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The Secret Life of Mayor Gary Bruhn: Movie memorabilia collector
Windermere Observer Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 3 years ago

The Secret Life of Mayor Gary Bruhn: Movie memorabilia collector

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by: Jennifer Nesslar Reporter

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Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn loves movies.

He loves movies so much that he collects memorabilia and props from movies he considers timeless and classic. “It’s really fun — gratifying — to hold a prop and watch it in a movie and know, that’s it,” Bruhn said.

More than 20 years ago, before he became mayor of Windermere, Gary Bruhn began his collection.

At first, he focused on animation art, but that got too expensive. There were also too many limited-edition pieces, and he was interested in the originals. He transitioned his collection to movie posters. But posters were hard to display and enjoy. 

That’s when he decided to collect props and memorabilia. On his vacations, he visited movie-memorabilia auctions around the country, buying and selling his favorite pieces. 

Now, auctions happen primarily through the Internet. Bruhn is still a collector, though he doesn’t buy as many pieces as he used to. But that doesn’t mean his collecting days are over.

The American flag flying in Windermere is one example.

In 2008, Bruhn was looking for an 8-foot-by-12-foot flag to fly in Windermere, but purchasing a quality embroidered flag of that size was expensive. One night, he went on eBay, and found the flag used in the movie “The Terminal,” starring Tom Hanks. 

He made a bid.

“I’m sure most movie-memorabilia collectors thought, ‘What am I going to do with an 8-foot-by-12-foot flag?’” Bruhn said. 

Bruhn ended up being the highest bidder, and the flag came to Windermere. 

In the movie, the flag hung vertically, so Bruhn’s wife converted the flag to hang horizontally. Since the flag came to Windermere, it has been part of many important moments. During the dedication of the 9/11 memorial, that flag hung behind the memorial. It was present at the memorial for Robert German, the Windermere police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2014.

“At some point, that flag will be part of Windermere’s history, in a second life, after having been in the movies,” Bruhn said. 

THE COLLECTION

Over the years, Bruhn has sold pieces that sometimes he wishes he had kept — two baseballs, to be exact.

Bruhn owned the baseball from “The Natural.” During the final home run in the movie, the baseball hits the stadium lights, causing the lights to explode.

He also owned the baseball from “Field of Dreams,” the one used after the famous line, “Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?”

“Those are two movies that will stand the test of time for me,” Bruhn said. 

He sold the baseballs, along with many other items in his collection after the hurricanes in 2004. He didn’t want to risk losing that many valuable items in a storm, and he figured the market would not continue to go up. His house had begun to look like a “museum,” he said, and he needed to restrict his collection to one room. 

Now, his collection is made up of mostly screen-used weapons — but Bruhn didn’t plan that. He said most weapons used in movies are actually made of rubber. The weapons are cast from an original weapon, so closely that the serial number shows up. He has an assortment of weapons from movies including “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Pulp Fiction,” “The Untouchables” and “Platoon.” 

THE COLLECTOR

In the 1980s and 1990s, Bruhn vacations often included a visit to auctions with movie memorabilia. One year, he met Bill Miller, who ran Odyssey Auctions, as well as two magazines, Autograph Collector and Collecting Magazine. Miller offered Bruhn freelancing jobs with both magazines. Bruhn freelanced while working for Lockheed Martin. 

For Collecting Magazine, Bruhn wrote pieces giving advice on how to collect, display, store and sell memorabilia. For Autograph Collector, Bruhn wrote updates on which stars were signing autographs and sending autographs. The magazine sent him on assignments around Florida, where he interviewed several stars, including Adam West, who played Batman; Pete Best, the Beatles drummer who was replaced by Ringo Starr; Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in “Star Wars;” and Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in “Star Wars.”

And no, Baker did not like being inside R2-D2, Bruhn said.

Times also have changed for movie props. Digital graphics are often used in place of props, so there are fewer items collectors can purchase. 

Bruhn is also interested in movies he considers classics that will stand the test of time, and memorabilia from those movies now cost tens of thousands of dollars, far more than Bruhn is willing to pay.

For now, Bruhn is looking at what he would like to sell in his collection. But don’t get any crazy ideas. He has surveillance cameras and a security system installed at his house. 

COLLECTING TIPS

Only purchase things that you like. Don’t do it for an investment. Buy things that, if you had to keep them forever, you would be happy.

Most auctions happen online now, but be careful when making an online purchase. Make sure what you purchase is authenticated. It’s good to get a signed letter from prop masters. A rip in a shirt, a bend in a hat and other identifying features are also good ways to authenticate an item.

Purchase from reliable auction houses. You can do this online. Bruhn recommends Profiles in History and Bonhams. Be cautioned: They take 18% commission, but you are paying for authentication and the research the auction houses do. 

PRIZED PIECES

Here are just a few examples of notable memorabilia Bruhn has owned through the years:

Baseball from “The Natural”

Baseball from  “Field of Dreams”

Tank top worn by Wesley Snipes from “White Men Can’t Jump”

American flag from  “The Terminal”

Helmet from “Forrest Gump,” signed by Tom Hanks

Cap worn by Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”

Sword used in both “Spartacus” and  “Cleopatra”

Glass and bottle from “The Outlaw Josey Wales”

Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].

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