Glinda's 'Wizard of Oz' Test Wand, Mitzi Gaynor’s Costumes to Headline Auction

Courtesy of Green Isle, Inc./ Mitzi Gaynor Archive
Mitzi Gaynor at the New York premiere of 'South Pacific' in March 1958 (left); the Dior gown she wore that night

“Bob [Mackie] and I have been working together since 1966, and every time I’ve stepped onto a stage since then, he’s been a part of it. He knows my soul, and he really revolutionized my look,” Gaynor says.

Margaret Mitchell’s contract to sell the film rights of Gone With the Wind to David O. Selznick, a test wand created for Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz and a wide-ranging assortment of stage costumes and personal gowns from the collection of Mitzi Gaynor are among the highlights of the latest Bonhams sale, “TCM Presents … 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year,” set to take place Tuesday at the auction house’s Los Angeles location.

While the auction’s title is a nod to the 80th anniversary of movies released in 1939 — roundly agreed among classic-film fans to be an unrivaled year in cinema — Gaynor’s collection and a variety of other lots span film and entertainment throughout the 20th century. “We chose that theme early in the year, because the [Wizard of Oz] test wand came to us pretty early,” explains Catherine Williamson, director of entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams. “We didn’t used to theme our entertainment sales, but since we started our partnership with Turner Classic Movies in 2013, we tend to do that with these marquee fall events. Not everything in the sale is related to 1939, but it’s a fun way to think about memorabilia, while of course honoring that year.”

Gaynor’s collection of 100-plus items ranges from her personal scripts from 1954’s There’s No Business Like Show Business and 1958’s South Pacific to almost 90 red-carpet looks and costumes from her film and stage performances. “I recently moved and that gave me an opportunity to actually take an inventory — really a mental and physical one,” Gaynor tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve lived and worked with all of these things throughout my life. So many happy memories are tied to them, but I really felt they weren’t sparking any joy sitting in storage, or in my closet, so I’m setting them free, per se.” The Emmy-winning actress will discuss the collection Sunday at “A Conversation With Mitzi Gaynor” from 3 to 4 p.m. at Bonhams Los Angeles, 7601 Sunset Blvd.

Crafted in clear crystals, versus the multicolored crystals of the final wand Billie Burke carried in The Wizard of Oz, the test wand is the only remaining piece of its kind known to exist (a 1975 fire at an Oz-themed amusement park in North Carolina is believed to have destroyed the screen-used wands). The test wand is also the only item in the sale not accompanied by an auction estimate, with good reason, Williamson says. “One of the reasons I use this strategy on expensive things is that I want to be able to take the temperature of the marketplace,” she explains. “If you’re interested and you want to know more about this piece, you have to call me directly. It enables me to keep track of all interested parties.”

While Williamson says bidding on the wand might kick off in the “low- to mid-six figures,” don’t be surprised if the hammer price exceeds seven figures. “The two pillars of classic Hollywood collecting are The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz may be the most collectible film of them all,” she notes, pointing to past sales like Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume, which Bonhams sold for $3.077 million in 2014, and a Judy Garland screen-worn Dorothy dress that Bonhams sold in 2015 for $1.565 million. “The ruby slippers also have sold repeatedly over the years for seven figures, so that’s over-representation from one film in the top 10 list. It’s understandable, because there are many reasons why The Wizard of Oz remains dear to the hearts of so many people: It’s a visually stunning, highly stylized film, it’s immediately recognizable, and it features a universal theme that continues to speak to so many people,” she adds. (Renee Zellweger stars as Garland in the 2020 Oscar contender Judy).

