Debbie Reynolds: The Auction Finale

Debbie Reynolds: the Patron Saint of trying to preserve our film heritage
I gave it all that I had, and it's gratifying that others seem to be receiving it so well.
Debbie Reynolds

Profiles in History Presents 'Debbie Reynolds – The Auction Finale' May 17-18, 2014

44 years ago this month, MGM began to auction off it's iconic past.  The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds was right there trying to save what was from all outside appearances was a sinking ship.

Before I get to my interview with Debbie Reynolds (thank you, Stephen Sorrentino!), I'd like to give you a little background on my obsession with the movies. Growing up in the world of sixties and seventies television, we saw classic movies mostly on Sunday afternoons and the late show.
A lot of classic films were also being sold to the highest bidders of the three networks, CBS, NBC, and ABC. I remember the first time Funny Girl was shown on TV (a Sunday Night on ABC). I also remember the first time Bye, Bye Birdie was shown on TV. There was also major hype the first time Gone With the Wind was shown (over the course of two nights). We did not have easy accessibility via DVD, DVRs, Turner Classic Movies, etc. If you missed a movie being shown, you never knew when it would be shown again.
I've written about, in the past, the nostalgia craze that happened in the mid 70s thanks to That's Entertainment. There were a lot of television specials built around this film and a lot of the stars I loved were now being seen on many talk shows and television specials.
One memory stands out vividly in my memory. It was 1970. I was in the Boy Scouts. Our Scout meetings took place on Monday nights. I remember coming home from a meeting to have my mom and sister tell me that they had seen a television special in which Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers were sold. Of course, that was of interest to me, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie.
I later found out there were several pairs of shoes.
Later that night, I saw on the news that the show boat from 1951's Show Boat was also sold. Why? These were iconic movie items. It has always amazed me that we don't have a high regard and reverence for what are such iconic memories of our artistic past.
Debbie Reynolds is shown in May 1970 at the three-week auction of props and costumes at MGM Studios in Hollywood.
 It still amazes me that there is no Broadway museum here in NY, the theatre capitol of the world. Arlene Dahl has been trying for many years to have a Broadway Walk of Fame similar to Hollywood's and Palm Springs' Walks of Fame.
If you are a movie fan like me, and especially, if you are a fan of classic "Hollywood", you are well aware of Debbie Reynolds quest to have a museum in which iconic movie artifacts (costumes and props) were preserved. It has been a long journey. The sad news is that it has not happened. On May 17th and 18th, she is holding her final auction, The Grand Finale.
After interviewing Stephen Sorrentino yesterday, the subject of my next blog, I expressed my desire to interview Debbie Reynolds. I am a huge fan. Stephen called her and she said yes if we could do it last night. I, of course, would work around her schedule. I started putting my interview questions together.
However, once I heard this recognizable voice, AND heard the sadness at the finality of this upcoming auction, I decided to focus ONLY on the journey that has brought her to this point.
Harpo Marx Wig
When she first went to work in Hollywood as a young starlet, she was surrounded by the most wonderful talents – set and costume designers, writers, carpenters, cameramen and wardrobe people, musicians, dancers, actors, and producers.
Debbie's collection began when MGM began to sell off their assets.
She was so stunned that it was happening. They were not allowed, when they were under contract, no one, not any star, any name, big or small, was allowed to buy even their trousers, blouses, anything. Everything was kept beautifully and secretively and they didn't even know where everything was. Debbie used to wander around in the MGM wardrobe department and look at all the wonderful articles that existed out on Lots 2, 4, and 5. She would see the marvelous sets like Mutiny on the Bounty, Singin' In The Rain, Esther Williams swimming pool, etc. Debbie would wander around and enjoy everything.
All of a sudden, all of this was for sale.
MGM was having and auction and it was shocking to hear and very depressing. Debbie decided to go to the bank and pull out every penny she had and go to the auction and buy everything she could. She didn't really know why she was compelled to do this, but she did. To this day, she doesn't know what motivated her other than caring
Ingrid Bergman Dress
about what happened to these historical items.
She loves her business, she loves her industry, and she desired to save things that were going to be sold for Halloween costumes and to people who don't really love them.
The auction began and Debbie went three weeks into the auction and went every day and was there every moment. 
She went and was advised by a dear friend, Jerry Wonderlake, who was a wonderful set designer. He guided her as to what were the REAL antiques and really from the movies so she would buy RIGHT. She admits that she didn't know what she was doing.
She started her collection in a big way. Luckily, she was married at that time and she was living in a big home with a lot of rooms. She just bought and brought everything home and didn't worry about where everything was going to go. "I was kind of  a crazy girl."
