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The Fonoroff Collection: Life as a Collector

Stamps from the Fonoroff Collection

Chinese cigarette cards

Paul Fonoroff always loved collecting. As a kid living in Cleveland, he collected old postcards (which are now part of the UC Berkeley collection) and then old sheet music from the ’30s and ’40s (also here). His combined love of film and the Chinese language inspired him to pursue a fellowship in China in 1980. Fonoroff’s father, somewhat unintentionally, set him on this path by sharing an academic journal that described the fellowship. “He sent it as a joke — can’t get work in Hollywood, why don’t you go to China!” Paul explains. “But, he didn’t realize that I really wanted to go to China and study!” While immersing himself in Chinese film at Peking University in Beijing, Fonoroff realized he couldn’t access old Chinese movie magazines, as they were off limits to foreigners. So, he started collecting on his own.

Fonoroff covered the movies for the South China Morning Post after he moved from China to Hong Kong in the early ’80s. He became one of Hong Kong’s best known film critics and film historians, and hosted over 1,200 movie-related TV shows in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. As a film critic, Fonoroff was privy to movie premieres and other events, and he would save the programs and tickets.

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