July Features

Bob DeFlores shows a film here in 1982 at the Emporium of Jazz, Mendota, Minn., where he occasionally presented vintage films to appreciative jazz lovers. Check out the April 1982 Mississippi Rag for an interesting story on DeFlores' career up to that point. (Photo: Dennis A. Johnson)

Continued: Bob DeFlores

Over the years his connections with the film industry have widened -- Loretta Young, Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, a grandson of W.C. Fields and a host of others asked DeFlores for help in finding footage or teamed up with him at special events. At the same time, he got increasingly involved in film and TV documentaries as a resource for Ken Burns' Jazz PBS miniseries and The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; many programs for cable's A&E and History channels; the 1987 Academy award-winning biography of Artie Shaw, Time Is All You've Got, and feature films, including The Cotton Club and Mrs. Parker and the Round Table.

He said he has enjoyed helping the families of departed stars retrieve lost footage, and not necessarily for the payment involved. "This was my way of getting into show business," explained the self-described shy kid. Applause and appreciation are as satisfying a reward as a paycheck, he said.

DeFlores last saw Ozzie Nelson in 1975, when Nelson visited the Twin Cities. He died later that year. Bob still keeps in touch with David, now 71, a film producer in California.

From Obscurity to YouTube

How does DeFlores find those obscure pieces of film, or even know they exist?  Many hunts have started with requests from celebrities or tips from left field, but a lot of networking is involved, too, he says. He shares an interest in early music with fellow collector Mark Cantor in California, and a few years ago he helped noted Ohio collector John H. Baker -- whom he called the first and most important jazz film collector -- restore some of his collection. The three traded tips and films with each other and supplied American footage to the late Danish archivist Carl Knutson.

The collectors are acutely aware of copyright issues and careful to respect whatever rights exist. Much of DeFlores' collection is in the public domain, but before providing any footage he consults a bookshelf of volumes listing any legal owners that movies still have.

He's also aware that the Internet has caused an upheaval in the economics of exchanging information and intellectual property. He may have spent months of his time, then travel and restoration expenses adding up to thousands of dollars, to resurrect a few minutes of rare film only to see it surface on YouTube for anyone to view and copy for free.

A current illustration of the investment necessary for some restorations is the 1927 Vitaphone short Banjomania, which played in theaters with The Jazz Singer. The late Lowell Schreyer, a Minnesota banjoist and music historian, found and purchased the only known copy of Banjomania, which consists of a reel of film and a large phonograph disc that were played in synchronization. He enlisted DeFlores' help in getting the Eddie Peabody short transferred from its fragile and deteriorating state to a more stable medium. That can be done for about $4,500 -- for about 10 minutes of film -- at UCLA.  

DeFlores was chatting with a reporter in his dining room recently, sharing the table with a film splicer and a pair of rewind cranks loaded with a large 16mm. reel, when the phone rang. The caller was Mark Brodka, attorney for the Crosby estate.

Working for Kathryn Crosby, Bing's widow, is up there with the Normandale project at the top of DeFlores' activity list. The two have made personal appearances together around the country for several years and DeFlores is a major resource for the Crosby family's official website, www.bingcrosby.com. Brodka was asking DeFlores to recommend and supply some clips for an update of the site.  

DeFlores cited several, including Bing and Bob Hope clowning around on the golf course and the original "White Christmas" from the 1942 film Holiday Inn.  Sure, the footage wasn't in color like the 1954 sequel White Christmas, he explained, but it is a few cinematic minutes that caught the hearts of U.S. servicemen overseas and inspired what was for decades the best-selling record of all time.

DeFlores, 72, realizes that his 55 years of work is a unique legacy, and he sees the Normandale project as a vehicle for keeping it alive. "The ultimate [reward] is passing it on to the younger generation," he said. "Teaming up with Normandale has been very exciting for me because that's the fruition of my years of hunting for and finding film. All these years of assembling, collecting, and restoring were to make it available for the good of learning and teaching and education."

Mary Krugerud, Normandale's grant development director and manager of the DeFlores Film Project, said working with Bob is "enlightening and entertaining" and "has given us a tremendous opportunity" to broaden and deepen its music curriculum.  

She pointed out that the project welcomes private contributions to help fund its operations, which include digitizing and cataloging DeFlores' collection. For more information on the project, see www.defloresfilmproject.org.

Here's a recent photo of Bob DeFlores at home, seated in front of photos of stars who have asked for his help in rounding up their films. (Photo: Dick Parker)
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July 2008 issue | © 2008 The Mississippi Rag

P.O. Box 19068, Minneapolis, MN 55419.