RECORD! “The Foot” from the Opening Credits of a 1971 “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” Special Stomps to $22,000 at Vectis Auctions


What you see: The Foot, a key paper cutout element used in the opening credits of a 1971 one-off Monty Python’s Flying Circus television special that was filmed in German. The piece may have been used in the opening credits of the main series. Vectis Auctions sold it for £16,800 (about $22,000) against an estimate of £400 to £600 (about $525 to $800) in July 2014. It’s a world auction record for a prop used to create the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television show.


The expert: Kathy Taylor, a specialist in the Vectis TV and Film Department.


Are you aware of any other Monty Python’s Flying Circus props coming to auction before Vectis sold The Foot? It’s unknown. I did try to research it when I received The Foot, but I couldn’t find anything. There have been animation storyboards on occasion, but nothing like this.


How did The Foot come to you? David Brookman [the consigner] telephoned us. He saw an article in the Sunday supplement about Vectis Auctions and he approached us with the idea that he could sell it. It was a piece of photographic paper, rolled up in a tube that he kept under his bed since he worked on the animation in 1971.


How did Brookman come to receive The Foot? He worked for a company that was asked to do the shots for the animation [of the one-off 1971 German-language special]. I think it was quite a brief time he worked with Terry Gilliam, a couple of days. When they finished, Gilliam asked would he like it, and he signed it. It was quite tatty.


We know The Foot was used for the opening credits of the German-language special, but was it used to film the credits for Monty Python’s Flying Circus? We don’t know for certain. I suspect a lot of these cutouts don’t survive. They were used and thrown away. Gilliam would rush in with a briefcase or a box of cutouts, tip everything out on the desk, and instruct the cameraman [who, in this case, was David Brookman] to photograph them in a certain way to make the animation. That’s why it’s so tatty. It’s seen quite a lot of life.


Do we have any idea how many photographic cutouts Gilliam made of this element of his animation? No idea. Maybe he has more than one. I don’t know if he kept others.


And Brookman kept The Foot in a tube under his bed until he brought it to you? It was probably in that state when he was given it. I don’t think he thought much about it. He unrolled it and it was quite large. I think it was two feet by 18 inches. It was quite fragile. He came up with the idea to frame it, to make it look a little better and to preserve it.


How did you come up with the estimate of £400 to £600? I’m guessing there were no similar things that sold at auction that you could look to… We had no idea what sort of money it could fetch. I thought £400 to £600 was a lot of money for a tatty bit of rolled-up paper, but it’s an iconic image we all remember. The sum was his expectation. We asked, “What’s the least amount of money you’re prepared to part with it for?” If it had achieved £400 to £600, he would have been happy.


What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a bidder. There was quite a lot of interest in The Foot. A lot of people thought they could afford it. People turned up in the room to bid, but they all dropped out. It did go to a telephone bidder.


What was your reaction to the sale of The Foot–watching it climb from three figures to five? It was pretty crazy [laughs]. Absolutely crazy. I wondered who these people were who would want it. Some were connected with Python. The vendor [Brookman] was sitting there going a very peculiar shade of pink.


I imagine you thought it would beat its estimate, maybe double or triple it, but you didn’t think it would go for £16,800… No, never in a million years. But it was lovely for the vendor, who looked after this thing all those years and never imagined it was worth that sort of money.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because it came from out of the blue, as things do here. I was twelve when Monty Python was popular on TV. We would reenact it at school. It was pretty amazing handling something that was so iconic and part of my youth and which we think of with such affection. The actual value of this piece is its strong provenance. To actually have someone consign who worked with Gilliam–there’s nothing better.


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A local English paper covered the July 2014 sale of The Foot and included an image of David Brookman holding the framed piece. It is surprisingly large.


Terry Gilliam lifted The Foot from a circa 1545 painting by Agnolo Bronzino most commonly known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. It’s in the lower left corner.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Vectis Auctions.


