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How Debbie Reynolds saved Hollywood…

I’ve just finished flicking through the catalogue for Saturday’s auction of the Debbie Reynolds Collection for the third time. I say ‘flicking’, but the term ‘obsessing’ is probably more appropriate, as each time I’ve read through it I’ve discovered more and more incredible lots.

My colleagues in the Paul Fraser Collectibles office are probably tired of hearing me say ‘wow’ every five minutes, but I can’t help it. It really is a ‘wow’ kind of auction.


The first page of the catalogue says it all – when George Lucas takes time from his busy toy-designing schedule to write a foreword for an auction, you know it’s going to be important.

Without overstating it too much, her collection of film costumes, props and memorabilia is probably the greatest of its kind to appear on the market for 40 years.

The last time anything close appeared on the auction block was in 1970, at the now-famous MGM auction. And Reynolds should know, because she bought half of it.

For some reason, in 1970 the MGM Studio bosses decided it was time for a clear-out. New studio boss Jack Kerkorkian needed the money to build an MGM-themed hotel in Las Vegas, and began by halting production on a number of films and firing half the staff.

A huge collection of props and costumes were placed up for sale, and a haulage team was hired to dispose of the rest. What they essentially did was fly-tip 45 years worth of Hollywood history like a mouldy sofa with missing seat cushions.


Harpo Marx’s signature top hat and wig are estimated to sell for $20,000 – $30,000

It seems the Hollywood executives had little time for sentimentality or history – a tradition they proudly carry to this day – but thankfully the industry was full of people who did. Actors, directors, prop handlers, costume designers and cameramen all helped preserve the Golden Age of Hollywood by rescuing items that would otherwise have disappeared forever.

Reynolds had started her career with MGM as a contract player in the early 1950s. As she states in the auction catalogue, “I grew up on the MGM lot where they boasted that they had ‘more stars than there are in heaven’.”

She recognised the magic of the movies and the special place they held in American cultural history. Her most famous role was in ‘Singing in the Rain’, a veritable love-letter to the days of silent cinema and the coming of sound. And she was a collector by nature.

When the chance came to purchase items from the sale in 1970, she jumped at it. She felt it important to preserve as much of the magic as possible, and her collection is testament to both her passion as a collector and her intelligence as an investor.

Even the highest-paid money men at MGM didn’t see the possible value in their inventory, but Reynolds certainly did. She borrowed $100,000 against the value of her house to raise the money for her purchases, and in doing so ended up with a return of $10 million.


Claude Rains'”Captain Louis Renault” suit from Casablanca is expected to sell for $12,000 – $15,000

That’s the figure placed on the collection by the auction house Profiles in History, and even that seems a little low. Anyone with a keen eye on the memorabilia market can see that there’s a real chance of World Records being broken on Saturday.

And as a final note, it’s a strange coincidence that this collection of exquisite costumes should appear on the same weekend as the release of ‘The Green Lantern’ in cinemas around the world. All of the film’s most iconic costumes are entirely computer generated, meaning that in 50 years or so a collection of Reynolds’ size could feasibly fit on a memory stick.

It’s a slightly depressing thought, and all the more reason that tangible treasures such as those in Saturday’s sale should be celebrated and preserved for years to come.

By Simon

Images from: Profiles in History


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  1. Pingback: Lady Gaga has gone gaga for the Antiques Roadshow… True story! « Paul Fraser Collectibles

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