|The Celebrity Collector
Allan Rich, Hollywood Character
Is Also a Veteran Collector
By Ken Hall
Allan Rich is one of those
veteran character actors that if you heard his name, you might shrug
and go, "Never heard of him." But if you saw his face from one of
the dozens of films and TV shows he's been in over the years, you'd
probably say, "Oh, yeah -- I know that guy!" Rich has been acting
since 1943, when Milton Berle got him his first job, a small part on
Broadway, at age 17.
Early in his career, he
worked with screen greats like Edward G. Robinson, Claude Rains and
Henry Fonda. More recently, his film credits include Steven
Spielberg's "Amistad"; "Disclosure" (playing Demi Moore's attorney);
Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" (as Robert Kintner, former president of
NBC); playing a doctor in "Jack," with Robin Williams; and with
Halle Berry in "A Rich Man's Wife."
Rich is also a veteran
collector -- of mechanical banks, toys, stuffed animals, dolls and
art. His art collection is a passion that was born of necessity.
Rich was blacklisted during the McCarthy era of the 1950s and
suddenly found himself out of work. He toiled for awhile as a
stockbroker, then entered the world of modern and contemporary art.
He opened his own gallery on Madison Avenue.
Over time, Rich became an
expert in his field. He was more than just a dealer, and published
graphics by the noted artists Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Alexander
Calder. He sold major paintings to important collectors, and became
friendly with some of the famous artists of the day. One of these
was Karel Appel, the Dutch abstract expressionist painter. The two
made an intriguing swap:
"Karel knew that I was a
collector of mechanical banks from the 19th century, and he loved
them too," Rich said. "So we made a trade. He gave me a dozen or so
original paintings, and I gave him a bunch of my banks. It was a
good trade for both of us, because he loved the banks and I love his
artwork. But I must admit, I miss those banks. I still have about
15. They're made of cast iron."
Rich first became enchanted
with the mechanical banks in the late '60s, when he and his wife
Elaine (who manages the careers of several prominent Hollywood
starlets) were living in Massachusetts. "We'd go to these great
little antique shops and find them there," he remembered. "Many are
black collectibles, such as the 'Uncle Remus' and the so-called
'Jolly Nigger' banks."
Mechanical banks differ
from "still" banks in that they perform some kind of action as they
take your coin. And they're pure Americana. The oldest example is
the Hall's Excelsior, a model designed in 1869 by John Hall of
Watertown, Mass., for the Stevens Company. It was shaped like a
small building. When the doorbell was pulled, a monkey labeled
"Cashier" emerged to nab the coin.
The success of the
Excelsior prompted a flood of cast-iron imitators. Today, more than
400 types of mechanical banks survive from the era. A few include
the X-Ray bank (mirrors simulate an X-ray machine); a working
merry-go-round; and the "fowler" bank (a hunter brings down a game
bird with a gun that shoots caps). Some are quite valuable and
command handsome prices at auction.
Rich's collection also
includes some still banks (soldiers, policemen, dogs, piggies),
about six in all. "The mechanical banks are just more interesting
because they actually perform a little act for you," he said. All of
what he has is from the 19th century. Porcelain and glass banks from
that era can be quite rare, too, mainly because their owners usually
had to smash them to get at the money.
Rich's other collectibles
reflect his worldwide travels. "My wife's got dolls all over the
house," he said. "We bought them in Mexico, the Caribbean, China,
Japan and Russia" (one was purchased at the Hemitage Museum in St.
Petersburg). Elaine also has dolls from the Franklin Mint, including
Princess Diana and Jackie Onassis dolls. Many of their stuffed
animals are from Alaska and Mexico.
Predictably, pieces of art
occupy a prominent place at the Rich home in the Hollywood Hills. A
work by Francis Bacon hangs in the entranceway; photos by the
legendary Man Ray are displayed in a shadow box; there are Picasso
ceramics (including the famous goat vase); he has four original
paintings by Tom Wesselman; and signed and numbered silkscreens by
Warhol and Lichtenstein.
Allan Rich was born
Benjamin Norman Schultz 77 years ago in Astoria, Queens, N.Y. His
family moved to the Bronx when he was 6, because of an incident
involving him. "We were the only Jewish family in the neighborhood,
and one day I was walking home from the store and this other kid
said, 'Hey, Jew-Boy.' I became incensed, especially after dropping
and breaking a bottle of milk."
The two boys wrestled
around near a neighborhood dump site that was covered with lime. At
one point, Allan pushed the other boy's face into the lime, not
realizing the pain it would cause him. "The kid started screaming,
'I can't see! I can't see!' I ran home and told my parents what had
happened. They were so afraid of an anti-Semitic retaliation that we
all packed up and left -- that night."
They relocated to the
Bronx, which had a greater Jewish population, and Allan (or "Benjy"
as his friends called him) grew up in more friendly environs. His
acting career began early on, when he was still a teen, and work was
plentiful. Everything looked rosy, but the hateful atmosphere of
post-war McCarthyism claimed Rich, as it did so many others. He
wouldn't act for another 15 years.
Finally, in 1966, with his
blacklisting lifted and the witch hunt of the so-called "Red
Channels" over, Rich returned to acting, in a play written by Ron
Ribman called "Journey of the Fifth Horse." More roles followed,
then a big break: he was cast as a district attorney in the hit 1973
film "Serpico," with Al Pacino. His reputation as a versatile
character actor was thereafter cemented.
Rich has appeared in over
100 TV shows. Just in the last two years, he was in episodes of
"Judging Amy," "CSI" and "The Division." But his TV credits date
back to the '60s, when he made appearances in "All in the Family,"
"Kojak," "Baretta," "Hawaii 5-O," "Barney Miller," "Harry O," "The
Rockford Files," "Little House on the Prairie," "Alice," "Magnum
P.I.," "Happy Days" and "CHiPs."
Rich teaches acting and is
the originator of Act Now, an "organic" method of performing. He has
taught such notables as Sharon Stone, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jack Scalia,
Rene Russo, Alan Thicke and Joan Severance. He also authored a book
on the method, which drew critical raves from contemporaries like
Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Alan Alda. Another book is now in
Within the last six months,
Rich completed two feature films -- "Burial Society" and
"Intoxicating" -- and he was in a Sci-Fi Channel episode of "Scary
Stories." Currently, he's up for a part in a movie about the life of
the late singer Bobby Darin, called "Beyond the Sea." Kevin Spacey
will play the lead. Other projects, involving TV and film, are under
Rich is the president and
co-founder of We Care For Kids, a non-profit company that creates
short, live-action films designed to prevent kids from smoking,
driving under the influence of alcohol and exhibiting violent or
racist behavior. The plight of the Native Americans is also
highlighted. Six films have been made and shown worldwide. For
information, click on http://www.wecareaboutkids.com/.
Fans of Allan Rich may
e-mail the star at ARich12136@aol.com
isn't uncommon for Rich to play a judge or lawyer. Here he's
Judge Juttson in the film "Armistad."
purchased these two ceramics by Picasso in France in the early '70s,
for about $100 each.
a tab," Rich said, "and the horses run, as in a race. It ends when a
penny drops into the bank."
of Allan and Elaine's dolls come from Japan and
mutual friend introduced Rich to Bill Clinton while Clinton was in
office. They had lunch together.
African dolls from Kenya are all hand-made and beaded. Rich bought
them in Santa Monica.