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City of Angles

Bidding on the Bunny

June 25, 2002|GINA PICCALO AND LOUISE ROUG

Inside the Butterfields auction house on Sunset Boulevard, bidding was getting brisk. "I have $1,900, go $2,000, if you wish," the auctioneer called out to about 150 people who had come for the Playboy auction Sunday afternoon.

Bidders waved white cardboard paddles shaped like Playboy's rabbit head logo to bid on the lot, which contained a mixed bag of kitsch and valuables. On sale, alongside logo ceramics and sweaters, were original Andy Warhol collages, Alberto Vargas pinups and LeRoy Neiman paintings. ("He's the Norman Rockwell of Playboy," a dealer said.)

The auctioneer called out to a man in the back.

"You're done?" she asked. "Now? You're really done?"

He was.

Lot 9016, Haddon Hubbard Sundblom original artwork for the December 1972 cover (a woman in a skimpy Santa outfit), sold for $13,000.

The auctioneer addressed another bidder, after a series of confusing gestures. "Careful with the bunny. You might get something you didn't want to buy."

She presented the next item: a Playboy Club key, which went for $300. A bunny tail, mounted like a trophy head, with the inscription "Caught live at the Playboy Club," also sold for $300. Then came the Neiman paintings. As the bidding took off, people strained their necks to see who was bidding. Lot No. 9042, an enamel on Masonite painting for the 1965 May cover, jumped from $4,000 to $9,000, with the bids stopping at $19,000.

In the viewing gallery next door, writer Glen Gold, 38, admired the layout boards--especially the notations in the margins. Some were directions for airbrushing. "Kill the mole, kill the stubble," he read. "The imperfections ... there's something fascinating about that." His eye wandered across the comics mounted on the wall. "That's 'ghosted' by Frank Frazetta," he said, pointing to one panel. "Although it's credited to a couple of other guys, you can tell he had a hand in it."

The bunny logo represented an age of innocence, said Gold. "There are a lot of hateful images in mainstream erotica today," he said, "although you could probably sit down with [feminist] Andrea Dworkin

Sheila Silber, a 56-year-old probation officer in a black pajama outfit with a red sparkly bunny motif, held up her purchase: a felt pajama bag. "Ooo, it's so cute," she said, explaining she had bought it to decorate her bed. A collector of Playboy pins, jewelry and other artifacts, her interest was sparked when a friend began taking her to the parties in the '60s. She looked around the room. "I don't see anybody from the old days who used to party."

Nearby, Ed Schumacher, a 37-year-old commercial filmmaker, looked at original Betty Page photos. "It looks like the glossies you can buy on Hollywood Boulevard," he said.

Having just bought a new house, Schumacher was looking for something more than glossies to put on his walls, and had come with his friend, Craig Tanimoto, 38, to bid on a group of Herb Ritts' sepia-toned photos of Cindy Crawford in various stages of undress.

"Some of it holds up, some doesn't," Schumacher said of the pictures and objects surrounding him. The logo ceramics and sweaters looked "kind of cheesy" to him. But a rug piece, "Hooked Wall Hanging," by Bill Hinz, that was mounted nearby appealed. "There's something very retro cool about it."

Walking around the room, he reminisced about reading the magazine when he was growing up. The artworks, he said, reflected another era.

Art dealers Franklin Bowles, Tony Pernicone and Carla Bonney were motivated less by nostalgia than by competition.

Bowles had outbid Bonney on a couple of Neimans. "Now, she's pouting," he teased, as he was getting ready to bid on the Vargas lot. "I hope they don't do very well," he joked. "I always overspend."

Most of the paintings went for slightly more than their estimated price, about $30,000.

But for those without deep pockets, there was the bunny bid paddle.

Adam Blackman was carting off his $2,400 wall rug outside the auction house when he was approached by a Butterfields staff member: What was the number on his paddle?

"They're collectibles," she explained, over her shoulder as she continued down the street in pursuit of the mysterious paddle collector, "but if somebody walks off with someone else's paddle, the wrong person gets billed."

Airborne Ambassador

The reason behind John Travolta's Monday morning appearance at the Los Angeles International Airport was top secret. A news release issued last week promised the announcement of "a unique global initiative" by the famous Scientologist, leaving reporters to wonder: Would Travolta testify before Congress on airline security? Would he travel to war-torn countries to preach world peace? Not quite.

Starting Monday, Travolta, a longtime aviation enthusiast, will pilot his Boeing 707 (a retired Qantas jet) to 13 cities as an employee of and "ambassador-at-large" for Qantas. "The past year has been awful for our sense of security and goodwill and also for trust and friendship between different cultures and countries," Travolta said in a statement Monday. And his travels are a way "to reach out, to cross borders, make contact, rekindle friendships and make new friends."

Not that his trip is likely to enhance fragile political alliances. Skirting hotspots (but diving into Qantas' major overseas markets), he plans to fly from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, Australia; Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, Rome, Paris, Frankfurt and New York.

City of Angles runs Tuesday and Friday. E-mail angles@latimes.com.

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