Debbie Reynolds, film star and the real mother to Princess Leia’s Carrie Fisher, spent the past 50 years acquiring what Hollywood was throwing out. Until fairly recently, Hollywood production companies viewed props and costumes as trash to throw out after production wrapped, or at best, something to store in giant warehouses for later productions. But Reynolds had a vision and was in the right place at the right time over and over again. She managed to amass what must be the single greatest collection of Hollywood costumes from the classic era. She began her obsession with the 1970 MGM auction of its costume warehouses when she maxed out her finances to acquire stunning one-of-a-kind pieces by Hollywood’s greatest designers, costumes she couldn’t bear the thought of not landing in a museum. Current studios know the value of props and costumes, but back even into the 1970s, not so much. That said, she spent a great deal of money over the years putting a museum worthy assemblage together. And that was the problem.
Unfortunately, her vision ends today as her business efforts to make the museum failed, and the result was a bankrupt project and the need to sell the collection to pay off creditors. Tomorrow, June 18, 2011, key pieces of the collection will be sold off by auction house Profiles in History in Beverly Hills at the Paley Center for Media, where you could see a preview today of the costumes and props to be sold. There’s good and bad to this. For one, her collection had not been on display for years, most items boxed up on her ranch, in rail cars, in out buildings, in vaults. So if you follow the philosophy that costumes first and foremost should be displayed, then getting into private hands may be the answer. Personally I think preservation is paramount. And what Reynolds did was keep everything in incredible shape. No doubt the high-end buyers of these expensive works of art will do the same. It will be an exciting opportunity for high-end buyers as most of the items are expected to fetch in excess of $10,000. Reynolds has previewed her collection on both Oprah Winfrey’s show weeks ago and this week on SyFy Network’s “Hollywood Treasures.”
And I’m not kidding when I say this will be no regular TV and film prop and costume sale. I think the word “iconic” is overused. But today I’ll call out this sale as the exception. Here is just a short list of what is being sold starting with some great fantasy genre pieces (several other items from her collection will be sold off later this year, too):
Judy Garland’s early production ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Estimated at $120-150,000.
Judy Garland’s early production dress from The Wizard of Oz. Estimated at $60-80,000.
Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street. Estimated at $20-30,000.
Ape, gorilla and orangutan costumes from Planet of the Apes, as well as flight suit and Heston costume.
Sean Connery costume from the Highlander films. Estimated at $12-15,000.
And the really big stuff:
Marilyn Monroe white subway-blowin’ dress (yep, that one) from Seven Year Itch. Estimated at (gulp) $1-2 million.
Marilyn Monroe’s red sequined dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Estimated at $200-300,000.
Audrey Hepburn’s classic white dress from My Fair Lady. Estimated at $200-300,000.
Julie Andrews’s key mountain singing dress from The Sound of Music. Estimated at $40-60,000.
Charleton Heston’s costume from Ben Hur. Estimated at $20-30,000.
Gary Cooper’s uniform from Sergeant York. Estimated at $20-30,000.
Jimmy Stewart’s leather costume from How the West was Won. Estimated at $8-12,000.
A huge collection of Elizabeth Taylor costumes, including National Velvet (Estimated at $10-15,000), and her Cleopatra headpiece, estimated at $30-50,000.
Charlie Chaplin’s hat from The Tramp. Estimated at $20-30,000.
Laurel and Hardy’s signature costumes. Estimated at $15-20,000.
Harpo Marx’s wig and hat. Estimated at $20-30,000.
Gene Kelly’s outfit from Singin’ in the Rain. Estimated at $12-15,000.
Rex Harrison’s outfit and doctor bag from Doctor Doolittle. Estimated at $12-15,000.
Grace Kelly’s costume (seen below) from Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Estimated at $30-50,000.
Claude Rains’s uniform as Capt. Renault from Casablanca. $12-15,000.
Robert Redford and Katherine Ross costumes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll also find key costumes from Katherine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, W.C. Fields, Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, Mae West, Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, Al Jolson, Spencer Tracy, Lawrence Olivier, James Cagney, John Wayne, Orson Welles, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Sinatra, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, Betty Grable, Vincent Price, Natalie Wood, Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Glenn Ford, Peter Ustinov, Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Jean Simmons, Deborah Kerr, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Yul Brynner, Shirley Jones, Kim Novak, Dean Martin, Gregory Peck, and even Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, and Mike Myers.
More information is available at www.profilesinhistory.com. Happy bidding, movie fans!
By C.J. Bunce