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Selling and Collecting Hollywood History: 5 Questions with Joe Maddalena of Profiles in History

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Joe Maddalena has been a collector of memorabilia nearly his entire life, organizing his first baseball card show at the American Legion Hall in his hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island—at age 12. He moved to California in 1980 to study broadcasting at Pepperdine and turned to his hobby to make cash for college. After graduating, he realized that his hobby would be a much more lucrative career than broadcasting.

In 1985, Maddalena founded Profiles in History, which has become the nation’s leading dealer in “guaranteed-authentic” original historical autographs, letters, documents, vintage signed photographs and manuscripts. The Calabasas HIlls-based company has also become the world’s largest auctioneer of original Hollywood memorabilia with several auctions running this week.

We had a chance to chat with Maddalena on Friday and talk to him about Hollywood memorabilia, collecting and auction tips, the auction items that surprised him the most, and his Syfy TV show Hollywood Treasure.

Are your upcoming auctions specializing in Hollywood costumes or are there various items? What do you think are going to be some of the hot ticket items?

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We have our Hollywood extravaganza [Sunday and Monday], which is basically 1,000 items. It covers the realm of Hollywood history from the beginning—from Charlie Chaplin all the way to Robert Downey in Ironman. It runs the gamut. There are costumes, props, set pieces, vehicles, production art, scripts. Everything that goes into the making of a motion picture or television show is probably represented in that auction. Tuesday (July 30), we have The Dreier Collection. It's the largest Lucille Ball collection in the world [featuring items from the estate of] Elois Jenssen, Lucy’s main costume designer. It includes the I Love Lucy / Lucy Ricardo polka dot dress. On the 31st is the Animation Auction featuring pieces of animation from Warner Bros., Disney, Hanna Barbera, from some of the greatest, most iconic animated feature films ever made.

The Sound of Music Collection** [featuring costumes worn by Julie Andrews aka 'Maria' and the 'Von Trapp children'] is one item for $800,000-$1.2 million. That's the big sale in terms of value [in the Hollywood Auction - Day 1]. The guy that owns the collection, Chris Christian, bought them over many decades, and he was very particular that they would be sold as a group, hoping that the buyer would keep them together because it took him so long to assemble them. If someone buys them and breaks them up, he can't control that, but his hope was by selling them as one lot, hopefully the buyer would keep them together as one lot. It's the largest Sound of Music collection in the world, you could never duplicate this.

I would think it's the most valuable item, but it's hard to predict these things. We have a Judy Garland test dress from The Wizard of Oz**, a first-edition of Gone with the Wind signed by the cast. We have Charlie Chaplin's cane from Modern Times...Steve McQueen’s jacket from Bullit. We also have Sean Connery's James Bond gun. So there's a lot of really cool things.

[**We watched tonight online as The Sound of Music costume collection sold for $1.3 million, and the Wizard of Oz dress sell online for $300,000!]

Can you give our readers some tips on how to tackle a live auction. Many have only probably put bids in on Ebay.

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It's a live auction, where you can come and be in person, but you can also participate via the Internet live. You can watch the auction at your house just like you're sitting in the auction room from anywhere in the world and you can bid from your computer. It's not like Ebay where it runs out at a certain time. The auctions begin at 11 am, and we go from Lot 1, we sell it; then Lot 2, we sell it, so you have pay attention if you're going to be participating.

I think the most important thing [to remember] is to set a limit. Have a budget. It's like going to Vegas. You don't go there with an open checkbook, right? I've been collecting my whole life, and the [best] advice I can give—no matter what you collect—I don't care if it's baseball cards, Barbies, matchbooks, Depression-era glass—it's better to buy one good thing than 10 lesser things of the same price. If you have $100 to spend, buy the best thing you can buy for $100. Don't buy 10, $10 items. When you become a more sophisticated collector, you're going to want to get rid of those. They're going to be really hard to get rid of. Whatever you like, buy the best thing you can possibly afford and focus on something you really want. Don't try the shotgun approach. Try to buy quality. Quantity is not important in collection. It's quality.

What's the one Hollywood item that you wish you could acquire?

There could be two more pairs of Ruby Slippers [from The Wizard of Oz]. There's a pair that was stolen that could surface, and theoretically, there was a pair that Toto chewed on that went out to be repaired and disappeared. Maria the robot from Metropolis could exist. They made more than one. Another Rosebud sled could pop up from Citizen Kane. It's possible another Maltese Falcon exists. You have to realize that most of these things exist. We just don't know where they are....You could literally have a box in your basement with the Maltese Falcon in it and not know it.

Is there an item that took you by surprise when you thought it wasn't going to sell and the bidding far exceeded your expectations? Conversely what's an item that may have disappointed you?

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In 2000, we got a call from a guy named Herb Solow. He was the executive in charge of production at Deslilu. He bought Star Trek from Gene Roddenberry for Desilu, and the rest is history. [Because of Herb] we ended up doing an auction with Matt Jeffries, the art director who created all the sets and a lot of the props for Star Trek, the original series with Shatner and Nimoy. He brings in this piece of Ozite carpeting. It's about three-feet square. It's all dirty and banged up. And he says, 'This is the original bridge carpeting.'

He and his brother ripped it off the floor. That was their job. And they basically used this carpeting since the '60s as insulation on their planes, these little tiny planes they flew. That's how modest they were. So we had this little piece of Ozite carpeting with a letter from Matt Jeffries saying this was the bridge carpeting from the Enterprise. We put it in. I think the estimate was around $200-$300. It went $1,000, $1,200, $2,000, $5,000, $8,000, $9,000, $11,000...$12,000 and I couldn't believe it. It's worth a $1. Those kind of things always shock me because it's hard to fathom.

So conversely, I think the biggest disappointment, honestly, was the ruby slippers. They failed to sell at auction for a few million dollars, but right after that, I was fortunate that Mr. [Leonardo] DiCaprio bought them and donated them to The Academy. That's where they ended up. That was quite a coup, but I was shocked that they didn't sell for more.

There are a lot of TV shows that are dedicated to memorabilia or collecting (American Pickers, Pawn Stars)—any thoughts on why the proliferation/fascination?

Well, I hope it has something to do with us! When we [Hollywood Treasure] came on the air [in 2010], Pawn Stars, Pickers and us... that was it. We were on before Storage Wars, and I really think that Hollywood Treasure pioneered the way. There's an appetite for this type of programming. For better or worse, reality programming is here to stay, and it seems like it’s growing in popularity with shows like Duck Dynasty. I think [the collectible shows] just filled a niche because people are fascinated by these microcosms of society.

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Bonus Question: When does Hollywood Treasure come back on Syfy?

We are not coming back as Hollywood Treasure. We have a new show that we're hoping will be out early next year. We’ll have a new, improved and better version of Hollywood Treasure.

There's still time to participate in Day 2 of the Hollywood Auction, which begins tomorrow at 11 am. Or if you're an I Love Lucy fan, check out The Dreier Collection on Tuesday or the Animation Auction on Wednesday.