Updated: May 12, 2021
Celeste Holm's Sarah Siddons Award, Cecil Beaton drawings, and an iconic Edith Head costume sketch are part of the April 28 sale in New York.
Few celebrity estates have exhibited both the quantity and quality of items that reflect an actor’s life like the grouping that will be among the highlights of a Doyle auction that kicks off on Wednesday, April 28. “Celeste Holm’s collection is one of the most well-preserved that I’ve ever seen,” says Peter Costanzo, senior vice president of auction house Doyle New York. “Her entire career is really represented, from costumes and clothing that she wore to her awards, letters, documents and contracts. You can really tell the story of her life and career from many angles with these objects.”
Costanzo is among the specialists curating Doyle’s Inaugural Stage & Screen Auction, which is hosting an on-site preview at Doyle New York, 175 E. 87th St., today through Monday. While the auction house has hosted past celebrity estate sales, including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Lena Horne, an initial grouping of items that belonged to Holm, the Academy Award-winning actress who passed away in 2012, seemed like a perfect pairing with two other collections Doyle had gathered: the sale of performance and personal items by a variety of celebrities to benefit The Actors Fund and The Costume Industry Coalition, and the estate sale of Thomas P. Lacy, who appeared in films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Doc Hollywood.
“He was a pretty major collector of costume designs, set designs, letters and other things, from John Gielgud, Cecil Beaton and other golden-age figures,” Costanzo says of Lacy. “At the same time, we know how hard the theater community has been hit by the pandemic, and that’s when we started working with The Actors Fund, and they introduced us to the Costume Industry Coalition. So, this 325-lot auction combines a little bit of all these things, with the main property that opens the auction being the first section of Ms. Holm’s estate.”
As the event’s name implies, the resulting sale is Doyle’s first foray into the stage and screen category. A portion of all auction proceeds will benefit The Actors Fund, a non-profit organization that provides emergency financial assistance, affordable housing, senior care, and other services to people in the entertainment community, and that in itself is partly due to Holm’s efforts during her lifetime. “She played a major philanthropic role with that organization and was instrumental in The Actors Fund Home’s current location in Englewood, New Jersey, and you’ll still find a portrait of her there,” Costanzo notes.
While 10 percent of the monies raised from all lots will be donated to The Actors Fund, 100 percent of the hammer price from lots 64 through 147—a collection of costumes and red-carpet looks organized by actress Christine Baranski and featuring clothing and other items from Meryl Streep, Hugh Jackman and others—will be donated to The Actors Fund, while 100 percent of the hammer price from lots 148 through 164 will be donated to The Costume Industry Coalition, a non-profit group organized to support craft businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Ultimately, given such a range of items, what might draw your eye? Here’s a spotlight on seven lots that seemed especially Screen Chic-friendly:
The Sarah Siddons Society Award presented to Celeste Holm, 1967
Auction Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000
This trophy is identical to the award presented to Anne Baxter at the start of 1950’s All About Eve, a case of life imitating art: Two years after the release of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film, a group of Chicago theater-goers founded the Sarah Siddons Society. Like the fictional group in the film, which netted 14 Oscar nominations and six wins, it was named for the famed 18th-century actress, whose image and the award named for her indeed can be spotted throughout the film. The society gave its first award to Helen Hayes in 1952, and 15 years later put it into Holm’s hands (Bette Davis would receive it five years later).
Unlike the trophies used as props in the film, which have sold for big bucks but were damaged, the Sarah Siddons award belonging to Holm is in pristine condition, among the reasons it’s one of the lots with a high auction estimate. “What’s also really attractive to fans and collectors is that this is something that was spun out of fiction into reality,” Costanzo says. “Estimates for things like this require knowledge: of the film, of the society, and of Celeste Holm’s career. The discerning collector will see the value of this piece.”
Congratulatory telegram to Celeste Holm from Alfred and Alma Hitchcock
Auction estimate: $400 - $600
“The archive of Ms. Holm’s papers is really quite incredible,” Costanzo says, adding that the collection includes a variety of telegrams. “When she won her Oscar [for Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1948], she must have received 100 congratulatory messages, and I’ve come to really appreciate them. They’re the text messages of that time period, because they were often sent with the ease that we send text messages today. Often they’re unguarded, more so than letters, with little comments that are just remarkable.”
