FLMORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Film historian Steven Fredrick, at home with his 16mm projector, is parting with his collection of rare Hawaii-themed films and is hoping to find a buyer who will keep the collection in the islands.
Movie history up for bid
An isle film trove that includes Duke, Bing and Elvis goes up for all-or-nothing auction
Film buffs need to put off buying that investment property and contact Steven Fredrick right away. The librarian and film historian is offering his collection of 250 original Hawaii-related, 16 mm films for sale by auction, with an opening bid of $87,500 for the entire lot.
He already has an offer for near asking from a mainland corporation, but is hoping a Hawaii individual or organization will be able to keep it here.
The oldest film in the collection is a 1925 silent western in which Duke Kahanamoku plays an Indian chief. The collection also includes full-length features and short subjects on topics from surfing to family drama, plus swing-era soundies.
Fredrick began building his collection of Hawaii-related films shortly after his arrival from Los Angeles in 1994, as a way of speeding up the process of learning the history and culture of his new home. He'd already been a fan and collector of classic horror and silent films since he was a teenager.
By 2001 the Hawaii collection was twice the size of the Bishop Museum's film collection. Great care has gone into the mending and repairing of the vintage films so that he says they're in "the best shape they've ever been."
As a librarian at Kailua Public Library, he had always intended to salvage the films and make them available to the public through free screenings paid for by corporate and government sponsors. But such contracts have been infrequent, and over the years the collection has "cost me an arm and a leg," he said, from purchasing the films to renting a $1,000-a-month climate-controlled underground vault to store them.
"I want to keep them together, as one continuous collection, not chop it up. My intention is for it to stay in Hawaii. I've had offers from big companies, but I don't want it to be used for purposes that are not appropriate, so I thought I'd put it out there and see who comes out of the woodworks.
"Maybe there's some wonderful millionaire out there who will want to take care of this."
The films celebrate Hawaiian culture, with pop and documentary fare. After studying other film collections in the Bishop Museum, University of Hawaii, State Archives and State Library System, he says, "Ninety percent of what I have, nobody has."
"There are several documentaries about the migration of the Polynesians, wonderful things related to the swing era, and silly things, too, but they're all related to the people of Hawaii."
Some of his favorite pieces are the "soundies," the 1940s equivalents of today's music videos, featuring big bands performing a song. The soundies were made to appear on jukeboxes so listeners could hear and see Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman or a Hawaiian act, including a young Alfred Apaka playing ukulele with Ray Kinney's Orchestra.
One of the chicken-skin moments, Fredrick said, is seeing footage of Lena Machado singing the songs of Charles E. King in a mainland TV studio.
"She is magnificent," he said. "People talk about Amy Gilliom today with her powerful, full range, and Lena was like that, too, and watching this, it's like she's standing in the room."
Luck played a part in amassing the rare collection.
"I came along at the right place, the right time," Fredrick said. "I just made my wanted list and got into the inner circle of film collectors who sent my list out. It was like a dam that broke. Everything imaginable came to me, but this was all before eBay.
"People think they can put together another collection like this. Uh-uh. They think they can go on eBay or look in Los Angeles; I don't think any of these films came from Los Angeles.
"They came from New York, New Jersey; a lot of things came from the Midwest from people who just loved Hawaii. A lot of these people are dead now."
But Fredrick says he's ready to move on.
"I've had fun with the collection, but it's time to try something else."
On the block
Examples from Steven Fredrick's collection, to be sold as a complete package:
Surfing films: Footage featuring Eddie Aikau, Duke Kahanamoku and other legends
Documentaries and newsreels: Footage of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack of Pearl Harbor, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's secret military visit to Hawaii in July 1944
Full-length films: Bing Crosby singing "Sweet Leilani" from "Waikiki Wedding" (1937); horror and mystery films shot in Hawaii with Boris Karloff ("Voodoo Island") and Bela Lugosi ("The Black Camel")
Travelogues: Boat Days at Aloha Tower (1938, 1948, 1950), Sea Life Park (1966), sugar mills and railroads (1938-40, 1948), USS Arizona Memorial (1948, 1963), volcano lava flow (1938, 1950, 1966), Waikiki scenes (1938-66)
Short subjects/family drama: Folk tales and family stories narrated by Don Ho and other island personalities
Soundies/big-band collection: Hawaii's big bands perform hapa-haole "swing" arrangements of traditional Hawaiian music. Featuring the orchestras of Ray Kinney, Lani McIntire and Harry Owens.
Miscellaneous short films: Behind-the-scenes footage of Elvis Presley at Polynesian Cultural Center (1965); behind the scenes with author James A. Michener (1965)