Over the last decade, movie, sports and music memorabilia has grown into a massive industry as the baby boomer generation (the current holders of the majority of the world's wealth) has recognized that there are greater returns on investing in Tier 1 memorabilia than in many traditional asset classes such as shares and real estate.
Several iconic items of movie memorabilia going to auction next Monday at Bonhams New York will provide a bellwether for the entertainment memorabilia marketplace: two Marilyn Monroe dresses, the dress worn by Dorothy (Judy Garland) in The Wizard of Oz, the sled from Citizen Kane, and the race suit worn by Mike Delaney (Steve McQueen) in Le Mans.
The reason the marketplace will be taking notice of this auction in particular, is that identical items (every movie has at least one identical sets of props on hand so that an accident involving one of the props doesn't stop filming) from three of the best known movies of all-time have been previously auctioned and all three rank among the most expensive movie memorabilia ever sold at auction. Marilyn's dresses too have many spectacular precedents.
This is the third year of the Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies annual New York sale and each year it has produced some extraordinary memorabilia and spectacular results. The initial auction in 2013 saw the sale of the original Maltese Falcon from the famous 1941 movie of the same name for US$4,085,000, and the 2014 auction sold the piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays 'As Time Goes By' for $3,413,000 and the Cowardly Lion Costume from The Wizard of Oz which sold for $3,077,000. This year the auction promises an equally stellar cast.
Judy Garland's Dorothy Gale dress
from "The Wizard of Oz"
Lot 67 at Bonhams and TCM's "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: US$800,000 - $1.2 million
Previous sale of an identical item: There have been several Dorothy Gale dresses from the 1939 movie sold in recent years, some of them that were "test" dresses and didn't even appear in the movie, but they all sold for astronomical figures. The most valuable of them all was sold by Profiles in History at the Debbie Reynolds Collection auction on June 18, 2011 (Lot 110 - auction catalog PDF) which sold for $910,000. That's a page from the catalogue below at left.
Another version of the dress that was worn by Garland in the first two weeks of filming (all of which was thrown out when they fired the director) was sold by Juliens on November 10, 2012. The dress appeared on the cover of the catalog (above center) and had an estimate of $60,000 – $80,000 inside (above right) but fetched $480,000 nonetheless.
A third dress, also a test dress, was sold by Bonhams on 24 November, 2014 and fetched $245,000. Yet another Dorothy dress from the movie was sold by Bonhams on 27 April 2005 for £140,000 (US$266,638). This film has also achieved several other memorabilia records at auction: Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion costume fetched $3,077,000 last year, and several pairs of Dorothy's famous ruby red slippers have gone to auction, the most valuable sale being a Christie's auction on May 24, 2000, for $666,000. Another pair selling at the same Debbie Reynolds auction in June 2011 (mentioned above where one of the dresses sold) for $510,000. Profiles in History offered a pair at a December, 2011 auction but the $2,000,000 reserve price was not met.
Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939) was based on L. Frank Baum's illustrated children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900, which became a popular Broadway musical in 1902 as The Wizard of Oz, the same name as the 1939 movie. Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest ever, the movie has maintained a top ten position in the AFI's 100 Greatest American Movies of all-time ranking since it was first published. Though the original film lost money, it has since been reissued and enhanced and garnered far more revenue as a television and rental movie. Its popularity can be attributed far more to broadcast than ticket sales.
Provenance: This blouse and pinafore were retained by Kent Warner, the costume collector employed by David Weisz Co. to help organize the famous 1970 MGM Auction with Warner cherry-picking many of the best pieces for himself. He also took home the pair of Ruby Slippers which were offered by Profiles in History with a reserve price of $2 million and failed to sell. A private sale after the auction saw the shoes acquired by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One of the very few complete Dorothy costumes still in existence, and as the "real deal" this costume just might sell above the estimate. This is genuine entertainment memorabilia royalty.
Steve McQueen's Mike Delaney race suit
from "Le Mans"
Lot 245 at Bonhams and TCM's "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $200,000 - 300,000
Movie: Le Mans (1971)
Provenance: Anything worn, used or owned by Steve McQueen is pure gold on the auction block as we have written previously. This racing suit was one of a several worn during the making of the film, with only three known to have survived. Although not a huge box-office success, it has become a cult classic among car enthusiasts. McQueen was famously quoted as saying about himself "I'm not sure whether I'm an Actor who races or a Racer who acts," and during his lifetime McQueen became an international-class competitor in both car and motorcycle racing.
