Rare ’40s Disney Motion Picture Camera Set for Auction
These days, Hollywood keeps its Golden Age alive through films like La La Land. But what was it actually like to be a film producer back in those formative days? What were the tools of the trade? Heritage Auctions is providing a rare glimpse to serious collectors and film buffs.
In its upcoming Jan. 19 “Gentleman Collector” sale, the auction house is offering up a 1940s Mitchell 35 mm “Standard A” motion picture camera, first owned by RKO Pictures, which famously released King Kong (1933) and Citizen Kane (1941); and eventually found its way to a cinematographer at Walt Disney, who used it on a number of movies. During that time Disney put out some of its most iconic films, including Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942).
Operated via electric drive or the classic hand crank, the camera is actually still in working condition—but takes an expert to know his or her way around one. As camera expert Sam Dodge notes, most Mitchells never made it to Hollywood; they were used primarily by the U.S. government. If you imagined a director or cinematographer standing behind the camera and peering into it to capture a scene, that’d be incorrect; in the absence of reflex viewing, notes Dodge, operators would have to manually set up the scene and then shoot, with no one actually looking into the camera itself.
Not much is known about how Disney used the camera—or whom it belonged to. But it clearly could’ve been a part of some of the era’s greatest movies.
The pre-auction estimate for the historic piece is $70,000–$100,000. For more on the Mitchell 35 mm that Heritage has for sale, click here.