STOW, Ohio — Richard John has one of the most interesting closets in America.
A Barbra Streisand concert gown. Costumes from “The King and I,” “Camelot” and “The Ten Commandments.” Suits worn by Bob Hope on stage and Laurence Olivier on the big screen. A Lana Turner necklace. Sequined shoes from Phyllis Diller’s final Vegas act.
After more than 20 years of collecting clothing and accessories from classic-era movie stars, John’s wardrobe is bursting at more than 900 pieces.
A handful of items take turn on display at John’s store, Hood & Hoover Jewelry, in Stow. A couple of times a year he’ll assemble an exhibit for a charitable event, as he did Saturday for a fashion group’s annual luncheon at Kent State University.
“The Internet is making it a lot easier” to maintain his hobby, John said.
Maybe too easy, JoAnne Cawley said.
Cawley has worked for John for years, both in the jewelry store and at the charity events featuring his collection.
She laughs when she recalls her attempts to rein him in.
“He’ll be watching the auction (online), and I’ll see him ‘click’ and ‘click’ and ‘click.’ And then he’ll say, ‘Should I go higher?’ And I’ll say, ‘No.’ And then ‘click.’ ...”
Most outfits cost more than $2,500. His most expensive pieces — a Liberace tuxedo and a Marilyn Monroe cocktail dress — set him back more than $5,000.
He flips through a scrapbook a friend made of a show he did at the Akron Civic Theatre. The catalog reveals a Who’s Who of golden Hollywood: Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Redford, Peter Lawford, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Liza Minnelli, Cher, Eva Gabor, Tina Turner, Mae West, Ginger Rogers, Grace Kelly, Julie Andrews.
John is also partial to their jewelry — not surprisingly, given his occupation.
He hesitates to name a favorite piece, but finally pulls out an 18-karat white gold cubic zirconium necklace, along with a photo of Lana Turner wearing it.
“Being a jeweler, I appreciated the work,” he said.
John tries to find a photo of each of his items on the star to which it belonged.
John’s self-confessed “obsession” with star memorabilia isn’t because he wanted to be in their shoes. Growing up, he always thought he would stand behind the camera. He even won acknowledgement for a film he made in high school for a national Eastman Kodak contest.
The jewelry industry won the tug of war for John’s heart, and he said he has no regrets. He was content to collect 16 mm feature films as a hobby.
Then, 30 years ago, he made his first fashion purchase. He shared the cost of a Dorothy Lamour cocktail dress with a relative who spotted it in an antique shop during a trip to Disney World.
Even so, “I really wasn’t into it then,” he said.
It would take another decade before the fashion bug bit him.
Today, the occasional charity show he presents satisfies that love for production. Sometimes he throws in film clips with he, Cawley and others in costume. At his last event, they donned outfits worn in MGM’s “Marie Antoinette” with John dressed as Robert Morley’s character.
John is never worried about whether the audience is going to have a good time.