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Debbie Reynolds Auctions Her Priceless Hollywood Memorabilia

Debbie Reynolds 1918 Laurel & Hardy Model T from auction

Debbie Reynolds and the 1918 Laurel & Hardy Model T–winning bid $35,000

Photos of auction and story by Stacey Gualandi

TWITTER: DebbieReynolds1

UPDATE: 12/28/16: RIP Debbie…

UPDATE 6/19/11: Results are in. The auction raised a world record breaking $22.8 million before fees and taxes. Debbie’s next auction with more items from her collection will be December 3.

Marilyn Monroe’s “subway” dress went for a rousing $4.6 million. The Audrey Hepburn “My Fair Lady” gown was sold at $3.7 million.

We’ve posted the selling amounts for items we have shown. You can visit icollector.com for all the winning bids. A lock of Mary Pickford’s hair fetched $3500, Rudolph Valentino’s matador outfit $210,000. Charlton Heston’s tunic and cape from “Judah Ben Hur” was bought for $320,000.

It’s a sight to be seen. A literal step back in time through Hollywood’s Golden Age. There are costumes from The Sound of Music and Casablanca; Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat; even Ingrid Bergman’s Joan of Arc suit of armor… every piece extremely valuable and exquisitely preserved.

Debbie Reynolds Auction from Above

This one-of-a-kind Hollywood collection belongs to film legend Debbie Reynolds, and is now on display at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills before it will all be auctioned off Saturday.

As I walked through, smiling from ear to ear, it felt like a museum: to my left, Marilyn Monroe’s iconic “subway” dress from 1955’s The Seven Year Itch…to my right, the riding suit made famous by a teenage Elizabeth Taylor in 1944’s National Velvet. And more. Wait ’til you see…

Just down the row, the original 1939 Arabian-designed ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. I could almost hear Dorothy clicking her heels, saying “…there’s no place like home…”

A home is all Reynold’s ever wanted for her unique assortment of movie memorabilia. But as priceless as her collection is, no one would support her long-time dream of a Hollywood Museum. So now, at 79 years young, she has decided all must go…even items from Singin’ in the Rain, the film that made her famous.

As she has said, “I spent every dime I’ve ever made on costumes. I love the industry. I love films. I have to think of it now as just sharing it. At least the public will get to see it all once.”

Her passion for collecting the past became an obsession in 1970 when MGM, the studio where her career began, held an auction of everything it owned.

Since then, the iconic actress has bought, maintained and archived what is now over 3000 pieces of Hollywood history.

Debbie told the Los Angeles Times that she was heartbroken. “There is no other road. I need a little rest from the responsibility of trying to do something it seems that nobody else wants to do. I’ve spent millions…taking care of it. If you were me, wouldn’t you give up? I don’t want to see the collection broken up. It should stay intact. It’s a real shame, but that’s the way it’s going to be. ”

Audrey Hepburn's costume in "My Fair Lady"

Hepburn’s costume in “My Fair Lady”: Result $3.7 million

So for a brief moment of time, fans of Flynn, Frank, Fairbanks, and Funny Girl can gaze and admire everything up close. You can catch Grace Kelly’s Edith Head-crepe creation from To Catch A Thief, Elizabeth Taylor’s elaborate headdress for Cleopatra, or the Cecil Beaton design Audrey Hepburn wore in My Fair Lady.

Stacey Gualandi with 1952 MG driven by Marilyn Monroe

Stacey with 1952 MG driven by Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant: RESULT $210,000

But it’s not all classic costumes. There are props, posters, and even Laurel and Hardy’s Model-T. And I’ve got my eye on this little MG driven by Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant in Monkey Business.

What is on display however is just a fraction of the 600 items to be sold on Saturday through the Profiles in History auction house.

Owner Joseph Maddalena believes that this first phase – the second auction will follow in December – should fetch 4- 6 million dollars. He says he’s known Reynolds for over 20 years and shares her passion for saving Hollywood history.

“I’m sad to see Debbie have to sell her collection. I know emotionally this is not an easy thing for her. I have great empathy for her and her family that they’re in this position. On the other hand, it’s the greatest thing I’ll ever handle. Debbie archived and saved the most valuable artifacts in film history and if it wasn’t for her, these things wouldn’t exist. You couId never rebuild this. I flip through the catalogue and shake my head because this will never ever happen again.”

Joe Maddalena with Sherlock Holmes' cloak

Joe Maddalena with Sherlock Holmes’ cloak: RESULT $50,000

Maddalena, who is also the host of Syfy’s “Hollywood Treasure“, says it’s been very difficult for Reynolds to walk through the exhibit because she has never seen many of her items on actual display.

He’s made numerous trips to her 18-thousand square foot, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility near Creston, California. But the cost of preserving such a collection was a huge price to bear.

