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Visit these other humorous sites by Marjorie Dorfman:

Eat, Drink and
Really Be Merry


Home Is Where
the Dirt Is


Middle Age
and Other Mistakes

Don't Tech Me In

What's New, Emu?

Laughing Matters Ink

I Was Absent



Copyright © 2001, 2002.
All rights reserved.
memorabiliaBuying Memorabilia: The Price Really Paid for James Cagney's Dirty Socks
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why do items once owned by celebrities cost so much money? Read on and maybe you'll find out.


Surely all of you out there have heard of "guilt by association." Well, taking my reasoning just one step further, please consider "value by association." It has another name in today's market place: memorabilia. Both concepts involve making an assumption, in the first instance a legal one about criminal complicity and in the second about worth, concerning either the company you keep or the company you admire. I love auctions and attend them all the time, but the first celebrity one I went to in which Jimmy Cagney's estate was being sold illustrates my point far better than my words ever could.

I pick Mr. Cagney because he is one of my favorite movie stars and his worldwide fame has made him almost a religious icon in the eyes of his millions of admirers. To this day, he exists as passionately as if he still lived or breathed on the silver screen where dreams never die. I wanted to buy something that the great movie star had touched, something I could remember him by for always. I probably would have settled for a pair of his dirty socks!

The auction was run by a most prestigious company. (To protect the innocent, they shall remain nameless.) Proceedings were held in the auditorium of a gothic Catholic Church on New York's Upper East Side. I was told that Cagney had worshipped there, and everywhere I looked I wondered if this was where he sat and walked and talked and walked and sat and talked. I had it bad and like that old song says, "that ain't good." It was a whole day affair, starting at 10am and running far into the evening with a break between morning, afternoon and evening sales.

The catalogue cost twenty dollars. This was a transparent attempt to eliminate the less serious buyers and the riff-raff. I'm not sure if I was considered riff or raff, but I bought one anyway. There were several viewings over a period of two or three days of all the memorabilia which included Cagney's torn and worn Hollywood address book, the tap shoes he wore in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as well as the vest and the checkered cap. Other items included books, a childhood baseball uniform, many photos and some oil paintings painted by the star at his farm in Connecticut in the latter years of his life.

james cagney
I fell in love with a photograph of him tying up the rigging on his boat when he was about forty years old. The frame was a plain wood stand with a flexible centerpiece and the catalogue estimated it would cost $150-200 dollars. I set my sights on this, but decided I would settle for a loose set of taps that were worn on another pair of shoes in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" if I couldn't get the photo. I was prepared to go up to $300. According to the catalogue, the photo was destined for the morning and the taps for the afternoon sale. And so I sat and watched, watched and sat. I could not believe how much money was being spent and how far over the estimates the items were going for. For example, the dilapidated address book I mentioned whose broken spine and faded torn pages revealed the long ago phone numbers of Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart went for 800 bucks. I don't remember the exact amounts, but the vest and the checkered cap from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" went for more than one thousand dollars each.

Needless to say, I was getting very discouraged with each passing tap of the gavel. What was a girl to do? I waited and then my golden opportunity came. The auctioneer held up the object of my desire. The bidding started, my heart was pounding and my hand was up there with all the rest. I had said $300 would be my maximum, but some dark force made me raise my hand until the bidding reached $450.00! That same little voice that won't let me drive after one drink or talk to that strange man in the dark raincoat spoke to me again, at first in a whisper and then in a scream through a loudspeaker that rang through my ears: "WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? ARE YOU CRAZY, MARJORIE?"

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Get the old movies here!

books


Don't miss this excellent video:

The Time of Your Life

The Time of Your Life, Video


A little known but very interesting video from 1948 that features several members of the Cagney family (brother William and sister Jeanne). Based on a play written by William Saroyan about a group of lovable eccentrics, The Time of Your Life is a story of pipe dreams and, despite bad reviews, the film was actually a hit, grossing more than 1.5 million dollars at the time of its release.



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