Last week, Heritage Auction Galleries music memorabilia specialist Garry Shrum was kind enough to cross Oak Lawn Avenue to deliver the 464-page catalog for Heritage's upcoming "Signature Entertainment Memorabilia Auction." It's safe to say I've become obsessed with Heritage's auctions; between this, this and all these, yeah, obsessed, or at least extremely interested. It's hard not to be when you're a pop-culture junkie who offices a couple hundred yards away from the world's most expensive garage sale of items that used to belong to the likes of Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan. Seriously, every day if he wanted to, Shrum could pick up and play Elvis' 1958 Isana Black Pearl acoustic guitar, which Presley got while stationed in Bad Nauheim, Germany, during his stint in the Army. Not that he does; he just could.
Come this weekend, though, that guitar will be sold off--for well more than the initial $150,000 asking price, no doubt. (A Paul McCartney bass went for more than half a mil not long ago. And he's alive.) The auction, which takes place at Heritage's Oak Lawn HQ October 6-7, is easily the company's biggest entertainment auction to date; says so right here, in this Associated Press story making the rounds here and abroad. The auction's getting considerable attention this time around because it includes hundreds of items that came from the James Dean Gallery in the actor's hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. As I wrote in April, Heritage's Doug Norwine read on the Internet that the museum, which was operated by David Loehr, was shutting down because of financial difficulties, and Norwine flew to Indiana to convince Loehr to sell the collection through Heritage. As a result, Heritage is offering in this auction everything from Dean's sketches and paintings (each of which will go for thousands) to the Rebel Without a Cause photo archive to his Rebel-worn T-shirt to a small piece of the Porsche 500 Spyder in which Dean was killed almost 51 years ago to the day.
You can preview the entirety of the auction here, but another major part of this auction is the inclusion of dozens of items that used to belong to Marlon Brando--including his personally marked-up script for The Godfather, on which Brando jotted down comments and changes to Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola's writing. Another nifty Godfather souvenier is Brando's fedora from the film; that'll go for five figures, easy. Other Brando items you can grab for the right price: letters he wrote to and received from Tennessee Williams, his British "Oscar" for Viva Zapata!, slides of deleted scenes from Superman II...and Brando's harmonica. Seriously.
Norwine, Heritage's director of music and entertainment memorabilia (and the man who provides the saxy sounds of Lisa Simpson), says the Brando material came from a consigner who got it from Brando himself and from Brando's personal assstant. "So it came from when he was alive," Norwine says, adding that the consigner doesn't want to be identified. "He was a friend of his assistant and knew Marlon himself. They just wanted to make some money. They had it for a long time and wanted to parlay it. It's an amazing collection too. The Godfather script alone is special, because it was such an epic movie. Brando was like the Greta Garbo of the second half of the 20th century--so reclusive, such a private person, and this is his most memorable role, arguably. To have the script signed by him and to know it's the script he went over, that's amazing."
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Norwine also mentions something else for sale he considers "real sexy": letters from Martin Luther King Jr. to Sammy Davis Jr., one written on Ebenezer Baptist Church stationary in December 1960, another from April 1965 that references the march from Selma to Montgomery ("it is a symbol that those who have suffered deprivation and brutality can make their voices heard..."). The content, Norwine says, "is astounding." You could say the same thing about the entire auction, some highlights form which we'll, uh, highlight every day till Friday. Like that Harry Truman hat. Or Kurt Cobain's guitar. Or Steve McQueen's hat... --Robert Wilonsky