Gone With the Wind memorabilia also comprises a significant portion of the sale, from two Joseff of Hollywood necklaces worn by Vivien Leigh in the movie to a leather-bound script Selznick presented to Leslie Howard and a variety of documents, including the 17-page contract Mitchell signed in 1936, selling the film rights of her best-selling book to Selznick. Many of the GWTW lots come from Tom Heyes, a known collector of Selznick memorabilia. “I didn’t even know Tom had that contract until he showed it to me, and I had never seen it before,” Williamson says. “That’s a very famous contract in Hollywood history: Selznick purchased the film rights for $50,000, at the time a record price, but he determined later that it wasn’t enough, and gave Margaret Mitchell another $50,000.” Several Gone With the Wind items carry some of the highest estimates in the auction: The estimate for the Margaret Mitchell contract is set at $50,000-$70,000, while the Leslie Howard script is estimated to fetch between $30,000 and $50,000.

The pair of Joseff of Hollywood necklaces, worn by Leigh in the Twelve Oaks barbecue scene and in a New Orleans honeymoon scene, are estimated to sell for between $20,000 and $30,000 each. Both pieces were featured in a 2017 event produced by Julien’s Auctions and sold for $53,125 and $56,250, respectively.

Why are they returning to the auction circuit so soon? “That was an instance of a buyer who swooped in and bought those pieces and then sees this event and thinks, 'That’s a good theme. Let me try to flip them,'” Williamson says. “Every auction draws a different collection of people, and you just don’t know what the temperature is going to be until you get all the people in the room. And sometimes when you create a theme, you attract collectors who didn’t make it to a previous sale, so this presents another opportunity.”

Other memorabilia in Tuesday's auction includes a long beaded bra Theda Bara worn in the 1917 silent Cleopatra, as well as jewelry and a risqué piece of breast armor she wears in the pre-Code film. George Hurrell portraits of Norma Shearer and Bette Davis, costumes that include a Veronica Lake dress from the 1942 film noir This Gun for Hire, and a sizable assortment of vintage film posters and Tom Jung’s original concept art for 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope will also be sold. “That’s a really cool piece, but I’m a little biased, because I like all things related to science fiction,” Williamson adds of the latter piece.

The final third of the auction is a showcase of Gaynor’s collection. The star of South Pacific and 1957’s Les Girls admits that she’s held back a few pieces for sentimental reasons. “I’ve kept a few costumes that are really tied to a specific moment in my life, like the first time I played Las Vegas,” she says. “And also costumes that evoke a special feeling for me, like this beautiful gold Bob Mackie ‘Sunshine’ dress — at least that’s what I call it, because I sang ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’ in it. Other parts of my archive are going to museums, or great organizations like my chum Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Foundation. I just really want them to be enjoyed as much as I’ve enjoyed them.”

Designs by Mackie comprise a large part of the collection, primarily costumes for Gaynor’s stage and television shows, including a nude-illusion gown he designed for her 1969 NBC special. “Bob and I have been working together since 1966, and every time I’ve stepped onto a stage since then, he’s been a part of it. He knows my soul, and he really revolutionized my look,” Gaynor says.

Other pieces include the Christian Dior gown that Gaynor wore to the New York premiere of South Pacific in 1958 and an assortment of dresses and ensembles designed by Arnold Scaasi. “Scaasi was an incredible character in my life, and so much fun,” she says. “He paid such attention to detail, and it shows in the clothes he made. The pieces he made for my personal wardrobe, particularly in the 1960s, are still so current. He was way ahead of his time and completely of the moment, too.”

“Mitzi had a foothold in both worlds, in showbiz costuming and in couture,” Williamson adds. “Mackie splits the difference as a designer in both worlds, and we’ve had Dior people and Scaasi people inquiring as well. Mitzi is bringing us a pretty incredible collection.”

Not unlike the iconic items from 1939, Gaynor hopes the pieces from her collection will resonate with fans, and bring to others the joy she’s felt from wearing them. “My hope would be that they say something about how much I love what I do, and the incredible happiness being in front of an audience has brought me,” she says. “To be in the wings, hear your overture playing and know that the people out there in the audience came to see you — wow, can you imagine the thrill of that? There’s just nothing like it.” 

“TCM Presents … 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year” is currently on preview at Bonhams Los Angeles, 7601 Sunset Blvd., prior to the sale on Tuesday at 2 p.m.