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Internet a Star in Movie Memorabilia Business

Sales: Universal Studios' online auction site does big box office among collectors of Hollywood keepsakes.

April 13, 1999|JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Eisenberg is an addict of Universal Studios' online memorabilia auction.

Almost every day, when he gets home from his job as a real estate broker, Eisenberg logs on to Universal's Web site and starts checking bids on Hollywood keepsakes for sale. Recently he bought a Freddie Krueger ("Nightmare on Elm Street") sweater for $1,500 and a "Boogie Nights" souvenir ruler for $15, though he was outbid on a tomahawk prop used in "Dances With Wolves."

This week he had his eye on a Spiderman costume with a starting bid of $7,500.

"It's expensive, but can you imagine walking into an office and seeing Spidie hanging from the ceiling?" Eisenberg asked. "It would be incredible."

Eisenberg, who lives in the Hollywood Hills, says the cyber-auction gives him a rush. The auction, which began in late 1997, unloads such items as life-vest props used in "Titanic," autographed photos of stars and a mortuary card from John Wayne's funeral (no bids on that one yet).

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The auction, which can be accessed at www.unistudiosauction.com, has apparently gained a favorable reputation for its ability to move goods, since many items did not even appear in Universal films.

Officials at Universal Studios, however, declined to comment on the business.

A spokeswoman did say the studio got into the auction business because it saw a growing market for Hollywood memorabilia.

Some of the proceeds go to an entertainment-related charity, a different one each month. Participating charities also contribute some of the items up for auction.

Basically, the virtual auction works like a live one. Every month a new set of merchandise, usually between 150 and 250 items, is put on the block. Bids are entered through the Web site and posted immediately, and the auction closes on a set date each month. Only the location of the bidders, which this month ranges from Shreveport, La., to Bushy Heath, England, is revealed.

Eisenberg said he appreciates the anonymity. A memorabilia junkie, he once bought a James Bond tuxedo at a public auction in England and was hounded for months by other collectors and sellers.

Another plus is technology that allows bidders to inspect items closely. A zoom feature makes it possible to inspect, on your computer screen, the Spiderman costume for holes or look for flaws in a signed "Rocky" photo.

But what makes the online auction truly unrivaled for collectors like Eisenberg is that Universal authenticates every item with official paperwork.

"People try to sell you stuff all the time that they say was used in this movie or on that set," Eisenberg said. "But with the Internet auction, you know Universal is behind it and you don't have to take some guy's word."

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