Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Debbie Reynold's Memorabilia Collection Auction of Hollywood Treasures - a Special Report by Robert Steven Mack

I have been writing book and movie reviews for well over a year now. When I first started in this business I was being “homeschooled” – via the CAVA indepependant study program by my mother, Diana. During that period, I had the wondrous opportunity to spend quite a bit of my days in Downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills where my education flourished under the best possible conditions. L.A. is so full of great places to explore and this is where I would spend a lot of my time either relaxing or studying in museums. One of my favorite places was the Paley Center for Media, formerly called the Museum of Television and Radio but later re-named after William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. Last year, I went back to a splendid brick-and-mortar school for the first time since early third grade. No longer had I much time to do the things I enjoyed doing during my independent studies period.

Surprise at the Paley: School’s out and the first place I’m joyfully off to is the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. I recall, my former routine I had there was simple: Go in, say hi to the always friendly staff, sit down in their library and watch a rare television or radio show, or one of particular interest. In the reliable nature and for the dear sake of the old times I expected to do the same. Not exactly so. When my mother and I got there, we found a completely new and transformed Paley. we saw movie posters, dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe, and a Ford Model T stationed in the middle of the entrance hall with wax figures of Laurel and Hardy perched inside.

The Debbie Reynold's Auction: It turned out that the iconic Debbie Reynolds - Singing in the Rain, How The West Was Won, The Unsinkable Molly Brown - was auctioning off her collection of Hollywood treasures that she collected over the last four decades. I was permitted to look around and was completely stunned over what I saw. Among so many others I saw Audrey Hepburn’s signature dress and hat from My Fair Lady, Ginger Rogers dress from The Barkley’s of Broadway, Judy Garland’s test dress and slippers from the Wizard of Oz, one of Eleanor Powell’s dresses from The Broadway Melody of 1940. Shoes, suits,and dresses worn by Gene Kelley, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Jean Hagen from the beloved classic Singing in the Rain. Dresses from Shirley Temple in The Littlest Rebel, Deborah Kerr’s black dress from An Affair to Remember along with poster, set pieces props signed by their star, and lobby cards. Marilyn Monroe’s dresses from the films River of No Return, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There’s No Business Like Show Business and most ironically her famous dress from The Seven Year Itch which went at a starting price of $1,000,000 to $2,000,000! It was almost too good to believe: Old relics of movie history before my very eyes. The memorabilia themselves were amazing; yet, it was their fate that concerned me. Why, you might ask, was Debbie Reynolds going to auction of these rare treasures instead of putting them all into a museum for the world to look at and admire? Well, Ms. Reynolds apparently did have a museum located at her hotel/casino in Vegas but due to financial distress was not able to keep it for herself. Unable to find a backer, she was painfully forced to auction it away. The relics of Saturday’s auction were only 1/7 of her collection and there will be another auction in December. Hopefully, she can make enough money off of the first and/or second auction that she will not have to give it all away. After realizing what I had missed over the past couple months of being away at school I decided to come back there again before the auction. Which I did twice - two times the following day and then Saturday for the auction. During my second visit on Thursday, I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Debbie Reynolds herself who dropped by the Paley just before closing time. I speechlessly got her autograph and in return gave her one of my calling cards. I shan’t likely forget that experience! My mother, Diana, was very surprised and touched by the memorabilia as well. She wanted Cary Grant’s John Robbie suit and Grace Kelley’s casual dress both from the Alfred Hitchcock classic To Catch A Thief . I wanted Gene Kelley’s tap shoes or at least a poster. My father, who joined us on Friday for the third visit, was too busy worrying about how much all this would cost to want anything. I’d still like to know what out of the collection he would want - I must remember to ask him. On Friday, my father and I found a film crew filming a documentary for Debbie Reynolds. The crew was interviewing fans on what they thought of the collection. My love for being in front of the camera took hold of me and before I knew it I was being interviewed too. “Watching these old movies as a child and now seeing all these costumes and props and relics from the past and knowing that they’re going to be auctioned away this Saturday is really something that gets your thoughts going”… is approximately what I told the cameras that day topped of with a sincere thank you to Ms. Reynolds for entertaining us all. I don’t know if they’ll use it or not but I enjoyed being interviewed. After the excitement of the previous incident my father bought me a signed picture and brochure from Ms Reynold’s hotel to which I was grateful for, especially because I hear they are no longer in print!

The Big Day: Saturday came and once again the whole family woke up early and piled into the car and drove to the Paley for the auction. Judy’s test dress from the Wizard of Oz went for $910,000, or almost a million! It was the result of a long and suspenseful bidding battle between a British and Japanese bidder. Curiously, my father noted, that there were only a select few actually bidding and even fewer actually getting anything. This is apparently because many collectors attend auctions such as this one in order to see who gets what and so on. Debbie Reynolds must have been pleased because many of the items, such as posters and costumes -Marilyn Monroe’s dress went for $ 5million – went for hundreds of dollars above the initial asking price. For example, a poster originally priced $ 200 would rise to the price of $1500. My father reported that nothing went for under $1000. Fortunately, a lot of the same memorabilia were bought by the same bidder. We can only hope that all these items will go to a healthy, safe harbor.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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