While browsing through Second Glance thrift store at 61-65 Metropolitan Avenue three months ago, which often contains items from estates, the Middle Village resident came across thousands of photographs in scrapbooks.
Most of the photographs centered around life in Brooklyn and Queens from decades ago. Since they weren’t too expensive, he decided to purchase them.
But while going through the photographs, much to his shock, the eagle-eyed movie fanatic noticed that there were authentic photos of Garland, Rooney, Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger.
By day, Brucato is a clinical psychologist working at a hospital in Manhattan. In his personal life, where he goes by the nickname “Sonny” by family and friends, he’s an avid collector of memorabilia.
In fact, Brucato’s family often sells memorabilia on the internet, and he is considered an authority when it comes to autographs. He’s a consultant to the autograph authentication company James Spence, and his personal collection features 40,000 pieces, including autographs from stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.
He doesn’t often deal with photographs, but he instantly recognized the value of the photos from his recent purchase.
“It’s like they found their way to me, it’s very weird,” Brucato said. “There’s nothing I love more than a mystery, and when I picked up those photos I had to piece it all together.”
Brucato was able to determine that the photos were candid snapshots taken at the historic Loew's Capitol debut of “The Wizard of Oz” sometime in late August or early September of 1939.
After almost two months of research, he learned the photos belonged to friends of a politically connected family, all of whom are pictured in other photographs within the collection.
He was even able to track down and visit the family’s home in Brooklyn, which still looks the same as it did back then.
“They were basically lucky people who knew someone important and were able to attend major events,” he said. “The photos are special and historical.”
In the photographs of the film premiere, one can see moments such as Garland arriving and hopping out of her taxi, Lahr signing autographs, and Rooney and Garland standing in front of the movie screen inside the Capitol Theatre.
“The photographs tell you things that you can’t really learn anywhere else, like what did these people wear, were they friendly with fans, and what did the theatre look like in those days,” Brucato said.
Other photographs included in the collection were of the 1939 World’s Fair and a lot of architectural shots.
Brucato decided to put the “Wizard of Oz” photographs on eBay, although he did consider keeping them for himself. But there two things that prompted him to auction them.
First, he figured that someone, a fan of the movie or the stars, would go crazy for them.
“Secondly, money’s money,” he said. “At the end of the day you’ve got to pay your bills, and I thought I had the pleasure of figuring out what they were and I knew they would enchant someone.”
About three weeks ago, he auctioned the 11 photographs for $1,235.
“I paid virtually nothing for them and they ended up being worth a considerable amount of money,” he said. “For 11 old photographs to go for as much as they did, it speaks to the excitement.
“It’s really amazing what you can find thrown in the thrift shop,” he added.