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See My New Column at “Art & Object” Magazine: “Sold!”

A&O decadent mancave whiskey Macallan.png

What you see: A bottle of Macallan 1926 60 Year-Old, handprinted by Irish artist Michael Dillon. It commanded £1.2 million ($1,530,484) at Christie’s London in late November, and it’s the lead story of my new column for Art & Object magazine.


Read my first Sold! column:


Follow Art & Object on Twitter and Instagram.


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The Hot Bid Year in Review: The Ten Most Popular Posts of 2018



The ten most popular posts on The Hot Bid that went live in 2018 are… [supply your own drum roll, please]


10. Become Technology’s Greatest Visionary! Prop Store has the Picturephone from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” which could sell for $15,000.


9. A powerful set of prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas could command $30,000 at Swann.


8. Sold! Man Ray’s 1938 London Transport poster fetched the Way Out price of $149,000 at Swann. [Editorial note: At some point in fall 2018, I started doing a separate update post for featured lots that sold. This is one of several posts where I updated the original with the final price.]


7. WHOA! Sotheby’s sold Canova’s rediscovered “Bust of Peace” for more than $7 million.


6. A grand souvenir of the Grand Tour: Christie’s could sell a circa 1835, 61-inch-tall bronze model of the Vendôme Column for $60,000.


5. RECORD! A unique tile panel by ceramics wizard Frederick Hurten Rhead commands $637,500 at Rago.


4. TIE! Heritage Auctions sold an original Sunday Christmas-themed Peanuts strip from 1958 for $113,525, tying the world auction record.


3. RECORD! Heritage Auctions sold an original 1983 panel from Gary Larson’s The Far Side for $31,070–an auction record for the comic strip! Also, quack!


2. No one can do what British potter George Owen did. No one. A covered vase he made in 1913 could sell for $21,000 at Bonhams.


And the most popular post that went live on The Hot Bid in 2018 is… pictured above, and linked below.


RECORD! Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sold a 1978 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi for $76,000–an auction record for any single production action figure.


Special thanks to Alex Winter and all at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles for allowing the re-use of the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure image.


And of course, special thanks to every reader of The Hot Bid! I’m grateful for every one of you, and I hope that 2019 treats you all well.

The Hot Bid Year in Review: The Ten Featured Lots that Sold for the Most in 2018

Canova, The Bust of Peace (side)


Usually, when I feature a lot on The Hot Bid, it sells. Here are the ten featured lots from 2018 that sold for the highest sums. All prices given include the relevant premiums.


10. Whoa! That Elmer Crowell preening black duck decoy flew away with $600,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions–double its high estimate!


9. A clear winner indeed! Ceruti’s 18th century portrait on glass sold for $615,000–more than double its high estimate–at Sotheby’s.


8. RECORD! A piece of Thomas Stearns’s glass masterpiece sold for $737,000 at Wright–a new auction record for the artist. [Note: This is the first of three items featured on The Hot Bid in 2018 that went on to set world auction records.]


7. SOLD! Sotheby’s sold Richard Feynman’s 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics for… $975,000.


6. SOLD! Christie’s auctions a Ming Dynasty six-poster Huanghuali bed for an eye-popping $1.9 million.


5. SOLD! Christie’s sold the 1903 Maxfield Parrish for… just over $2 million.


4. RECORD! Stack’s Bowers Galleries sold Louis Eliasberg’s 1913 Liberty Head Nickel for $4.5 million.


3. SOLD! Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 commands $4.8 million at Phillips.


2. RECORD! A Dutch silver masterpiece by Adam van Vianen sells for $5.3 million at Christie’s.


And the item that went on to become the most-expensive lot featured in 2018 is… pictured at the top and linked below.


Whoa! Sotheby’s sold Canova’s rediscovered Bust of Peace for more than $7 million!



Special thanks to the kind folks at Sotheby’s for permitting me to re-use the image of the Canova bust.











