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Joe Maddalena Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Hollywood Treasure

This is an Interview with Joe Maddalena on May 17, 2012 about show Hollywood Treasure.

Question:
Can you talk about how you were finally able to get access to the ruby slippers?

Joe Maddalena:
I'm writing a book and my son asked me a question a couple years ago, and he goes is there anything that is kind of like your weak spot? And I said, well, I'll probably never have a pair of ruby slippers. And I didn't think in my career I'd ever be able to sell a pair. I just thought it would just never happen. I didn't think another pair would ever change hands.

I was lucky that within six months I sold Debbie Reynolds' Arabians for $700,000, then the Samuels pair, six months after that. And it's kind of surreal now looking back that two pairs have gone through my hands. It's surreal because it's hard to believe that these things A, came up for sale, and that you can own them. I mean it's I personally think the most iconic prop in the world.

Question:
With an item like the ruby slippers, at what point do they become too hard of a sell despite their legacy?

Joe Maddalena:
I just think it's all timing. The other day somebody paid $100 million for Munch's Scream. I just think day to day, it's what's happening in the world. Buyers are in one mode, they're in another mode. I just think a lot of it's timing. There's no value. When you buy $100 million painting, it's like you can't take it tomorrow and trade it for some building in Manhattan. You're going to have to go through a whole process to sell it. I just think a lot of it's timing and a lot of people understanding the slippers I think because there are multiple pairs might have confused people. A lot of things go into it.

Question:
Now that you've been in contact with the ruby slippers, have you moved on to a new holy grail? Is there something new that you're dying to find?

Joe Maddalena:
There's always another one. The ultimate thing would be Maria the robot from Metropolis. Now there's all these legends behind that. In Metropolis, Maria burns, but there's got to be more than one, so that would be like the next one. If you could surface that, it'd be pretty big.

Question:
What's the most valuable item you've ever found?

Joe Maddalena:
The dress from The Seven Year Itch that we sold for Debbie Reynolds, which was $5 1/2 million. Debbie's collection definitely was the highlight of anything we've ever sold. Her material was the best that's ever been put out in the market and her first sale grossed $23 million, so for 500 items, pretty substantial.

Question:
You have coming up a journey to Middle Earth featuring Sean Astin. Can you tell us about that?

Joe Maddalena:
Sean Astin is a neighbor. He lives close by and is a friend. We're selling a large collection belonging to the Dryer family and the collection was this amazing map of Middle Earth. And I thought Sean, knowing his interest obviously in that part of the world, would enjoy seeing the map. It was actually Tolkein's copy, so he came by and we kind of had a little period where he took us back down memory lane and we learned interesting things.

He went from the Shire to Mordor on what happened, and it was an interesting response because he said well we're making this movie, Elijah and I figuring we're going to have all this time together, a year and a half, and at the end we're going to do this epic climax, throwing the ring in the mountain and by the time we get there, we'll be ready.

And what happened was we were filming and there was a giant flood, and the set got wiped away, and they came in and said well, we're going to film the climax instead, and this is very early in the process, and Sean's like, we can't do that. We're not ready. And they're like, you're ready. It was just like amazing insight into his world, his character. It's fascinating to meet him and kind of learn about that world.

Question:
There's also a really interesting Christopher Reeve collection, if you can talk about that a little bit?

Joe Maddalena:
Actually we just got done cataloguing it. The Dryers bought the best they could possibly find over many years, and they collected Superman. They wanted a comprehensive collection, so this is the most well-documented Christopher Reeve Superman costume used in Superman I and II because they were filmed concurrently, it was made in England by Nathan and Berman's, every stitch of it's got labels in it, and it's just to find a costume like that with that documentation, it's pretty extraordinary.

There's Jar-El's, Marlin Brando's complete costume, when at the beginning of the movie, when they're putting their baby, in the little ship and sending him to earth because the world is destroying there. It's just amazing to go through. They have a piece of kryptonite. They have a George Reeves Superman cape. It's just kind of mind-boggling what's in their collection.

