STOW, Ohio — Richard John has one of the most interesting closets in America.
A Barbra Streisand concert gown. Costumes from "The King and I," "Camelot" and "The Ten Commandments." Suits worn by Bob Hope on stage and Laurence Olivier on the big screen. A Lana Turner necklace. Sequined shoes from Phyllis Diller's final Vegas act. An Elizabeth Taylor ensemble from a television appearance.
After more than 20 years of collecting clothing and accessories from classic-era movie stars, John's wardrobe is bursting at more than 900 pieces.
A handful of items take turn on display at John's store, Hood & Hoover Jewelry, in Stow. A couple of times a year he'll assemble an exhibit for a charitable event, as he did recently for a fashion group's annual luncheon at Kent State University.
While the private collection doesn't see the light of day often, it's a collection that is still growing.
Auction houses that focus on the entertainment industry host two to three major online sales a year, and the industry knows John will be in front of his computer monitor.
"The Internet is making it a lot easier" to maintain his hobby, John said.
Maybe too easy, JoAnne Cawley said.
Cawley has worked for John for years, both in the jewelry store and at the charity events featuring his collection.
She laughs when she recalls her attempts to rein him in.
"He'll be watching the auction (online), and I'll see him 'click' and 'click' and 'click.' And then he'll say, 'Should I go higher?' And I'll say, 'No.' And then 'click.' ..."
Most outfits cost more than $2,500. His most expensive pieces — a Liberace tuxedo and a Marilyn Monroe cocktail dress — set him back more than $5,000.
He flips through a scrapbook a friend made of a show he did at the Akron Civic Theatre. The catalog of sophisticated fashions reveal a Who's Who of golden Hollywood: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Robert Redford, Gloria Swanson, Peter Lawford, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Liza Minnelli, Cher, Eva Gabor, Carol Channing, Tina Turner, Mae West, Ginger Rogers, Grace Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor, Sophia Loren, Julie Andrews, Ann Miller.
John is also partial to their jewelry — not surprisingly, given his occupation.
He hesitates to name a favorite piece, but finally pulls out an 18-karat white gold cubic zirconium necklace, along with a photo of Lana Turner wearing it. He bought it in 1996 from a buyer who had the winning bid in a Christie's auction.
"Being a jeweler, I appreciated the work," he said.
John tries to find a photo of each of his items on the star to which it belonged. If a photo isn't provided with the winning bid, he and Cawley will scour the Internet and often find one.
"If we don't find it right away, we just search again later. New things are being added to the Internet all the time," John said.
John's self-confessed "obsession" with star memorabilia isn't because he wanted to be in their shoes. Growing up, he always thought he would stand behind the camera. He even won acknowledgement for a film he made in high school for a national Eastman Kodak contest.
The jewelry industry won the tug of war for John's heart, and he said he has no regrets. He was content to collect 16 mm feature films as a hobby.
Then, 30 years ago, he made his first fashion purchase. He shared the cost of a Dorothy Lamour cocktail dress with a relative who spotted it in an antique shop during a trip to Disney World.
Even so, "I really wasn't into it then," he said, and the dress hung alone in the back of his closet.
It would take another decade before the fashion bug bit him.
Today, the occasional charity show he presents satisfies that love for production that never completely left him. Sometimes he throws in film clips and stage demonstrations with he, Cawley and others in costume. At his last event, they donned outfits worn in MGM's "Marie Antoinette" with John dressed as Robert Morley's character.
John is never worried about whether the audience is going to have a good time.
Although the collection is rarely on public display — it's a lot of work so he only accepts a handful of requests — there is a universal reaction from those who learn such Hollywood treasure is kept locally.
"They love it, and it's great to see how people enjoy it," he said.
If there is any surprise, he said, it's that women aren't the only ones who are nostalgic for classic Hollywood.
"Men are equally fascinated," John said. "They really get into it."
Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
Dist. by MCT Information Services