He recalls an otherwise routine inspection of an original negative for an episode of I Love Lucy. “It just hit me that I was holding the actual film that was in the camera — in the studio, in 1952 — when they were making the show that became the Vita-Meta-Vegamin episode. That’s the sort of thing that puts everything in perspective, knowing that you’re helping to save a part of our cultural history.”
On this day, the wow factor peaks when the gorgeous, eye-popping colors of a home movie shot by an American diplomat in China during the 1920s burst across the monitor in Cassidy’s darkened workroom. There’s something hypnotic in the way Cassidy shuttles back and forth between shots — a vibrant array of poppies, a parade of rainbow-scaled dragons — to set the light levels just so. Cassidy adds another movie quote to the trivia board (“Ah, codfish cakes deep-fried in antelope fat — I love it”), but I still can’t guess the film. He then turns to the reels of a short-lived black-and-white TV show from the 1950s called Love That Jill, a Lucy knockoff starring Anne Jeffreys.
“I have her autograph,” says Cassidy when he notices my attention waning as the unremarkable images go by. “My dad had a radio-interview show in Los Angeles called Luncheon at the Music Center, so I grew up meeting a lot of people — Maureen O’Hara, Jack Benny. Not bad for a kid of 12 or 14.” Not bad at all, but still, Love That Jill is no Casablanca. Of course, for Cassidy, that doesn’t matter.
“I try to treat everything with the same respect,” he says. “It’s a client’s property, but I also take a humanistic approach. Things are always getting rediscovered, and time changes attitudes. You never know when, or why, the film you’re working on may serve a need.” In the long run, for Cassidy — who finally ends my torment and reveals the source of the quotes, Howard Hawks’ African safari epic Hatari! — little having to do with film is trivial. —Paul Malcolm