Steven Spielberg may own Citizen Kane’s famous Rosebud sled. Planet Hollywood can boast the rocking chair from Psycho. But it’s in the den of Perry Kinney, a Washington State social worker, that you’ll find the charcoal gray suit Armand Assante wore in 1993’s Fatal Instinct.
You know, the one that Sean Young spritzed with shaving cream? Remember? Maybe not. But for Kinney — who bought the still-stained suit for $50 — it’s one of the jewels of his seven-year-old collection. ”I’ve got three kids and a limited budget,” says Kinney, 35, whose $1,000-a-year hobby has also brought him Scott Bakula’s Adidas from Necessary Roughness. ”This is my bridge between the fantasy world and the real world.”
Thanks to folks like Kinney, the market for all things Hollywood — costumes, props, dolls, and assorted tchotchkes — is soaring faster than Jim Carrey’s asking price. And today’s collectors aren’t just interested in golden-age, Dorothy’s-ruby-slippers-type stuff. No, America’s mantelpieces are filling up with flotsam from the latest, though not necessarily the greatest, films.
”I had no doubt about items from Jurassic Park and Batman Returns,” says Paul Jenkins of Christie’s, the New York auction house that now counts recent Hollywood memorabilia as one of its fastest-growing markets. ”What I didn’t know was that something from Escape From New York or truly lesser films would do so well.”
At an auction in June, one of the miniature buildings that dotted the Escape skyline went for $2,070, right before Bruce Willis’ rubber pistol from Die Hard With a Vengeance fetched $7,475. In fact, Christie’s sold $2.1 million worth of entertainment memorabilia last year, and 1995, with sales already at $1.7 million, looks like another blockbuster year.
Millions of additional dollars flow into memorabilia stores and mail-order firms. Through Norma’s Jeans, for instance, a Bethesda, Md.-based catalog that grosses more than $100,000 a year, you can buy Daryl Hannah’s sarong from Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman ($135), Mel Gibson’s Forever Young denim shirt ($495), Susan Sarandon’s Thelma & Louise tank top ($185), or Mary Stuart Masterson’s white cotton underwear from Benny & Joon ($150). ”I send [the buyers] panties with a letter of authentication,” says owner Richard Wilson. ”I don’t ask what they’re going to do with them.”
Fetishism aside, industry watchers have a raft of explanations for the boom in microwave memorabilia: Vintage items are getting rarer and pricier; a short-attention-span generation now has spending money; and the popularity of Planet Hollywood has turned this kind of collecting into a trendy avocation.
Whatever the reason, analysts agree the bull market brings with it plenty of risk. ”Be careful,” says Christie Brown, who covers collectibles for Forbes magazine. ”You get tremendous rises, and then — boom! — it’s ‘Oh my gosh, these weren’t so rare.”’
In other words, cramming the attic with Hollywood junk is no yellow brick road to the Land of Security. Gene Siskel, the film critic and veteran collector, warns, ”Avoid trendy kids’ movies. I don’t think you’re going to want to invite people over and point with pride to a rubber Ninja Turtles suit.” So what is worth collecting? John Travolta’s white suit from Saturday Night Fever, for one, which Siskel bought for $2,000 in 1978 and just sold at Christie’s for $145,500. ”I may have loved that movie more than anyone else in the world,” he says. ”My advice is to collect objects you care about passionately.”