Mae West's Assistant Brings Over 237 Lots of Her Memorabilia to Auction in November (Exclusive)
Julien's Auctions will offer property from the actress-playwright-director-producer-singer's life and career in Beverly Hills this fall.
As an early supporter of the feminist movement and gay rights as well as a multihyphenate actress-playwright-director-producer-singer, Mae West (born in 1893) was always ahead of her time. She also knew how to generate controversy to her advantage. Using the pseudonym Jane Mast, West wrote and starred in her own plays, including the 1926 Broadway show Sex that landed her in jail on charges of corrupting the morals of young people. As the starlet famously said, “When I’m good, I’m very good; but when I’m bad, I’m better.”
Signing a contract with Paramount Pictures in the early ‘30s, West moved west to Hollywood and kicked off her cinematic career at age 39 in Archie Mayo’s Night After Night (1932). West lived in the Ravenswood apartment building at 570 N. Rossmore Avenue in Hancock Park until her death in 1980, and she also owned a beach house in Santa Monica.
Today Julien’s Auctions has announced a Nov. 1 sale of over 237 lots of items that Mae West personally owned and used in her career, spanning over five decades, brought to the auction house by Mae’s former assistant and secretary Tim Malachosky, who worked with her for the last decade of her life.
“[Tim] worked with Mae for many years and has been accumulating her clothes and this collection as part of her legacy; he was gifted some pieces and other items he bought at auction,” Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions told The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s been so devoted to Mae. He loved her, cherished her. And he decided that now is the time to let go and give fans and museums and collectors and investors an opportunity to own some of these really iconic items. Tim has been incredibly hands-on with amazing photographs and fan letters so it’s going to be almost like a history book of her life and career. This is probably the oldest celebrity estate auction we’ve ever done. This petite lady was a powerhouse; she was the second highest-paid actor in Hollywood back in the ‘30s.”
Going on the block will be many of West’s stage-worn dresses, costume jewelry and personal items such as decorative makeup compacts and perfume (her favorite was Joy by Jean Patou, created in 1929); vanity mirrors and prop stage mirrors; hair brushes; wigs and hair pieces, including one from her ‘40s stage play Catherine Was Great; tiaras and household items such as quilts, drapery and glassware; along with fan mail, scripts and more. The red dress that West wore as the character Diamond Lil in the 1933 Oscar-nominated Lowell Sherman film She Done Him Wrong with Cary Grant is the highest-valued piece in the auction, estimated to generate bids of $10,000 to $20,000.
“The estimates are very conservative,” says Jennifer Lorenzi, Julien’s Auctions fashion and costume specialist. “In the past, we’ve done very well with Mae West items, and a lot of these items are photo-matched. Tim has found photos of Mae with [many of the ] household items and wardrobe pieces so that really helps with the results and interest. She poses in a lot of pictures with mirrors, and there’s a gold tea set that she was photographed with a lot."
Lorenzi nods to the Old Hollywood glamour of the collection. Most of the clothing was custom-made for West and the jewelry is costume, heavy on rhinestones, ranging from Art Deco ‘30s designs to pieces from the ‘50s and ‘60s. There is one Joseff of Hollywood tiara and pieces by the famous fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
“We have some Schiaparelli perfume bottles; she influenced Elsa Schiaparelli to design a perfume bottle in the ‘30s inspired by her torso,” says Lorenzi. “Schiaparelli designed costumes for Every Day is a Holiday in 1937 [written by and starring West]. West couldn’t go to France and Schiaparelli didn’t want to come to L.A., so they sent a torso dress form in West’s size to France and Schiaparelli couldn’t believe it was like a real figure, so she was inspired to design the bottle based on that when she was making those costumes. Her lips inspired Salvador Dali to make a couch and her bust inspired a U.S. Navy life preserver. We have one of the U.S. Navy life preservers signed to her in this sale.”
Lorenzi continued: “Mae West really utilized fashion to her advantage. She was a petite, five-foot-two woman and she used fashion to make herself larger than life. She would wear a lot of head pieces and platform shoes and long dresses to give herself height. If you look at pictures, you would not know she was so petite. And she used form-fitting clothes to create a sexy persona but she always left something to the imagination. She really oozed Hollywood glamour. Her hair, jewelry, shoes, everything was perfectly styled from head to toe.”
The Julien’s Auction’s “Property from the Life and Career of Mae West” sale will be on preview, open free of charge to the public, beginning on Monday, Oct. 28 until the auction at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 1 at the Standard Oil Building in Beverly Hills. Bids will also be taken online in real time at juliensauctions.com, where the auction can be seen and heard live. The auction will be part of a “Legendary Women of Hollywood” auction weekend on Nov. 1 and 2 that will also include sales of pieces owned by Marilyn Monroe, Olivia Newton-John and others.