The two-part event ranges from 15 Marilyn Monroe costumes to props seen in 'Casablanca' and 'Forbidden Planet.'
Hollywood memorabilia continues to rack up superlatives on the auction market, with every sale seemingly bigger and more thrilling than the one that preceded it. We’ll see the latest example of that on Tuesday, when Profiles in History kicks off two events: “Essential Marilyn: The Auction,” followed by “Hollywood Auction 96,” a 2,000-lot sale that spans almost a century of cinema history.
“I do think it’s the best sale we’ve ever had in terms of sheer quality,” says Joe Maddalena, Profiles in History’s president and CEO, of the latter event, an expansive memorabilia auction that includes a wide range of photography, film and television costumes, props, animation cells, scripts and a few Academy Awards. “There are 2,000 lots, but I probably rejected about 8,000 lots, because we don’t take everything. There really is a method to the madness. You get a good look into my brain with the catalog, because it has to be something I like, or I can’t get behind it.”
While the Marilyn Monroe auction is markedly smaller at 173 lots, Maddalena says that event is all about quality vs. quantity: In addition to costumes from iconic films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, pieces include the actress' shooting script from The Seven Year Itch, with her handwritten notes in the margins, as well as personal items like her ticket and program to John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday party at Madison Square Garden, where she famously sang “Happy Birthday” to the 35th President of the United States.
“Quality-wise, it’s the best Marilyn Monroe auction that’s ever taken place,” Maddalena says. “The majority of the items come from one person, someone who’s been collecting for 30 or 40 years, and they decided to sell a couple of years ago. To have 15 of Marilyn’s costumes in one sale is unprecedented. I can’t ever replicate this again.”
With so many lots to sift through, which items might draw the eyes of fans and collectors? Here’s a roundup of 10 unique pieces of Hollywood history sure to spark interest no matter how you define your fandom.
Fifteen costumes featured in the Monroe auction range from screen-worn designs to looks worn for publicity photos and at least one important “tribute” piece by costume designer William Travilla. The satin and chiffon beaded gown seen on Monroe for most of The Prince and the Showgirl is included here (auction estimate: $150,000 to $250,000), as well as a gold pleated halter gown Travilla designed for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — it’s only briefly seen in the film, but is better known to classic-film fans from its appearance in publicity photos (auction estimate: $100,000 to $150,000). And while it’s arguably Monroe’s most iconic costume, it’s notable that the Seven Year Itch white halter dress included in the auction is not a screen-worn piece; rather, it’s an exact copy Travilla created from his 1955 design, from the designer’s personal collection and originally produced for a 1970s tour. In 2011, Maddalena sold the screen-worn version of the dress for $5.52 million, still the record holder for the most expensive piece of memorabilia sold; Travilla’s touring dress carries an auction estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.
Maddalena calls Monroe “the most collected person in history” — but why does she continue to fascinate 56 years after her death? “She changed the world of Hollywood, because she made sexuality so real,” he says.
Maddalena says costume sketches continue to grow in popularity among collectors, for two reasons: Their prices aren’t (yet) stratospheric, while they’re also aesthetically pleasing. That’s certainly the case with a variety of signed costume sketches on the schedule for this week’s auction, from A-list designers like Helen Rose, Edward Stevenson, Cecil Beaton, and several by Edith Head, including a trio of original sketches she crafted while designing the costumes for 1955’s To Catch a Thief. Two of the three sketches are signed and carry auction estimates of $3,000 to $5,000, while the unsigned sketch is estimated to fetch between $1,000 and $1,500.
That might seem like a veritable bargain compared to other auction items, but costume sketches are a burgeoning category that hasn’t always received the respect it deserves. “You used to be able to buy sketches for $5, and they were kept under a table out of sight because they weren’t thought to be valuable,” Maddalena says. “But people are starting to realize their value, not only because of their history, but simply because they’re beautiful. You frame it and hang it in your home. People are realizing that this is art.”
Academy Awards rarely come up for auction, but you’ll find two of them in the sale that kicks off on Tuesday: Arthur Caesar’s award for best original screenplay for 1934’s Manhattan Melodrama, and Irving Thalberg’s Oscar for producing the 1935 best picture winner, Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.
The legendary head of MGM production, who also was married to the studio’s biggest star, Norma Shearer, Thalberg died from pneumonia at 37 years old just six months after accepting his Oscar. (Yes, it’s the same Irving G. Thalberg who had a memorial Academy Award named in his honor the year he died; presented to “creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion-picture production,” the trophy was most recently bestowed at the Nov. 18 Governors Awards to producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.)
