MOUNT PLEASANT, Texas (AP) _ At what point does a personal collection become a museum collection?
Well, in the case of Harry Brown, it was when wife Nancy said "Get this stuff out of the house!" he laughs.
Thanks to her prodding, the Browns built a home for Harry's extensive collection of western memorabilia and named it the Legends and Lawless Museum.
It's located at 2747 Old Paris Road near Mount Pleasant High School, and is a neat little "themed" museum you'd enjoy visiting.
Harry's collection is really based on a man he very much admires, the late John Wayne. "He was a tremendous patriot," he says.
He notes calling it a John Wayne Museum would run afoul of a number of trademarks and copyrights, so he came up with the Legends and Lawless name.
There's no doubt when you walk in, however, that "The Duke" is in the house. A large framed photograph of Wayne in the 1939 movie "Stagecoach" hangs over the mantel.
Harry Brown had a fleeting meeting with Wayne many years ago when he was a teenager and carrying suitcases at the Roosevelt Hotel in Waco.
He said that years later, when Turner Broadcasting began extensively airing John Wayne classic movies in the 1980s, he realized he had missed most of them growing up. Apparently his local movie theater back home in Waco showed Roy Rogers or Gene Autry flicks but skipped John Wayne.
Brown moved to this part of the state when he went to work for the power company in Sherman. He came to Mount Pleasant in the 1970s when he went to work for the Monticello power plant.
It while working there that he and a co-worker got into a friendly competition to see who could accumulate the most John Wayne videos,
His friend lost, and what Brown bought was the start of the collection that became the museum.
Thanks to television and the new medium of videotape, he got caught up on all of Wayne's 154 movies and owns most of them.
After working for the power company for 35 years he retired in 1992, and devoted even more time to his collection. It grew to include commemorative mugs, knives, firearms, belt buckles, plates, watches and artwork.
He also has a large number of books and magazines about Wayne or which feature him.
It was a couple of years after his retirement, in 1994, when wife Nancy pointed to the door and said "Out!"
At first, he though of building a small log-cabin type building next door where he and his friends could watch movies and relax, but he learned such a structure would be considered a residence under Mount Pleasant zoning — and he didn't have the required square footage of land.
He accomplished his goal by building it as an office.
The museum is lined with solid oak showroom quality cabinets filled with the memorabilia, which has continued to grow over the year. The custom-made furniture matches, and includes tables where he displays his extensive scrapbook collection. His video collection remains a crucial component of the museum. He has John Wayne videos you wouldn't even think of — as well as a wealth of information he's gleaned from the books and magazines he's collected.
For example, he has a video of the first episode of "Gunsmoke" that aired on CBS in 1955, which features Wayne doing the introduction. Why Wayne made the guest appearance is obvious when you learn the show's producers originally wanted him to play Marshal Matt Dillon.
"Wayne didn't want to do it," says Brown, because he thought it would interfere with his movies — probably a wise decision in light of the fact that "Gunsmoke" went on to become the longest-running drama in television history and James Arness played Marshall Dillon on the small screen for 20 years.
Wayne still played a crucial role, notes Brown, "because he was one who recommended Arness."
A book in the collection features a rare snapshot that shows Wayne in public not wearing a toupee, as he signed autographs for American soldiers in the sweltering jungle during the Vietnam War.
Brown pointed to that portrait of Wayne hanging over the mantel. "If you look, you'll realize his hairline was beginning to recede," he says with a smile, "and that was in 1939."
Wayne in fact had a personal staff member who's only job was to ride herd on his hairpiece, says Brown, and he wouldn't work on a movie unless the man was on the set.
Although the museum is based on John Wayne memorabilia — as is much of western lore — other famous figures are represented.
For example, he picked up a 19th century trunk in a shop once, and after having it sand-blasted and refurbished, he realized it was the same kind of trunk Wild Bill Hickok traveled with in the Old West.
He filled it up with a number of items such as might have been carried in the trunk back then, and it now has its own corner in the museum as a display in honor of the Old West gunfighter.
How he stocked it is a good example of how he enlarges his collection these days. Instead of visiting second hand stores and antique shops, he says he now goes online. "You can find anything on e-Bay!"
The Legends and Lawless Museum is regularly open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $2 for adults, a dollar for children.
Brown has a guestbook and over the past 14 years he's had visitors from England, Africa and Germany.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.