McQueen amassed a huge collection of motorcycles and cars, including what has recently become the world's most expensive motorcycle sold at auction (top left above is the 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer which sold at a Mecum Mid-America auction for US$852,500 in January, 2015). McQueen also has 12 more entries in the top 100 most expensive motorcycles ever sold. McQueen's company also owned the most expensive movie car ever sold (top right – the 1968 Ford Gulf GT40 used in Le Mans fetched US$11,000,000 at RM-Sotheby's 2012 Pebble Beach auction) which also happens to be the most expensive piece of movie memorabilia ever sold.
McQueen also has several entries in our lists of the most expensive cars and the most expensive movie cars, including the Porsche 911S he drove through the French countryside at ballistic speed for the first four minutes of Le Mans (above bottom left) which sold for $1,370,000 at an RM-Sotheby's auction – ten times it's book value.
Finally, there's something about the Le Mans film which appeals on the auction block. The TAG Heuer Monaco McQueen wore throughout the film was an early example of product placement in film, and has subsequently become one of the world's most expensive entertainment-related watches ever sold, fetching $799,500 in July, 2012 at a Profiles in History auction.
Le Mans may not be McQueen's best known cinematic work, but this is easily his most iconic costume.
The "Rosebud" sled from 'Citizen Kane'
Lot 306 at Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction, 23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: US$100,000 - 200,000
Movie: Citizen Kane (1939)
Previous sale of an identical item: The key to the plot of one of the most famous and important movies of all time, the "Rosebud" sled is burned in the final scene. To accommodate this, at least two hardwood sleds were created for use in the play scene at the beginning of the film, and three balsawood sleds were created for the burning scene. Steven Spielberg purchased one of the balsa sleds for $60,500 in 1982. The first hardwood sled surfaced as a result of the Spielberg sale publicity and it crossed the block at a Christies auction in Los Angeles on December 15, 1996 for $233,500. This sled is another hardwood sled and given the rise in memorabilia prices over the last few decades, can be realistically expected to sell at the upper end of, or beyond the estimate.
Provenance: This hardwood American Victorian sled, with hand-forged metal runners and rope tie, with original paint and stenciling, was built in 1840, making it likely that it was the model for the creation of the other props. The sled was given to screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (who collaborated with Orson Wells in writing the movie for which they both won Academy Awards) at the conclusion of the filming of Citizen Kane (1941) and has been in the possession of the Mankiewicz family ever since. The sled was exhibited on loan to the Debbie Reynolds Museum in Las Vegas from 1995 to 1998.
Herman Mankiewicz was one of the most prolific and important screenwriters of the 1920s through to the 1940s. Though uncredited in the final film, he is the writer who came up with the idea of the black-and-white Kansas sequences for The Wizard of Oz and the ideas for telling the story of a man's life through different narrators in Citizen Kane. Mankiewicz is also credited with coming up with the central plot device: the search for the meaning of "Rosebud" – Kane's boyhood sled.
According to Mankiewicz family lore, this sled was given to Herman Mankiewicz by either Ben Hecht or (more likely) the film's producer John Houseman, at the conclusion of principle photography on the film. It has been a treasured heirloom in the Mankiewicz family ever since.
Marilyn Monroe's Red sequined dress
from "River Of No Return"
Lot 208 at Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction, 23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $300,000 to $500,000
Movie: River of No Return (1954)
Previous sale of an identical item: This dress went to auction a year ago with an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and failed to meet reserve. Despite that, there is every reason to believe it is capable of being the top selling item at this auction, perhaps even beating Judy Garland's Wizard of Oz dress if the right people want it. That's a big statement, but Marilyn Monroe's appeal on the auction block is unparalleled, well beyond Midas-like names such as Steve McQueen, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, the Beatles and Eric Clapton.
Take a detailed look at the entire memorabilia marketplace and who is related to the most valuable items and those are the names that are most populous of many different categories. These are the people who add the most value to anything they have touched. Judging by her record at auction and the box office, Marilyn had the biggest helping of "star quality" ever bestowed on a human being.
We're preparing an article on the most expensive dresses ever to sell at auction and Marilyn is responsible for most of the top 20 – quite some feat, given the entire history of fashion and the presence of the last few hundred years of style-icons and the presence of Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in the same generation.
Some examples include the rayon crepe halter dress with pleated skirt by Travilla she wore standing over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch which fetched $5,520,000 at a Profiles in History auction in June, 2011. That's an outright world record for a piece of clothing sold at auction.
