David Howes’ collection of props from the Jim Carrey Grinch movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” started small and then, like the Grinch’s undersized heart, it grew and grew and grew.
The collection started with a single oversized shiny red teardrop ornament for $60 and now includes things from eBay with prices he’d rather not discuss: A pink umbrella “Pumbersella” basket that newborn babies of “Whoville” arrive in and even the giant, 20-foot tall inflatable sleigh that Carrey’s Grinch used to slide down Mount Crumpit and bring back all the presents he stole.
“I’d pick up whatever I could whenever I could,” Howes said. “How can you not feel good about being able to save this much of movie history?”
Today his unusual assortment, which he’s kept stored in his barn ever since it outgrew his spare bedroom, will be on display at the Aurora Theatre on Main Street in East Aurora starting at 10 a.m. The second annual Grinch Day, which will go until about 3 p.m., or as long as people are interested, includes a free showing of the Carrey movie at 11 a.m., a drop-off collection of new toys for children in need and the prop display.
Six people will be dressed up in the Grinch movie costumes as residents of Whoville. The characters were Hollywood’s version of the whimsically cute caricatures from the Dr. Seuss storybook and 1966 Christmas TV cartoon. They tell the story of the mean, green, Grinch who descends from his mountain cave to try to spoil the holiday by stealing presents from the Who people who live in Whoville.
The Grinch’s perspective changes, and his heart grows bigger, when he discovers the residents of Whoville all having fun, even without gifts.
When the movie came out in 2000, Howes had been afraid the Carrey version would ruin the well-known tale.
Instead Howes said he saw the movie six times, loving the back-story embellishments of the Grinch’s habit of making things from people’s trash. “He’s quite versatile actually,” said Howes.
Last year the first Grinch Day was a surprise hit. Instead of closing up in mid-afternoon, crowds kept coming until sunset. “It turns out a lot of people can relate to the Grinch,” he said.
Howes, 51, a plumber in the building maintenance department at the Orchard Park school system, started out just wanting a souvenir from the film. But after he obtained his first ornament, he began regular eBay checks for Grinch props. He bought the bell hat worn by the timekeeper charged with telling people how much closer it was to Christmas, the off-kilter, oversized milk jug for the “Who Nog,” and more ornaments.
He was especially taken with the Grinch lederhosen, now on a Grinch mannequin made with green fur from the original film supplier. It’s embroidered with a small smiling red reindeer.
As the things he ordered arrived, mostly by mail and one big delivery, he was fascinated by all the detail that went into things that sometimes were only screen for seconds.
“They really wanted to make sure it looked great and it did,” he said.
He began to learn interesting things about the production. Before Carrey made the movie, it took four years to make all the props. The Whoville sets were some of Universal Studios’ largest. A wrecking ball was used to bring the giant sets down.
“I was devastated to think of all this incredible artwork that couldn’t be saved,” said Howes.
He learned that last bit of Grinch trivia from Roger Stelin, the owner of Take 2 Props of Arizona, who has become a friend over the years.
“We had a common interest,” Howes said. “He loved the movie as much as I did.”
When Take 2 needed to make room for new props from newer movies, Stelin began to offer Howes some big things for good prices. Stelin stopped in Buffalo while on a road trip and dropped off a curving “Seussian” street light and the giant sleigh. Howes flew to Arizona for one pickup that included the last surviving piece of the Grinch’s cave furnace, which is now in the theater with a flickering electric fire Howes made for it.
Even though Wikipedia says the Grinch is the highest grossing holiday film after “Home Alone,” public interest seemed to fade a few years after it came out, and the prop prices dropped. Howes picked up the pink pajamas of the little girl heroine Cindy Lou Who for $50 when they had once been $500.
Then a few years ago, after the movie made it into Christmas lineup on TV, prop prices starting going up. Now, Howes said, those pj’s might sell for $1,000.
“It is so satisfying to me that my passion for this movie – that it’s not just my passion. So many other people are enjoying this movie,” he said. “I thought it was just me.”
So when his old East Aurora friend Lynn Kinsella bought the 1920s-era Aurora Theatre two years ago and asked if he’d set up his collection, the movie props and historic theater seemed a perfect match.
“Like peanut butter and jelly,” he said. “You can own anything you want, but truly, if you’re not sharing it with people so they can enjoy it, really what good is it?”