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Movie Fans Bid High for Memories of a Star's Life

August 21, 1987|EILEEN V. QUIGLEY | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — "Eleven-five, do I have $12,000? Just think of Judy Garland sitting on top of the piano with Rock Hudson playing. I hear $12.5. Do I hear $13,000? Going . . . going twice . . . Sold!" Thus ended nearly three hours of fast-paced bidding for the furnishings of Rock Hudson's Beverly Hills estate at the William Doyle Galleries in New York Thursday.

The Steinway concert grand piano was the piece de resistance of the collection from the movie star who died of AIDS in October 1985. The piano actually sold for only $500 more than its listed opening bid, which was one of the reasons that its new owner, Richard Smith, decided to bid on it.

"I was going to buy the upright, but didn't. And then when the bidding started for the grand . . . I knew I had to bid," said Smith, who runs the Piano Exchange, a Glen Cove, Long Island, company that rebuilds and refinishes pianos. "I'm a regular here. I buy 20 to 30 pianos a year here. I kind of collect pianos."

Smith said he has about 300 pianos in his shop, but he doesn't expect to sell Hudson's piano any time soon.

"Chances are I'll sit with this for a while," Smith said, hands poised over the keys as he stood posing for photographers because the accompanying seat had been sold separately.

By far the most active bidding among the generally quiet crowd was on a group of items including Hudson's 1944 Winnetka, Ill., senior yearbook, a group of photographs of him in various films and eight paperbacks of his films.

The opening bid for the collection was $200, but bidding escalated rapidly and the memorabilia ultimately sold for $4,250 to Daniel Regan, a portrait photographer from Elmhurst, Queens.

"I was a devoted, dedicated fan of his. Whatever shirts and suits he wore, I would always try to buy the same," Regan said. "I would always try to emulate him in many ways."

Regan said he had seen every Hudson film at least once, but "Giant" was his favorite. He met Hudson twice, once at the premiere of "Giant" and again at "A Gathering of Eagles." Regan also bought a 19th-Century brass telescope for $750 and a Renaissance-style carved side table for $650.

In all, the 218 items sold for an estimated $216,000, when the 10% house fee is included in the total. (Buyers must pay the gallery an additional 10% of their purchase price and tax for each item.) Gallery operators were expecting the lowest overall sale to be $125,000 and the highest, $175,000.

The crowd was attentive as auctioneer Joanne Mournet cheerfully rattled off brief descriptions of the items for sale on the table and led the rapid bidding. At one point, when people seated in the front row complained that the klieg lights for the television cameras were too bright and hot, she jokingly called out from her seven-foot perch, "You want to be famous, don't you?"

About 300 people packed the unair-conditioned room and many mopped their brows and fanned themselves with programs, seeking relief from the heat. Those who used their green bidding paddles as fans were advised of the danger of doing so.

Waving of Paddles

"I would ask you not to wave yourself with your paddles," Mournet said. "You may end up buying something you may not intend to own!"

Most in the audience went away satisfied, either because they were taking away some piece of the actor's life or because they had had the chance to see some of the things he'd surrounded himself with when he was alive. One expressed regret that she hadn't bid on his zebra-skin rug, which sold for $750, "a steal at that price," she said, declining to be identified.

But when asked why she hadn't placed a bid, she replied, "Well, actually I have one at home already."

At one point, a Japanese TV camerawoman used Mournet as her backdrop to tell her viewers back home about the auction--in Japanese, of course. For those bidding nearby, the cacophony of Mournet's rapid number calling and the camerawoman's excited Japanese were too much, and they asked the camerawoman to stop talking.

William Doyle Galleries handled the sale last year of 120 items from Hudson's New York home, which brought in $84,000. Hudson's belongings from his Beverly Hills home were not sold until now because the executors of the estate wanted to show his home furnished when it was up for sale. Despite the fact that the goods had to be shipped across the country, the estate used William Doyle again because the first auction had done so well, according to Maryalice Adams, spokeswoman for the galleries.

Period Pieces

Adams expressed surprise that some of the period pieces didn't go for more money.

"Some of the antiques should have gone at higher prices and the little incidental things went for more than we expected," Adams said. "I think that people just wanted something of Rock Hudson. This was basically a fan crowd."

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