This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Darren Julien, president/CEO, Julien's Auctions.
As a kid growing up in Indiana, Darren Julienís grandfather would take him to estate auctions on the weekends.
As a result, he became fascinated with the auction world.
While he was in his 20s, Julien became a licensed auctioneer, and sold classic cars at auctions in various mid-west cities. Before these auctions, heíd sell entertainment memorabilia that would generate considerable excitement among the car buyers.
As president/CEO of Julien's Auctions in Culver City, California, the 41-year-old now heads a top-flight entertainment auction business specializing in entertainment memorabilia, and celebrity estate auctions. This also includes selling jewelry, fine and decorative arts, and other high-end property.
In the past decade, Julien's has conducted co-branded auctions with Sotheby's and Christie's. It has held auctions for the collections of U2, Cher, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, and Debbie Reynolds as well as the estates of Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, and Mary Pickford.
In recent months, the company has held public exhibitions in Tokyo, Santiago, and Macau, China.
In 2005, Julien's sold over 200 personal possessions of Marilyn Monroe.
In 2006, Julien's partnered with Sotheby's to conduct an auction of property owned by Cher. It featured costumes, jewelry, art, furniture, cars and memorabilia. The auction had 3,500 bidders with customers buying on the phone, online and in person. Total sales topped $3.5 million.
In 2007, Julien's conducted the largest multi-consignor sale to date for rock and roll memorabilia to benefit Music Rising, a charity that replaced musical equipment lost or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina for Louisiana musicians. The auction featured 196 items. One of its highlights was a Jimi Hendrix' studio guitar that sold for $480,000.
The next year, Julienís held another Music Rising benefit auction. U2ís The Edge donated many personal items, as did his fellow band members. Possessions of Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash were also auctioned off.
Among the highlights of the two Music Rising benefit auctions were:
George Harrison's Gibson SG guitar from 1966-1969: Sold for $560,000.
George Harrison's Rosewood Telecaster guitar played at an impromptu Beatle concert on the roof of their Savile Row Apple Corps headquarters the afternoon of January 30, 1969: Sold for $460,000.
U2's The Edge's Gibson Les Paul: Sold for $288,000.
Bono's Green Gretsch Guitar: Sold for $220,000.
Elvis Presley's Country Gentleman Gretsch Guitar: Sold for $180,000.
In 2008, Julien worked for more than six months with Michael Jackson and his representatives, preparing for an auction of Jacksonís personal collection and the contents of Neverland Ranch, that was slated for April, 2009.
The auction was to include a customized Rolls-Royce, costumes, memorabilia, art, custom furnishings, and the entry gates to the Neverland Ranch. The auction catalog alone was to sell for $100, with a planned limited signed edition to be made available for $500. The event never happened.
Jackson apparently had a change of heart about selling his possessions. In March 4, 2009, in spite of a signed contract entitling Julienís to conduct the event, the iconic entertainer canceled the auction. Julien had spent $2 million preparing the sale, and the exhibit.
In 2009, Julienís auctioned more than 400 lots from Barbra Streisand's personal collection, including paintings, furniture and decorative works of art, memorabilia and costumes from television, live concerts and personal appearances.
On October 9, 2010 Julienís held the ďLegends AuctionĒ at the Ponte 16 Resort Hotel in Macau, China. Over 435 auction items were sold during this 11 hour auction that netted $3.2 million.
More than 10,000 bidders from around the world participated, competing fiercely against bidders from Asia, especially Japan. Many bidders joined the auction through absentee bidding, online platforms or bidding over the telephone.
Bruce Lee's "Game of Death" shoes sold to an American bidder for $12,500; Michael Jackson's black glove, and arm brace also sold to a U.S. bidder, for $216,000; a burgundy velvet ball gown once owned by Princess Diana sold for $114,000; and a Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan-signed basketball sold for $294,000.
