‘Snakes? Why did it have to be snakes?”

‘Snakes? Why did it have to be snakes?"

Action/adventure flick Raiders of the Lost Ark turns the big four-O this summer. To toast that benchmark, Walt Disney Studios, which secured the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise in 2013, including a fifth chapter slated for release in June 2022, has introduced a whack of 40th anniversary collectibles tied to the box-office smash.

Officially licensed water bottles, smartphone cases, ball caps, even a replica of the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol that asp-averse archeologist Dr. Henry Watson (Indiana) Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) goes after during Raiders’s edge-of-your-seat opening sequence, are available for purchase. Almost all are being sold exclusively at the entertainment conglomerate’s various resorts and theme parks, which presents a bit of a quandary for Manitoban Les David, arguably the world’s foremost collector of all things Indy.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Les David, owner of the world’s largest collection of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones memorabilia, with one of the military trucks used in the shooting of the movies that ended up in the touring Discovery Science Centre exhibit. When the exhibit moved overseas the truck was sold off.</p></p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Les David, owner of the world’s largest collection of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones memorabilia, with one of the military trucks used in the shooting of the movies that ended up in the touring Discovery Science Centre exhibit. When the exhibit moved overseas the truck was sold off.

"Travel’s been impossible because of COVID, but luckily I have a contact in Florida with a season pass to Disney World who’s been apprising me of everything that’s been coming out,’" David says, welcoming a visitor to a self-contained, climate-controlled space he had built inside a barn situated on his rural property. The 1,200-square-foot room houses the bulk of his treasure trove, currently being considered for entry in a future volume of Guinness World Records.

"He’ll include a photo along with a message reading, ‘Want it?’ but as you may have guessed already, it’s not like he has to ask."

The 56-year-old IT whiz can say that again; his lair, named Ravenwood after Indy love interest Marion Ravenwood (played by Karen Allen), is jam-packed with 25,000 keepsakes, give or take a fedora. Many are large (pinball machines, VLTs, a life-size glass-fibre replica of the Ark of the Covenant), others not so much (faux coins, playing cards, audio-cassette copies of the various soundtracks).

"Before my wife and I moved out here, a lot of my stuff was kept in a storage locker in the city, simply because there was no room left in the house," he says, opening the door to a media cabinet stocked with every possible play-back format of the four Indy films, including Beta, Video CD and Laserdisc. (A 40th anniversary version of Raiders… was recently released on 4K Blu-ray; yes, he owns an unopened copy of that, too.)

"Except my way of thinking has always been, why collect something only to have it sit in boxes? If it’s not out for people to see and enjoy, what’s the point?"


 

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Many of the items in the collection are custom made, from dioramas to this Muppet-like puppet of Indiana Jones, created by a fan who went to the Hansen school of puppetry.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Many of the items in the collection are custom made, from dioramas to this Muppet-like puppet of Indiana Jones, created by a fan who went to the Hansen school of puppetry.

Even people associated with Raiders of the Lost Ark creator George Lucas have acknowledged that David’s cache is likely the largest of its kind. What’s interesting is there’s a decent chance his cupboards would be bare if it hadn’t been for a spare movie ducat, 40 years ago last month.

Raiders of the Lost Ark officially hit the big screen June 12, 1981. Two days prior, the downtown Northstar Cinema hosted a première for people lucky enough to have won tickets through a radio promo, one of whom was a high school chum of David’s. Except when his pal asked if he wanted to go, his answer was, "Uh, not so much." The Dakota Collegiate alumnus explains that while he enjoyed Ford’s turn as Han Solo in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, he’d spotted trailers for Raiders… and to him, it looked like a war picture, a genre he wasn’t at all interested in.

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO

Raiders of the Lost Ark-collector extraordinaire Les David doesn’t hesitate when asked what drew him to Indiana Jones, the 40-year-old movie’s lead character, in the first place.

Raiders of the Lost Ark-collector extraordinaire Les David doesn’t hesitate when asked what drew him to Indiana Jones, the 40-year-old movie’s lead character, in the first place.

“He’s the hero, for sure, but he’s also a guy who will sometimes bend the rules a bit. He’s not a crook or a thief, but he recognizes that in order to get the job done, you might have to fudge things along the way.”

That calls to the mind the famous scene when Jones faces off against a muscle-bound swordsman armed with an imposing-looking scimitar, which he twirls this way and that as if to intimidate. Only instead of participating in a battle he would surely lose, Jones reaches for his revolver and shoots the fellow dead.

“I learned later that (Harrison) Ford, along with most of the crew, had diarrhea something horrible the day that scene was being shot,” David says with a chuckle. “He told (director Steven) Spielberg if the other actor started tossing him around, like he was supposed to according to the script, it wasn’t going to be pretty, he was basically going to explode all over the set.”

David says Ford next openly wondered why he would even fight the guy in the first place, given the fact he had a gun? Interesting, Spielberg reportedly said; why don’t they try it that way and see how it goes.

“I understand they nailed it on the first take,” David says.

— David Sanderson

"I basically told him I’d go if he couldn’t find anybody else, just so that the ticket didn’t go to waste," he goes on. "I ended up accompanying him and, honest to God, if somebody had taken a picture of me on my way out of the theatre, my jaw would have been down to my navel, I was that blown away by what I’d just witnessed."

