Joe Maddalena: 'Hollywood Treasure' hunter

Like a real life Indiana Jones, Joe Maddalena must solve riddles, navigate through tricky situations and use his charm to discover treasures and save the day.

The main difference is that instead of battling booby traps and Nazis, he must negotiate with owners and convince them to hand over their own idols – not ancient archaeological artifacts but rare movie memorabilia.

The son of antique dealers, Maddalena is the founder of Profiles in History, an auction house he began in 1985 to sell historic documents, including baseball cards, comic books, and novels from great American writers like William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Over time, Profiles began to deal with prop and items from the movies, such as current sellers like the hover board from Back to the Future II, an original golden ticket from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and Brand Routh’s Superman suit from Superman Returns.

Most recently, Maddalena gained headlines for his Lost auction that pulled in more than $1.8 for items like the Dharma VW van (for $47,500) and 12 cans of Dharma beer ($5,000). But the auctioneer and movie buff is about to get headlines again with his new Syfy show Hollywood Treasure, which premieres tonight with two back-to-back half-hour episodes, and airs Weds. at 10 p.m., ET.

On the show, Maddalena and his team travel to various destinations to track down leads and find highly collectible Hollywood memorabilia for fan auctions. Over the course of the 12-episode series, Joe pursues the carpet bag used on camera in Mary Poppins, the hat worn by the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, the genie bottle Barbara Eden lived in on I Dream of Jeannie, miniature biplanes King Kong swatted at in 1931 and many more legendary items.

We spoke with Maddalena to discuss Hollywood Treasure and his life on the auction block. Additionally, we’ve included video from the Hollywood Treasure panel at the Syfy Digital Media Press Tour in Orlando, Fla. earlier this month.

Aaron Sagers: Is there a specific director or filmmaker really protective of their memorabilia? You know, they just don’t want it out there, don’t want it to be sold out on the open market.

Joe Maddalena: Well, I think everybody’s protective of their stuff to a certain point. It’s just a matter of how it’s put out there. There are so many charity auctions that people participate in. I mean Lucas Films is very protective of everything but George Lucas has donated a Darth Vader helmet to the Directors Guild years ago. He’s very good about donating things. So I think it really is how it’s presented.

I mean every wants to protect their IP, which is so important but also simultaneously they want to work with the fans to make sure that this is their bread-and-butter of how they - we’re the ones who dictate what’s good and what’s not good because we put our money down or flip the dial.

So I think that it’s more a matter of being respectful of all of these people and what they do and making sure that the things that come out are legitimate.

AS: I know you’re a Wizard of Oz buff, and want to find Dorothy’s rub slippers, but what is the item that your friends ask you to set aside?

JM: Stan Winston was a dear friend before he passed away and for two or three years I worked very closely with Stan and was fortunate enough to take care of his collection and sell off his collection. Now I work with his family, his wife and his kids and stuff, and I archive all their assets.

And Stan obviously did Iron Man. A day doesn’t go by I don’t get a phone call, “Can’t get an Iron Man?” “No, can’t get an Iron Man.” I mean it’s the most requested thing because they know I have the direct connection.

The Iron Mans are all owned by Marvel Entertainment Group. They’re not being sold and it’s probably the most requested thing I get.

AS: You’ve told me the story about the Captain Kirk’s chair from Star Trek being misused when you found it, so what are some other abusive uses of items? Like something that’s worn out about town or...

JM: Well, you know the story of the Captain’s chair then with it being in the bar. You know the story?

AS: Yes, yes. That the gentleman uses it as his barstool, right?

Maddalena poses with Veruca Salt's
golden ticket from 'Willy Wonka.'
Photo by Aaron Sagers
JM: Right, right. God, there’s so many things it’s like when MGM liquidated the lot, a lot of the things that they had were bought by theme parks and attractions. I mean I got a phone call from a bar in Florida that had all this Mutiny on the Bounty stuff because the previous owner had bought it at the MGM sale for décor.

This was this little hole in the wall bar and basically it was like a dive and all - it was all this stuff from Mutiny on the Bounty and the new owner was like, 'I think when I bought this thing the guy told me but I’m not sure.' You find that pieces were being used for dartboards, and I mean, no idea.

