From spaceships to ‘Batman’ props, a Hollywood model maker’s creations and collection up for auction

Sep 7, 2023, 10:10 PM

DALLAS (AP) — From an early model of the iconic alien mothership from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to a complete Stormtrooper costume from “Star Wars,” bidding opens Friday on thousands of pieces Hollywood model maker Greg Jein collected over his lifetime, including many he created during his nearly half-century career.

The collection amassed by Jein, who died last year at age 76, will be offered up by Heritage Auctions next month in Dallas. Jein, who had an Oscar and Emmy nominated career making miniature models, was also a collector of costumes, props, scripts, artwork, photographs and models from the shows he loved.

“He spent his entire lifetime in a movie industry at a time when practical effects and models were the way that magic happened,” said Joshua Benesh, Heritage’s chief strategy officer. “They were the way that spaceships traveled through outer space. They were the way that aliens came and visited Earth. They were the way that catastrophes and disasters were depicted.”

Jein, who grew up in Los Angeles, began his career in the mid-1970s, and over the decades worked on movies including “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Avatar.” A fan of “Star Trek” from the start, he later worked on pieces for the franchise.

Jein was still early in his career when he led the team that created the mothership for Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The model that appears in the movie — just over 5 feet (1.5 meters) long but appearing gigantic — is now part of the collection at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. But a small preliminary model, which is about 5 inches (12 centimeters) long, is among Jein’s creations that will be offered at the auction.

“It is equal parts incredibly intricate and just sort of incredibly simple,” Benesh said. “It has this sort of whacked together informal quality to it but you see it and you know exactly what it is.”

Other creations from Jein’s career going up for auction include a miniature wrecked spaceship from the 1997 film “Starship Troopers” and a miniature shack, airplanes and newspapers from Spielberg’s 1979 war comedy “1941.”

Also being offered up are a dizzying number of items Jein collected from the 1960s “Batman” television show and the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” franchises. The “Batman” memorabilia includes Batarangs, utility belts and a Bat radio. There are phasers, communicators and tricorders from “Star Trek: The Original Series” from the 1960s, in addition to many costumes, including the formal dress tunic William Shatner wore as “Captain Kirk.” Jein even had the Vulcan lute played by Leonard Nimoy’s “Mr. Spock.”

Then there’s the “Red Leader” X-wing Starfighter miniature complete with a pilot and the top of an R2 unit that was used in the 1977 film “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”

Lou Zutavern, Jein’s longtime friend and shop supervisor, said Jein had a love for Hollywood history and a passion for collecting.

“He loved the search and finding things and making a trade,” Zutavern said. “It was part of the fun for him but he also really wanted to make sure the stuff didn’t just get thrown in dumpsters.”

Even as a child, Jein was not only a collector, but already an exacting model maker, said his cousin, Jerry Chang. Jein collected baseball cards, comic books and toys, buying one toy to play with and one to keep, Chang said.

When Jein was around 10, he surprised Chang and Chang’s brother following a visit to Disneyland by creating a detailed replica of the theme park in his bedroom.

Jein graduated from California State University, Los Angeles in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in art. He then spent some time taking graduate courses and eventually embarked on his career in Hollywood.

Chang said that sorting through his cousin’s collection after his death became “sort of like a treasure hunt.”

“You would move a set of books and all of a sudden you’d find something and you’d go: ‘Oh my gosh, that looks kind of familiar,’” Chang said.

Chang said Jein loved his work and also had a passion to learn about a wide array of topics. After Jein died, his cousin found that his book collection spanned topics from cooking to the military.

“He lived the life that he wanted and he enjoyed it,” Chang said.

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From spaceships to ‘Batman’ props, a Hollywood model maker’s creations and collection up for auction