By Michael Aushenker
Artifacts once owned by John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen are spotlighted in “Mecum Celebrity Items Auction: Celebrating the Legendary History of Hollywood,” a two-day event to be held July 26-27 at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar.
The inaugural auction, which organizers hope to make an annual tradition, will also prove to be the unlikely nexus of Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” lover, Ringo Starr’s former fiancé, and McQueen’s widow, all of whom are scheduled to appear in person.
With auctions hosted nationwide, Mecum Auctions bills itself as the world leader of collector car and road art sales, and this event expands its scope by introducing Hollywood collectibles. The celebrity auction will be a departure for Mecum Auctions, a family-run entity headquartered in Walworth, Wis. and established in 1988 by Dana Mecum, which sells $350 million worth of cars annually, explained Mick Way, head of Celebrity Items at Mecum Auctions who noted the event will be live-streamed on Mecum’s website.
The origin of the July 26-27 auction began in January 2012 when Way met biographer Marshall Terrill and McQueen’s widow, Barbara, at a Las Vegas book signing at South Point Casino. Through Terrill’s contacts, Way connected with several collectors of Hollywood memorabilia.
“They said ‘We do have this stuff and we’re willing to sell them,’” Way told The Argonaut.
Way devised a business strategy and brought it to Dana Mecum last October, and he said Santa Monica Airport became the logical (and biggest) place to hold the event.
“The city of Santa Monica has been absolutely wonderful,” Way said.
Presley and The Beatles figure prominently at the weekend auction. Presley items include three-and-a-half hours of unedited videotaped footage from the last two concerts the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” ever performed in 1977 at venues in Rapid City, SD, and Omaha, Neb.
“We are not selling the copyright rights to reproduce or broadcast as memorabilia,” Way said.
There is also the first fan letter Presley ever wrote, dated Jan. 16, 1956, apologizing for a delay in responding to a female fan’s request for photos, as well as a 1972 Cadillac El Dorado station wagon. Cadillac, which never made El Dorado station wagons, created them for only two people: Presley and Dean Martin. According to Way, Presley gave the car to manager Colonel Tom Parker as a gift, but the singer wound up borrowing it so often, Parker let him keep it.
Appearing in person will be former Lennon flame May Pang, who consigned a pair of amber-tinted Lennon prescription Swan glasses that the Beatles icon wore during their legendary “Lost Weekend” (Lennon’s 18-month separation from wife Yoko Ono in which he took up with Pang, their former personal assistant).
Also from the mid-1970s comes an item once belonging to the Beatles’ drummer – the Ringo Starr Power Ring. Nancy Lee Andrews, who commissioned the silver and gold Electrum diamond ring for then-fiancé Starr, will also attend the Mecum event. Fans of the Beatles’ solo output may remember the jewel from the cover of Starr’s 1977 album, “Ringo the 4th.”
In addition to Starr’s ring, a 1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupe, built by George Barris for a 1970s variety show starring Starr, returns to California after three decades of storage in Australia.
Sinatra’s scathing 1976 letter to Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko comes courtesy of the estate of Vie Carlson, who bought it from Royko. (In 2009, Carlson brought the letter on the PBS hit show “Antiques Roadshow.”) In one of his columns, Royko accused Sinatra of employing a phalanx of police protection while in Chicago on taxpayers’ dime.
“He fired him a funny, scathing angry letter,” Way said, reading the missive, in which “Old Blue Eyes” refutes the accusation with the line “I don’t know you and you don’t know me… I do not have an army of flunkies.”
According to organizers, one of the most fascinating items up for bid is a lost piece of Hollywood history connected to international superstar McQueen. The actor’s “Yucatan” chests, two trunks containing 16 leather-bound notebooks filled with drawings, photographs, storyboard illustrations (drawn by famed storyboard artist Nikita Knatz), and a detailed story pitch written by McQueen, were meant to be McQueen’s follow-up to his racing epic “Le Mans.” Between 1969-71, the actor worked on “Yucatan.” However, with his stardom on the decline, McQueen could not get his pet project off the ground.
For fans of vintage motorcycles, McQueen’s 1931 Harley Davidson VL 74, a reconstituted, non-functioning bike, will certainly prove a highlight. In December 1979, the motorcycle, in pieces, awaited restoration at McQueen’s private Ventura County warehouse when the “Bullit” star was suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. McQueen passed away nearly a year later, and the bike lay in disrepair until collector Mike Eisenberg restored it.
“We once drove 700 miles on a whim to go see a rare bike,” Barbara McQueen, who will appear at the auction, said of her motorcycle fanatic late husband. “He had an encyclopedic mind when it came to every make and model, and knew the entire history of all his bikes.”
Other former McQueen possessions will include his 1969 Chevrolet C/10 Baja race truck, designed by off-road specialist Vic Hickey.
Mecum Auctions will offer plenty on the block for the fanboys, including a theater lobby-replica of the ED-209 from the 1987 sci-fi classic “Robocop,” the 2011 “Green Hornet’s” car Black Beauty, and Captain America’s cowl, worn by actor Dick Purcell in the 12-part serial “Captain America.”
Filmed between Oct. 12 and Nov. 24, 1943, decades before Marvel super heroes Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men would gross hundreds of millions of dollars, 1944’s “Captain America” proved the most expensive undertaking Republic Studios had ever produced ($222,906). Based on the iconic comic book character created by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby in 1941, “Captain America” serial is technically the first theatrical release featuring a Marvel Comics hero.
Fans who have always dreamt of owning an item of “Fantastic Four” star Jessica Alba will be in luck. The auction showcases a striped bikini and a crochet-bottomed wetsuit cut-off top worn by Alba as “Sam” in the 2005 surfing drama “Into the Blue.” Mecum will also display the weaved-leather bullwhip (designed and constructed by David Morgan) used by actor River Phoenix in the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg’s 1989 sequel “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which explained how Harrison Ford’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” archaeologist/adventurer received his signature hat, whip and scar.
Other artifacts include ones once belonging to Burt Reynolds, Jack Nicholson, Roy Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly, “The Lone Ranger” star Clayton Moore, Iron Eyes Cody, Evel Knievel,and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and from movies “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “Red River,” “Rio Grande,” “The Raven,” “The Magic Christian,” “Bananas,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Cabin in the Woods,” and “Man of Steel.”
Admission is $20 per person each day; children 12 and younger are admitted free. Public preview hours: July 25, 6-9 p.m.; July 26, noon-5 p.m. Live auction hours: July 26, 5-9 p.m.; July 27, 1-5 p.m. Barker Hangar, Santa Monica Airport, 3021 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Information, mecum.com; (262) 275-5050. §