Tom Gregory: Collecting Hollywood’s Stories

By KIMBERLY COLE
Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Autograph

UPDATE: RR Auction is selling Tom Gregory’s vintage Hollywood Signed Photo collection from December 8 – December 15. There are over 250 signed photos in the auction. We only had room to feature eight in this article from the March 2010 issue of Autograph. View the entire collection at RRAuction.com

Don’t miss this new video with Tom Gregory about his collection.

Tom Gregory in his eye-catching gallery of Classic Hollywood signed portraits.

Tom Gregory in his eye-catching gallery of Classic Hollywood signed portraits. Photo by Patricia Williams

“Lucy, I’m ho-ome!” The driver’s voice booms out of the tinny speakers on the small green and white bus. The tourists’ laughter is lost in the sudden roar of a leaf blower. A gardener directs the flurry of leaves away from me as I stumble up the walkway to Tom Gregory’s front door. I’m distracted because I’m not sure my batteries will last the interview, I’ve had to dig through my trunk for a ragged notepad—and I’m late. 

The home before me is daunting. I knew the address was in Beverly Hills, but I hadn’t expected this double-lot estate. I should have dressed better.

Tom Gregory is a good looking man with intense dark-framed glasses and short-cropped silvering hair. His engaging manner puts me immediately at ease. He gives me a tour of the house. The foyer’s grand, circular staircase is the starting point for a journey no tourist ever gets to travel. Tom takes me through exquisitely decorated and restored rooms, up one staircase and down another. I get a quick glimpse of a bathroom with lighted alabaster floors. The Golden Age of Hollywood has been faithfully restored and lovingly nourished. The house isn’t about wealth or luxury, it’s about staging—creating a setting for a life of elegance and charm in classic Hollywood style. [Read more…]

RR Auction Lawsuit Update: Court Rejects Johnson Attempt to Change Lawsuit

A trial date was set on August 26 for the Michael Johnson v. RR Auction lawsuit, two weeks after an August 12 ruling denying Johnson’s fourth attempt to add allegations of illegal bidding practices. While Johnson’s lawyers claimed in their motion that they spent six months and $50,000 extensively investigating “shill bidding” allegations, they didn’t present any evidence to the court of such practices by RR.

Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna Geck also granted RR’s motion barring Johnson from conducting any further discovery related to “shill bidding,” including taking depositions. [Read more…]

RR Auction Sues rrauctionlawsuit.com Owner for Defamation, 14 Other Counts

New Hampshire-based auction house RR Auction filed a lawsuit in Federal Court on Tuesday, June 2, against Michael Johnson, owner of rrauctionlawsuit.com. The complaint charges 15 counts, including business defamation, abusive litigation practices, false light invasion of privacy, interference with contractual relationships, misappropriation of RR Auction’s marks and trade name, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and cybersquatting.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire. Johnson resides in Bakersfield, Calif. RR Auction also has an office in Boston, Mass. The Boston Globe reported the suit on June 3: “Cybersquatting law could be tested in N.H. court case”

Johnson filed a lawsuit in California against RR Auction in 2012, claiming that RR Auction sold him forgeries and refused to honor their guarantee of authenticity. RR Auction claims that even though they believe that the autographs are genuine, they tried to refund Johnson’s money, but he would not return the autographs to them. They claim that Johnson is the first customer to file a lawsuit against them for failing to honor their guarantee in the company’s 39-year history.

RR Auction claims that Johnson registered rrauctionlawsuit.com in 2013, a domain that misappropriated RR Auction’s trade name, and began populating it with misinformation to harm their business in order to force them to settle his lawsuit against them. They say that by registering at least 13 domain names using RR Auction or the personal names of RR employees or owners in the title, Johnson has tried, and been successful, in coopting the attention of clients or potential clients. They claim he referred to his lawsuit as a class action lawsuit, but that despite soliciting 400 RR clients in California to join him in a class action, no one did and the California court wouldn’t certify a class.

