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Sammy Davis Auction a Sad Affair to Some

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some Sammy Davis Jr. fans who thought they wanted to buy a little piece of the late entertainer’s legacy changed their minds Sunday.

The sight of Davis’ photo albums, clothing, jewelry and other personal items on the auction block was just too painful.

“I wouldn’t feel right buying anything,” said Tim Samways of Seal Beach, among about 800 people who turned out for a court-ordered auction of Davis’ effects in Los Angeles. “It’s like the guy’s whole life is out here on the floor. It’s not right.”

A spokeswoman for the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house said the sale of more than 500 items from the Davis estate--including a white satin jumpsuit, a Gold Record award for “The Candy Man,” and hundreds of photographs--brought in about $439,000.

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The proceeds, however, will fall far short of covering the more than $5.3 million in federal taxes, mortgage payments, grocery charges and other debts he left behind, according to court documents. An attorney for the estate’s executor said Davis’ wife, Altovise, will probably have to sell her Beverly Hills home on Summit Drive.

Samways said he went out of curiosity but couldn’t buy because he was too distressed by the proceedings. “It’s like, let’s get rid of all this junk as fast as we can,” he said.

Liz Brown, another fan who attended the auction, agreed, saying, “It’s like a garage sale here.”

“I think we are all taking it personally,” she added as she stood next to a rack of jackets, fur coats and denim vests worn by the diminutive entertainer, who died of throat cancer in May, 1990.

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Still, bidding was lively for many items. Laura Smissaert, director of public relations for Butterfield & Butterfield, said the auction house originally expected to raise about $250,000 from the sale. But she said it soon became apparent that the auction would bring far more.

For example, the minimum bid for Davis’ tap shoes was $700 but the pair sold for $11,000. A collection of 10 wooden and metal canes started at a minimum bid of $500 but was sold for $7,150. Bidding began at $900 for a director’s chair with Davis’ name across the backrest. It sold for $3,850.

Among the bidders was Jason Priestly, a star of the television series “Beverly Hills 90210,” who paid $2,250 for a pair of gold cuff links shaped like records.

John Gamboa of Arcadia paid $660 for a scrapbook that included condolence letters sent to Davis after his father died. The book included letters from Sugar Ray Robinson and Mickey Rooney. “Where else are you going to get something like this?” Gamboa said.

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Other belongings on the block were a Medallion of Merit given to Davis by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, a letter from former President Richard M. Nixon and a plaque proclaiming a “Sammy Davis Jr. Day” in Los Angeles in 1974.

Among the more personal objects auctioned off were 50 clear plastic glasses with “Sammy & Altovise” emblazoned on the sides, and several guest books, including a wedding book, with signatures of George Burns, Michael Jackson, Muhammed Ali, Rita Hayworth and Lucille Ball.

As people strolled through the carpeted rooms of the auction house, they listened to Davis’ greatest hits piped in through speakers in the ceiling.

Several expressed outrage that Davis’ friends in the entertainment industry did not contribute or sponsor a fund-raiser to preserve the Davis estate.

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“After all the time he spent entertaining us and all that he gave to us,” said Harold Baker of Los Angeles, “it’s hard to see all his stuff auctioned off like he was nothing.”


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