“It’s all she ever wanted was to have these available for the public to see. She didn’t want to profit off the public. Hollywood turned its back on her. The studios never cared enough to pay and support their heritage which is sad considering there is a hall of fame for everything imaginable, but not one here in Hollywood, which there should be. “

Harpo's Hat and Wig: Result $45,000

Harpo’s Hat and Wig: Result $45,000

The number of visitors at the Paley has broken attendance records, perhaps an indication that a museum may have been well-received. But now it will be in the hands of potential investors. The bid will start at $20 -30 thousand for Harpo Marx’s hat and wig. The ruby slippers? $120 thousand. RESULT: $510,000. Dorothy’s dress? A whopping $910,000. And the most valuable is, of course, the Marilyn Monroe subway dress. The starting bid? $ 1 -2 million. Winning bid: $4.6 million.

Reynolds summed up in the auction’s catalogue that, to her, value is more than just a price tag: “Each costume embodies the aura of the star who wore it onscreen. I bought twelve of Marilyn’s costumes. All these items are as famous as the stars that wore them.

There is magic in every thread, button and bow. Many of these wonderful articles capture that special moment in a film where our hearts were deeply touched. For me, the memory of this moment lives forever in each of these pieces.”

Maddalena says Reynolds’ hope is that some “white knight” will buy a chunk of these items. “If not, whoever does buy, she hopes they will take care of them and put them on display.” But will the woman who made this all possible actually watch as her items go one-by-one? “This will be very hard for me. I’m not sure I’m going to go. I’ll wind up buying it all back!”

Reynolds told People that once her beloved items are sold she plans to slow down her work schedule. For now, she and Maddalena wait to see where history will take us next.

Debbie Reynolds catalogue

“We are both resigned to the fact that we did the best we could do; we couldn’t do anymore. Her kids, Carrie and Todd, are all in agreement that we can’t do anymore than we’ve already done. Whatever happens, it’s out of our control. But we all know that Debbie collected the best items; we’ve presented them in the best light. I’m thankful for her trusting me, and we’re both going to be guardedly optimistic and hope that our love and passion for these treasures is conveyed to the rest of the world.”

Now as Reynolds says goodbye to decades of devotion, she remains hopeful that history will be preserved: “…now everyone has the opportunity to own them. I hope you will love them as I do.”

***Auction begins at Noon PST, Saturday June 18–The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills

More photos of these fabulous items from Hollywood history:

Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor costumes and shoes from “Singin’ in the Rain” (RESULT FOR BOTH: $22,000)…

Gene Kelly's from "Singin' in the Rain"

Ingrid Bergman’s armor from “Joan of Arc” (RESULT: $50,000)

Ingrid Bergman's Armor from "Joan of Arc"

Dorothy’s famous dress (RESULT: $910,000)…

Dorothy's Dress

Grace Kelly’s rose crepe outfit from “To Catch a Thief” (RESULT: $450,000) and white silk chiffon gown from “The Swan” (RESULT: $110,000)…

Grace Kelly rose crepe dress

Claude Rains white suit from “Casablanca” (RESULT: $50,000)

Costumes from "Casablanca"

From Betty Hutton’s “Annie Oakley” (RESULT: $11,000)

Betty Hutton's "Annie Oakley"

Barbra Streisand gold velvet gown from “Hello Dolly” (RESULT: $100,000) and striped leotard with matching hat from “Funny Girl” (RESULT: $65,000)

Barbra Streisand films

And Cleopatra’s headdress (RESULT: $100,000)…


From “The Sound of Music” the autographed guitar (RESULT: $140,000) and jumper (RESULT: $550,000)

Costume from "The Sound of Music"

Marilyn Monroe’s red showgirl gown on left (RESULT: $1,200,000) and saloon gown on right (RESULT: $510,000)

Marilyn dresses

And Lana Turner’s gown from “Diane” (RESULT: $9,000)…

Lana Turner Dress

Debbie’s costume from “Molly Brown” (RESULT: $6,000)…

Debbie Reynolds' Dress from Molly Brown

We must end with Charlie Chaplin’s bowler (RESULT: $110,000) or we could go on and on…

Charlie Chaplin's Bowler

Thanks again to Debbie for sharing these wonderful treasures!

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  1. Eric F. Saucier says:

    I just wanted to get the word out,
    That I found some very rare behind the scenes footage of Audrey Hepburn in the movie “My Fair Lady”
    The footage includes the opening scenes
    of the movie, ect.ect.ect;
    It was shot by my father who was an extra in the movie, using a pireted bell & howell home movie camera and it will be auctioned off at Julians Auction House
    in March of 2013.
    The story behind the footage as well as stills from the footage can be seen here

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