Never before offered for sale, the Thalberg Academy Award carries an auction estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. “The Irving Thalberg Oscar came directly from the family; we’ve also sold Norma Shearer’s Oscar [for 1930’s The Divorcee], so we’ve represented both sides of the family,” Maddalena says. “Thalberg shaped the film industry during the 1930s and died young, so there’s no question that his Oscar is a pretty big deal.”
Fans of the 1942 classic likely will recognize this lamp as one of several that adorned the tables at Rick’s Café Américain. Standing 12.25 inches tall with a beaded, bellflower-shaped shade, the lamp is easy to spot in key scenes throughout the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman starrer. Part of a cache of props and set pieces discovered in a North Hollywood warehouse, the lamp carries an auction estimate of $6,000 to $8,000, but don’t be surprised if the winning bid is much higher.
“Casablanca is a very collected title, though this is more on the affordable side,” Maddalena says. For comparison, Bonhams sold the café’s entrance doors at a 2014 auction for $115,000; they since have been refurbished and are among the announced pieces in the permanent exhibit at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, expected to open in late 2019.
He appeared in seven films as James Bond, but you won’t find many of Sean Connery’s 007 suits coming up for auction. “We don’t get a lot of his Bond costumes, mainly because he would have his suits custom-made, and then he would give them all away,” Maddalena explains.
Prior to the filming of 1962’s Dr. No, director Terence Young introduced Connery to London tailor Anthony Sinclair, who crafted suits for six 007 films, including 1967’s You Only Live Twice. This sleek gray two-piece suit, which comes with a white dress shirt and black knit tie, features a small pinch in the seaming on the left shoulder of the jacket; Maddalena calls this a “tell,” enabling eagle-eyed fans to confirm the suit’s appearance in several scenes. The suit carries a hefty auction estimate — $100,000 to $150,000 — with good reason, Maddalena says: “The early Connery stuff just doesn’t exist, and this seems to be the only suit from the time period that survived.”
For fans of early science-fiction cinema, it doesn’t get much better than 1956’s Forbidden Planet, the Leslie Nielsen-Anne Francis film that reportedly jump-started the genre for film and television (Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry said it was this film that inspired his iconic series). And while there’s an undeniable kitsch factor about Forbidden Planet, it’s also notable that it was nominated for an Academy Award, for best special effects.
Thanks partly to the film’s success, the genre’s sudden popularity caused many props to be altered and repurposed for other films — as a result, this fiberglass, brass and Perspex blaster, which comes with its leather holster, is one of the few surviving props from the movie, which also accounts for its auction estimate: $60,000 to $80,000. “This is a landmark film of the time period, and this is one of only maybe two or three known to exist,” Maddalena adds.
Longtime MGM costume designer Adrian continues to be celebrated for his extravagant period clothes, and this velvet coronation robe trimmed in ermine, measuring 156 inches long by 89 inches wide, is a prime example. Crafted for Greta Garbo’s titular character in 1933’s Queen Christina, the coronation robe is “one of the most important costumes you’ll still find in existence, and certainly the most important Garbo piece that’s ever been sold,” Maddalena says.
Originally purchased during MGM’s famous costume and props sale in 1970, the piece also requires significant care, hence the reason the current owner is parting with it. “Whoever purchases it should know that it needs professional help, because it weighs 50 or 60 lbs. and needs to be displayed properly,” Maddalena notes. “The hope is that something like this would end up in the Academy Museum, either because they’ve purchased it or the collector who purchases it would loan it for display. Plenty of people would want those bragging rights: ‘My costume is on display at the Academy Museum.’”
More than a decade after The Sopranos wrapped, you’ll still encounter plenty of debate about the finale and that last scene in the diner. Combine that with James Gandolfini’s unexpected death in 2013, and the costume he wore in that scene — a signature Tony Soprano paneled shirt, black slacks and black Allen Edmonds shoes — is sure to draw interest. “Two sets were made for the finale, and this came from someone who worked directly with James Gandolfini,” Maddalena notes. “Depending on who you ask, the finale is either one of the best of all time or one of the biggest disappointments, but there’s no denying it’s iconic.” The auction estimate for the costume is $6,000 to $8,000.
Aside from its value as an iconic piece of Hollywood history, this screen-worn Wicked Witch of the West hat from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz holds a special place in Maddalena’s heart. “I’m a Wizard of Oz lunatic, so this is my favorite thing in the entire auction,” he says. Worn by Margaret Hamilton and used for the film’s flying sequences, the Adrian-designed hat is one of only three made for the production. In 2010 Profiles in History sold one of the other two for $240,000; purchased at the 1970 MGM sale, this hat comes with a letter of provenance and carries an auction estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
“It really does check all the boxes,” Maddalena adds. “It’s a confirmed, screen-worn piece from a beloved film, and only three are known to exist. That’s as good as it gets.”