Question:
In season one and you dealt with a lot of like collectible items and whatnot. I was reading that this season you're going to be working with the house from American Horror Story. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it differs for you?

Joe Maddalena:
What's interesting is that as a company we're trying to expand our reach into all areas of things that have to do with television and motion pictures, and this opportunity came along. We got a phone call from a guy, and he said, I have some things from American Horror Story. I'm like well great. It'd be cool to get some props, and lo and behold, we met this man, and we ended up at the American Horror Story house.

The actual house is here in Los Angeles, and it was kind of surreal because I had no idea. And I'm walking up to it, and it was really eerie, because you're in the house. You're in the rooms. You're in the basement. You're thinking of people hanging themselves and all this crazy stuff going on. And it's really cool because this was like a 17,000 square foot mansion and it's just another side of our business that we're pursuing, is we're going after these properties now because they have such a value besides being a house.

So for an American Horror Story fan it was the coolest thing I've ever walked through in my entire life, to go through that house. And it was scary. Being in the basement they turned the lights off; you wanted to run out of there!

Question:
What would you say is your biggest challenge both juggling, running your business, Profiles in History, and also filming a reality show?

Joe Maddalena:
I really want people to understand that I'm trying to paint a picture on the show that's real, that it's like that this is kind of like really what we do so they get an idea, because people are always like, where do you get this stuff? How do you find it? How do you authenticate it? So we're trying to answer those questions and give you slivers of a business and obviously in a sense for television, but that's the biggest challenge is to accurately depict what we do in a way that the viewers are going to enjoy it, and that's my biggest task, is to make sure we put something out there that they're going to really like.

Question:
What do you think is or was the most sought after Hollywood memorabilia from Marilyn Monroe's estate, or do you think it is yet to be discovered?

Joe Maddalena:
What would be yet to be discovered would be the smoking gun that linked her to the Kennedys. I'm just making stuff up now, so let's say a diary emerged and the diary told a story. You're talking about it'd be crazy what that would be worth. It would have to be something like that, of that significance, but I would think that would be the holy grail is to find that nexus that links, because it's the mythology of the Gion Conna killer. But there's that mythology that's out there, so that would probably be the greatest thing that would just stop the presses.

Question:
What defines the piece that's rare for you when on the hunt as opposed to rare for other collectors?

Joe Maddalena:
when I started my business my parents were antique dealers and my dad kind of taught me to acquire a taste for what you personally like, and always buy what you like and not what anybody else likes, because you get kind of trapped into thinking like what other people are thinking about. And I think that's one of the things is I just I'm looking at the piece, like what it does to me. If I get really excited about it, I'm assuming other people will too, so I just always go out there with my own kind of barometer.

And sometimes I'm wrong. Sometimes it'll be something that comes in. Today we had a costume from Frank L'Angela Skeletor costume came in. It's really cool, but we're all here battling, what are we going to estimate it at? It's going in our summer auction. I'm like 8 to 12. Somebody else is like 12 to 15; somebody else is like it's worth much more. Somebody else is like it's worth much less. It's hard to put a value on some of this stuff. I think it's great because I love Frank L'Angela. The movie was okay. It's a cool-looking costume, so it's like those are the hardest things, is to kind of get a consensus of all of us, because we're all watching movies, and what we like.

Question:
Have you ever stumbled across a piece of memorabilia that was too personal and you hesitated to make the contents public? And if so, what did you do and how did you handle the object or objects?

Joe Maddalena:
I could tell you, I remember like it was yesterday. Anna Nicole Smith died, and within hours my telephone rang, and this man called up and said, I have her diaries. And he brought them in, and I read her diaries, and I thought about it for a few minutes and I handed them back and I said, no thanks. And he said, you're not going to auction these? And I said, no, not for all the money in the world.

And he's like, well, why not? They're worth a fortune. And I said, yes, but not a fortune that I'm going to go down the road of. I said good luck. Somebody else sold them. They went for $300,000 or $400,000, but it's just to me that was like bad taste times 10,000. I could not even go down that road. So those things happen where I had to make a moral decision where I thought that was incredibly exploitative. I just couldn't handle it.