Julien's Auctions is administering an auction of Johnny Cash's guitars, costumes, handwritten lyrics and personal belongings on Dec. 5, 2010. A portion of the proceeds will benefit MusiCares, the Recording Industry Association of AmericaíS charity for musicians in need. Up for sale are the embroidered blue jumpsuit Cash wore to rehearse for his infamous performance at San Quentin State Prison along with vintage guitars, a harmonica, Cash's passport and briefcase, and handwritten lyrics, notes and poems.
How was the Macau auction?
It was very good. We have been in Asia doing exhibitions for about 5 years. This is the first auction that we have done there. We knew that it would be successful just because our clientele is global. It really didnít matter where we had the auction. But in Asia, they are very timid about the auction process, especially the Japanese. They donít understand bidding against somebody else. It is almost considered to be rude. So it has been educating people there. But we harvested a lot of new clients there. Over the next 10 years, we hope to build that market there for ourselves.
In Asia, losing a bid would be considered loss of face.
In public, that is exactly right. If (Asians) are in public, they want to win. But they are also not as much about the ego as those (bidders) in the Western culture are. If we do an auction in New York City or here, in Los Angeles, a lot of clients, because the camera is in their face, donít want to be seen publicly losing. So, they will keep bidding. Whereas in Asia, they donít like to flaunt (their wealth) as much.
Was this the first time youíve held an event in China?
Yes. We have done exhibitions in Japan - in Tokyo, and Okinawa. Macau is part of mainland China, but it is outside of Hong Kong. Itís really hard to do business (in Asia), especially in mainland China. It is a Communist country. Hong Kong is a lot easier but we were doing it in China itself. We got government approval because of the partners we had there. It wasnít an easy process to set up, but we were approved by the government to conduct business.
[Macau, along with Hong Kong, is one of China's two special administrative regions. It was established as a special administrative region in 1999. It lies on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, bordering Guangdong province to the north, and facing the South China Sea to the east and south. The region was a Portuguese colony, both the first and last European colony in China.]
Why do the auction in Macau when it would have been easier to do in Hong Kong?
The main reason was because of our sponsor, the Ponte 16 Resort Hotel, which is one of the casinos operated by Stanley Ho in Macau. They wanted us to do it there because they want to drive tourism to Macau. The government asked them to come up with other creative ways to bring people into Macau, outside of gambling. The clients from Hong Kong that were interested still made the trip over.
[Stanley Ho, a famous industrialist and entrepreneur in Asia, is nicknamed "The King of Gambling,Ē reflecting the government-granted monopoly he has held with Macauís gambling industry for over 35 years.]
Whether associated with a film or branded entertainment like music, American culture has had an impact worldwide.
Western pop culture is popular all over the world, especially icons like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson. Really, to be collectible you have to be a celebrity that transcends all continents to dive into that massive collector base. I donít know exactly what it is with the fascination with Western popular culture, but it is something that, especially in Asia, they are just starting to realize that they can collect these things.
There have always been Western film and TV shows in Asia, but thereís been greater fascination with Western music celebrities following the launch of MTV Asia in 1992.
But, thereís always been a fascination there. Itís funny, but when we do exhibitions outside of the United States, we get thousands of people that come, especially in Japan. Whereas, when we do them in the States, we may get several hundred (people) in a day. I think that the reason (for the difference) is that in the States we are somewhat jaded. We are a celebrity-based society. We want to see the celebrities, we donít want to see their things.
Whereas over there, they donít necessarily get the celebrities like we do here and (buying an item at auction) is a way for them to identify with the celebrity. It is like them getting a piece of the celebrity.
We have really worked to harvest the collector investment side of the business. These items continue to increase in value like a (Claude) Monet, or any fine painting or fine decorative art. It is a way for investors to diversify their portfolio. They also buy something that reminds them of their childhood or a part of history and they can have it on display at their office. They can enjoy it. Five or ten years down the road, in most cases, they can sell it, and more than double their money. So this has really become not just a fascination with fans and collectors but among investors, especially the rock and roll side of (the business) has really taken off.
Who are the principals in Julienís Auctions?
