Bidding has begun in the annual Hollywood Legends auction at Julien’s auction house in Beverly Hills. Julien’s specializes in Hollywood memorabilia. They handled the estate sales of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe and they once sold William Shatner’s kidney stone. KPCC’s Lauren Osen visited their gallery and has this report on the world of celebrity memorabilia.
Julien’s auction house looks more like an art gallery than an auction house, and it doesn’t seem large enough to hold the 800 items for sale this weekend. Some of the flashiest costumes stand on mannequins and glass display cases of photos and props line the white walls. As items come up for sale, images of them will be projected on two televisions in the front of the room.
Executive director Martin Nolan rattles off a list of what’s for sale: "This is an interesting piece, it's an outfit worn by Kim Kardashian...these are some of the beautiful couture outfits worn by Brittany Murphy... The expanse of this has almost taken up the entire stage.."
Nolan estimates that most of these items will go for two or three times their starting bid, but there’s no way to know which items will fetch huge sums of money and which will flop. That’s dependent on something Nolan calls the celebrity factor.
“I remember one time when we were working with Cher, and Cher asked us, you know how can she make herself more valuable," said Nolan. "Darren Julien, the president of the company said to Cher 'Well, if you die, then you’re more collectible,' but obviously, thank God Cher is still with us and still among the living.”
Julien’s auction is certainly not the first celebrity auction. That was in 1970 and included seven sound stages from MGM Grand – like the one for the "Wizard of Oz." They sold the Cowardly Lion’s costume and Dorothy's ruby slippers.
Those sold for the previously unheard of sum of $15,000 and are now on display in the Smithsonian. Michael Doyle is the consignment director at Julien’s. He’s in charge of finding all the items that get sold at auction.
“They weren’t even trying to make money, they were just trying to clear out the lot,” he said. “At a time a collector base for this stuff didn’t exist as it does today.”
But today, even the catalogs from that first auction are collectibles.
Contrast that with 1999. That year, Christie’s held the Marilyn Monroe estate sale, which Doyle says launched the modern celebrity memorabilia market. Julien’s auction house opened three years later.
“We’ve been reselling items from that sale for profits of maybe 20 times what an item sold for in ‘99," says collector Michael Eisenberg. “When I first got into it, it was, ‘come and get this crap.’ You know, the studios didn’t want it, it was taking up space. They were paying taxes on the asset to carry it. They were doing controlled burns, they were taking stuff out to the desert and burning it.”
Eisenberg describes himself as a consummate collector. He’s been going to auctions since the 1980s and says he can’t count the number of items he owns, but he keeps them in a 10,000-square foot, climate-controlled warehouse."
And what he does he do with this stuff?
“I do take the stuff out occasionally. I have taken it out and I actually wind up getting myself in trouble when I take it out…I got pulled over driving the Batmobile, said Eisenberg. "It’s not licensed, there’re no plates, it’s kind of hard to register a Batmobile. Got it out, took it on Sunset Boulevard and within 10 minutes, I was pulled over. I thought it was going to go really bad, but it was more than a photo opp. I think everybody from the department had come out to be photographed with the car.”
Cars are his weak spot, and in this auction, he’s got his eye on the only surviving car from Columbia Pictures’ 2011 Green Hornet movie. He takes me outside to look at the 1965 Chrysler Imperial.
“There she is, Black Beauty…just sitting, waiting for me to hop in, take her away,' he said. "Green headlights, hornet on the front, check out the wheels, they got the hornet hubcap, the spinners for the green hornet, this is the car...and you can drive it!”
And unlike the Batmobile, Eisenberg should have no problem taking it out for a spin.