Question:
In your show there's not a lot of musical related items such as musical instruments or stage clothes, even in as much as how there are actors in movies that hold guitars or whatever. Is that because there are other more specialized musical oriented people, auctioneers, or is that just an area that doesn't interest you as much as the TV and movie side?

Joe Maddalena:
We really don't do a lot with music. The exception is I just sold John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for if I sell, and we handle things like that, the Beatles. We don't really do the guitars. If I had Wayne's guitar from Wayne's World, yes. I would sell that. I've never really been into the rock and roll. I love rock and roll, but I've never been into like selling it. It's a very kind of like weird world to travel in, because it's so hard to authenticate the material and all the autographs are squiggle squiggle, and it's just something I've just never really got into.

Question:
But as it relates to iconic films, then you'll pursue those items?

Joe Maddalena:
Oh, absolutely. Like I said, if we had the Wayne's World guitar, absolutely. We'd be all over that, the white guitar, for sure. If it's something like Johnny Cash, it was his guitar, or I've sold Elvis Presley's guitar, something like that we would cover for sure. It's just really a matter of when we're making the show, These things really are happening as we're in production, so it's like literally on a day-to-day basis, I just got this, I just got that. And then it's how we go about picking out what's going to make interesting television from what's happening in my real world. So it's just really what comes in during the time we're taping the show.

Question:
It's sort of out of your hands in what comes along the wind?

Joe Maddalena:
Totally out of my hands, just a side story real quick. A couple weeks ago a lady called me up and said, hey, in the 70s my husband was a B actor, and a very overweight guy. He was doing a character part in a movie, and they delivered a bunch of costumes to the house. This white linen suit fit him, and they let him keep it. It's Sidney Greenstreet's white linen suit from Casablanca. They consigned it yesterday.

Question:
First an item is found, and part of that finding is you going there perhaps and listening to the owner give you the provenance, and let's call that stage one. And then another stage would be probably the most mundane, which is the authentication at your home base where you look through pictures and freeze frames. And then the other, like last stage probably most gratifying would be the auction itself where you're bidding for online customers. Do you have a consistently favorite stage of those stages?

Joe Maddalena:
Oh, yes, it's the exact reverse. My first stage is all about acquiring the piece. I live, sleep, eat, drink, my whole life pitter patter goes the heart, on the hunt. When a box comes in, every day is like Christmas. I can't wait to unwrap that box. It's like by that point it's so anticlimactic, I bet I'm so far invested in the process. To me it's just all about finding the stuff. To this very day, I can't tell you how exciting it is when you find something.

A couple weeks ago a guy called up and said, hey, I saw your TV show. He goes, my father was the costumer for Roots. Is Roots stuff any good? And I'm like, yes, I've never seen any. He goes, I got a bunch. He brought in all the original costume sketches, Kunta Kinte, all of them, Alex Haley's notes, scripts, I was like, oh my God. Culturally you're talking about one of the most groundbreaking television shows ever. Here's the whole archive, you know? It was in a basement in a house here in Los Angeles. And that's what I live for, and then digging into that, and learning the history behind the artifacts, that's what makes me get up in the morning.

Question:
Is there anything that you own personally from a movie that you would never be willing to give up?

Joe Maddalena:
Yes. I have a lot of things. The thing I would never give up that's from a television show, when my son was about six I had an auction and Buck Rogers' sidekick was Tweaky. He had a little robot, and I had a Tweaky in my auction and my son was about the same size. He was a little bit smaller, and Felix Hiller showed up, who wore the costume in the TV show, and we met Felix, and my son thought this was the coolest thing in the world.

And we became friends with Felix and then Felix later sold me for my son, his Tweaky costume with Theopolis around his neck. I'm looking at it. It's six feet from my desk. It's the holy grail of our family. He'll take it to his grave. It's just such a sentimental thing among us, it's like we'd never sell it.

I collect things that are sentimentally important to me. It's more about like I was lucky. I worked for ABC all of season six for Lost. I was in Hawaii during the entire shooting of the final season. I have such amazing memories of that production, but what I kept were things that were important to me, Nothing of any value to anybody else, but to me it's just all about the memory of being involved. That's what I enjoy the most.