Myself and Martin Nolan. His background is Wall Street. I get up in the morning and I check Google to see how many times our name is listed. He gets up and checks bank accounts.
How old is the company?
Ten years old.
Martin wasnít part of the company when you began.
We met in 2004 in New York, when the company was doing one of the sales at Christieís. We had done a sale of Madonna early on; we did the (Jerry) Seinfeld auction. Everybody viewed our company as that we must be making a lot of money because we were doing these sales at Christieís. Martin came to me about investing my portfolio. Little did he know that on the outside, (the company) looked great, but I have a habit of spending everything I make. I want to make (auctions) bigger and better. I am more of an entrepreneur, and a showman. I donít care about the money side. I only care about it so I can stay in business. So when we do these exhibitions, Martin says that we can do them, but that we have to find a sponsor.
How many people work for the company?
We have 10 on staff, when we do an auction it requires about 25 people. We have what we call our ďAuction Mafia.Ē Thatís my familyómy parents, my sisters. They get a free trip, and we get free competent labor.
Do celebrities and bidders find out about your company through word-of-mouth?
Yes. We have developed a reputation within this industry so that celebrities and collectors come to us, and we are on (NBCís) ďToday ShowĒ a lot. We can also always tell when we get a news spike. This recent auction was heavily publicized because we had the Michael Jackson/Michael Jordan signed basketball that sold for $294,000. That was all over the news.
Itís interesting that you consider yourself more of a marketer than an auctioneer.
I like the marketing side of the business. When the press calls come in, and Iím doing 50 to 100 interviews a day, thatís what I work for, I really enjoy that. I have become more (media) savvy over the years. We used to hire a PR agency, but I realized nobody could market the auctions better than me because I have a vested interest. We are kind of like a PR company ourselves. We have a lot of good relationships with the press.
Whatís the immediate result of a media blitz on your activities?
We get inundated with emails from people saying that they have this or that and asking what is it worth.
You donít buy anything. Your business is all consignment?
Thatís right. Once in awhile, we will buy at another auction if we feel that we can sell something for more. But these collections of celebrities, they are consigned to us, they arenít owned by us; we feel that would be a conflict of interest.
What percentage fee does the company charge?
We take 20%, and itís inclusive. We cover the costs of insurance, transportation, shipping, marketing, and the printing of the catalog. We donít require any money upfront. If (an item sells for) $1 million, the celebrity or the estate gets $800,000, and we get $200,000.
Are some celebrities reaching the age of, ďHow long do I hang onto this stuff?Ē Or, ďI need to simplify my life.Ē
Yeah. Everybody gets to that point, especially at that level where they just keep collecting. Some people have warehouses full. Usually, it's furniture and jewelry and they get gifts. Many times (selling is) a cleansing for them. So, they are able to not only simplify their life, but they are also often able to help a good cause or a charity.
Most of these celebrities donít do auctions because they need the money; they do it because they want to simplify their life, or they want to benefit a good cause that is important to them. A lot of times, because they owned something and it was in their house, it is going to bring a lot more money than what they paid for it because it was part of their life or career.
Why the sudden popularity of rock and roll memorabilia? Sothebyís and Christieís used to have infrequent music-related auctions. But with Jimi Hendrix' studio guitar selling for $480,000, there are obviously boomers out there with American Express Centurion cards.
That is exactly right. As well, everybody wants to be a rock star, more so than they want to be a Hollywood actor. Rock and roll, for whatever reason, has become a lot more collectible. I think that a lot of it has to do with the availability of Hollywood memorabilia now. The market has really been flooded with eBay, and the studios are selling things off. You can start off (buying something) with a dollar.
Rock and roll has not had that level of saturation, and there are not as many items. You know that when a band like the Rolling Stones go out on tour, they use the same guitars, they use the same clothes. They may have multiples of them, but they use the same clothes over and over. In a film, an actor may have 30 costume changes. Then, there are all of the supporting actors. With rock and roll, you are limited to the amount of property available. Plus, a lot of the legendary rock artists donít let go of their things very easily. So, there are not as many rock and roll items out there, as what there is from Hollywood. The main thing is the over saturation of (Hollywood items on) eBay.
