by Doug Wicklund, NRA National Firearms Museum Senior Curator - Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Behind the scenes in Hollywood, concealed vaults are filled with prop treasures from films past, storied revolvers that once set the cinematic screen afire. Most visitors that walk the streets of Los Angeles and take the studio tours never get to see these pieces of history. But years ago, the curators of the NRA National Firearms Museum went west and met with prop house managers to put together special exhibits featuring the guns that made the movies.
Real Guns of Reel Heroes was the first “Hollywood” exhibition at the NRA Museums in 2002, a gala attended by both Charlton Heston and Tom Selleck. The overwhelming audience response spawned Hollywood Guns, a 2010 sequel that allowed even more fantastic guns from westerns, modern feature films, and military movies to be showcased in the museum's galleries in Fairfax, Virginia. A revised Hollywood Guns exhibition is now featured at both the NFM galleries and the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri. We hope to retain these exhibits at both venues as permanent attractions, but selected firearms will change out over time.
As a special “trailer” for those who haven’t yet visited the NRA Museums, here’s just a half-dozen of the great handguns from Hollywood featured on display:
Created by the talented gunsmiths at R&D Gunshop, this .44 Open Top represents one of the early metallic cartridge revolvers manufactured just before the introduction of the Colt Single Action Army in 1873. Many of Mr. Selleck’s westerns have featured lesser known sixguns from this historical period on the frontier.
You can see other Selleck-used western arms at http://www.nramuseum.org/guns/the-galleries/hollywood-guns/westerns.aspx.
From the open plains to the starry expanses of outer space, our next futuristic pistol is from the short-lived 2002 TV series Firefly that barely made to one season. Overwhelming fan response refused to let this "space western" pass into oblivion, and the 2005 film Serenity brought back the intrepid spaceship captain Malcolm Reynolds, who used this custom handgun. Fitted inside the bronze prop pistol shell resides a Taurus .38 revolver.
Many actors have portrayed the famous secret agent James Bond, who as Agent 007 was issued a license to kill -- frequently fulfilled with a Walther PPK pistol. Perhaps a lesser known “Bond” may have been Timothy Dalton, who in 1989’s License to Kill used this well-worn Walther PPK on screen. But the story of this Hollywood handgun doesn’t end there. Previously, this .32 caliber semi-automatic had been used as a backup pistol by none other than Tom Selleck in the CBS series Magnum P.I.
“Come out to the coast, have a few laughs…,” is just one of the memorable lines from actor Bruce Willis portraying New York police detective John McClane in Die Hard. This 1988 film, sometimes considered the best action film of all time, prominently features this Beretta Model 92FS pistol. This 9mm semi-automatic was also featured in the buddy-cop action classic, 1987's Lethal Weapon.
You can catch more than a glimpse of this famous handgun at http://www.nramuseum.org/guns/the-galleries/hollywood-guns/cops,-robbers-and-a-galaxy-far-far-away/die-hard-(1988)-beretta-92fs.aspx.
It was regularly seen on the CBS TV series Magnum P.I., but this Colt semi-automatic held a secret for eight years. While considered to be the .45 M1911-pattern pistol once carried by Naval officer Thomas Magnum in Vietnam, the on-screen handgun was actually a Colt Government Model Series 70 9mm pistol. 9mm blanks were easier to procure in the Hawaiian islands and as propmasters have discovered over the years, the smaller cartridge is easier to regulate for blank-firing sequences.
It just wouldn’t be a Hollywood handguns feature without Clint Eastwood’s big .44 Magnum being showcased. Despite some gunwriters asserting that a .41 Magnum revolver was used in the classic Dirty Harry in 1971, only the Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 caliber was featured. This six-shot, double-action revolver was also used in the 1973 movie Magnum Force.
Three Model 29s were procured from Smith & Wesson for the filming and this revolver was later presented to screenwriter John Milius for his contributions to both films. You can ask yourself if you "feel lucky" to view this one at http://www.nramuseum.org/guns/the-galleries/hollywood-guns/cops,-robbers-and-a-galaxy-far-far-away/dirty-harry-(1971)-smith-wesson-29.aspx.
For more historic firearms from the movies and beyond, visit the NRA Museums in person or online at www.nramuseum.com!