Among the telegrams is one from Alfred and Alma Hitchcock, congratulating Holm on her win. “Well, what do you know better than Ethel Barrymore?” it slyly asks, alluding to that actress’s nomination the same year for The Paradine Case, directed by Hitchcock. “Telegrams help you recreate amazing moments, and they say important things, funny things, and they’re really quite powerful. And from a collector’s perspective, they’re visual, but also small, and they frame up nicely. They also scream the era of golden-age Hollywood.”
Cecil Beaton British, 1904-1980, Headdress for Liza at the Ball, from My Fair Lady, circa 1962
Auction estimate: $700 - $900
Among the items in Lacy’s estate is this watercolor by Cecil Beaton of his vision for Audrey Hepburn’s hairstyle for the Embassy Ball scene in 1964’s My Fair Lady.
“Collectors are really used to Beaton photographs, his primary art form that comes up the most,” Costanzo explains. “His stage and set designs are more rare, and original sketches like this are really rare. Mr. Lacy happened to be a collector of Mr. Beaton’s work, which remains very popular. Beaton is one of those figures whose name touches so many things.” Beaton would win two of the eight Oscars My Fair Lady took home in 1965, for Best Art Direction – Color and Best Costume Design – Color.
Joan Crawford Typed letter signed. Los Angeles: 7 January 1943.
Auction estimate: $200 - $300
Crawford was known for her dedication to her correspondence and her fans, and this letter may prove both. Dated January 7, 1943, the star addresses the letter to “Katherine” and mentions a card and a note, but little else about the recipient. It does, however, mention the film Crawford was working on a the time of writing the letter: “At present I am hard at work on ABOVE SUSPICION with Fred MacMurray, Conrad Veidt, and Basil Rathbone,” she wrote. She also mentions two films that were in pre-production, though the finished results don’t include Crawford: Cry Havoc and Women in Uniform.
“I always like these letters when they mention films, and collectors really like that, because it really helps place the star in a moment,” Costanzo notes. “I also like letters that you can date to the heart of World War II; for Hollywood, it was a tough time to be making films at all. But ultimately it’s a really fun letter.”
Edith Head An important original costume drawing for Bette Davis in All About Eve, 1950
Auction estimate: $4,000 - $6,000
“I think fans out there are just going to eat this one up,” says Costanzo of the Edith Head sketch of one of her most iconic designs: the “Fasten your seatbelts” dress worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve. The ink and watercolor sketch is oversized, measuring 23 x 18 inches, and is signed twice by the legendary costume designer, who won one of her eight Oscars for her work on this film. “I do know there’s at least one more out there that’s privately held, but this is a beautiful sketch and an iconic drawing,” Costanzo adds.
George Hurrell (1904-1992) Robert Taylor, 1930s, [printed 1979-1982]
Auction estimate: $400 - $600
Like the Edith Head sketch, this gelatin silver print by George Hurrell is also oversized, measuring 48 x 36 inches, and was number 16 out of an edition of 50.
“We sell a fair amount of Hurrells,” says Costanzo of the famed photographer, who created some of the most iconic and glamorous images of Hollywood stars during the 1930s and ’40s. “Later on he would return to these portfolios and would print them in very large format. They have a timeless quality that’s quite incredible; the shadows are so dramatic, and everyone looks so beautiful.”
To Catch a Thief Complete set of Eight Lobby Cards
Auction estimate: $1,000 - $1,500
This set of eight lobby cards from 1955’s To Catch a Thief checks a lot of boxes for collectors, Costanzo says. “They combine an evocative memory of a film with beautiful artwork and a presentation piece for your home,” he notes. “Lobby cards are easier to collect than posters, and they tend to be a lower price than posters. But it is very nice to have a complete set of eight, because you don’t always find that.”
Another element Costanzo found surprising: that only three of the images feature one of the film’s stars. “To Catch a Thief is so associated with Grace Kelly, yet you only see her in three of the eight images. I’m not sure that would be true if they were created for a film today, but the set designed then really takes you through the whole movie. It’s also nice to have them all framed together; it’s really ready to use for the buyer.”