Who are you competing against for the rock and roll items?
On the rock and roll side, we really donít have any competitors. The closest would be Christieís but they just shut down their New York (Rock and Pop Memorabilia) department. They still do such auctions in their London office.
If you assign something to Christieís or another auction house, you are just basically consigning it, and they are going to sell it at their scheduled auctions. What we do is that we give (sellers) an event. We tour the items around the world, and we hold our auctions at creative places. Like the Hard Rock Cafť in Times Square where we held the two Music Rising auctions that we did with The Edge from U2.
With the two Music Rising auctions, Gibson Guitar was onboard as a sponsor.
We realize that it is important that we identify sponsors that are a good fit for a collection or for the celebrity. You create more of an event out of it rather than just a boring auction. Gibson Guitar is a great partner, especially if we are selling (something by) a Gibson artist; thereís a natural tie-in. With sponsors, we can then do more marketing-wise. We can go to companies like Gibson and the Hard Rock and say, ďCan you use some of your marketing dollars to sponsor this? We will put on an auction and make it a world-class event. We will tour the highlights to the various Hard Rocks in London, Japan and wherever.Ē Then the sponsors get a lot out of (the auction). They get the marketing; and we and the celebrity, get more as well, because the items sell for more because of doing more marketing and promotion. Again, this is rather than just putting it into a scheduled boring auction that takes place the same time every year.
You have had auctions of Cher and Barbra Streisandóbig starsóbut did anything prepare you for the glare of publicity of working with Michael Jackson? Doing the auction, then not doing it.
That one was a bit more overwhelming than any other. We knew what we were dealing with when we started with Michael Jackson. Thatís why we made sure we had a good contract. We have always had great respect for him, heís also someone who we have worked with through the past 10 years. He had been a client, heíd bought items from us.
It was Tohme Tohme who first contacted you about a Michael Jackson sale?
Well, yeah, because of Michael. Michael had said that if anyone was going to come to Neverland (for a sale) that he wanted it to be us because he trusted us.
[Tohme Tohme served as Michael Jacksonís adviser and confidant in the final years of his life.]
Michael Jackson had abandoned the Neverland Ranch by 2005.
Thatís right. I canít talk to you too much about it, but if we had been allowed to talk directly with Michael as we always had (previously), we would never have had some of the issues that we did have. We were told that Michael had approved everything.
You were asked by Michaelís advisors to take down the chandelier and light switches at Neverland to sell them, but you refused to do that.
We did. Had Michael asked us to do thatÖ. But, it was a request to take down items that really had no value. It is our job to protect the celebrity too. We just donít make (auctions) look like a garage sale, we want it to be a respectable sale. So, some of the things that we were asked to do were things that wouldnít have helped the integrity of the sale or the reputation of Michael.
[The Neverland Ranch gates required Julien's Auctions to rent a crane. It took 10 workers to remove it. The most difficult item to remove was the Sega R-360 machine in the game room. The company had to take out a wall in order to remove it from the building.]
Michael pulled out of the sale. Was he justified in thinking he hadnít given full approval? Or was this an artist changing their mind?
I think it was a little bit of both. I think that once he made his announcement that he was going to go on tour, he realized that he didnít have to sell these things after all. But, his instructions were to work (things) out with us. Michael did not file a lawsuit against us.
[Michael Jackson had been booked to perform 50 shows during his residency at 02 in London. The shows were scheduled to begin in July, 2009 and continue through to March, 2010. However, he died June 25, 2009 after suffering a cardiac arrest.]
Have you since worked with Michael Jackson's estate?
We have not sold anything for the estate. But, because we were on very good terms with Michael when he died, we remain on very good terms with the estate and with (Michaelís mother) Katherine. That is very important to us.
Your company sold the rhinestone-studded glove that Michael wore on the Motown 25th TV special in 1983.