Mr. Johnson also posted a scathing document online that he refers to as an “affidavit,” which he claims was written by a former employee, Karen “Kay” Burris. According to court documents, Burris was terminated in 2008 after it was discovered she embezzled what turned out to be $455,000 from RR Auction. Burris committed suicide shortly after RR Auction went to law enforcement with their discovery. The court in California excluded the document, referring to it as “hearsay,” “lack[ing] foundation,” and observing that “the content of it remains speculation.”

Preliminarily, RR Auction says that they will ask the Court shut down Mr. Johnson’s Internet domains that incorporate RR Auction’s mark and trade name and intentionally divert clients and potential clients to “this misinformation.”

Representatives at RR Auction”s law firm, Burns & Levinson LLP, released this statement:

“Rather than post websites riddled with salacious and outrageous accusations, we will let our court filings do the talking.  The law and facts are, we believe, firmly in our favor, and we are hopeful that the Court and any jury that may review this case will agree.

“When a dissatisfied former customer takes it upon himself to turn litigation into a platform to escalate a personal dispute beyond reasonable limits, highly respected companies like RR Auction are not obligated to sit back and take body blows indefinitely.  Too many people”s jobs, too many collectors” faith in the memorabilia industry, and the integrity of the judicial system are at stake.  We look forward to assisting RR Auction in this litigation.”

“We have built this company for almost 40 years with a guarantee, like no other auction house in this industry and we have ALWAYS honored that guarantee,” states RR Auction president Robert Eaton. “We hope that RR Auction’s customers, after months of hearing Mr. Johnson’s account, will pay equal attention to this litigation, and decide for themselves who they can believe: RR Auction, a trusted name in memorabilia auctions, or one man who has litigated three years over a handful of items totaling a few thousand dollars in value – items for which he was offered a full refund but refused.”

Johnson was served with the lawsuit June 3. Autograph will be covering this story on an ongoing basis as Johnson or his attorneys release their statements or file their responses.

RR Auction Prevails in Class Action Lawsuit Attempt by Michael Johnson

Boston memorabilia house RR Auction emerged victorious from a Santa Barbara, California courtroom Friday, when an attempt to bring a class action lawsuit against the company failed the basic tests; including that no one wanted to join the lawsuit.

Superior Court Judge Donna Geck shot down the attempt by Michael Johnson and his lawyer, Dugan Kelley of Christman Kelley & Clarke, to certify the class action in a tentative ruling posted two days before. Johnson’s lawyers didn’t object to the Court’s ruling during the March 13 hearing that lasted only a few minutes.

RR Auction VP Robert Livingston said they spent 2 1/2 years defending themselves against a man Livingston calls a serial litigator who filed a frivolous lawsuit. Someone he claims was once looking to set up a competing autograph business.

Prior Law Firm Sued

Johnson is also suing the first law firm that represented him in this case for malpractice, McCarthy & Kroes, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, declaratory relief and financial elder abuse.

Among Johnson’s allegations in the suit against his former law firm is that “…the Defendant [McCarthy & Kroes] pled causes of action that were frivolous, untenable, and contrary to California law (e.g. unjust enrichment) thereby driving up the costs, fees, and adding further delay to a case that should have proceeded expeditiously.

“That’s one thing Johnson and we agree on,” said Livingston.

$130,000…or $9,610?

Johnson claims that over $130,000 in autographs he purchased from RR were not authentic, although in his January 30, 2015 declaration he lists only 12 signed items from RR that he sent to authenticators and were rejected, for which he paid $8,008 plus 20% commission ($9,610). Johnson claimed that based on those 12, the authenticator, PSA/DNA, determined that all of the autographs he purchased from RR were forgeries.

Autographs Not Returned

In their filings, RR claims that they were ready to honor their lifetime guarantee of authenticity and refund Johnson’s money, even though they believe the 12 items are actually genuine. But Johnson did not return the autographs to RR so they could issue refunds.

Johnson does not dispute that. In Paragraphs 14 & 15 of his March 6, 2015 declaration, Johnson states:

14. Also, Defendant claims that I somehow did not meet a condition of the guarantee because I allegedly did not return the items to RR Auction. But this argument is also misleading. RR Auction’s “guarantee” between 2008 and 2012 did not state a buyer had to return an autographed item that was found to be a forgery to RR Auction before a refund is due. Nor did the RR guarantee between 2008 and 2012 require a buyer who purchased an autographed item from RR Auction that was later found to be a forgery to send the item(s) first to RR Auction before that buyer could get a refund. Instead, the RR Auction guarantee stated that RR Auction, “may ask the buyer to provide documentation” from the third party authenticator who deemed the autographed a forgery.

