318: Richard Scheckman

Archival Spaces 318

Richard Scheckman in Memoriam

Uploaded 31 March 2023

I met Ricky Scheckman in the mid-1980s when I first attended the Syracuse Cinefest, having recently become a curator at George Eastman Museum in Rochester. Organized by the Syracuse Cinephile Society, the long weekend event had been founded by Phil Serling in 1980, and brought together film collectors from around the country, often braving terrible March winter storms. It was there that I first met such legendary film collectors as William K. Everson, Alex and Richard Gordon, Howard Kolodny and Gordon Berkow, as well as a younger (my) generation, including Leonard Maltin, Ed Hulse, Richard Bann, Joe Yranski, and Michael Schlesinger; Jim Card, my first film archive boss, was also a regular attendee. 

Photo: Martin Grams
Syracuse Cinefest Dealer’s Room

Ricky was a rabid collector of films and memorabilia, and right from the start of Cinefest to its shuttering in 2015, Ricky was one of its programmers and a cinephile. As Leonard Maltin noted in his blog on Scheckman’s passing, “if you arrived at a dealer’s room at a convention like Cinefest after he did you lost out on the real goodies. The dealers might as well have placed a ‘Ricky Was Here’ sign on their tables.” But if you didn’t know him you hardly noticed him in Syracuse. Despite his major contribution to the success of Cinefest, Rick was usually quietly hovering at the back of the theatre or in the halls outside the makeshift theatre and dealer’s room, smiling, greeting people, but never in the front of the room, introducing films or taking credit for supplying the many rare 16mm prints we would all enjoy. Joe Yranski remembered that when the Cinefest staff celebrated their 30th anniversary, they made a cake with the name of the founders on it, including Ricky’s. Seeing the cake, Ricky turned on his heels and left, locking himself into the hospitality suite and refusing to answer phone calls. That was Ricky; just don’t make a fuss about him! At the time I had no idea, not being a television watcher, that “Schecky” was nationally known for his on and off-camera roles on the Late Show with David Letterman

Ricky Scheckman introducing a film at “Mostly Lost” (Library of Congress)

Born in December 1955 in Hollis (Queens), New York, Ricky was adopted as an infant and spent his whole life in his parents’ home.  He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from New York University and an MBA in Finance from Baruch College in Queens in 1982. That same year, he joined Letterman as a film coordinator only three weeks after the show’s premiere, because they had already called him so many times to get rare footage of this or that and it was just cheaper to hire him than pay the rental fees. As Mark Evanier wrote on his blog, “If twenty minutes before tape time, the writers suddenly came up with a bit that required film of a monkey washing a cat, Shecky knew where to find it. He was, as a small number of people are in their jobs, utterly irreplaceable.” Ricky who had been collecting films since a teenager eventually formalized his collection as F.I.L.M Archives with his business partner Mark Trost, becoming its “Chairman of the Board” in 1986, according to his Linkedin page. Sometime during his thirty-three years with Letterman from February 1982 to May 2015, Ricky also started appearing on camera, most famously as Elvis Presley returned from the grave, but also in other roles. A YouTube video by the Letterman staff memorializes those appearances: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbZokshpZyA.

After both Letterman and Cinefest ended in 2015, Ricky seemingly happily retired. Ricky felt incredibly lucky that his initial hobby had afforded him such an exciting career. At the same time, there was always a hint of wistfulness or sadness, when he talked about his Letterman reunions as if it had all come to an end too soon. He sold his large 16mm film collection recently to the Library of Congress, but the stock shot business continues since he made digital video copies of all his films. He was content to travel the globe, documented on his Facebook page, and attend gatherings of film collectors, like the Library’s “Mostly Lost” weekends and Cinecon over Labor Day in Los Angeles.

Letterman Reunion, October 2021
Ricky, July 2009

As I noted in an email to our mutual close friend, Joe Yranski: Ricky was such a warm and loving person. From the moment Martha and I met him at Syracuse Cinefest back in the 1980s, we took him into our hearts; that was especially true for Martha who always worried about him, whether he wasn’t lonely, whether he was taking care of himself. Ricky loved our daughter, Gianna, who was also adopted, and would always ask about her. We always looked forward to seeing him at dinners in Syracuse or lunches, later on, annual trips to New York or LA during Cinecon. For years we talked about going out to Colorado together to his brother’s ranch but it never happened. For me, he was such a gentleman, soft-spoken and reserved, happy to share his love of film and mutual friends but also keeping parts of himself back. 

Ricky died on March 10, 2023, at Bellevue Hospital after having had serious health issues for about six months. The world is a less happy space without him.

Published by Jan-Christopher Horak

Jan-Christopher Horak is former Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive and Professor, Critical Studies, former Director, Archives & Collections, Universal Studios; Director, Munich Filmmuseum; Senior Curator, George Eastman House; Professor, University of Rochester; Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen, Munich; University of Salzburg. PhD. Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany. M.S. Boston University. Publications include: The L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (2015), Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014), Making Images Move: Photographers and Avant-Garde Cinema (1997), Lovers of Cinema. The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945 (1995), The Dream Merchants: Making and Selling Films in Hollywood's Golden Age (1989). Over 250 articles and reviews in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Swedish, Japanese, Hebrew publications. He is the recipient of the Katherine Kovacs Singer Essay Award (2007), and the SCMS Best Edited Collection Award (2017).

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