War Eagles Re-Visited

These two stop-motion armatures from War Eagles appeared in the Hollywood Auction Catalogue #44 (March 14-15, 2011). They are items #991 (left) and #990 (right).  I’m not sure how much they sold for or who bought them. According to Ray Harryhausen, in an interview with author David Conover, the armatures from War Eagles were all machined by Harry Cunningham.  The armature to the right still retains a rubberized skin on the legs and talons.  The skin for this model was developed by George Lofgren at MGM, who used flesh-eating Dermestid beetles to render pliable bird skin and feathers clean for latex application.  All this information is available in Conover’s exquisitely researched new book on War Eagles.

The armature with the skin showed up at a Camden House MGM Props Auction in 1989.  I think the one on the left was also part of that lot, but the tail appears to be missing.  There are 4 known armatures. Director Peter Jackson owns a wingless model.  The fourth armature was found in Pete Peterson’s trunk and was eventually owned by animator Jim Danforth and most recently by collector Ronald V. Borst.

The provenance on film memorabilia can be sketchy.  I can only speculate, but I think it’s because a lot of collectors don’t like people to know what they have and where they got it.  I suspect in some instances film props are black trade —stolen items historically pinched from places like Uncle Forry’s collection.  Three of these War Eagles armatures too have sketchy histories prior to 1989.  Where were they all these years?  

I like Conover’s book.  It’s a tremendous effort and the best reference to date on the history and reconstruction of War Eagles.  My one quibble would be to better document the provenance of film documents and props researched for the book.  Images are referenced to be “from the author’s” collection, or “courtesy of Bob Burns.”  So where did they get these items?  I don’t doubt the items are authentic, but it would be nice to know the history of ownership.


D. Conover and P.J. Riley, 2011. War Eagles: The Unmaking of an Epic. An Alternative History for Classic Film Monsters, BearManor Media.






Images from Pete Peterson’s Trunk:


3 Responses to “War Eagles Re-Visited”

  1. Dave Conover Says:

    Enjoyed your post and I’m pleased you liked the War Eagles book! As for the provenance on the 3 armatures that weren’t found in Pete’s trunk: They were sitting at MGM until the Camden House auction in ’89. By that time, MGM had no idea what they were constructed for and listed them as pterodactyl armatures from One Million Years B.C. All three sold to one man (whose name I have never been able to ascertain) for less than $2000. The first one went up for auction a few years back and sold to Peter, then the other two went up this past May. I assume they were consigned by the man who bought them in 1989, but that information is restricted by Profiles per their policies…

    The majority of the studio paperwork is Peter’s, via purchase from Forry. As for where FJA acquired it, it’s a mystery, as even he didn’t recall when we discussed it. Most of my materials came from auctions or private purchases from long-time collectors or the families of the artists. Bob’s collection was largely rescued from the trash bins during the 1970 MGM auction! Most of the surviving visual material is from sequences abandoned during actual pre-production, so it escaped what seems to have been the wholesale destruction of the majority of War Eagles material…

    • Hi Dave!
      Great feedback. I talked to you a bit one year at WF. Great book and research. You can tell you put your heart into it. Thanks for clearing up details on models. The eagle heads look like they were cast from aluminum or possibly white (babbitt) metal alloy (tin, lead, antimony alloys), but I can’t tell of course from the images. I’m glad guys like Bob took the incentive to archive these artefacts. Do you know where the color frames came from? Were these cut from the film or photographic negatives/positives?

      Great stuff. I’m looking forward to a film visualization. Especially if Kerry Conran works on it. Have fun abd keep up the faith.

      • Dave Conover Says:

        The model heads are cast metal, but I don’t know their composition. The one that Ron owns has the beak and eyes intact. The color frames that Bob Burns has are from color nitrate film frames, and match sets owned by pre-production artist Duncan Gleason’s family and (only recently discovered) a set the FJA had, too. Since the sets all match, it’s assumed that these were color reference frames. I also have a color nitrate film frame of one of Gleason’s large paintings.

        I purposely avoided discussing any modern attempts to get the project off the ground in the book, both because the personal politics of various people have become very tangled and the property has now passed through so many hands. I always felt that Conran was probably the best choice for the job, but it’s been a few years since he was on the map, unfortunately. I may do a second volume (not edition) as there is still quite a bit of material to reveal and earlier drafts of the script that are just as interesting. Keep up the good work here as well!

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