For a long time, movie props and costumes were viewed as a byproduct of a more substantial creation. They were about as valuable to studios as the wrapper on a candy bar after you eat it. Fans had no (or less) interest in owning pieces of the iconic films they watched, and so, in essence, all of this stuff was considered garbage once it had outlived its usefulness. It’s hard to hear, but true. Until the late eighties and early nineties, no one really cared what happened to this stuff.
While hundreds, if not thousands (excuse us while we die inside) of iconic pieces of memorabilia were destroyed, some managed to escape the dumpster and found their way into collections across the US and beyond. We dug up some of the most iconic props and costumes that were rescued from obscurity by loving fans — or hapless people — who saved a little bit of movie magic for the rest of us.
Scrumdiddlyumptious Bars – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
If you ever saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the one with Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp), you probably remember all the strange candies from the movie. From lickable wallpaper to everlasting gobstoppers, nothing was so iconic as the Scrumdiddlyumptious Bars. Rumor has it they made thousands of them– but when the movie was over, pretty much everything was pitched straight into the bin. See, in 1971 the film was considered a flop. Given its poor reception, no one thought to save, well…anything. They tossed it all to make room for the next film — Cabaret.
Thankfully, a savvy man named Gregor Gee snagged a lot of the relics before they could be destroyed, including the only surviving Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar. And believe us when we say that this thing might as well be a golden ticket, even if it doesn’t contain one.
The Emerald City – The Wizard of Oz
We’re not talking about the physical set — not this time, anyway. Back in the old days of film (insert a cane shake here and something about walking uphill both ways), they didn’t have all these crazy special effects. Instead, they had people paint GIANT matte backdrops to give viewers the idea of depth without building an actual giant set. Many of these backdrops have disappeared through the years. You almost never hear about them anymore, because no one cared what happened to a canvas that had already been used.
So when a cartage company who was hired to clean out a lot recognized the iconic backdrop, they (very intelligently) did not toss it out. Instead, they kept it in storage until they could figure out what to do with it. The gleaming Emerald City was eventually sold for $44,000.
Rudolph and Santa – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Many films did not know how iconic they would one day become. Pretty much every kid is sat down and made to watch the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special at some point in their young lives. It is still a favorite in many households to this day — and quite a few of those don’t have kids (don’t judge us). When production wrapped, the producers had no need for the puppets we now remember fondly, so a crew member took a few of them home and gave them to her kids. Her kids, being kids, fed Rudolph Play-doh and crayons– which is not a good diet for a reindeer. For years these puppets were well-loved toys, to the point that Rudolph lost his shiny red nose and Santa lost half of his mustache.
Years later they turned up on Antique Roadshow, where they were authenticated as the original puppets from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Apparently, the other toys the cast member took were left in an attic, where they overheated and (horrifically) melted. There is some good news in this story, though! The puppets were sold to a collector with the promise they would be restored and shown to the public — and they were.
Scarlett O’Hara’s Dress – Gone With the Wind
You would think with a hit like Gone With the Wind, which is to this day (when you adjust for inflation) the highest grossing movie of all time, someone would have thought, “Hey, we should maybe keep some of this stuff!” As you can probably guess — that did not happen. The movie hasn’t aged well and despite a few lines which are still quoted to this day, it’s perhaps better left in the vault (romanticizing slavery definitely needs to stay in the past).
Thankfully, in the ’60s, a Universal employee named James Tumblin was doing some research at The Western Costume company and noticed a pile of dresses on the floor. One in particular gown caught his eye, and he realized pretty quickly that he had stumbled on one of Vivien Leigh’s dresses from Gone With the Wind. When he asked about it, he was told they were all going to be thrown out. He offered the owner $20 to take it off his hands, and thinking they were getting a deal for garbage, they accepted.
Here’s the kicker. Tumblin later sold the dress at auction for $137,000! That’s more then 6,000 times what he originally paid for it. We are incredibly glad that he took the time to pull this relic from the trash pile because it’s stunning and very much worth preserving.
Tara – Gone With the Wind
Speaking of Gone With the Wind, the dress isn’t the only thing that was going to be thrown out. Tara was the plantation that Scarlett lived on, and eventually, they decided to pitch the set. Yes, the entire set. After 20 years of tours on the back lot, the studio decided it wasn’t drawing people in like it used to, so they sold it to a senator’s wife in Georgia. The entire facade was shipped across the states in around a thousand pieces. At the time there were many grand plans to open a Gone With the Wind museum, or a tourist attraction, but they all fell through for one reason or another. Tara faded from memory, and the entire facade was left to rot in a barn, forgotten.
But in 2015 Peter Bonner, who owns a tour company, discovered the set under a whole lot of junk– which had been dumped on top of the iconic set. He rescued it and has been restoring it with a handful of volunteers. He has begun to piece it back together and restore it. It will eventually be open for tours, but right now it’s still being worked on.
Hoggle – The Labyrinth
Most people remember Jim Henson for inventing the Muppets or helping create Sesame Street — but he also made a few movies outside of his popular shows. The Labyrinth, starring the late David Bowie, is the most well known of those films. It was filled with strange creatures and amazing sets. The most prominent of those creatures was Hoggle, a small gnome-like creature with a rather grumpy disposition. The puppet was the most complex the studio had ever made and took a team of five people just to make him functional. This being one of the most impressive puppets ever constructed, you’d think they would have kept a very close eye on him. Unfortunately for Hoggle, he became lost — but not in the Labyrinth.
