A Model Maker’s Movie-abilia

11/01/2023
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    A “Red Leader” X-wing starfighter model from the 1977 film Star Wars sits on display at Heritage Auctions. Greg Jein traded and collected iconic props such as this one. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
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    Greg Jein collected these props from the 1960s television show, Batman. They include a batarang, license plate, utility belt, and bat claws. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
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    Joshua Benesh, Heritage Auction’s chief strategy officer, talks to reporters about Greg Jein’s work and collection. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
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    Greg Jein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for his work on the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He kept a five-inch model of the mothership (center). (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
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    These props were used on the 1960s television series Star Trek and later films. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
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    A phaser prop used in the 1960s Star Trek series (AP/Tony Gutierrez)
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From alien motherships to Star Wars costumes, Hollywood model maker Greg Jein collected—and constructed—iconic movie props over his nearly half-century career. Jein died last year, and his artwork, costumes, photographs, props, and scripts went up for auction in late 2023.

Even as a child, Jein was a collector, his cousin says. He collected baseball cards, comics, and toys—buying one to play with and another to keep in mint condition.

Jein began model building in mid-1970s Los Angeles. For decades, he worked on movie props and models. A fan of Star Trek from the first voyage, he later helped create pieces for the franchise.

“He spent his entire lifetime in a movie industry at a time when practical effects and models were the way that magic happened,” says Joshua Benesh of the auction house that sold 550 items from Jein’s collection. “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.”

Early in his career, Jein led the team that designed the mothership for Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He and others crafted it from model train parts. It’s just over five feet long but appears gigantic in the movie. Today, it resides at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Close inspection of the model reveals tiny inside jokes, including a mailbox, cemetery, submarine, and VW bus.

Jein kept an earlier five-inch model. “It is equal parts incredibly intricate and just sort of incredibly simple,” Benesh says. “It has this sort of whacked together informal quality to it. But you see it and you know exactly what it is.”

Jein collected mementos from the 1960s Batman television show and the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. Batman memorabilia include batarangs (bat-shaped throwing weapons) and a Bat radio. There are phasers from Star Trek: The Original Series, Captain Kirk’s formal tunic, and Mr. Spock’s Vulcan lute.

The most significant find of Jein’s enormous collection was a long-lost model of an X-Wing fighter used in the 1977 Death Star battle sequence in Star Wars.

“He loved the search and finding things and making a trade,” says longtime friend Lou Zutavern. “But he also really wanted to make sure the stuff didn’t just get thrown in dumpsters.”

Why? Mementos and collections can represent the varied skills and knowledge with which God endows His image-bearers.

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