Question:
Now it seems the horror genre is filled with some of the most hardcore collectors. Why do you think that is the case?

Joe Maddalena:
I think horror is probably consistently always been number one with starting in the 20s, 1930, '31, Frankenstein, Dracula. I think we're infatuated with vampires, and I think obviously, look how popular they are now. I think the supernatural, ghosts and vampires and ghouls, just fascinates us. And I think that the macabre, like the dark side. They want to be a vampire, and because the material is dark in its creation, I think that it's just kind of gravitates toward that world.

Question:
Now speaking of Dracula, you've recently acquired the cape from Bela Lugosi. Can you talk about the reaction you received from that item?

Joe Maddalena:
Yes, it was huge. I had always heard that he was buried with the cape, and so when I met Bela Lugosi Jr., he's like almost true. He was going to be buried with the cape, and Bela Lugosi Jr.'s mom, Bela Lugosi Sr.'s wife, wouldn't allow it, and they buried him in a different cape, but she kept the '31 cape. When you realize like what that is, I know it's just a big piece of black fabric, but when you realize what it is, it's like, wow, and it's amazing that survived. I mean, you're talking about the greatest groundbreaking deal-changer of universal horror. I mean it's amazing to see that it exists.

Question:
We've heard a lot about the ruby slippers, but what other highlights can we expect from this upcoming season?

Joe Maddalena:
This season's going to be really fun. It's the biggest things that I'm excited about is we used to be two back-to-back half hours. Now we're one-hour, so we're able to tell much better stories, where in the past, we'd have to get in and out of a scene in three minutes. Now we're able to invest like 10 or 12 minutes in a story, where you're going to get a lot more information, a lot more access, learn a lot more about my world.

I think it's much better television, but American Horror Story - we have a great segment on The Hunger Games. We've got a great 12 minutes of Hunger Games. Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard, I mean, there's going to be a lot of surprises, a lot of contemporary things, and we're going to take you to places, Planet of the Apes, there's something for everybody. It really is a really good diverse group. Vampires, Greg Cannon, who's one of the judges of Face-Off, he did a Gary Oldman's Bram Stoker Dracula. We sold his Dracula collection. Vi Neal is on the show. We sold her makeup collection, and she did some of the most important make-up appliances in Hollywood history, so a lot of cool things.

Question:
I hear you're actually going to be auctioning some Steve McQueen memorabilia and also Natalie Wood, if you can talk about that?

Joe Maddalena:
Yes, so this summer in July our next summer auctions, we have Natalie Wood's 250 SL, that was her personal car from 1969 I think the year was, so it was actually her car that she drove, which all the pink slip and the original paperwork when she bought the car. So it's a personal artifact, but because Natalie Wood is one of the great collected sex symbols of all time.

But the Steve McQueen is all about Le Mans. We have both his overjackets that he wore over his race suit. Last December I sold Steve McQueen's racing suit from Le Mans, $890,000, the two-piece jumpsuit. I have the blue Le Mans jacket that he wore over that, and the white Le Mans pit jacket that he wore. I have his Howler wrist watch that he wore, a lot of Le Mans stuff. Steve McQueen is just so collected, so there's going to be amazing pieces in the auction of Le Mans in July.

Question:
Can you talk a little bit about The Hunger Games, and kind of what that's going to be on the show?

Joe Maddalena:
Absolutely. So I was perusing the Internet one day, and I saw this thing pop up and District 12 was for sale. And I was like, what is that? I'm like, District 12? What do you mean it's for sale? And it's like, it's for sale. So I was really intrigued by this. It's an actual town, so I was really intrigued by this, so I made a few phone calls and I found out in North Carolina, they filmed Hunger Games throughout the whole state.

There's a town, 72-acre parcel, where Katniss's house, Peeta's bakery, it's all there. They shot everything on this location, all the structures, all of District 12, is there, really there. All the rooms, it was unbelievable. So my idea was wow, I want to be involved. I want a part of this. I want to figure out some way to work and sell this property.

