A few months prior to finding out she would have to liquidate her collection of movie memorabilia—the largest private collection of its kind
Debbie Reynolds revealed to The Telegraph newspaper how much she felt like the real-life Molly Brown, whom she had portrayed in her Oscar-nominated role: “She said, ‘They tried to sink me but no one’s ever gotten me down yet.’ And that’s the way I feel about my life. There have been a lot of mishaps and a lot of difficulties along the way, but it’s been a wonderful life and I never let anything get me down.”
The actress has a history of picking herself up, having sung and danced her way through terrible financial windfalls. Her second husband, Harry Karl, had gambled away both hers and his fortunes. A third marriage forced Reynolds to declare bankruptcy in 1997 on a Las Vegas hotel she had purchased to showcase her movie memorabilia.
Still, she found a new home for her museum, and with it half built in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, it seemed like her dream just might come true. Then Gregory Orman called in his $2.4 million promissory note, causing a California bankruptcy judge to rule in September 2010 that the Reynolds collection would have to go on the auction block.
The first of the two-part auction, held this past June by Profiles in History, was iconic: the $4.6 million sale of Marilyn Monroe’s subway dress from 1955’s The Seven Year Itch landed in the Guinness World Records. The auctions totaled $21.2 million.
Reynolds began to seriously collect Hollywood costumes like Monroe’s dress when MGM started auctioning off everything except its real estate in 1970. “I was still under contract at MGM and knew the inventory well,” Reynolds notes. “These were the clothes that the studio wouldn’t even lend us to wear to events or parties.”
Star Wars director George Lucas has called her collection the “holy grail of screen memorabilia.” We share here some of the costumes from classic Western movies, including a dress worn by Reynolds in How the West Was Won.
In a bittersweet note Reynolds wrote for the auction catalogue, she said of her prized costumes: “There is magic in every thread, button and bow. Many of these wonderful articles capture that special moment in a film where our hearts were deeply touched. For me, the memory of this moment lives forever in each of these pieces.”