After seeing Raiders... a handful of times more, David learned that Paramount Pictures, the film’s distributor, maintained a satellite office in Winnipeg, inside the Capitol Theatre on Donald Street. He dropped by one afternoon, hoping to have a look around. He and the 20-year-old office manager, a fellow "movie geek" named Blaine, hit it off immediately.

A couple weeks later David asked his new friend what happens to the promotional material — posters, stand-ups, lobby cards — once a film’s time in the theatre is through. Nothing, it gets tossed out, came the reply.

In that case, was there any chance he could nab a 15-foot-tall, three-dimensional Raiders... diorama that was then on display at the Northstar? By all means, Blaine responded; all he needed was a vehicle big enough to get it home. Deal.

Since that fateful day, David has made it his life’s mission to, you know, keep up with the Joneses.

A replica of the idol and bag of sand from the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Interesting note is that this replica has the open eyes that were supposed to be on the one in the movie. The idol in the movie had eyes that opened mysteriously, but when they didn't work it was decided to continue with the shoot, so, most replicas show the eyes closed.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A replica of the idol and bag of sand from the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Interesting note is that this replica has the open eyes that were supposed to be on the one in the movie. The idol in the movie had eyes that opened mysteriously, but when they didn't work it was decided to continue with the shoot, so, most replicas show the eyes closed.

It was a slow build. Unlike Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars and Star Trek, there wasn’t a lot of merchandise and restaurant tie-ins associated with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Every so often he’d turn up an autographed 8x10, but that was about it until the late 1980s, when he discovered Raiders... memorabilia was a "thing" in Japan. Through mail-order catalogues, he was suddenly able to latch on to "a lot of weird things," such as a three-metre-long table runner, the sort you’d trot out for special occasions, emblazoned with Indiana Jones’ image.

"There were a few action figures that came out in North America in 1984, tied to the second movie (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) but they sold so poorly that by the time (Indiana Jones and the) Last Crusade came out in ‘89, the studio barely bothered," he continues, running his hand over a few dozen, mint-in-box figures he bought on eBay, 20-odd years ago. "So a lot of what you see here are actually prototypes of books, drinking glasses and puzzles that never saw the light of day. That’s what makes this collection so unique."

As David mentioned earlier, what’s the point of a collection if it can’t be enjoyed? After putting the finishing touches on Ravenwood in 2008, he and his wife, also a collector-type who specializes in Barbies and Dr. Who, began welcoming interested parties from as far away as Europe and Australia. Six years ago, Canadian actor Patrick Gilmore (Stargate Universe, Battlestar Gallactica) made a point of switching flights in Winnipeg, expressly to make the 30-minute drive from the city to David’s abode, to spend an afternoon poking around.

"Somebody let me know he wrote about his time here a few days later on his blog. They said if I was a restaurant, I would have just gotten two Michelin stars."

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Among David’s treasures is a replica of a cup Indy drank blood from in Temple of Doom.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Among David’s treasures is a replica of a cup Indy drank blood from in Temple of Doom.

The guided tour generally kicks off in a section reserved for clothing, where never-to-be-worn apparel is suspended on a circular, stainless steel rack. David and his wife don’t have children of their own, but that hasn’t stopped him from scooping up kids’ PJs, if that’s the only size available.

From there it’s on to food and drink. An entire, industrial-strength shelving unit holds such oddities as Indian Jones Chocolate Cereal, with marshmallows shaped like skulls, torches and the Temple of Akator, that was marketed by Kellogg’s in 2008. Sorry if you’re famished; boxes of Indy-endorsed chicken strips and Keebler cookies are both long gone, only the packaging remain.

"To your left is a bookshelf with the various novelizations and to your right are games," he says, drawing our attention to what he refers to as the "coolest Monopoly set that exists, it comes in its own wooden crate."

The pièce de résistance - the "money shot" he calls it - is a 6’1"-tall mannequin near the room’s entranceway that perfectly mimics Indy, whip, leather bomber jacket and all. David had the piece shipped from Germany for a pretty penny; luckily, it’s hollow so he and his wife didn’t have too much trouble hoisting it up two flights of stairs.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A display case filled with branded cups and glasses.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A display case filled with branded cups and glasses.

"This is my happy place. If I’ve had a long day at work — and there have been a few in the last 18 months, ‘thanks’ to COVID — I come up here to relax, to sort any new arrivals and basically lose myself for a few hours," he says, stepping over a fresh pile of hoodies and T-shirts he hasn’t gotten around to cataloguing yet.

Here’s a question: how come, amid umpteen dinner plates, treat bags, greeting cards and (our favourite) unopened cans of Diet Dr. Pepper, we aren’t spotting a ginormous TV or projection system, which would allow him to enjoy his favourite film whenever the mood strikes?

"That’s actually by design," says David, who also discusses the ins and outs of his hobby on a regular podcast, IndyCast. "Other collectors have told me they make a point of watching Raiders... at least once a month and honestly, if they’re still getting enjoyment out of it, power to ‘em. To me, it gets to a point where it becomes too much. I’m obviously as big a Raiders fan as you’ll ever find, but at the same time, I never want to watch it so much that I find myself getting sick of it."

For more information, go to David’s website, www.throwmetheidol.com.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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