Millions of ordinary people read gossip magazines week after week, from cover to cover. Celebrities fascinate Americans, especially after two major blunders at the Academy Awards last Sunday night. Nearly 33 million watched the Oscars telecast. The two big blunders included a mistaken envelope for Best Picture and the unfortunate photo of a living person accompanying those honored “In Memoriam.”
The lavish dresses adorning actresses on the Red Carpet are equally fascinating to followers of movie lore. In fact, Hollywood collectibles are highly desirable, like Judy Garland’s ruby slippers or blue cotton dress from “The Wizard of Oz” … or James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger” … or the DeLorean DMC-12 from “Back to the Future,” which made a cameo appearance on the Oscars telecast.
Less publicized but no less intriguing is the fact that celebrities themselves frequently collect items that appeal to them, such as objects related to the fields in which they are famous – like props from movies in which they have appeared. In other cases, famous actors pursue collectibles in totally unrelated areas.
Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage assembled a fantastic collection of vintage comic books. In 2011, when he sold his most prized comics at a major online auction, its star attraction – a nearly pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1, where Superman first appeared – brought a record price of over $2.16 million. Cage had purchased the comic in 1997 for just $110,000. In addition, Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie is a prominent collector of such diverse objects as rare knives and daggers and first-edition books.
The collectibles coveted by celebrities can be totally unrelated to their careers – sometimes wildly so. Swashbuckling movie star Johnny Depp – nominated for three Academy Awards as Best Actor – collects rare insects, for example. Jay Leno – who turned down an offer to host the Oscars – certainly could have arrived on the Red Carpet in style: He owns a world-class collection of classic cars and motorcycles, including a Lamborghini Miura, a Jaguar XKE, a Shelby Mustang GT 350, Bugattis and Duesenbergs.
Celebrity Coin Collectors Include Several Oscar Winners
Not surprisingly, many celebrities are active – even ardent – coin collectors. This makes perfect sense, since men – and lately women – of fame, wealth and power have found rare coins fascinating and desirable down through the centuries. Indeed, the pursuit of coins came to be known in bygone days as “The Hobby of Kings” because its adherents included so many monarchs and other members of nobility.
Some coin collectors from the Oscar-winning list include “Stardust” songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, who won an Oscar for best song in 1951, Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman, and actor James Earl Jones, who won an honorary Oscar and has provided the distinctive deep baritone voice of Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” movies. (He was also nominated for Best Actor in 1971 for “The Great White Hope.”) In the TV world, Emmy-winning actor John Larroquette is also a noted coin collector.
Jerome Kern, one of the most famous composers of American popular music, won two Oscars for Best Song in the movies (for “The Way You Look Tonight” in 1936 and 1941’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris”). He was nominated for five other songs. Before the Oscars were born he wrote multiple hits for Showboat in 1927, including “Old Man River.” He is also ranked among the greatest collectors of U.S. coins. Kern had an eye for “hit” collectibles in several categories, including rare books (prior to 1928), then rare coins and stamps in the 1930s. He was introduced to coin-collecting by Clint Hester, his masseur, who was also Chairman of the American Numismatic Society in New York. Hester later said, “he didn’t know a George IV florin from a quarter when I first got him interested. Now he’s the canniest coin buyer in the country.” It wasn’t long before Kern had one of the most valuable numismatic collections in the country. His Show Boat full of rarities included an Ultra-High-Relief 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle, a gem proof 1842 small-date Liberty Seated quarter and a complete four-coin set of 1879 and 1880 stellas.
Five years after Kern’s death, legendary Texas coin dealer B. Max Mehl sold the Kern collection at a glittering auction in 1950. It was billed as the “Golden Jubilee Sale,” but Kern’s coins were clearly the stars of this major event. Mehl made this clear when he noted that its centerpiece was “the Magnificent Collection of United States Gold and Silver Coins of the Late Eminent Composer Jerome David Kern.”
Actor Buddy Ebsen never won an Oscar but his first film, “Broadway Melody of 1936” was nominated for three Oscars (including “Best Picture”) and it won an Oscar for Best Dance Direction. That was when Buddy was best known as a dancer. Later, he struck it rich on “The Beverly Hillbillies” as Jed Clampett, a country bumpkin who moves his hayseed family to La La Land after oil is discovered on their rustic property, turning them into millionaires overnight. Ebsen, who was far from a hick off-screen, reaped a real-life windfall from rare coins. Over the years, he assembled an exceptional collection of U.S. coins, which brought more than $7.6 million when it was sold at a glittering West Coast auction in 1987.
In one ironic “Beverly Hillbillies” episode, Jed Clampett scoffs when told that a collector paid $12,000 for a dime – the ultra-rare 1894-S Barber dime. “He got slickered,” Jed tells Mr. Drysdale, his greedy banker-neighbor, who is trying to get him interested in the hobby. “A dime is only worth 10 cents,” he said, adding: “If he put that dime in one of those candy machines, would he get $12,000 worth of candy?”
Ebsen had no doubt about the value of that particular ultra-rare Barber dime at the time the episode aired in 1964. He was not only an avid collector but he was also a serious student of the hobby and an active participant in organized numismatics. In fact, he co-founded the Beverly Hills Coin Club. His personal collection included a complete gold type set, a set of the Panama-Pacific commemorative coins in their original copper frame and a gem proof 1879 coiled hair stella (a pattern $4 gold piece).
Film director-actress Penny Marshall, who starred in TV’s “Laverne & Shirley” show, could have been nominated for Best Director for “Big” or “Awakenings” (each of which was nominated for multiple Oscars). She is also a prominent coin collector – almost as much by birth as by environment. In fact, she was named for a coin. Marshall told an interviewer in 2002 that she was named “Penny” to mollify her brothers, who were saving their pennies for a pony, “but got a baby sister instead.”