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They Even Include an Autograph

October 23, 1994|Steve Hochman

Where there's a will . . . there's a Ted James way.

Last will, that is. As in ". . . and testament."

James is the head researcher and spokesman for Celebrity Collectibles, a Phoenix outfit that specializes in reproducing celebrity wills and related documents.

If you're still looking for that perfect $10-$20 Halloween gift for your favorite Hollywood gravedigger, the company offers a catalogue of more than 200 packages. The selections range from such old Hollywood legends as Darryl F. Zanuck and W.C. Fields to such cultural icons as Rock Hudson (including a copy of his death certificate which identifies AIDS as a cause of death) to rock gods Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

A few of particular note:

* A Marilyn Monroe package features not just a copy of her will, but claims on her estate, including ones from her psychiatrist, her hairdresser and even Western Union for telegrams allegedly sent to the Kennedys.

* Sharon Tate left no will, but a set of papers dealing with her includes a successful claim from the owner of the Benedict Canyon home for damages done that awful 1969 night when the Manson clan members committed the murders.

* The newest addition to the catalogue is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' lengthy, complex will, signed shortly before her death last spring, in which she bequeathed a Greek alabaster bust to her longtime companion Maurice Tempelsman--and nothing to her sister, Lee Radziwill (though she indicated that she made provisions for Radziwill while still alive).

It's great stuff for celebrity junkies and business is booming, according to James. In fact, he says, the calls from star-devotees got so out of control that the company had its phone number unlisted and now takes orders only by mail (2302 N. 44th St., Suite 4-175, Phoenix, AZ 85008).

But, frankly, isn't this whole business a little sick?

"We're just supplying the curious something they want to see, people who are true fans," James says.

James got the idea of dealing in celebrity wills five years ago after reading of a woman selling copies of Elvis Presley's will.

"She merely folded up the copy in an envelope and sent it out," James says of the Elvis will. "I thought, 'If this is available, what else might be?' and took it from there."

And yes, it's perfectly legal. "It's public domain," James says. "These documents are public record. We do a substantial amount of legal research to stay out of trouble, and we have disclaimers that this is not sanctioned by anyone's estates or the government."

The truth is, anyone could go make his or her own copies.

"If you know where to look and have enough time and money, sure," James says. "In New York, for example, if you wanted to get something by mail, you have to pay a research fee, and then it's five bucks a page for a copy. The Jackie O. document might run you $200."

Almost as interesting as the estate documents they have are some of the ones they don't--or can't--get ahold of.

"We're looking for Buddy Holly's, but can't find it," James says. "We thought we'd find it in Texas where he was born, but now we're looking in New York where he resided at the time of his death."

In other cases they know where the wills are, or at least where they should be, but they've still eluded the company's research staff.

"One I've been after for years is Rudolph Valentino's," he says. "I know it's there in L.A., I badger the people in the documents department to death, but they just can't find it. And we went looking for Babe Ruth's last year, but the whole thing has disappeared."

James also says, "We get an amazing amount of requests for Hedy Lamarr's will, and we have a little note we send back that says, 'I'm sorry. Hedy Lamarr is not dead.' "

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