15. Nor did RR Auction’s guarantee state between 2008 and 2012 that RR Auction or any of its employees or owners had to physically see or inspect the items first before a refund was given that buyer. Similarly, RR Auction’s guarantee did not state that Defendant had to “determine” or “verify” that the forged item the buyer was requesting a refund on was purchased from RR Auction as a condition precedent to honoring the guarantee.

He is the first person in RR’s history, the company says, to demand a refund while also refusing to return the goods in question.

Johnson set up a website for the lawsuit last fall, rrauctionlawsuit.com, to try to get other California clients of RR to join the class action. He posted the deposition videos of R&R managers, something rarely done in active lawsuits, and an ever-growing list of people whose video depositions he threatened to take, including Autograph magazine’s publisher and community manager of Autograph Magazine Live, Steven Cyrkin.

Johnson’s pleadings claimed that at least 1,000 Californians purchased autographs from RR between 2008-2012 and were potential members of the class. It turns out there were only 393. Twelve of them had contacted RR with authenticity concerns during that period. All 9 who asked a refund under the guarantee got one.

In February Things Got a Little Weird

On February 6 of this year, Johnson’s lawyer Dugan Kelley started to email settlement demands to R&R attorney, Keith Attlesey, threatening to go to the national press, including The Boston Globe, ESPN and The New York Daily News, if RR Auction didn’t settle for $1,250,000 within a week.

The settlement demands escalated weekly, and were scheduled to increase to $5 million before the March 13 hearing to certify the class action.

In a February 24 email to Attlesey, stating that the then-settlement demand of $2,750,000 would expire in three days, Kelley wrote “I have recently come into information bearing on criminal activity as well.”

Livingston calls the emails “litigation by extortion.”

On March 6, Kelley filed a 119-page declaration that entered as evidence hearsay statements from a 2008 affidavit by former RR employee Karen Burris accusing RR of fraud. What Kelley didn’t reveal was that Burris wrote the affidavit after R&R fired her when they discovered that she and her husband, William Burris, had embezzled what would turn out to be more than $450,000 from the company between 2004-2008. R&R filed a police report within a few days after her firing.

Karen Burris committed suicide shortly thereafter. RR Auction eventually settled their lawsuit against Burris’ husband and the police ended their investigation after he paid back a portion of the money.

In the same pleading, Kelley also attached a New York Daily News article about William Boehm, an IT specialist hired by RR to maintain their software. Boehm recently pled guilty to lying to the FBI while employed at an unrelated company, Mastro Auctions, in Chicago. Kelley also added 64 pages from that case into evidence.

“It mattered little to Dugan Kelley that his “information” didn’t supply a scintilla of evidence that RR had engaged in criminal behavior, beyond the hearsay, inadmissible allegations Karen Burris made as a bargaining chip after she was caught,” said Livingston.

Livingston calls the whole lawsuit a set-up. “Johnson clearly wasn’t interested in just a refund.”

Johnson has filed nine different civil actions over the last 25 years, including suing his sister and brother-in-law.

While he could continue the lawsuit against RR on his own, Johnson has lost the ability for it to be class action. Judge Geck ruled that even if there were other aggrieved parties, each memorabilia item is different and authenticated differently, and therefore it would be up to individuals to file suit. A class action needs a similar product and a similar problem to go forth.

RR’s attorney filed objections during the hearing to the Burris and Boehm pleadings, in expectation of a Johnson appeal.

Asked about the outcome, one of Johnson’s other lawyers, Matthew Clarke, expressed disappointment but said “Mr. Johnson is dedicated to the case.”

The law firm later sent out a press release, stating that “In spite of the Court’s ruling on class certification, Mr. Johnson and his attorneys, Christman, Kelley & Clarke PC, are moving forward with Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit against R&R Auction.”

