, I had one as a kid. I recently acquired a couple of Uncle ID cards, which you can still get. If you're interested, I can tell you where to get them.
I read recently about a whole slew of crippling financial problems that Geppi was going through, on both a personal divorce level, to big business problems.
Whatever one might think of Geppi and his monopoly, let's all hope with crossed fingers that he has (or will) come through it all strongly. Because if he falls, the comics industry is SKU-ROOD.
The museum is still there? I thought it went bankrupt.
Pastor Dave Mason
Living just 20 minutes north of Baltimore, I go to the Museum a few times a year with my oldest son. I spend most of my time in the hallways, staring at the original art. Walt Kelly, Jack Kirby, Al Capp, Milton Caniff, Al Williamson. Those originals, Blue Lines and Inks, are worth the price of admission alone! (Though I usually go on half-price Tuesdays…)
Priceless. I'll surely be visiting Steve's museum after reading your posts. It should be a required pilgrimage for any collector worth his or her salt. All that great stuff needs to be fully appreciated.
I don't know about those 16th century ones, but the 18th century intellectual satires are a hoot! I especially like The Triumph of Love. They made a movie of it with Ben Kingsley, Fiona Shaw and Mira Sorvino.
Though I admit I would kind of like to see the Man From U.N.C.L.E. spy kit that I lusted after as a child. And did not get, I might add. Hmf.