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7 Bizarre Stories of Stolen Movie Props

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There was a time when movie props were worthless. When a film wrapped, the studio would often recycle props and costumes for use in other films, or sometimes simply throw them away. But that's changed over the years, and now movie collectibles are a big business, with high-profile props going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, when you start talking that kind of money, there are bound to be a few crooked characters who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on a piece of Hollywood history.

1. Has Anyone Questioned the Flying Monkeys?

It's believed there were six or seven pairs of Dorothy's famous ruby red slippers made for the production of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Of those, the location of four pairs is currently known, including one that resides in the Smithsonian. The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, had their own pair, until the shoes were stolen one night in August 2005. The case went cold until this past April, when police received a tip that a resident in Homer Glen, Illinois, had not only bragged about paying someone to steal the slippers, but openly displayed the shoes in a glass box. Police raided the alleged thief's house, but didn't find the ruby red shoes. For now, the case remains open, and the shoes are still at-large.

2. Easy Rider Choppers Chopped

There are few motorcycles more iconic than the ones ridden by Peter Fonda and the late, great Dennis Hopper in their counterculture classic, Easy Rider. There were four custom motorcycles built for the film—two copies of each bike, including the "Captain America" chopper ridden by Fonda, featuring a star-spangled fuel tank and an extra long fork for the front wheels. One of the Captain America bikes was destroyed during filming, while the other three motorcycles were stolen from a storage garage before the film was even in the can. Obviously the bikes weren't famous yet, so they were presumably stripped and sold for parts. The thieves left the damaged Captain America bike, which was later restored, and now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.

3. The Man Without the Golden Gun

In the 1974 movie The Man with the Golden Gun, James Bond takes on Scaramanga, an expert assassin who charges $1 million per kill. The hitman's signature is a custom-made, solid gold gun that can be cleverly disassembled and disguised as everyday items like a cigarette case, a lighter, a pen, and a cuff link. There were three prop guns made for the film—one that came apart, another that didn't come apart, and one that could fire a blank round. In October 2008, one of these props (it's unclear which one it was) was discovered missing from its display case at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England. Police still have no leads on the disappearance of the prop, worth an estimated £80,000 (~$117,000) on the collector's black market.

4. The Case of the Missing Maltese Falcon

There were a handful of falcon statues made for the 1941 noir classic, The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as Dashiell Hammett's famous private eye, Sam Spade. Over the years, nearly all original models of the bird have been lost, making the few remaining copies very valuable—including one that sold for nearly $400,000 in 1994. For promotional purposes, plaster casts of the bird were made upon the film's release, and Elisha Cook, Jr., a character actor who played a henchman in the film, got his hands on one. His copy of the bird was later acquired by John's Grill in San Francisco, a restaurant dedicated to Hammett, who often wrote and ate there in the 1930s. The replica bird was on display for years, sitting on the second floor in a display case for all to see. That is, of course, until the day it disappeared in 2007.

After the falcon went missing, John's Grill offered a no-questions-asked reward of $25,000 to the person who brought it back, but no one came forward. The owner could have easily gotten a good replacement replica off eBay for a few hundred bucks, but he took a different approach instead. He put the $25,000 towards the creation of a new, original design of the Maltese Falcon that is a more stylized interpretation than the one used in the 1941 film. The new statue is five inches taller than the original and weighs around 150lbs, three times heavier than the plaster replica that was stolen. To ensure this bird doesn't go missing, it's been bolted down and is monitored 24/7 by closed-circuit cameras. With that much security, the next time someone messes with this Maltese Falcon, it won't take Sam Spade to crack the case.

5. Big Bucks in Spandex

Apparently no one's spider-sense was tingling when crooks made off with four hand-made superhero suits from the set of the first Spider-Man film. Each Spider-Man costume, valued at around $50,000 a piece, disappeared from a locked building on the Sony Pictures lot, leading authorities to believe it was an inside job. Police received a tip from the ex-wife of a former security guard at Sony, Jeffrey Gustafson, who said he might be involved in the theft. Police searched Gustafson's home and found records indicating that one costume was at a friend's house, two were traced to a collector in New York, and the last one was in the collection of a man in Japan. Adding to Gustafson's woes, police also found in his home a mannequin dressed in a $150,000 Batman costume that went missing from the Warner Bros. lot in 1996. Not coincidentally, Gustafson worked as a security guard at Warner Bros. at the time. For stealing the Spidey suits, Gustafson got 9 months in jail, 5 years probation, and had to pay $93,000 in restitution.

6. Do Collectors Dream of Rubber Handguns?

As he's hunting android replicants in a dystopian future, Blade Runner's Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, carries a strange-looking handgun that has captivated sci-fi fans for decades. The prop was custom-made using pieces from real firearms, including a bolt action from a rifle, two triggers, various knobs and dials, and even LED lights. To prevent their very expensive, one-of-a-kind prop from breaking, the producers made two solid rubber copies that were indistinguishable from the original at a distance, and could be knocked around during stunt scenes without getting damaged. But during the shoot, one of the dummy guns went missing and was never seen again.

Oddly enough though, about a month after the film was released, highly accurate plastic replicas of Deckard's gun began appearing for sale on the collector's market. These knock-offs were so close to the ones used in the film that they must have been created using molds taken from the missing, now presumed stolen, dummy gun.

While it's certain the thief made a pretty penny by selling the dummy gun, he would have surely been better off stealing the custom-made gun instead—it sold at auction in 2009 for $270,000.

7. Well, That's One Way to Get an Oscar

In March 2000, a few guys got their hands on the ultimate movie collector's item when they stole 55 Oscars just days before the Academy Awards ceremony. Anthony Hart, a dock worker at delivery company Roadway Express, conspired with a fellow employee, truck driver Lawrence Ladent, to load 10 boxes of Oscars onto Ladent's truck. Ladent then took the statues to the home of accomplice John Harris for safekeeping until they could line up black market buyers. However, the men got spooked by the publicity surrounding the missing statues and dumped the boxes in an alleyway instead. Shortly after, Harris' half-brother, Willie Fulgear, found 52 of the Oscars while rummaging through the trash, looking for packing boxes to use during a move.

After reporting his find to police, Fulgear collected a $50,000 reward from Roadway Express, but the other men didn't make out quite so well. Anthony Hart received the lightest sentence with three years probation. John Harris was sentenced to six months in jail, three years probation, and had to pay $921 to the Academy in restitution for the three missing statues. Lawrence Ledent was given six months in prison, five years probation, had to pay the Academy $1,050, and pay Roadway Express the full amount of the reward they offered to Fulgear.

As for the three missing Oscars, one was found in 2003 during a Miami drug raid, but the other two are still out there somewhere.
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What piece of movie memorabilia would you like to get your hands on? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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