But RR Auction was relieved after hearing Judge Geck’s ruling. A troublesome chapter in its history has ended.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” said Keith Attlesey after the decision. “It puts to rest a lot of attacks that Johnson and others have made against RR Auction’s sterling reputation.”

Autograph Magazine Signed Beatles Album Census

Beatles albums signed by John, Paul, George and Ringo are among the most valuable and desirable Rock ’n’ Roll collectibles. Only about 125 are known; most being their first album, “Please Please Me.” But how many signed Beatles albums really exist? Autograph Magazine wants to find out.

Announcing Autograph Magazine’s Signed Beatles Album Census. Our goal is to locate and track every Beatles album signed by the Fab Four, in order to preserve our musical heritage and protect collectors against forgeries. If you have an album signed by the Beatles, I encourage you to have yours counted. It’s free.

Genuine Beatles-Signed Abbey Road Album, UK Release

Genuine Beatles-Signed Abbey Road Album, UK Release. It was signed for “Apple Scruff” Cathy Sarver.

And if you have a Beatles album signed by all four band members, you’ve got something quite valuable. Albums in good condition typically range from about $15,000 for the most common one, “Please Please Me,” to well over $100,000 for some of the rarest albums, especially U.S. releases.


Most Beatles Albums Are Extremely Rare or Unknown Signed

You wouldn’t know it by the hundreds of albums offered online and in some memorabilia galleries, but band-signed Beatles albums are very hard to come by. Many are currently unknown, or there are only one or two examples. Some are “secretarials,” where some or all of the autographs were signed in the Beatles’ names by their management, staff…and occasionally one of the Beatles signing for others. But most are outright forgeries offered by sellers that prey on the unwary. They often come with certificates of authenticity from dubious authenticators and forensic document examiners.

Rule of Thumb: Only “Please Please Me” commonly sells for under $30,000 signed, and the occasional “With The Beatles.” Any other undamaged band-signed Beatles album priced in that range should be looked at with extreme caution.

How rare are genuine signed Beatles albums? These are Autograph’s estimates of the counts of signed Beatles albums that are accepted as genuine by the legitimate autograph community:


US Release Band-Signed Beatles Albums
4-5 “Meet the Beatles”
2 “Help”
1 “Beatles 65”
1 “Beatles VI”
0 “Rubber Soul”

2 “Revolver”
0 “Magical Mystery Tour”
0 “Abbey Road”
0 “Yellow Submarine”
1 “White Album”
1 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
0
Let it Be
12-13 Known


UK Release Band-Signed Beatles Albums
Roughly 75 “Please Please Me” (Their first album, signed in three 1963 UK promotional tours)
15-20 “With the Beatles” (The tail end of their easier accessibility)
8-10 “Hard Day’s Night”
3 “Beatles for Sale”
2 “Help”
1 “Rubber Soul”
1 “Revolver”
5 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
0 “Magical Mystery Tour” (All reissues from the 1980s and up.)
0 “White Album”
0 “Yellow Submarine”
2 “Abbey Road”
0 “Let it Be”
Roughly 112-119 Known (37-44 plus roughly 75 “Please Please Me” albums)


How to Participate in the Census

  1. Email large images of your album showing the autographs clearly to Beatles@autographmagazine.com, along with your name, state or province, and country. Put “Beatles Census” and the title of the album in the subject line.
  2. Send separate emails for each album.
  3. In preliminary authentication, we weed out albums with signatures we believe are clearly forgeries. We want to do this without knowing how you acquired the album or who authenticated it, whenever possible. So don’t tell us or include receipts or authentication papers. If there is an authentication sticker on an unsigned side of your album, please don’t include the image of that side at this time. We may ask for its history later.
  4. After preliminary authentication, the images of all albums, approved or rejected, will be entered in our Beatles Signed Album Census forum for comment and discussion, without your name or the album’s history mentioned. You’re welcome to participate in any and all discussions. We’ll review all commentary in the forum before registering an album with the census.

 

Two Levels of Signed Beatles Album Census Registrations:

  1. Confirmed: For albums inspected in person by at least one of our accepted experts. This is in addition to online authentication by several of our experts.
  2. Online: For albums authenticated and approved online only by our experts.

Submit your images to Autograph Magazine’s Signed Beatles Album Census today!

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