They laughed at President Reagan, snubbed John F. Kennedy and ignored Martin Luther King Jr. But a wax figure of John Wayne went for $3,000 to a McLean woman who wants the Duke in the foyer of her house.
"John Wayne is nonpolitical, the one true all-American," said Bill Whelden, an ABC Liquidators salesman, explaining why his mother, Sally Whelden, "a very conservative woman," bought the model of the late movie star.
Seventeen life-size wax figures were clearly the most unusual items being offered at a liquidation sale yesterday at the Wax Museum, a former nightclub at 333 E St. SW that will be converted into office space. Other sale items included 325 theater seats at $15 each, 225 maple bar stools at $10 each, a walk-in refrigerator for $5,000 and thousands of souvenirs such as mugs, key rings, T-shirts and ashtrays.
Whelden, whose mother decided to buy John Wayne after looking at a photo of the figure, said, "I tried to talk her out of it. She's usually a very conservative person, especially with her money . . ."
Since he couldn't change her mind, Whelden said he will rent a truck to take the Duke to his mother today. "You can't just throw him in a car and hop on the Beltway," said Whelden. "They're very delicate."
When he tried to move the wax figure of Wayne yesterday, the figure lost one of its cowboy boots to reveal a leg that ended without a foot. His gun was missing also. Whelden explained: "He had a gun, but someone ripped it off."
No one else seemed to be shopping for wax figures. When the doors opened, five people were waiting outside. Afterward, there was a steady trickle of people searching for the sale of the century. Most of them were disappointed.
George Pace was interested in the wax figure of an astronaut that, suspended from the ceiling, seemed to float over the bar. "The price is too high," complained Pace, who walked away with $2 worth of gobos, slides that are placed in light projectors to make patterns on walls.
Fred Kay, who sells decorative items to businesses, dismissed the wax figures, saying, "I can't see people paying $2,000 or $3,000," but adding, "Maybe if they had a Michael Jackson, a Boy George or a Prince."
Most of the wax figures were still mounted on a shelf in the club's hallway. Ronald Reagan looked more like Boris Karloff, his face too pale, his red hair too long and unkempt. On his right was Uncle Sam, in red striped pants and a blue jacket, and to the left was George Washington, resplendent in brown breeches.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, explorer Hernando Corte's and writer Mark Twain were the least expensive at $2,500 each. That's if you don't count Norman Rockwell, looking forlorn without his pipe and wearing a shirt with one unbuttoned cuff. He had no identification tag or price sign beside him.
"We don't have all the parts to Norman," said Dan Johnstone, a manager with ABC Liquidators, which was handling the sale. "This is a composite Norman Rockwell."
Walter Knauss and his wife were not at all impressed.
"If you listen to the advertisement, they almost give you the idea that they have memorabilia from large exhibits," said Knauss, who remembered fondly the original wax museum, at Fifth and K, before it moved to Fourth and E and later became a nightclub.
"It's a letdown . . .," said Knauss, post sergeant at Fort McNair. "I was looking for military memorabilia. I thought it would be kind of like Hollywood, when they close a set."
The sale continues for 30 days or until every item is sold, said Johnstone.
Some items may be reduced in price. Meanwhile, if $3,000 is too much for a wax figure, consider a head. Henry Ford's is going for a mere $500.