Then there's the red sequined showgirl gown she wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes which fetched $1,476,000 at a Profiles in History auction in June, 2011.
Then there's the dress in which she sang "Happy Birthday Mr President" to (her lover) President John F Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on 19 May 1962 which fetched $1,267,500 at a Christies auction in October, 1999, also a world record for the most expensive piece of clothing at the time. The dress was so tight that legend has it Marilyn went "au natural" and was sewn into it for the performance.
There are also two Travilla dresses from this film, The River of No Return; a gold charmeuse saloon-girl gown ($627,300 at a Profiles in History auction in June, 2011) and a green velvet showgirl gown ($526,600 at a Juliens auction in October, 2011) which she wore to sing "I'm Gonna File My Claim."
There are more. Lot's more. Such as this silk crepe large rose-print dress with deep V cut back, worn in the never completed Something's Gotta Give. Marilyn got herself fired from the 20th Century-Fox film but when co-star Dean Martin said he would not do the movie without her, she was re-hired but died before filming was completed. The Jean Louis designed dress sold for $348,000 at a Julien's auction of June 27, 2015.
There are dozens of Marilyn dresses in our listing, but it's the value Marilyn adds to seemingly insignificant items that best illustrate her star power. A pair of red Ferragamo stilettos were repurchased in 1999 by Massimo Ferragamo at 1000 times more than he sold them for, and a pair of Hilfiger jeans she wore in River of No Return were also repurchased by the designer, Tommy Hilfiger, for $37,000. Marilyn's grave marker was replaced at one stage, and the old grave marker (above) fetched $212,500 at a Julien's auction earlier this year.
Provenance: This William Travilla dress was purchased by Debbie Reynolds from Fox in 1971 and resold at a Butterfield & Butterfield Entertainment Memorabilia auction in March 14, 2000. As one of Marilyn's most beautiful costumes (it was chosen over the other two iconic dresses in the movie as the "poster dress"), it stands every chance of becoming one of the most expensive items of clothing ever sold at auction.
Marilyn Monroe suit from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Lot 207 at Bonhams and TCM "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $350,000 to $500,000
Previous sale of an identical item: This item last went to auction in 2000, but for all the same precedents mentioned above, it can be reasonably expected to sell within its officially estimated range, perhaps substantially more.
Provenance: This grey wool jacket and skirt is worn in many scenes in the movie which catapulted Monroe to superstardom, including a duet with co-star Jane Russell when the pair sing "When Love Goes Wrong."
Elvis Presley's screen-worn vest from
"Fun in Acapulco" and "Frankie and Johnny"
Lot 95 at Bonhams and TCM "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $2,500 to $3,500
Previous sale of an identical item: To our knowledge, such an item hasn't been to auction previously, but most significant Elvis memorabilia has been closely held by the star's estate. Elvis is unquestionably a member of entertainment's Pantheon, maintains a massive global following and the estimate appears very conservative.
Provenance: This short black wool vest was screen worn in two of Elvis' biggest movies. As it goes to auction it has an off-white soutache on the shoulders (front and back) and the bottom of the vest, and a rhinestone border with white leather fringe on the front and back yoke. Presley wears this vest (with only the soutache embellishment) while singing "The Bullfighter Was a Lady" in Fun in Acapulco. The vest was subsequently altered with the addition of the fringe and rhinestones and worn by him in Frankie and Johnny while singing "Hard Luck" and "Shout it Out."
Grace Kelly's dress from "The Swan"
Lot 196 at Bonhams and TCM "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $12,000 to $18,000
Movie: The Swan (1956)
Previous sale of an identical item: One of Grace Kelly's other dresses worn by her "Princess Alexandra" character in The Swan was an ivory silk chiffon evening gown designed by Helen Rose. Rose studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, started in costume design for the Ice Follies and stage show producers Fanchon and Marco, did a stint at 20th Century Fox then went to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer where she dressed the world's most beautiful actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Lauren Bacall and many of Grace Kelly's most memorable outfits.
The highlights of a stellar career, which involved Rose finally leaving film to develop her own world-renowned fashion label, were her wedding dresses for Elizabeth Taylor (in the first of her eight marriages to hotel heir Conrad "Nicky" Hilton) and of Grace Kelly for the "wedding of the century" to Prince Rainier III of Monaco in April, 1956. Rose designed the costumes for four of Kelly's movies and the two were friends. That's Helen and Grace discussing the wedding dress above, with Kelly wearing the dress to be auctioned.
