Published: July 12, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Doyle New York
NEW YORK CITY – Doyle’s Stage & Screen auction took place on June 24, celebrating the history of film, theater, music and dance. The sale offered more than 200 objects from the star-studded celebrity culture of the Twentieth Century, and the top lots were all headliners that attracted bidders from around the world. The sale generated just about $250,000 with 100 percent sold by value and about 75 percent by lot.
“All in all, the sale generated much competitive bidding for the best material,” wrote Peter Constanzo, senior vice president of Doyle.
The top two lots were both related to George Gershwin (1898-1937), American pianist and composer, whose work spanned the classical, jazz and popular genres. Fetching the highest price was a triple-threat piece of celebrity memorabilia, a 1930 photograph signed by Gershwin to Ethel Merman (1908-1984) with a musical inscription and text from his hit “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Merman debuted as Frisco Kate Fothergill in Girl Crazy, the musical of the same year that included her performance of the song and launched her long career. The photograph had only one owner since being sold in the 1984 estate auction following Merman’s death and achieved past its high estimate at $22,680, the highest amount ever paid for a Gershwin autograph at auction. “George Gershwin items are poignant and always resonate with collectors,” Constanzo commented.
The second highest lot also came from the Merman estate; an autographed musical manuscript of Gershwin’s English language opera Porgy and Bess (1935), from which the song “Summertime” originates. Written by Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward (1885-1940; 1890-1961), and his brother Ira Gershwin (1896-1983), it featured the largest African American cast ever billed on an American stage at that time, consisting entirely of classically trained Black singers. The manuscript is a sketch for the opening scene of the opera’s closing, inscribed with Gershwin’s initials and a small drawing of a face in profile. It sold for $20,160 to the same American buyer as the inscribed photograph.
In a slight change of tune, the third highest selling lot was an example of quality and quantity. An important archive of approximated 200 original artworks from the 1960s onward by Richie Havens (1941-2013), many of them mostly unpublished, commanded the stage at $9,450. Many of the works on paper are signed and dated 1963-64 and others were centered around his performance at Woodstock in 1969, during which his was the first performance. Havens gave the portfolio to his girlfriend Margaret Summers, who held onto the art for around 30 years.
Three original costume designs by Edith Head (1897-1981) were offered in the sale, all from the same collection but sold to separate buyers. These included costumes for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951), Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954), for both of which Head won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Black and White those years, and for Judy Garland in I Could Go On Singing (1963). Each were rendered in watercolor and pencil, as well as signed and inscribed by Head, and in fine overall condition. The designs collected $8,190, $7,560 and $6,930.
Two other top lots were drawn by American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) known for his pen and ink portraits of celebrities, Broadway stars and nearly everyone else worth knowing in show business. The higher of his works to sell was another double-threat of value; an illustration of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a 1983 Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives (1930), both signed by Hirschfeld as well as inscribed and signed by Burton on the rear of the frame. According to Constanzo, Hirschfeld continues to be popular with collectors, and this example realized $7,560.
The second Hirschfeld to sell was an original signed pen and ink portrait of W.C. Fields (1880-1946), the American actor and comedian who affected a misanthropic alcoholic with a heart of gold in his trademark stage personas. Starting his career in vaudeville acts, Fields then took roles in silent films and later was a contract actor with Paramount Studios. Many of these include his earlier stage sketches, which he trademarked multiple times. Hirschfeld’s portrait depicts him as the raggedy barfly of his performances, was published on the cover of Drat! Being The Encapsulated View Of Life By W.C. Fields In His Own Words (1969) and toasted at $5,040.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Doyle’s next auction will be Jewelry, Watches, Silverware & Coins by order of the Provident Loan Society on July 27. For information, 212-427-2730 or www.doyle.com.
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