This is a guest post by Kelly Chisholm, head of the Collections Management and Accessions Unit in the Moving Image Section of the NAVCC.
Rick Scheckman, an active member of the film festival and classic film lover community, passed away earlier this month at the age of 67. Rick was an avid film fan and collector, and was a frequent attendee of the Mostly Lost workshop at the NAVCC’s Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia. His love of cinema and collecting eventually became a business for him, which he called Film Archives, Inc. While his company primarily operated as a stock footage company, Rick also put this collection, and his cinephile knowledge, to work as a long-time producer on David Letterman’s late-night TV shows. He often pulled clips from his own collection to use for sketches and running gags on the shows, and he worked with Letterman for more than 30 years. The strength of Rick’s collection lay in his range of obscure silent and sound comedy films, and he now lives on through his collection, which has found a home in the Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress.
Moving Image Curator Rob Stone was familiar with Rick Scheckman through his attendance at the Mostly Lost workshops, and knew of Rick’s collection and its particular strengths as well. Rob obtained the collection for the Library’s Moving Image Section in 2021, with the first items arriving at the Packard Campus in November of that year.
And it’s at this point in the story that we can take a look at how many dedicated people it can take to process just one collection. Because of the large size of the Scheckman collection (over 5,000 reels of film spread over 14 pallets), there wasn’t enough room at the Packard Campus to receive the whole collection at one time. Enter, then, the first additional hands to help process this collection: Marcus Toler and the rest of the Collections Management Division (CMD) of The Library of Congress. Marcus and his team very kindly found room for a majority of the collection in the off-site Library storage commonly referred to as Cabin Branch. I’ve never seen Cabin Branch in person, so I can only assume it looks like the warehouse in the last scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
But the skilled staff of CMD have it all figured out, and they agreed to receive the 14 pallets at Cabin Branch and send four at a time to the Packard Campus. Enter more people of “the village” it took to process this collection: the dock staff at the Packard Campus and the two Moving Image Section staff assigned to work on the collection, Dave Pontarelli and Rachel Del Gaudio. Dave and Rachel developed a plan to split the work between them and tackle the collection as a team. But that team was about to grow.
In late 2021 and early 2022, the Library of Congress was still operating under distancing measures to curb the spread of COVID. As a result, the NAVCC’s motion picture laboratory was not operating at normal levels, because distancing could not be maintained in the lab during its photochemical processes. As a result, some of the lab staff had time available to dedicate to other projects, like processing the Film Archives, Inc. Collection! Working with Rachel and Dave, lab staff worked on a rotation, winding through films and recording identification information for each reel. The village processing this collection changed over the course of the project, as Rachel left the Library of Congress for another job in the spring of 2022, and the film lab staff gradually returned to their normal duties. Dave Pontarelli was the constant in the center of the project, admirably coordinating the work of the film lab staff alongside his own work and creating records in the LC’s MAVIS database with all the information recorded by both himself and the lab staff. And, all the while, CMD continued to send pallets of the collection to the Packard Campus as space was created by the material that was now heading into the vaults, fully processed. The last people to aid the collection’s journey were a couple more members of the Collections Management and Accessions Unit who do the work of finding permanent homes for newly processed material on the shelves in the climate-controlled moving image vaults.
In the end, 2,550 reels of film from the Film Archives, Inc. Collection were processed in 2022, including 825 inspected by the film lab staff. These reels consisted of 1,200 titles that were not previously held in the NAVCC Moving Image Collection. A particular highlight from these 1,200 titles is what appears to be the only known copy of a 1921 short called “Brandy’s Cocktail” featuring Billy Ruge, the onetime comedy partner of Oliver Hardy (pre-Laurel).
All of the Library staff who worked to bring this collection to its final home did so by applying their expertise and skill set to the material in their own ways, from Rob Stone, for handling the acquisition, to CMD managing its storage and transport, and finally to the array of NAVCC staff who helped to process and conserve the collection of Rick Scheckman. Rick will be sorely missed, but the Moving Image Section is proud to be the final home for his Film Archives, Inc. material, and we will continue to keep his memory and love of cinema alive through providing access to his collection.
For more information related to this blog or any Library of Congress holdings, please see Ask a Librarian, and if you plan to come in to view or listen to any collection items, please reach out to our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center and the Recorded Sound Research Center.