Among the fondest memories I have of living in New York, and growing up as a silent film fan and Charlie Chaplin aficionado, is the memory of Kier's Celebrity Photos, a movie photo store in midtown Manhattan.
Kier's was a little, hole in the wall store on 6th Avenue at West 44th Street. I discovered it when I was around 12, on one of my early solo explorations of Manhattan. I was just getting into films then...Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Keystones, and all sorts of horror films. His standing display on the sidewalk, a sandwich board loaded with black and white 8x10 glossies including one from "City Lights", attracted me like a compass point to a magnet. I couldn't believe that there could be such riches collected in one place.
The first picture I bought from Kier's
The store was packed, virtually ceiling to floor, with movie stills and movie books. It was an incredible jungle of film history and only gruff, grumpy Mr. Kier knew where anything was.
He was old the first time I saw him; thinnish, of medium height, his white hair combed straight back. His red face was deeply lined, and his Fieldsian veined nose suggested a past.
Henry Kier in his store in the fifties
(Photo courtesy of Fran Berkowitz, his daughter)
At first I thought he ran this shop just for fans like me, but I soon found out that newspaper writers, tv producers for the three networks whose corporate headquarters were nearby, and other show business professionals made use of his services in locating photos of the famous.
You'd ask him for Chaplin stills, he'd run his hand up and down one stack among a wall full of stacks, grab about 5 inches of photos, and sure enough an amazing selection of 8x10's was there from which to choose. Mr. Kier seemed to know exactly from which film each still came. Years later, he told me about the coding system in the corners of the prints.
He was annoyed by kids who would come in, leaf through pictures carelessly, and then not buy anything. Once he got to recognize me, and once he had shown me the technique for handling the stills safely, I felt a little more welcome in his sanctorum. I bought most of my collection there over the next 10 years.
When I came back to New York for a visit, after living in Vancouver for a few years, one of the first places I went was to Kier's, but to my horror there was a ladies' handbag store where old man Kier's used to be. Not losing my head, I consulted a phone book and found him listed on West 40th Street near 5th Avenue, right near the Main Library. I think Mr. Kier remembered me, and spotting the Canadian Air Force great coat that I wore in those days, made some comment about my living in Canada. I bought a few stills, as I recall, and didn't damage any.
Henry Kier retired in 1975. Some of his stock was acquired by the Memory Shop's Mark Ricci and the balance was inherited by Kier's two grandsons.
Mr.Kier died in April,1988, after a brief illness at a nursing home in Lakewood, N.J. He was 87 years old and lived in Queens.
But I remember fondly the gruff voice in the dimly lit, narrow shop with the musty smell, and the wonderment of being surrounded by film history that I sensed at Kier's.
Henry Kier in front of his store
(Photo courtesy of Fran Berkowitz)
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