8 Classic Movie Props That Were Tossed in the Trash
By Jake Rossen
In the early days of Hollywood, it was impossible to predict there would be any financial or historical reason for saving movie props. Later, even when collectors began to show interest and film conservationists implored filmmakers to hold on to materials, studios found it too expensive to try and keep set decorations in storage. And if the memorabilia somehow found its way out into the world, its owners had little idea of the cinematic history they held in their hands. Check out eight iconic props that wound up in a dumpster.
1. THE MAP // THE GOONIES (1985)
Sean Astin is careful with the terminology he uses to describe how he came to own the treasure map from The Goonies. “I don’t believe we were formally gifted those items,” he told an audience after a 30th anniversary screening in 2015. When Astin was 18, he left a number of personal possessions behind in the house owned by his mother, actress Patty Duke. When he returned, many of the items—including the map—were no longer there. “It’s an item that would probably be worth like $100,000 now,” he said. “And I think my mom threw it out.”
2. EMERALD CITY // THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
While Dorothy’s ruby slippers have experienced enough theft, misplacement, and intrigue to fill a movie, MGM hasn't had much luck with the rest of the Oz iconography, either. One of the matte paintings—a hand-illustrated background that created the illusion of depth prior to computer graphics—used to depict Emerald City was tossed out after the studio hired a salvage company to clear out their back lot in the mid-1970s. Fortunately, one of the garbage men realized the painting might have been more valuable than that. The business held on to it until the piece entered the auction circuit in 1980, where they netted $44,000 for their conservation efforts.
3. THE SCRUMDIDILYUMPTIOUS BARS // WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
Candy peddler Willy Wonka’s sugar drug of choice from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was the Scrumdidilyumptious chocolate bar. Though thousands were made for the production, virtually all of them were thrown out when the Munich-based crew had to quickly make room for the filming of Cabaret on the same lot. Wonka collector Gee Gregor says only one Scrumdidilyumptious bar survived the sweet massacre. “I am very proud to have it,” he told the BBC in 2014.
4. THE DEATH STAR // STAR WARS (1977)
While George Lucas and Lucasfilm would later have the resources to curate the extensive number of props and costumes from the Star Wars trilogy, not all of the models used in the original film were so lucky. After filming was completed, the single Death Star created for screen use was moved to a storage facility. Fox soon decided they were tired of paying rent, so the contents were ordered to be thrown out. A storage unit employee noticed the Death Star, plucked it from the trash, and hung on to it for the next decade before displaying it in his mother’s Missouri antique shop. The store sold it to a musician who used it as a trash can, stuffing waste through a hole where the radar dish had been. A collector later rescued it, giving the planet-destroying superweapon a life of dignity as a public display.
5. SCARLETT O’HARA’S DRESS // GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
Beginning in the 1960s, Universal Studios employee James Tumblin began compiling props and costumes from Gone with the Wind. By chance, he visited the Western Costume Company and noticed that one of Vivien Leigh’s screen-used dresses was in a pile on the floor. Recognizing it immediately, Tumblin asked about it; he was told it was being thrown away. Aghast, he offered the owners $20. In 2015, Tumblin sold it at auction for $137,000.
6. NEW YORK // KING KONG (1933)
While Peter Jackson owns a small portion of the stop-motion models used for the original King Kong film, he’s not likely to be able to pair them with a scale model of New York. The Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and other sets that were owned by RKO eventually wound up on the Desilu Studios lot. According to Barry Livingston, who played Ernie Douglas on My Three Sons, he and his brother would play with the props during shooting. One day, they arrived to find them gone—everything from the film had been thrown away to make more room for the needs of the TV production.
7. THE LEG LAMP // A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
Ralphie’s father had questionable taste in home decor, but that hasn’t stopped fans of the holiday classic from buying replica lamps shaped like a seductive female leg. Unfortunately, getting the real thing is impossible: according to Peter Jones, who operates a tourist business out of the house used in the film, all of the leg lamps were discarded by the 1990s.
8. THE THEATER CHAIRS // SISKEL & EBERT (1977-1999)
Though they were never featured in a movie, the balcony seats occupied by dueling film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert might be some of the film industry’s most important pieces of furniture. When Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued co-hosting with guests—including tenured critic Richard Roeper—until 2006. Just before Disney canceled the show in 2010 amid some acrimonious business dealings with Ebert, he alleged workers destroyed the original set and the chairs with sledgehammers. Ebert felt they belonged in the Smithsonian.