RECORD! Julien’s Sells Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Dress for $4.8 Million


What you see: The gown that Marilyn Monroe wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy in May 1962 at a Democratic fundraiser that also marked his 45th birthday. Julien’s sold it in November 2016 for $4.8 million, a record for any dress sold at auction.


The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.


Looking at black-and-white tape of Monroe’s performance on YouTube, it seems that a dimension has been lost. Can you talk about why the dress made the crowd gasp, and why JFK joked that he could “retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to him in such a sweet and wholesome way”? First of all, she had agreed that she’d wear a conservative black dress. But she knew the power of voting, and knew the power of singing at Madison Square Garden, and it was just before her 36th birthday. She was so in tune with the importance of that event. She took her white stole off and stepped to the left of the podium because she didn’t want it to block her in anyway. There was an amazing reaction when the lights bounced off the crystals–15,000 gasps. It looked like she was wearing nothing. You and I are talking about it today, and 50 years from now, we’ll talk about that moment.


So the skin-tight, flesh-colored dress was her idea? She asked [costumier] Jean Louis to make her something that would wow the crowd. Bob Mackie, who was just out of college and 22 years old, drew the sketches for the dress. We sold them a few years ago. 2,500 crystals were hand-stitched onto the dress. Monroe paid for it herself and had matching shoes. We sold the receipt for the dress as well. She spent $6,000 on it [the outfit and related items] which is over $60,000 today–a huge amount of money, a huge investment. She didn’t think about the cost factor. She was thinking about the ‘Wow’ factor. She was very aware of the importance of the event.


Could you talk about what Monroe went through when she wore this dress? I understand that she was sewn into it. Also, in looking at the period tape, her movements are clearly restricted. At one point we see her jumping very vertically to rally the crowd to sing. Was the dress as uncomfortable as it looked? The dress was fragile and difficult to walk in. The stitching was done just below the zip line at the back of the dress. It took a few minutes for her to get from the dressing room to the stage. It was distant, and she could not run, because she was wearing heels. She shimmied her way on stage, wrapped in the cloak, and master of ceremonies Peter Lawford announced her as “the late Marilyn Monroe.” Three months later, she was the late Marilyn Monroe. [She died on August 5, 1962.] Fox promised to fire her if she was late [she was filming Something’s Got to Give at the time, and the studio did not want her to travel across the country and potentially delay the shoot.] She risked it all to go to New York. When she got back, she was fired from the set.


Do we know where that white fur stole went? It got separated from the dress. Monroe passed away in August 1962. She had no family members. Attorneys for her estate put everything from her house into storage. The boxes got shipped back to Lee Strasberg [her  mentor and acting teacher], where they stayed until 1999. The dress was first uncovered for the Christie’s estate sale [in October 1999]. We have not found the fur stole, but believe me, I’m searching for it and the shoes.


How much more would the dress be worth if it were part of a complete stage-worn Marilyn Monroe outfit? It’d be hundreds of thousands extra if we found the shoes and the stole. It would be phenomenal to have them all together.


What condition is the dress in? It’s in perfect condition, absolutely perfect condition. The consigner [who won the Christie’s auction in 1999] enlisted experts to build a ‘conservative’ mannequin to preserve the shape of the dress. The knee is positioned out so it supports the weight of the dress. The special mannequin was in a special display case with UV-protective glass. Very clever. He [the winner] believed he’d sell it for a profit. The underbidder [in 1999] was Ripley’s Believe It or Not! When the dress came back to auction, Ripley’s was bound and determined not to let it get away.


Do we know how much the dress weighs? It would weigh several pounds. Place 2,500 crystals in a bag or a bowl–that’s a lot of weight right there.


How did you arrive at the estimate of $2 million to $3 million? We truly believed that if it fetched $1.27 million in 1999, there had to be a level of appreciation in the dress. It had to double its money. Its historic and political value, matched up with Hollywood history, affected the value of the dress. We felt it would sell for at least $2 million.


