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Theft of Skelton Artworks Is No Joke : Shoplifting: Two portraits of clowns taken from a Newport Beach gallery are estimated to have a total value of $50,000.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The couple browsing in Pagliacci’s art gallery in Newport Beach appeared to know their art.

While the man talked to the gallery’s co-owner, Bob Lennon, about the paintings of comedian Red Skelton, the sculptures of California artist Ron Lee and the elegant porcelain collection by Lladro, a Spanish manufacturer--the woman admired the paintings in the gallery’s Red Skelton room.

Lennon left the couple a moment to get a box for a porcelain clown that the man decided to purchase, but when he returned he noticed that “Bright Eyes,” an expensive Skelton oil of a clown, was missing from the wall.

“I asked him what the woman did with the painting,” Lennon said Friday. “But he apparently panicked and fled.”

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Lennon said that as he chased the man along the 3400 block of Via Oporto, he thought, “Now they’ll take the whole store . . . because no one is there.”

He returned to the gallery, only to discover a second Skelton work missing--a color pencil sketch of “Freddie the Freeloader,” Skelton’s most famous clown character.

“I’m sure they knew what they were doing,” Lennon said. “They left all the 25 or 30 other Skelton lithographs and took ‘Bright Eyes’ . . . the most expensive painting in the store.”

“Bright Eyes” is valued at $45,000, while “Freddie the Freeloader” is worth $4,900, Lennon said.

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Newport Beach Police Sgt. Andy Gonis said investigators believe that after the May 11 theft the couple attempted to sell the portraits to another Pagliacci’s gallery in Laguna Beach on Sunday. The couple reportedly brought in slides of the works.

“The thief was spooked . . . and fled when the clerk said that ‘only our store in Newport Beach sells Red Skeltons,’ ” Gonis said.

Lennon said the sales clerk at the Laguna Beach gallery didn’t realize that the portraits were the ones stolen from the Newport Beach gallery.

Lennon said the theft has upset the affable Skelton.

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“He was very shaken,” Lennon said. “He was not laughing at all.”


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