So we went out to North Carolina and we went through every location, worked out a deal to help sell this property, found some amazing pieces, went behind the scenes, went to every location. If you're into The Hunger Games, boy, it's going to be a great ride. It's really amazing what we found and where we went.

Question:
You said something about people are more after props than costume pieces. Why is that?

Joe Maddalena:
Costumes are big and they're a challenge to display. So textiles are fragile, by nature, they can't be in the sunlight. They have lots of things that will affect them over time if they're not properly preserved or displayed. Props, pretty rugged. I mean they're more manageable in size. They're three dimensional. They'd kind of cooler looking. It's just, people just want props. There's always a challenge with a costume, but when you get the Maltese falcon and you hold it in your hands, it's an object. The ruby slippers are an object. I just did the Captain America auction for Marvel, in April in Chicago. We had the shields. They're really cool because they're objects. The costumes are nice, but when you get into like Thor's hammer, Captain America's shield or Iron Man's helmet, they're really cool.

Question:
I know you've finally found the slippers and everything. Are you going to continue to try to locate the stolen pair, or are you kind of happy now that you've found a pair and held them?

Joe Maddalena:
No, no, no, no, I'd love to find the stolen pair, and there could be another pair out there. Nobody knows how many pairs they made. There's a legend that Toto chewed on a pair. They went out to be fixed and never came back. There could be another pair of ruby slippers to surface tomorrow. That's the whole great part about my job is this stuff is everywhere, and unlike baseball cards and comic books and coins and stamps, most people that have them have no idea what they have.

Question:
None of your team seems to have public Twitter accounts, and that struck me as odd because it just seemed like social networking would be a good way to get contacts. Is that true?

Joe Maddalena:
None of us have social Twitter accounts and we have one Twitter account that the profile's initial Twitter account, and ]next season we will all have our own Twitter accounts. It's just something we just hadn't done yet, but we need to.

Question:
Is there a holy grail item, a most sought after item from The Matrix series of movies?

Joe Maddalena:
I've got to say Neo's full costume with the trench coat. That would be like, to me the most iconic thing that that costume with the trench coat. His guns, obviously, and then particularly we have Carrie Anne Moss' complete costume in my dry auction.

Question:
Do you have any updates about Paul Myer with his health situation. I was happy to see that you got twice your estimate as far as towards his medical bills. Is everything all right with him?

Joe Maddalena:
Yes, Paul's still doing well. He's obviously very sick, but he's still alive and he's still going through his collection believe it or not. We still have stuff in storage. He has a house full and just kind of like getting access to it and sorting it out, and we'll probably do another Paul Myer auction, maybe the end of the year. He has just so much material, but it's really about how well he is to get him to go through it. That's the whole problem is his health is just terrible, so he is still among us, which is great.

Question:Joe Maddalena:
It's not so much they weren't willing to pay. I think that people just want to see if they can steal it. I think there's this psychology with auctions where a lot of people are savvy. They go to enough auctions where they don't want to show their cards too soon. I've been a buyer. Like, I've gone to a Southeby's Christie's auction.

Something will be at $30,000 and it's just me and all of a sudden it sells for $250,000 and up to $30,000 it was like you couldn't get a bid, and suddenly just before the gavel went down, you had six other people just waiting because bidding is an art, and there are people who will bid, stop, let it go, jump in again. Everybody has a different way they do it, so it's kind of an art, form for the buyer, if you're a regular buyer, a seasoned buyer.

Question:
Can you talk a bit about the Lost things you're going to have this season?

Joe Maddalena:
Yes, John Mancuda was one of the temple others in season six of Lost. He was at least one of Lock's henchmen, so while not working for me he was pursuing his television career. So when we were in Hawaii, he was doing double duty working with me and actually on the television show. And we found John's other costume that he wore on the TV show, and he desperately wanted to get it. And one of the other temple others, Addison Arquette, flew in from Hawaii, and John and Addison went through their Lost collection that they bought at the Lost auction that I had, and raised money to acquire their costumes. So you're going to get a good dose of Lost this season.

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