What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a museum. Everyone [who bid] had to be pre-qualified. It came down to two bidders in the room. The energy in the room was just phenomenal. Marilyn Monroe is beloved worldwide. She’s still relevant and still gets high prices.


Marilyn Monroe dominates the auction records for clothing, but it’s interesting that this dress, which she wore in real life, is now number one, ahead of a white dress she might have worn while standing over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. It’s definitely significant. She was not in character in a movie. This was purely Marilyn Monroe singing to JFK, a love affair made public. There was a lot of speculation and a lot of rumors about a romantic relationship between Monroe and JFK, and after this event, people realized there was something to the rumors [laughs]. She disregarded the 15,000 people in the room. It was just her and President Kennedy in those 90 seconds.


How long will this auction record stand? What else is out there that could beat it? I can’t think of anything else that would be so iconic.


Why will this dress stick in your memory? In 2005, I had a wish list. I said what I’d love to auction is Michael Jackson’s red jacket from Thriller, and that came true in 2011.  The next was Monroe’s Happy Birthday Mr. President dress. Now I’m looking for a pair of ruby slippers [worn in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz]. That could potentially be $5 million, but there’s only one Happy Birthday dress. It’s presidential history and Hollywood mixed together.


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Julien’s Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.


Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses; a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction; and a purple tunic worn by Prince.


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RECORD! The Supreme Grade Number One Qianlong Imperial Firearm Reigned Supreme at Sotheby’s in November 2016, Commanding $2.4 Million

Imperial musket

What you see: A “Supreme Grade Number One” Imperial matchlock musket, made for the Qianlong Emperor in the 18th century. Estimated at £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.2 million to $1.8 million), Sotheby’s London sold it for £1.98 million (or roughly $2.6 million) in November 2016. It set a world auction record for any Chinese Imperial firearm.


The expert: Henry Howard-Sneyd, chairman of Asian art, Europe, and Americas for Sotheby’s.


First, could we talk about how genuine Imperial Qianlong items, regardless of what they are, cause excitement at auction? The Qianlong Emperor is real, but he’s a sort of mythical-type figure in terms of Chinese psychology. In English terms, you might liken him to King Henry VIII. He’s represented as a great emperor. He reigned for 60 years–a very long time, and China had a golden age [then]. The affection he holds in the Chinese mind is pretty much unmatched, and it’s [his time is] not so far in the past to be a myth. As China came into the 21st century, and began to be a wealthy, developed country, the Qianlong Emperor became one of the poster children of popular culture.


How did the Qianlong Emperor view guns? Were they important to him? He clearly admired guns and thought of them as an important element of what he did. Excelling at the hunt was very important to his legitimacy as Emperor. It shows he can look after his people by shooting straight, in effect. In an essay online, there’s a quote from the Qianlong Emperor, [who wrote of a different weapon]: “the ‘Tiger Divine Gun’ is a marvellous appliance for military accomplishment inherited from my grandfather and is used for killing fierce beasts … the Mongolian tribes of the Forty-nine Banners and Khalkha [participating in the imperial hunts] all excel in archery and stress martial art. If I have nothing to show them, I am hardly a worthy heir to my ancestors. Whenever I learn of tigers in the hunting preserve, I go hunting with no exception. Where bows and arrows cannot reach, I always use this gun, and unfailingly get the target … an Emperor must rely on divine appliances to hone martial skills and demonstrate masculine magnanimity, and the musket is wonderfully efficient and pleasing…”. It gives you a sense of how personal it is about being a worthy ruler.


Did the emperor handle this gun? There’s a chance this gun was held and used by the Emperor. There’s also a painting of him using a very similar gun [scroll down and it’s the second image on the right]. This is as close to the emperor as anything we’ve ever sold.


