Who is this shirtless, hairy hunk from the mid-20th century and why does he seem so perturbed? It wasn’t clear to the staff at Harvard’s Houghton Library as they went through a collection of hundreds of film stills. So they turned to the Web for help identifying it and 10 other pictures.
The pictures, posted by the library on a blog item, will set your mind racing if you’re a film fan. Maybe even if you’re not.
They’re slick, professional attempts to get publicity for films and stars that have mostly faded into obscurity. They might tempt you to dig up the movies. Or not.
Who is this supine beauty, you might wonder. And what is she looking at?
What movie was this guy in? you’ll also ask. And was this stunt really a good idea?
Also: should this guy really be driving in his condition?
With the power of crowdsourcing, answers came in to the Harvard curators: The shirtless guy was French actor Jean Marais; the woman appeared in the “Mill of the Stone Women”; and the speckled driver was from “Planets Around Us,” blog readers said, identifying 10 out of 11 pictures.
John Overholt, curator of early modern books and manuscripts at Houghton Library, said curators are still checking out the tips but are pleased by the “great response.” The curators plan to issue a second set of stills and seek the public’s help in identifying those, too, he said.
So stay tuned.
“This is kind of a trend in special collection libraries, calling on crowd-sourcing” to help identify unknown items, he said. “I immediately thought film stills are perfect for this.”
The stills came from the Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library, and they were assembled not because they were from major cinematic achievements but because of the unique angle taken by the collector.
Harvard says it’s “the world’s largest private collection of material documenting altered states of mind” and, simply put, the collection “centered on sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”
The collection came together when investment adviser-turned-collector Julio Mario Santo Domingo Jr. integrated his collection with the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Library of San Francisco in 2001. Domingo died in 2009; his son has deposited the collection on long-term loan with Harvard, the university said.
Santo Domingo also had a separate rock ‘n’ roll collection, which is now at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. And he possessed the world’s largest collection of opium pipes, the university said.
Overholt plans to post another batch of mystery photographs soon.
“I think movie buffs tend to go pretty deep,” he said.Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.