In 1970, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM Studios) announced it was auctioning off all its inventory, seven soundstages worth, to consolidate space on its overcrowded lot.
The auction ran across three days.
Debbie Reynolds, the MGM actress of Singin’ In The Rain fame, had seen first-hand the talented wardrobe specialists design all the exotic and famous gowns across film history. She was determined to save them.
“These were the clothes that the studio wouldn’t even lend us to wear to events or parties. Prior to this auction, I was a “normal” collector. After the auction, preserving as many of these costumes as possible became my obsession. “ she said in 2011.
So for over 40 years she collected gowns, headwear, suits, coats, hats, and props across a multitude of production company auctions.
When Twentieth Century Fox studio followed suit and sold off their inventory, she knew the President of the company personally, and purchased items prior to auction, including Marilyn Monroe’s entire wardrobe.
She had hoped to build a museum showcasing all the film history she had collected.
But it wasn’t to be. Her approaches to the Academy, for them to purchase her items for their planned Museum in 2018 were rebuffed.
So, in 2011, Debbie Reynolds auctioned off the items she had saved all those years before (in part to help overcome financial difficulties).
The inventory was so large it spanned three separate auctions across four years.
Here is a snapshot of the famous items of film memorabilia that Debbie Reynolds saved, and later auctioned off. Keep in mind these prices below are in U.S dollars and don’t include commission.
Marilyn Monroe’s Subway dress in “The Seven Year Itch” (1955)
It was described at the auction as the most recogniseable costume in film history.
Worn by Marilyn when she stands over the subway grate. It was an ivory rayon-acetate halter dress with pleated skirt. It sold for $4.6 million – that was $2.6 million more than the pre-auction estimate.
Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot dress and hat in “My Fair Lady” (1964)
Designed by Cecil Beaton, who had designed all of the costumes for the stage version of the musical. Made of a silk linen undergarment overlaid with hand-embroidered fine lace, and trimmed with velvet ribbon. The hat was a lightweight cotton burlap, with velvet trim and ostrich feathers. It sold for $3.7 million
Marilyn Monroe’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” dress (1953)
Worn during the ‘Two Little Girls From Little Rock’ number, the red gown was made of heavy silk crepe and thousands of sequins.
It sold at auction for $1.2 million
Charlton Heston’s tunic, and robe in “Ben-Hur” (1959)
Worn for the Royal procession into Rome, it was a beige wool tunic with navy trim and copper bullion embroidery in checkerboard design, with a heavy wool cloak. It sold for $320,000
Panavision PSR 35mm camera used to film “Star Wars” (1977)
Still-functioning, it was the main camera used on Episode IV – A New Hope. The auction lot included the lens and camera dolly. It sold for $625,000
Rudolph Valentino’s matador outfit in Blood and Sand (1922).
Designed by Travis Banton, it was dubbed ‘The Suit of Lights’. A purple satin outfit, jacket, vest, pants with silver bullion, sequins, and bead fringe. Valentino died four years after making the film at age 31. The costume sold for $210,000.
Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat
Worn across ‘numerous productions’ (though the films in question were not identified) it was gifted by Chaplin to the Hollywood Heritage Museum.
The black felt bowler hat, made in London, sold for $110,000.
Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz” dress (1939)
It was never worn in the film, but rather in Garland’s test photos in the first two weeks of production. The blue cotton dress with polka-dot trim sold for $910,000. That was $800,000 more than pre-auction estimate
Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz” ruby slippers (1939)
Never worn in the film itself, but as part of the test photos at the start of production.
Missing some beads, and with the interior silk frayed, they still sold for $510,000
– by Rhett Bartlett