This gun is inscribed with the phrase te deng di yi, which translates to “Supreme Grade Number One”. Is there any explanation in the archival materials that goes into detail about what, exactly, Supreme Grade Number One might mean beyond it being obviously high praise? It seemed to be only used for guns. It’s not recorded on any other known, extant gun. The assumption is it’s the best of the best. It’s hard to imagine what would be above Supreme Grade Number One.


Does it work? The firearms specialist we consulted said yes, it should work. There’s nothing to stop it working.


Do we know when the Imperial workshops made it? We were not able to pin down a time. There’s just not enough information.


Is it possible to know anything about how this gun came to be? We don’t know exactly how it happened. We were never able to find a specific order.


What makes this gun a work of art? It has, very typically of the taste of this emperor, designs based on archaic elements. He was probably the single greatest collector, and one thing he accumulated were archaic Chinese bronzes. The archaic look appealed to him very much. It was like the Neoclassical period in Western art, looking back at a great classic period of early antiquity, from 1,000, 1,200, 1,300 B.C.


How did Sotheby’s decide to sell the gun in a single-lot auction? In our view it was obvious to sell it as a single lot. It stands out as a completely unique object.


With no other directly comparable items having gone to auction, how did you arrive at the estimate of £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.2 million to $1.8 million)? There are other pieces that are somewhat comparable. The seals of the emperor are very personal and specific [to him], and we sold a sword in Hong Kong a number of years back. By calibrating all the things selling around the same time, we came to a figure that was a well-placed estimate, very strong. Bidders pushed it further, but not much further. I think we put it exactly right.


What was your role in the auction? What was your experience of the sale? I was the auctioneer. Specifically, I have a fairly clear visual memory of the room in front of me and one of my colleagues taking bids from a client, and because the reception was not great, he had to go out of the room and come back in to make a bid. I don’t recall if that was the successful bidder in the end. It was very tense and quite drawn out. A lot of consideration went into each bid. It was something that garnered a lot of interest and intrigue because it was a unique thing.


With the first bid, you had a world record because it was the first gun of its type to come to auction. Were you surprised by the final result? I wasn’t surprised. I felt it was a fair price, a competitively reached price.


What factors drove it to the final price of £1.98 million (roughly $2.6 million)? Its uniqueness, and the combination of it being the best of its type and the potential touch of the emperor combined to make a hugely desirable object.


How long do you think this record will stand? Is there anything out there that could approach this piece? There’s no evidence that there’s any other piece like this anywhere. This record could stand forever. As an object itself, it’s hard to beat this one.


Why will it stick in your memory? It’s a unique thing–that’s always something that stands out. And it was enormous fun to work on. It was slightly starting from scratch, but it was [it involved searching] archival material, original [Chinese] court documents. It was a slightly Sherlock Holmesian game of following a trail that made it a fascinating and somewhat exciting journey.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.


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RECORD! Prop Store Sold a Wooden Clapperboard from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” for More Than (Updated December 2018)


Update: The Jaws clapperboard sold again as lot 1423 in a Profiles in History auction in December 2018. PIH estimated it at $60,000 to $80,000, and reported on its Twitter account that it sold for $128,000.


What you see: A wooden clapperboard that Steven Spielberg used on the set of the 1975 blockbuster horror movie, Jaws. Prop Store sold it in September 2016 for £84,000, or $109,000–a record for any filmset-used clapperboard at auction.


The expert: Stephen Lane, CEO and founder of Prop Store.


When did major film productions stop using wooden clapperboards and start using digital ones? That’s tough to answer. Probably in the early 1990s it started to happen. There are still productions today that use analog acrylic clapperboards. There’s still a crossover going on.


How often do set-used wooden clapperboards from legendary films come to auction? I don’t know of any clapperboards sold at this level previously.


What was the previous auction record for a set-used clapperboard? Probably a second unit Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back clapperboard, which sold for £27,500 a few years ago. Clapperboards are something that collectors locked onto within the last five years. The collectors we speak with aspire to collect objects that were used before the camera.