Everything that we have sold to date have been items that Michael gave to fans or to other people. That was something we did last year (2009). We sold it for $420,000 and it went to a client in China.
You have done co-branded shows with Christieís and Sothebyís. How does that work? Do you bring items to them or do you create events with them?
We create different events with them. We have worked with both. It was good for us because they have both been around for nearly 300 years. They are very prestigious, and have great reputations as companies. It was a good association for us. The problem was that when we have done sales co-branded with them we are sometimes restricted in the marketing that we can do. But, on a couple of occasions, they were open to our ideas and our marketing.
What shows did you work with them on?
With Sothebyís, we did Cher, and Johnny Cash. We did (fashion designer) Bob Mackie with Christieís, and we did a general consignment sale with Christieís. But, we have realized that we get more money on sales on our own because we are not restricted in the marketing.
Why did you initially need each other?
It was two-fold. Both companies have either cut or dismantled their collectiblesí departments. A few sales they wanted to do with us because they didn't have a department anymore; they needed to rely on our expertise. Secondly, some of the sales, Cher, for example, were somebody who we had a very close relationship with. Sothebyís wouldnít have gotten that (Cher) collection (in 2006) or wouldnít have been involved if it wasnít for our relationship with her. The reason we did it with Sothebyís was Cher had a lot of old master paintings. So it was a good fit.
Was the Cher show in 2006 a watershed for your company?
Yeah, it was, and it proved to be very successful. It made it so that we now can go outside the realm of (selling) just memorabilia. If a celebrity has fine or decorative art or cars we can get into those areas too, because we have the collector base for it now. We now have the expertise to be able to catalog, and do all these things. We learned a lot from Sothebyís, especially, in the early years when we were starting up. We were able to utilize a lot of their expertise, and learn from them how to put together a fine and decorative art auction. We can do those auctions on our own now.
Why did Cher come to you?
Because we had known Cher for a long time; we have sold stuff for her over the years, and we have a relationship. She knew that if she just did a sale directly with Sothebyís or Christieís she wouldnít have much control. She knew that if she did it with us, that we would let her approve the catalog and she would be right there for every step of the way.
Many of these celebrities, like Barbra Streisand or Cher, they are perfectionists. They donít like people telling them how it is going to be done. They like to have a say in what they are doing. We give control to the celebrity where other auction houses canít or wonít do that. Big auction houses like Sothebyís or Christieís donít have the flexibility to be able to constantly meet with the celebrity, and get their feedback or approval.
Does it help that your name is the company and celebrities may identify you as a fan? At a bigger auction house, they might deal with 15 people, and only a couple will be fans.
Yeah, thatís exactly right. As Martin says, ďMr. Sotheby or Mr. Christie arenít alive anymore.Ē A lot of the time, a celebrity feels like they are dealing with the top dog here, sort to speak. That is important to them. At Sothebyís or Christieís, they may work with one person to start out with but, two months later, that person may not be there.
But, you are often a fan.
Yes, but thank God for Google because a lot of the time we get contacted by a celebrity, and we donít know a lot about them or what their history is. Somebody like Cher, obviously, yeah we are fans. You have to be. You have to have knowledge as to (a celebrityís) life and career, and what they have accomplished. Without that, you canít put together a proper marketing plan that is going to properly promote them to their fan base.
Why did the Barbra Streisand auction in 2009 take three years to organize?
We did a sale for her in 2003 of just memorabilia. Barbra, like a lot of celebrities, uses us as a storage facility. As (celebrities) are going through their things or getting rid of things, they will send it to us knowing that down the road they are going to do another auction. Barbra kept accumulating things, and when the time was right, she said, ďWell, Iím ready to do another auction. I really want to raise money for my foundation.Ē That was the main reason.
[The net proceeds of the Barbra Streisand auction went to The Streisand Foundation to be distributed to causes it supports.]
What kind of storage facility do you have?
