One of the hottest tickets in town yesterday was for a chance to bid on the false eyelashes, frying pan, fruit knives and other personal possessions of a woman dead since 1969.In the muted surroundings of the grand ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Miss Judy Garland was taking a final ghostly bow.
"The response to this has been incredible, phenomenal, there've been calls and bids from London, Australia, all over the world," said James M. Goodman, West Coast director of C. B. Charles Gallery, which had previously auctioned off the worldly goods of John Barrymore, Marion Davies, and other notables. "It sounds corny but people love Judy Garland. It's almost a decade since she died but it's like she just played Carnegie Hall last week."
Because of this emotional attachment, estimates of what the 423 lots in the "The Judy Garland Treasured Memorabilia and Art Auction" will bring have ranged between $100,000 and $1.5 million and Goodman freely admitted that he had no idea what the final total might be, adding that the fervor has gotten to him as well. "I see that pair of loaded dice that Humphrey Bogart used in 'Casablanca' and I say 'fantastic.' If my wife didn't have a baby coming in January, I'd bid on it myself."
The people who did do the bidding were more diverse than might be expected. They ranged from a hooky-playing high-school girl from nearby Downey who was prepared to spend her entire life savings of $550 to a gray-haired antique dealer from Oxford. Mich., who thought it would be "pretty neat" to cook dinner in the copper pot of Judy's she'd just bought for $50.
Coming all the way from New York, and by bus no less, was Kevin Bradigan, an actor and Judy devotee who saw her 23 out of the 27 times she played the Palace in 1967. His trip had left him little money to bid with, but just being at the auction was apparently satisfaction enough. "This is like opening the last bottle of a very rare vintage wine," he said. "Everyone can come and have a little sip."
And then there was Jospeh Page, 29, of Los Angeles, wearing a Judy T-shirt and beside himself with joy after spending $40 to purchase the lowest-priced item of the day, a sterling-silver souvenir spoon from Seattle, Wash.
"Knowing that this was in her house, that it belonged to her, that it was something that was hers and now will be mine, that's very exciting," he said. "I love her. I love her with all my heart. To watch her singing makes me thrill. It's the closest thing to ecstasy I can imagine."
THat spoon and everything else came from Garland's third husband, Sid Luft, who, after consulting with their two children, decided last June to part with all this Judiana.
"There's so much of it, what do you do with it, how does one live with costumes, with orchestrations?" Luft said when asked why. "After all, it's been nearly ten years since she passed away. They're only things, part of my past, which is dangerous to live with. I've got my memories and my children. That's enough to save, enough to live with, too."
Among the items Luft found expendable were Garland's favorite microphone, marked "Judy"; her Starlite makeup case, still containing her own makeup; her black cane from "A Star is Born"; her personally-put-together "Wixard of Oz" scrapbook; an unpublished leather-bound book of her poetry; and the piece de resistance , expected to go for between $50,000 and $100,000; her 1953 300S Mercedes Benz coupe.
The auction had a $25 admission charge and was divided into afternoon and evening sessions. The most spirited bidding in the afternoon half centered around the 29 pairs of Garland's size 5 1/2 B shoes, only three of which sold for less than $100 and assorted letters to her. A scrawled not from Joan Crawford went for $700.
Born in 1922, Garland was a professional performer from age 3 until her death, her most famous role coming in 1939 when she played Dorothy in "The Wizzard of Oz" and earned a special Academy Award.
"Meet Me in St. Louis" and "A Star Is Born" were among her most notable film successes, but her legion of fans were attracted largely by her refusal to stop performing despite what even the august Encyclopedia Britannica refers to as "ill health, emotional breakdowns, difficulties in her personal life . . . troubled by a growing reliance on drugs, repeated suicide attempst and breakdowns." Like other fortune-kissed stars whose misery was extravagantly public, she was no only adored in decline but idolized in death.
As to any mutterings that this sort of auction treads dangerously close to macabre, the Charles Gallery's Goodman said definitely not. "I think you can look at it as uplifting that there was an individual that touched us enough that 10 years after she died people want to have someting that belonged to her. She's still drawing, she's still bringing down the house."