This particular auction started about a year and a half ago. She started selling off all the things she loves and she knows that the people who are buying them will love them.
I asked if she had any idea why "Hollywood" has never come forward to help with this.
Mae West Dress
She said if she knew that, this wouldn't be happening.
It wasn't long after the MGM auction that Debbie heard a rumor that 20th Century Fox was going to follow suit. It was a very sad time for Debbie and for all of us who love the movies. Debbie knew the president, Gordon Stulberg, and went to him and asked if he would allow her to buy before they would start to sell anything off. He told her that there was, indeed, going to be an auction but he would allow her to buy anything before going to auction. She was on tour at the time doing her act. She came home for just a few days. The details are vague except that there was big hurry and scurry in the time she had to do this.
At that time, although her focus was on women's costumes, she bought Tyrone Power's costumes and Clifton Webb's. She tried to put together sets. She was hoping to put together sets of the whole cast. "If it was Clifton Webb, who else was in that cast?" Although there was time pressure, she did it. At that time, she bought the Marilyn Monroe white subway dress from The Seven Year Itch and Barbra Streisand's gold Hello, Dolly gown.
She acquired a lot of great costumes from 20th Century Fox at that time. Then, Debbie went to Columbia and spoke with them at that time. They did not have a president. There had been a terrible rain and almost everything had been ruined because the roof had not been fixed. Everything was in a state of devastation. She was able to save a few things including Kim Novak's Picnic dress and a few other goodies.  Everything collected from those three studios was kept at Debbie's home. "It was all the beginning of the end."
Chaplin's Bowler
Debbie has loved everything she has collected, Mary Pickford's curls and Harold Lloyds's costumes. Harold Lloyd had an accident when he was on the clock in Safety Last. He lost one of his pinky fingers at that time. He had a fake finger made! Debbie even had that! She collected all she could.
She really did enjoy having all of this history in her possession.
She became encaptured and desired to build a museum. SHE TRIED!
She went to the Academy and met with a lot of very important people to get them interested. A lot of starts were interested, but not the "important people" who were with the Academy. She met with five different groups five different times.
It just didn't happen. They weren't interested. It seems there is interest in this memorabilia now.
Signature Orson Welles "Kane" Coat
There is a new Academy Museum being built as of this writing. As to what will end up there, Debbie knows as much as I do.
Debbie says there is no such thing as "Hollywood". It is a wooden sign. It's not people.
When asked about her thoughts on the state of the entertainment world right now, Debbie answers, "What is the state of the world right now? How are we doing? Not so good. We have to care about each other more. We must preserve. We MUST preserve. We need to get a little more European.England knows what to do.They have a grip on it. It's a shame that we don't. It's not too late." She is sure that the people who acquire the items that she has had to sell in their individual homes will come out of the woodwork. She is positive of that. Join the Event on Facebook.
Debbie ends this interview by stressing that she is an actress, a performer, and a lover of the industry. She is not a Svengali or a designer or a creative being beyond what we have seen on screen and stage. She is just madly in love with motion pictures. That is what she did. That is what she loved. The items being auctioned off later this month are the end of her collection. There will never ever again be a collection like Debbie Reynolds'. It is a sad time for
Romeo and Juliet Costumes
Debbie and for those of us who love to preserve.
Debbie has been performing her act for close to fifty years. Vegas has always been a destination for Debbie's act.
She will be performing different theatres around the country. She still shares her comedy and music to appreciative audiences. She enjoys that very much.
Broadway will NOT be in the horizon. She cannot do eight shows a week. It is much too difficult. She is 82, which I don't believe! She feels very lucky that she is still entertaining and still has a wonderful time doing it.
She is sad about the auction but hopes that these items will continue to give enjoyment. There are too many items to list here. I personally thanked Debbie for all that she has done, not only in her own career, but in preserving this history. She is hoping that those who buy will contribute to the Academy Museum if that is meant to be.
"These costumes remind me of a great film and a wonderful party given by Paul Allen who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He flew Carrie, Todd and my granddaughter, Billie from Los Angeles to Venice, Italy to attend a costume ball. Todd wore the costume worn by Leslie Howard in the 1936 film, Romeo and Juliet. Carrie wore Norma Shearer’s gown. I did everyone’s makeup – all my years of training at MGM came in handy that night! I am wearing a costume from Conquest." Debbie Reynolds

Thank you Debbie Reynolds for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

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