The case carrying Hoggle went missing and was never recovered. He eventually turned up at an unclaimed baggage center in Alabama where he had unfortunately already begun to rot. What remained was a horrifying monster which has, quite honestly, ruined our childhoods. Thankfully someone believed in him enough to buy him. He was purchased by the Unclaimed Baggage Museum in Alabama who restored him and have him on display to this day.
Nostromo – Alien
By this point, it shouldn’t surprise you that studios were just dying to get rid of all the iconic stuff you loved from movies. So when we say the Nostromo was rotting under a tarp in some guy’s driveaway for 20 years, you’re going probably going to go “How?” and then “Why?” Well good news, we’re going to tell you. See, in 1979 a man named Bob Burns (an old school character actor who played a lot of gorillas in the movies) asked Fox permission to host an Alien themed haunted house. Well, Fox thought this was such a cool idea they not only approved his plan, but they also sent several screen-used props and costumes to his place to help him out. So Bob has his haunted house, and it sounds like with all this crazy stuff it had to be AWESOME. Fox even sent some execs over in secret to check it out, and they were beyond impressed.
They were so impressed, actually, that they asked him to temporarily take care of some more props AND the actual Nostromo while they figured out what to do with them. The Nostromo was so large, they had to lower it by crane into his driveway because it wouldn’t fit in his house for the show.
But then a weird thing happened. Fox never came to pick the Nostromo up– and the ship was not small. It was several hundred pounds of iconic spaceship, stuck in his driveway. So, with Fox not coming to get it, and with it being too heavy to have a couple of friends come and move, he left it there. He took every precaution to keep it safe — and by that, we mean he threw a tarp over it for about twenty years. Bob eventually got it moved into a storage locker — which must have been a feat in and of itself. After another great period, he gave it to The Prop Store, and they restored the incredible ship to its former glory. The ship went from derelict craft to the impressive vessel where we first were introduced to the perfect organism, the Xenomorph.
But this story is even wilder than we make it sound (not kidding) — check out Charles de Lauzirika’s documentary on the Alien Anthology (or the Quadrilogy if you have DVD), called Aliens in the Basement: The Bob Burns Collection. It’s worth it.
Captain Kirk’s Chair – Star Trek: The Original Series
When Star Trek: TOS wrapped, everyone thought it was over. More prop garbage to get rid of for the studio. Another relic ended up in a dumpster. The Command Chair, the most iconic chair in TV history, was thrown directly into the trash. It was fortunate that a California man saw it, fancied it, and took it home instead of letting it get hauled to a landfill. There it became a much less lofty seat as it found a home at his personal bar. We can only assume many great drinks were enjoyed in that seat for the following thirty years. The man installed a button, and we are not kidding (we almost wish we were), to open and close his curtains from the captain’s chair.
The only reason we know this is, by chance, his widow happened to meet George Takei on a cruise and told him she had Kirk’s famous chair sitting in her basement. Takei was baffled by this and eventually brought an authenticator to see this find. They were both incredibly surprised to find out the woman wasn’t kidding — it really was Captain Kirk’s titular Command Chair. It then sold at auction for over $300,000! It now resides in the Seattle MoPop (modern pop culture) Museum for fans to appreciate it forever. They actually have a massive collection of Star Trek Props and costumes there, and if you’re ever in Seattle you should look it up!
Death Star – Star Wars: A New Hope
This is by far one of the most painful stories on our list, but it’s worth telling. The Death Star didn’t just become trash, it was also full of it for many years. See, when they made A New Hope (or Star Wars for those of us who reject that name), no one knew the juggernaut of pop culture it would later become. They thought they were making a fantasy epic set in space, and that was about it. So when the movie wrapped, the studio basically went “We’re not going to keep paying rent to store all your weird space junk, Lucas,” and they just… stopped. So everything that wasn’t taken by someone working on or in the film was dumped into the garbage. Blessedly, one storage employee had the good sense to snag the Death Star before it was pitched with the rest. He displayed it proudly until he moved to Missouri, where he moved it to his mother’s antique shop.
Eventually it was sold to a country music bar called Star World, which we can only assume was terrible because a few years later it went out of business. A die-hard fan named Todd had missed the opportunity to buy it years earlier and, upon hearing about the “unfortunate” closure of this fine establishment, he went to buy it. It hadn’t been liquidated, probably because they thought it was just another trash can — as that is exactly what the bar had been using it for. Yep, the only screen used model of the Death Star made for A New Hope had its primary weapon removed and was filled with years of bar patron trash juice (we’re dying inside just thinking about it).
The collector offered to sell it to LucasFilm in the ’90s, and for some reason, they declined (maybe because of the smell, but no one knows for sure). We are assuming he cleaned it up before he displayed it, but it was kept for a while before it was eventually sold again to its current owner. Gus Lopez actually chose his house around being able to display this iconic prop well. He has owned it for well over a decade now, and it has even done a stint at the Seattle MoPop Museum (seriously, this place is a treasure trove of props). The museum also made a replica of the missing primary weapon and returned it to Guz in the best condition it had been in years. It still resides safely in his home and is being loved as it should have from the start. Hopefully such good care will make up for the fact it nearly wound up in a dump.