It was just furnishing because the guy in the '70s that went out to the MGM sale bought this stuff as décor for a few hundred dollars and used it in his bar. And suddenly when the guy realized that stuff was worth tens of thousands of dollars, it quickly came off the walls.

AS: The other question, sort of the very modern question, is do you every think about the fact that with all these special effects, the visual effects, the CGI, that there might be a drop off with movie memorabilia? In the future, will there be just less of it to go around, less of it to auction off?

JM: No, I think the opposite will happen because I think that we’re in love with CGI and 3D and next year we won’t be in love with CGI and 3D. And no matter how well they do CGI it doesn’t look as really as the models and the miniatures.

And you could already see stop-motion movies are coming back. You know, Guillermo del Toro has got a new movie coming out. Tim Burton, Henry Selick, (Coraline) more people are going back to that form. You can’t take a miniature ship and make the CGI version of it look as good as the model.

I think what’s going to happen is as these filmmakers are pressing their boundaries with CGI they’re going to come back and say, there’s only so much you can do where it’s now become not real looking.  It’s too - I think that was the recent Star Wars movies - they’re just too perfect. There’s no imperfections in them.

I got bored with them because it was like - nothing looked real, just looked surreal. Where the original movies were hooky and great because they were real sets and models and miniatures and I think that you’ll have a forever ending cycle of it will be one way and then it will be another way. You know what I mean? So I think that will always change.

And they’ve been making movies a long time. All over the world there are things in Italy and France and Germany and England, so I think it will be quite a while before we exhaust what’s out there - and they’re making new ones everyday. I mean the new Tron movie, it’s all props.

I mean there’s a lot of CGI but the identity disks, the costumes, the vehicles, those are always going to be part of the - if they get it down to where it’s basically an actor’s voice and it’s CGI it’s a cartoon so I don’t think that will happen. I hope not. I think it would be a travesty to film making.

AS: Has there been a prop or an item that has resonated especially overseas from an American movie? Something that is very big in Japan, for instance?

JM: Jurassic Park is huge in Japan. When I sold Stan Winston’s first round of his material a lot of the Jurassic Park stuff I sold ended up in Japan. Japanese are huge consumers. But we have people from 150 different countries who call us. I mean Spain, Greece, Germany, France, South America, Brazil, Canada - I mean China, just everywhere, Russia. It’s amazing to me the interest but I would say Japan is definitely a large consumer of American pop culture.

AS: And what is physically the largest item that you’ve had to deal with?

The largest? I’ll tell you two stories real fast. So I get this catalog one day from an English auction house, it’s about 15 years ago, and I see this miniature model of Titanic. And it’s basically the hollow Titanic and it has Titanic on it. I’m like, oh this would be cool. I’d like love to have this on my desk, 22-inches long. I’m like, perfect, I’ve got a great spot for it.

So a few months later, one of the girls that works with me comes in and says, what are you going to do with this thing? And I’m like, put it on my desk. And she’s like, Joe, it’s in a tractor-trailer truck. I’m like, what are you talking about? Well, I didn’t read it carefully. It was 22-feet long and it was about six feet tall and about eight-feet wide and no wonder it cost so much money to get here.

To make a long story short, I had that thing in storage forever so finally we cut off the front of it and just sold the Titanic piece. And the guy that bought it, I convinced him he should make a bar out of it. I was happy to get rid of it.

That’s the biggest, hugest mistake that I’ve ever made - but, no, we’re moving things all the time. The Stan Winston stuff just keeps coming back because these T-rex heads were the size of Volkswagens. I mean we were moving things that weighed thousands and thousands of pounds. We’re moving vehicles all the time. But I would say, the Stan Winston, full-sized dinosaurs were pretty enormous.

AS: Yes, well it’s too bad you had to get rid of the Titanic. I think it would - I think you should have just gotten a bigger desk.

JM: You know, it’s funny. This guy came into the auction and I had tried to sell it a few times to this one guy. I’m like, do you a have a bar in your house? And he’s like, why? I’m like, I have an idea. And he’s like - he started laughing and he bought it for $600 and he just thought it was the funniest thing in the world and we just cut off the corner of it and he put it in his - and he said it was great. But it was just the perfect accompaniment.