Attending an auction in Hollywood is only slightly different from loitering in front of Grauman’s Chinese. At both, you’ll find people from all over in flip-flops, Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, looking to take home a piece of Tinseltown. At Bonhams & Butterfields on Sunset, however, the wall-to-wall collectibles are the real deal. You don’t just take a picture of John Wayne’s footprints, you buy an autographed photo of the Duke himself, for $854.
This isn’t my first celebrity giveaway. Though I didn’t leave with a Bob Mackie dress from the “Property From The Collection of Cher” auction in 2006, I still cherish my nearly 400-page commemorative catalogue. On a recent Sunday morning, the mostly nonbidders and I gathered to ogle the goods of another gay icon: Estelle Getty. To you, she was the diminutive star who played the wisecracking Italian yenta Sophia on The Golden Girls. To us fans, she was our reason becoming old, cranky and a burden to your children seemed so cool. Last year, Getty went to that retirement home in the sky, where she’s probably looking down on us bachagaloops and wondering why anyone would spend so much dough on a bathrobe.
The items that made up Getty’s estate were among Bonhams & Butterfields’ annual June auction of film, TV and music memorabilia, including a sizable collection belonging to Marilyn Monroe, ranging from her receipts and blank checks to airline tickets for Monroe and third-husband Arthur Miller. Depending upon how much nerve a bidder showed, they’re either sipping from Wayne’s coffee mug from Blood Alley, for $200; wearing Elizabeth Taylor’s wig from Cleopatra for $671; or dancing around in Ethel Merman’s dress from There’s No Business Like Show Business for the bargain price of $549. It must be nice having some disposable income, even if you are a diseased mind who likes looking at 200 Herald-Examiner photos of Charles Manson and his murdering groupies.
But who would walk away with Sophia’s straw handbag, the Golden Girls’ most prized prop? Oh, to be a fly on the lining, a piece of lint. Think of the dinner rolls it has smuggled out of restaurants, not to mention hospital toiletries and silverware. Carrie Bradshaw can suck on the hardware. It went for a cool $9,150 to a lucky buyer via phone. Getty’s Emmy, Golden Globe and glasses worn on the show also went to new homes. That collection of plates from the Chabad Telethon would’ve been great for serving cheesecake. And no harm could ever come to my home, with a celebrity’s mezuzah hanging on the door, even if it belongs to a Gentile.
As the auctioneer called out lot numbers, our side of the room wasn’t making much noise, but the right side featured staff members taking phone bids, and a determined No. 3053. He nabbed Getty’s pair of American Comedy Awards, in addition to a jacket, set chair, paintings and two Al Hirschfeld caricature drawings, including one of Getty as Harvey Fierstein’s mother in Torch Song Trilogy, the 1982 off-Broadway play that shot her to pre-TV fame. He looked young, confident and not too big to for me jump in the parking lot.
As No. 3053 packed away his purchases, we wandered into the showroom to get a closer look at the soon-to-depart merchandise. Even more impressive was the rock & roll art belonging to Peter Golding, a British collector and fashion designer, who once owned a King’s Road boutique in London and purportedly “created the first stretch jean.” There were tons of Grateful Dead posters and album covers. Other artifacts included John and Yoko’s sterling-silver Cartier box; costumes from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film; and more clothes worn by the Jackson 5, which were heinous even by early-’70s standards (they’re probably worth a lot more now, post-mortem). White Stripes drummer Meg White’s drum kit, complete with peppermint-swirl logo, was just begging for me to pound the skins. And for $80,000, I could be banging on Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s Chinese gong.
Auctions always beg the same three questions: Who’d buy this stuff? Who’d want to part with it? And who’d want to buy it again? Perhaps Cher said it best, when in her catalogue she explained, “They came from somewhere to me and now they go from me to you, and since you’re choosing the pieces you truly love, I know you’ll take great care of them for me.” Apparently, she never met Johnny Rotten, who, on his very short-lived VH1 show in 2000, Rotten TV, detonated a blowup doll in a Sex Pistols tee and proclaimed: “It’s what these people have done that is relevant, not what they wore while doing it.”
Yes, but, saying that again while holding an old lady’s wicker purse would be so much more rebellious.