Inaugural week was good to Movie Madness, Washington's only film memorabilia shop. Shrewd buyers forsook costly Ronnie-Nancy commemorative plaques in favor of "Hellcats of the Navy" posters, featuring our president and first lady in earlier but no less patriotic roles. Store owner Shari Morris scrupulously refrained from promoting "Casablanca" posters as well, even though the 1943 classic almost starred Ronald Reagan in the Humphrey Bogart role. For some strange reason "Casablanca" sold anyway.
Located on Wisconsin Avenue in exclusive upper Georgetown, Movie Madness caters to a nonexclusive clientele -- movie fans. After years of dependence on the Circle and Biograph, the fans despaired of a more tangible extension of their interest. Last December, Morris, a 29-year-old New York native with Barbra Streisand curls, came to their rescue like the cavalry in "Stagecoach" (the poster of which she sells "cheaper than anyone else").
She gets a lot of help. Clint Eastwood, Clark Gable, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Mel Gibson and Sean Connery flex along white walls, glaring, smiling or brooding over well-displayed costars Sondra Locke, Vivien Leigh, Jane Fonda, Kathleen Turner and Sigourney Weaver. On a typical shopping day their sexually polarized admirers include Georgetown University students, parents and young executives, while Marilyn Monroe, David Bowie and Judy Garland attract more flamboyant enthusiasts.
Posters from recent and classic films decorate the gallerylike store, protruding impressively from cardboard box frames. Morris, who provides her own framing service, considers box framing a vanishing art, ideal for the posters she sells. These do not include rare, original collectibles of older motion pictures, prized and priced beyond her retail means. But they do represent the only adequate collection of movie merchandise anywhere near Washington.
"It's ridiculous, the nation's capital!" Morris says. "There are places in much smaller towns that sell movie stuff. Here I have no competition."
Her poster inventory spans all genres, with fantasy and science fiction selections -- "Barbarella," "Alien," "Dune," "Star Trek" -- the most artistically stylized and popular among younger customers. She plans to expand the still limited nonposter aspect of her store to include dolls, post cards and famous film props. One prime ambition, attaining a statuette of the Maltese Falcon, has proved almost as elusive for her as it was for Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.
"Let's talk about the black bird," she tells possible sources.
For Morris, owning Movie Madness is nearly a dream come true. A lifelong film fanatic ("I used to drag people to Disney's 'Sleeping Beauty' when I had barely learned to walk"), she knew even as an English major at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., that she wanted to deal with film professionally.
"If I had my life to do over again, I would have gone to NYU film school," she admits, adding, "When I moved to Washington I thought about starting a video store, but the market was already glutted. Then it hit me. Where do you buy a movie poster in this town? Nowhere. So here I am."
Morris says she located in Georgetown not so much for the high income level of her customers as for their high level of selectivity. "I don't want to have to sell 'Ghostbusters' tote bags," she explains. Consequently, she welcomes browsers and visitors with a good conversational knowledge of her passion.
"I guess this is about as close as I'll get to show biz."