It strikes me that even before the collecting mentality became ingrained, clapperboards were likely to have been saved because they say, ‘Hey! We made a film!’ Is that a fair assumption? It’s a double-edged sword. A lot of clapperboards come directly from crew members who worked on the films. A lot bring them home from every film they’ve ever worked on, and hang them on the wall and will never part with them. With some clapperboards, the information was taken off to rewrite it for the next film. I’ve seen clapperboards from Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I’ve never seen one for Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. They probably finished the film, got the paint off it, and got the clapperboard ready for the next film. There was a huge amount of recycling.


Have you handled any other clapperboards from Steven Spielberg films? We had a Raiders of the Lost Ark clapperboard in 2014, a small insert clapperboard. They make them in a variety of different sizes. For a shot on the top of a mountain in Lord of the Rings, they [the LOTR crew] made one that was 8 feet wide. I’ve seen other Indiana Jones ones but clapperboards are tough to pin down. There’s not a huge volume of those around and they don’t pop up very often.


What details on this clapperboard, aside from the obvious, prove that it is a genuine set-used clapperboard from the filming of Jaws? It’s incredibly distinctive. It’s very specific, with the cut teeth, which was hugely endearing to a number of collectors. And there’s a photo of Steven Spielberg holding the clapperboard on the set. It was not only used in Jaws and made for Jaws, Steven Spielberg held it on the set. That’s part of the huge appeal of this particular piece.


How big a deal is it to have this period photo of Spielberg holding the clapperboard? Would the clapperboard be worth less if the photo did not exist? Yes, I would say so. Because they were wiped and redetailed with chalk, it’s very unusual for final shot info to be retained on an individual clapperboard. A lot of these slates originated as rental items that productions used to hire. To get one with all the info on it and match it against a photo, it’s very tough.


Is it unique? No, I’ve had a couple of screen-matched boards in the past. But it’s rare, especially for a significant film.


Do we know how many clapperboards were made for Jaws and used on the set? There’s no record whatsoever. I can say quite comfortably that’s the only Jaws clapperboard that’s ever come to market.


As you mentioned before, the clapperboard is decorated with a line of shark teeth. If it lacked that cool little flourish, would it still have made a record price? Again it’s tough for me to speculate. I hadn’t seen a Jaws clapperboard before. I think it [the lack of the teeth detail] would have definitely impacted it, but I can’t say it’d be 20 percent less valuable. It is one of the most endearing features of the board.


How often do you see decorative flourishes like that on a clapperboard? Almost never. The most elaborate thing you get these days is the film logo laser etched on an acrylic clapperboard. You don’t see ones that are nearly as entertaining as this.


What was your role in the auction? I was in the room. I went and sat with the consigner. He wanted to be part of the experience of it selling. Because of the level of interest prior to the auction, we knew it was going to be an exciting moment. It got a massive amount of publicity. People loved it and the press ran with it. It was such an exciting moment for him and for me. He was over the moon, and I was over the moon with him.


Can you talk about how the consigner reacted? He got more and more excited. He looked at the screen, he looked at me, then back at the screen, and his jaw dropped a bit more. After it finished he had to leave the room, he was so excited. He had to have a drink to calm his nerves.


When did you know you had a new world auction record? By the time it got to £30,000. At that point, we were there.


How long do you think this record will stand? I haven’t seen anything that comes remotely close to this. Maybe if a Star Wars: A New Hope clapperboard came up, but it’s unlikely any survive. If a Wizard of Oz or a Gone With the Wind clapperboard came up, they’d be worth tens of thousands. This really was the perfect storm. An interesting-looking clapperboard, the most interesting film in Spielberg’s back catalog, brilliantly documented, and a huge amount of production use. It ticked all the boxes you want to tick.


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Prop Store’s September 20, 2018 auction will include Harrison Ford’s screen-worn Han Solo jacket from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Rose’s farewell note from Titanic, and also a Jaws lot with 40 storyboard pages and a crew t-shirt.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.


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