We own a large facility in Culver City; it is about 10,000 square feet. We have warehousing, and offices here. We donít publicize the address. When you look on our website, you will only see our P.O. Box. At the other location that we had before, we would have fans show up. They would think that celebrities would just come in, and start working with us. We deal with millions of dollars worth of property. Itís a very secure area; we have a security system, armed gates, cameras, everything. You have to have all this because these arenít our belongings, they are owned by somebody else. We make sure that everything is properly protected. We donít hold auctions here.
Do you own your own trucks?
We just have one box truck that we pick up items with. When it comes to the fine art or furniture pickups, we have a fine art moving company that we use.
The insurance for the storage as well as the exhibitions and auctions must be huge.
Our insurance is a pretty hefty part of our budget, and our expenses every year. It is a separate policy for when we tour the item, and a sub-policy when items are here. It is, basically, a finite policy. Everything is treated as a one-of-a-kind item, which is what they are.
How is a potential claim over authenticity handled?
Well, it would be against us. We have to be licensed, and bonded. Also with our expertise, we have to make sure that we do due diligence (on any item).
Is authenticating memorabilia or establishing its ownership difficult?
It is. In this business, if you have any question, you reject it. When itís something from a celebrity, you give the history of where it came from, or it is part of their collection. When itís a multi-consignor auction, if you donít know 100% that it's real, you donít bring it in. You have to know the history of where (an item) came from. You identify it in photographs. If itís a guitar, you identify the markings when photographs are available or you assign something of a story to it. We have a Duane Allman guitar that we are selling at an upcoming auction. It came from somebody who used to work at Gibson that worked with the Allman Brothers. It is really important to make sure that were know the provenance or history of what something is, otherwise, you canít sell it.
We get thousands of items a year that we reject. People send us email images of something, and they are trying to tell a story (of its origins). At the end of the day, our reputation is at stake if we bring something in, and itís not right.
Is determining clear ownership a factor?
Yeah, thatís part of it. But, in the contract, the consigner is saying that they have clear title. That doesnít mean that you donít get challenged at times. If you do get challenged, the side that is challenging has to show that they own the item or that there is a police report that it was stolen. We are very skeptical if someone comes to us, and says, ďI want to sell this privately. I donít want anyone to know that it is being sold.Ē It is usually a red flag if you donít want to let it be known that something is being sold.
Is counterfeiting of memorabilia an issue today?
Yes. Very much so. In fact, Michael Jackson is one of the most highly counterfeited persons because we are selling his items for record prices. The F.B.I. is doing a very good job at trying to keep (counterfeiting) down. There have been some forgery rings that have been busted. But, it is definitely a market thatÖitís something that we are trying to protect. Thatís why the provenance and history is so important. You want to make sure that you buy something from someone who has a good reputation.
What gives people a bad taste about this industry is that they see something on eBay, and they read the claim that John Lennon used something. They buy it, and they realize that they just spent $10,000 or $20,000 on something that is not real. Thatís what hurts this industry more than anything else. Once you have that type of experience, you donít want to trust anybody else, and you donít want to buy anything else again.
Thereís enough business out there for 10 Julienís Auctions to be in business. But, unfortunately, not every auction house has the integrity that Christieís, Sotheby's or we have. We are even protecting the history of these items by documenting them in a catalog.
Many entertainers wonít sign anything today. They know it will up on eBay.
I think thatís healthy in a way, because it limits whatís out there. Itís smart that (entertainers) do that, in some cases, because it keeps their value up. Michael Jackson did sign a lot, but his fan base is so massive that prices still continue to go up in value. But, it is smart, in a lot of cases, for a celebrity, because (memorabilia) reaches a certain level of saturation. Itís like anything else, the more that is out there, the less value it has.
Your grandfather used to take you to auctions as a kid growing up in Indiana.
All the time. My grandfather and father owned granaries in Indiana, in Shipshewana and Topeka. I lived in Howe growing up, there was a livestock auction across from one of my dadís stores, and I used to love to go and listen to the (auctioneers) chant. Thatís where I got fascinated (with auctions). Everybody loves a good auction. Itís fun to see the competitive side. It can be exciting. I went to auctioneer school when I got out of high school, I didnít go to college.
