Michael Jackson auction features off-the-wall items

Michael Jackson auction features off-the-wall items
BIG LOTS: For Michael Jackson, the man in the mirror was also the man in the paintings. Also for sale: the crystal-studded glove — and statue servants. (Nancy Pastor / For The Times)
The gates of Neverland Ranch. The crystal right-hand glove worn in the video for "Billie Jean." An arcade's worth of video games and a small army of fiberglass butlers and other figures once scattered about to make the mansion feel less lonely. These are just a few of the 1,390 lots of Michael Jackson's belongings now on the auction block in Beverly Hills.

Collected from Neverland, which the pop star vacated after being acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005, the eclectic assemblage -- a catalog of the singer's career and eccentricities -- goes on view starting today at the former Robinsons-May building for an admission fee of $20. This despite the fact that Jackson is apparently having seller's remorse.

Representatives of his production company filed suit last month in L.A. Superior Court to stop the auction, claiming that certain items, including a carousel horse with an inscription from Elizabeth Taylor, are irreplaceable and that Jackson had not signed the auction contract. Although a judge dismissed the attempt to have the contract ruled invalid, the company is seeking a preliminary injunction to delay the sale. The battle is scheduled to continue in court on Wednesday morning.

"Our attorneys are working with their attorneys to resolve this," said Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien's Auctions, which is handling the sale. "And we are focusing on completing the job we were hired to do per our contract." (Jackson representative Tohme Tohme declined to comment.)

The bidding's already begun at juliens-, and barring an 11th-hour intervention, a live auction from April 22 to 25 will determine the winners. That famous glove is expected to go for $10,000 to $15,000. The crystal-covered tube socks, heavy-breathing life-size Darth Vader and gilded throne from Jackson's private quarters?

No one is sure quite how much of the star's debt-- estimated at more than $24 million -- those will retire. But organizers estimate the auction could fetch between $10 million and $20 million. The auction proceeds, less the auction house's commission, will go to Jackson and a music charity.

Representatives of the auction house spent three months clearing the Santa Barbara County property, now co-owned by Jackson and private equity firm Colony Capital LLC and known as Sycamore Valley Ranch. Workers gathered belongings from the main house, the theater, the office, the game room and guest cottages where luminaries such as Taylor and Marlon Brando stayed when they visited Neverland.

"We were told to take the hoods over the stove and the light fixtures, but we really wanted it to be a museum-quality project," said Darren Julien, president and chief executive of Julien's Auctions. (Still, what would the stove hoods have looked like? Italianate baroque?) "Michael Jackson is bigger than life. His collecting tastes say that as well. When he wanted something, he bought it."

The exhibition is loosely organized into three categories -- stage wear and music memorabilia, toys and Disneyana, and furniture and decorative arts. There are numerous music honors -- awards from People's Choice, Billboard, the NAACP, MTV and more -- record displays, a Madame Tussauds wax figure of the star and a letter from President Reagan. A ceremonial crown, scepter and faux ermine cape, cropped military jackets and costume brooches are reminders of Jackson's 1980s fashion icon status.

Many of the elaborately beaded tour jackets were designed by Bill Whitten. Others, such as a black suede jacket covered in miniature gold license plates and worn in a 1990 L.A. Gear ad campaign, were made by designers Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush. (Jackson's "Thriller" jacket isn't here, though -- he decided to keep it.)

Heavy carved wood furnishings, marble tables and gilded statuary speak to the singer's ostentatious style. He is the subject of much of the art from his walls, painted as a king, leading a group of children at moonrise and being knighted.

Other decorative items include "little prince" and "little princess" chairs, civil rights and black history books with uncracked spines and a four-poster bed with a brocade bedspread more befitting a grandmother than the King of Pop.

"Neverland represents Michael Jackson's Xanadu," said Nolan. "There's something for everyone, from paintings to porcelain to bicycles." Also on offer: a tour bus, bumper cars and three- and four-wheel all-terrain vehicles.

"The bronze sculpture of an Indian with arms bound we estimate will go for $150,000 to $250,000. The 1989 Rolls Royce Silver Seraph limousine customized with 24-karat gold trim would cost $120,000 to $150,000 if you or I owned it," Nolan said. "Some of the jackets will go for $40,000 to $50,000. And we expect to get $20,000 to $30,000 for the gates. We've had worldwide interest in the gates already, with bidders from Italy to Australia."

The number of games, toys and amusements Jackson amassed is astonishing -- Disney figurines, many of Mickey Mouse, life-size "Star Wars" characters (including Han Solo in the frozen carbonite), Sega video games, pinball machines and a Neverland trolley. He also had a particular affinity for Peter Pan paraphernalia.

As for the figures of waiters, maids and butlers dispersed throughout the residence, Nolan says, "This place could feel quite lonely. I think Michael felt comfortable surrounding himself with loyal subjects like the little lady with the cup and saucer and another little lady and gentleman sitting by the fire." Apparently in the grand old days of Neverland, the waiter would have a fresh plate of cookies every day.

"That he's such an interesting character adds depth and duration to his legacy," says James Comisar, an L.A.-based curator and authenticator of Hollywood artifacts. Jackson recently announced a comeback tour to begin in July, and tickets sold out within hours. Wonder how long it will take to sell the figurine of Jackson as a California Raisin.

Own a piece of Neverland

The exhibition is open to the public today through April 21 at 9900 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. The auction is April 22-25.