At one point, Reynolds met with then Burbank Studios president Robert Hagel, hoping the facility would donate star clothing. Apparently persuaded, Hagel allowed a man named John Raymond LeBold to make an inventory of the studio's star wardrobe. About that time, items allegedly began to disappear.
On Jan. 2, 1980, Sgt. Robert Kight of the Burbank Police Department served a search warrant on LeBold at 6514 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood--Debbie Reynolds' Professional Rehearsal Studio. Police confiscated 667 costumes and props allegedly stolen from the Burbank Studios between November, 1978, and January, 1980.
"Debbie Reynolds doesn't have anything to do with it," Kight said recently. "She wasn't involved."
According to the transcript from LeBold's preliminary hearing in Pasadena Superior Court, Kight questioned LeBold at Reynolds' studio on Dec. 27, 1979, a few days before the search. Kight overheard "a conversation (with LeBold) . . . that this was Debbie Reynolds' studio, and they were putting together a memorabilia of costumes, and he related some of the costumes were his and some of the costumes belonged to Debbie Reynolds which was evident by inspection of the costumes in the storage room."
LeBold's defense counselor objected "to all of that testimony . . . about costumes belonging to him and Miss Reynolds" but the court overruled. Other court witnesses already established that Reynolds knew John LeBold and together they were engaged in a museum venture.
Jack Delaney, the former manager of the Wardrobe Department at Warner Bros. and the first to notice the missing clothes, testified that LeBold had been allowed on the Burbank Studios lot with free access to the wardrobe department's storage areas. "He spent several months selecting wardrobe, tagging it, identifying it, looking at the labels and putting it on a rack." He was researching clothes for Reynolds' museum, according to the court transcript.
Kight said later: "The primary problem with the case was that the record keeping at the Burbank Studios came down to one dedicated man (Jack Delaney) who knew where everything was but had no inventory. Due to the lack of documentation, we were unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that LeBold had committed a crime."
On March 25, 1981, the 49-day-old trial ended in deadlock, its jury hung in favor of conviction, according to jurors. "The guy didn't deserve to go to state prison," said Kight. "He wouldn't have survived it. He just had a fetish about clothes."
The next day, the judge declared a mistrial and on July 16, the case was dismissed at the request of the Burbank Studios. Of the 667 items confiscated, only 26 were returned to LeBold, including Sally Field's "Flying Nun" hat; the remaining items were returned to the Burbank Studios.
When contacted, LeBold told Calendar he "was like a scapegoat," referring to the studios' efforts to tighten security on star wardrobe collections. His defense was that the studios often traded costumes back and forth, counting hangers but not ownership labels. Because of this, he said, many costumes he bought at the MGM auction originally came from Warner Bros. "It cost me thousands and thousands of dollars and I was proved innocent."
Reynolds also talked recently about the court case and John LeBold. "I think he was a very lucky boy to get off," the actress said. "I was allowed to go into Warners and catalogue and they were going to donate to the museum. All we were in there for was to be like students and assist . . . them with their inventory."
LeBold, Reynolds said, had worked for her since the MGM auction. "He walked up to me and said, 'We have the same dream.' I took him on at that time to help me to preserve my costumes. Somehow along the way he lost his dream of a Hollywood museum and it became a business. I have never lost my dream. I firmly believe we will have our museum."
Reynolds acknowledged the avaricious side of the memorabilia collecting business: "Someone stole 20 boxes of my memorabilia. Someone made a very good haul." She says she did not file a report with the police. "I didn't want to get anybody in trouble.
"It's very sad," she said philosophically. "As long as people want to collect, they become passionate, and any excuse is good enough. Stealing, hiding, borrowing, permanently borrowing."
On the issue of disappearing costumes, Ed Medman, Burbank Studios' vice president of legal and business affairs, said that "we had a problem, which has been resolved."
(But not before 1984, when the Burbank Studios prevented a Los Angeles collector from auctioning certain Warner Bros. costumes at Sotheby's in New York. While the auction was not blocked, the Burbank Studios held an option to collect purchase money from the consignor for the specific items. The matter was settled without litigation.)