How long was the auctioneer course?
It was a two week course. It was pretty intense, but nothing prepares you (to be an auctioneer) other than on-the-job training. The auction classes really just gave me the terminology, and how to be able to call bids. Things like that. It didnít prepare me for the auction. That is something I got over the years from going to auctions, participating in, and bid calling auctions myself.
After auction school did you start selling cars?
No. I had worked in the auction business before I went to auction school. I did that for about three years in Indiana before I went to the school. Then I realized that I did want to bid call. But I was more fascinated with the marketing side of (the business) than the auction side.
Were you selling celebrity memorabilia in Indiana?
To open the car auctions, we would. But it was at a different level. It was more signed items, signed Muhammad Ali robes and things like that. I was more fascinated by the memorabilia than selling cars.
What was the first big city auction you went to?
A Sothebyís auction in New York City in 1998. They were talking to me about me moving to California to work for them.
What impressed you about the auction?
It was so different than what I was used to. They did more of the gallery style auctioneering. It is more professional than what I grew up with.
So, what I learned from Sothebyís, I took along with what I learned from my days in Indiana selling cars to make Julien's Auctions. What I mean by that is that we make our events (actual) events that anybody and everybody feels that they can come to. Like you could with a local estate auction or whatever.
A lot of people are intimated by the Sothebyís or Christieís auctions. What we took from them was their level of professionalism. Our auctions are gallery style calling. Itís not the fast bid talking. We are in suits, we run a first class operation when we conduct an auction. But, we make it friendly and make sure it is something that speaks to everybody; so they can feel like they can participate. So when we are in the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, and there are 8,000 people in the room, itís loud and exciting, everybody is cheering. When itís an auction in Beverly Hills, which we did with (an auction for) Bob Hope, it is more refined and more calm. We tailor the auction around what the celebrity is.
How did you come to be talking with someone at Sothebyís for a job in 1999?
It was because I had had a relationship with Johnny Cash. I had sold some cars for him. Sothebyís wanted that (car) auction some day. So I started talking to them, and I went to New York several times for meetings. They had started Sothebyís dot com when the whole dot com thing was big. They made me an offer to move Los Angeles, acquire (car) collections, and help build their dot com. So I moved out to Los Angeles.
A year later, Christie's and Sotheby's got in trouble for price fixing.
Sothebyís got rid of their collectibles department and they bought me out of my contract. Then, I made several proposals to them (to sell collectibles) because I wanted to stay in the business. They didnít really take them seriously, they shot down my first three proposals. I was very persistent and kept going back saying, ďYou donít have the staff anymore to handle this. I will set up a separate company which will also take on any liability.Ē Finally, Sothebyís agreed. To this day, they refer all of their collectibles to us.
[In 2000, allegations surfaced of a price-fixing arrangement between Christie's and Sotheby's. Executives from Christie's subsequently alerted the Department of Justice of their suspicions of commission-fixing collusion. Christie's gained immunity from prosecution after a longtime employee confessed and cooperated with the F.B.I. Numerous members of Sotheby's senior management were fired soon thereafter. A. Alfred Taubman, the largest shareholder of Sotheby's, and Dede Brooks (its CEO) were given jail sentences. There was also a civil lawsuit settlement by the two auction houses for $512 million.]
What was the first celebrity sale you were part of?
When I moved out to California, the first collection that I sold was with (actress) Jane Withers. She had some Marilyn Monroe items. Jane Withers was ďJosephine the Plumber" (in a series of TV commercials for Comet cleanser in the 1960s and early 1970s). She was in the 1934 Shirley Temple film ďBright EyesĒ as child. She was someone I became friends with because I sold her car. I also got to know Larry Hagman, and Jay Leno because I sold their cars. Thatís how I got into the celebrity side of the auction business in the late Ď90s.
What entertainer is on your personal want list?
I would like to do a sale with Paul McCartney.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.
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