This ivory silk chiffon evening gown worn by Princess Alexandra to the Royal Ball in The Swan sold for $145,300 at a Profiles in History auction in June, 2011. Kelly so loved this dress that it formed the basis of the design for the dress she wore in her fairytale wedding to Rainier III, Prince of Monaco in April, 1956.
Provenance: In a world that was still a decade prior to international television coverage, this wedding still rivaled that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles as the media wedding of the century and by sheer good luck (and a little choreography by MGM), The Swan (the story of a European princess and her courtship with a prince), premiered on April 18, 1956, the day before Grace Kelly's real-life wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Accordingly, the dress to be auctioned (an empire style off-white lace dress with a pale blue crepe lining, ruffled lace and floral braid trim with imitation pearls at the neckline, sleeves and hem, and a velvet sash with imitation pearl fringe) is very famous, as the film served for many as the defacto coverage of the wedding. This dress was worn in the film when Princess Alexandra (Kelly) first meets Prince Albert (Alec Guinness), pictured above with an MGM publicity picture of the movie star who became a princess in real life. If someone buys this dress for $18,000, they will have bought ludicrously well.
Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy trench coat and hat
from "Dick Tracy"
Lot 351 at Bonhams and TCM "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $40,000 to $60,000
Previous sale of an identical item: To our knowledge, such an item hasn't been to auction previously.
Provenance: Warren Beatty is a serious Hollywood player on several fronts. He has been nominated for fourteen Academy Awards – four for Best Actor, four for Best Picture, two for Best Director, three for Original Screenplay, and one for Adapted Screenplay – winning Best Director for Reds (1981). Beatty is only the second person to have been nominated for acting, directing, writing and producing in the same film – doing so first with Heaven Can Wait (1978), and again with Reds – succeeding Orson Welles, who was nominated for all four for Citizen Kane in 1941 and won for writing. In Dick Tracy, Beatty directed, produced and starred in the film which was nominated for seven Academy Award, winning three of the categories: Best Original Song, Best Makeup and Best Art Direction. Dick Tracy was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best picture. What's more, his skills are still relevant, get better with age and he continues to work in the creative arts with a long career still to come, making investments in his memorabilia still undervalued ("you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone").
Dick Tracy's bright yellow double-breasted wool trenchcoat and matching hat are the signature costume of the comic book hero created by Chester Gould, so in many ways, they represent the film, which was designed to look like a comic strip come to life.
Tracy's famous wristwatch communicator (a gadget that foreshadowed the mobile phone by 40 years when it was first seen in Dick Tracy comic books in 1946), will also go to auction in New York, with an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
Herbie from "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo"
Lot 136 at Bonhams and TCM "Treasures from the Dream Factory" Auction,
23 November, 2015 (New York)
Estimate: $50,000 to $60,000
Previous sale of an identical item: This car is not a normal "Herbie" because although many Herbies were used in the six movie series, this car was modified so that it could be driven from a low position in the back seat and hence appear driverless. One of the normal Herbies actually used in the same movie (and also in Herbie Goes Bananas and the actual car which sprayed oil in Herbie goes to Monte Carlo) was sold in April, 2015 for $126,000 by Barrett-Jackson, setting a world record price for a Volkswagen Beetle. That Herbie is now listed in our top 50 movie cars of all-time.
Provenance: The Love Bug (1969) began one of the original successful movie franchises that inspired so many other franchises thereafter, and helped movie executives realize that once a movie had been a hit, a slight variation on that theme had a high probability of being a hit too – the success of the "Love Bug" franchise catalyzed sequels, series of movies, prequels and even remakes of the same hit movie of a few decades prior. Check out the top ten grossing movies of the last few years and you'll see lists almost entirely comprised of reprised characters and plot lines. Check out this article written when the $126,000 Herbie was sold for a list of prior Herbie prices at auction and you'll see why this car might just be a "smokie" and could surprise everyone when the hammer falls, not to mention a decade or two down the track.
An interesting aspect to this movie is that it followed the formulaic rule of giving the hero a love interest. Every leading actor needs an onscreen romantic foil, and for Herbie the Volkswagen in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, it was a shapely powder-blue Lancia Scorpion named Giselle. Herbie and Giselle are pictured above going for a drive together. Giselle is also being auctioned on the same day, with an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. Maybe some kind soul can keep them together.
There are many more famous screen outfits, some fantastic Walt Disney memorabilia, a Willie Wonka Golden Ticket, and many more items which the baby boomer generation will recognize and remember fondly at the auction, which can be viewed live on the internet on Monday afternoon. This event is already one of entertainment's most viewable moments each year.