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…]

James Dean’s Intimate Letters to Girlfriend

Three James Dean handwritten letters to his girlfriend, never before offered for sale, will be sold at Christie’s London November 23, 2011.

James Dean handwritten letters are among the rarest and most valuable of Hollywood autographs. Only a few have come to market since Dean’s tragic death in a 1955 car crash, just 24 years old. So when Neil Roberts, Christie’s Head of Pop Culture in London, asked for any information we might have on them to help him with a potential consignment, I had to know more.

But I had to wait….

“At the moment they are reluctant to send me any copies,” Neil said. “However the names and places they provided seem to add up. I’m sure you will understand that at this time I cannot pass on any details.”

That was a year and a half ago. The wait was worth it.

On November 23, Christie’s will auction three James Dean handwritten letters never before offered for sale during their fall Pop Culture: Film and Entertainment Memorabilia sale. They’re so rare that even one would be a noteworthy event—I don’t know if three have been auctioned in the last 20 years. What makes these 1954 letters especially fascinating—and desirable—is that Dean wrote them to his on and off girlfriend for two years, Barbara Glenn, during the period he was discovered and became a star. They’re filled with his feelings and experiences during that time. They are as passionate as Dean was onscreen, and sometimes even more raw.

The letters provide candid accounts of Dean’s life, sent from out of town tryouts for “The Immoralist” in Philadelphia and from behind the scenes of his first foray into Hollywood, “East of Eden.” The emotional letters reveal the strains of Dean’s work and their long distance relationship, and come with copies of never published, private family photographs of the couple from Barbara Glenn’s son, filmmaker Keith Gordon.

“As I remember her stories,” Gordon recalls, “my mother was introduced to James Dean—whom she always referred to as ‘Jimmy’—by their mutual close friend, Martin Landau, in the late 1940s or early 1950s in New York, where they were all young actors starting out and struggling together.

“She never discussed their romance in great detail, but I did know Jimmy was her first serious, grown-up relationship. It was apparently very intense and involved numerous break-ups and reconciliations, but she often remained his confidant even during some of the ‘off-again’ times.

“Eventually my mother met my father, Mark Gordon, an actor and director, and broke it off with Jimmy to go with my Dad. Jimmy actually gave her his blessing to leave—even he knew that what they had was too fraught with drama to ever be stable.

“Years later David Dalton tracked down my mother and interviewed her for his biography ‘James Dean: The Mutant King’ [first published 1974]. She is the first person thanked in the book’s acknowledgements. As far as I know, that was the first time she spoke ‘on the record’ about their time together. I think she was happy with the way the book captured the complexities of their relationship.

“I found several copies, along with James Dean’s letters to her, and other memorabilia such as reviews and photographs tucked away safely in a drawer. I hope that a fan or collector can gain as much pleasure from owning these letters as my mother clearly did from receiving them, and as I did in learning more about my mother’s history.”

The letters are being sold individually, each with prints of four 8×10 photos of Dean and Glenn, three on the beach and one with friends. Copyrights aren’t included. The auction catalog isn’t online yet, but Neil was kind enough to send me descriptions of the lots. Due to copyright restrictions, we can’t publish the letters completely—believe me, I asked! (Hmmm…is there a book in the works?) 

Letter One
The first handwritten letter from James Dean to Barbara Glenn is dated in pencil in another hand (most likely Barbara’s) 1-10-54. The one page letter, in blue ink on a single sheet of St. James Hotel, Philadelphia, stationery, starts out Darling, Don’t worry about me. I’m O.K.? It’s filled with the thoughts and feelings Dean is experiencing during rehearsals for the theatrical production of “The Immoralist,” a play set in Tunis. Dean played Bachir, a North African houseboy, and was so well received in the role, he left the play early for Hollywood.

At the top of the letter are Dean’s doodles of North African style buildings, likely similar to the set; and one of a stressed-out caricature of a head, presumably his. Dean candidly stresses in the letter how unimpressed he is with the play, Probably a monster success; but to me it’s still a piece of shit, even though he concedes that he can’t tell much about it yet. His writing soon turns to more personal matters. He finishes the letter underlining his loneliness and insecurity by asking Barbara to Please write to me darling…. Please come and see me, Love Jim. The original envelope is included, postmarked Philadelphia Jan 10 1954, and with a sketch of a steer and additional writing on the back in Dean’s hand.

Letter Two
The second letter from James Dean to Barbara is three handwritten pages on two sheets of paper, and includes the original envelope. It’s dated 5-7-54, also in pencil, most likely in Glenn’s hand. Written in blue ink, the second and third sides are each signed Love Jim. It was written in response to letters Dean mentions receiving from Glenn only a couple of hours earlier and begins, Oh baby. Dean’s exasperated start develops into the tone of a very protective, caring boyfriend.

You know how I am about stuff like that. But god damn it honey with all the gory detail… when I get hold of that son of a bitch…. before developing into a more concerned and caring manner, asking how he could help her and saying how much he wanted to see her. He would soon be going on location for two weeks, and asked her if, upon his return, maybe you could come out here then? Please tell me if you could, would, etc…. Dean goes on to explain that he’d had a rough day at the studio before going on to the stable to ride his horse, Cisco, and how conquering him is a long drawn out affair. Dean expresses admiration for the horse, stating he’s full of life and I love him, before changing the subject back to his schedule, and asking again Barbara to visit him If you want to? before signing off Love Jim. 

The second sheet of paper, the third page of the letter consists entirely of a post-script in which Dean returns to the subject matter of the circumstances Barbara has found herself in, exclaiming Listen to me god damn it, before pointing out Barbara’s failings. $8000 to see you in a bathing suit, boy that’s sellin’ out cheap. He ends with You’ve got no god damn respect for yourself , signing off love Jim.

Letter Three
The third letter from James Dean to Barbara Glenn is two pages in blue ink on both sides of a sheet of plain note paper, and includes the envelope. The letter is dated 5-19-54, also in pencil, most likely in Glenn’s hand. It’s signed Love Jim twice on the second side. The letter starts out Darling, and begins with the surprising opening line, I haven’t written because I have fallen in love. As you read it you realize Dean is talking about his horse, referring to the picture of Cisco the Kid, the new member of the family that he enclosed. The original photograph of Cisco and his trainer is included in the lot along with the four other photos mentioned.

Dean goes into detail, explaining that Cisco is a well-trained but very spirited horse, a thoroughbred Palomino…. may use him in the movie, before abruptly changing the subject matter by stating I’m very lonely and how I hate this place. In the next paragraph he tells Barbara not to call, explaining that he still doesn’t have a place of his own.

Just keep writing. Honey these are the nicest, sweetest letters in the world. Dean’s thoughts then turn to his and Barbara’s associates, which flames his fond memories of friends and places, and his dislike for his current location. In the last paragraph Dean asks with a sense of despondency, Maybe you can come and see me sometime, before ending on the positive note, I’ll be home soon Love Jim. A postscript asks Barbara to return the picture and finishes with a second Love Jim.

Christie’s estimates for the three lots are $£5,000-6,000 [$8,000-9,500]; £3,000-4,000 [$4,800-6,300]; and £5,000-6,000 respectively. But these are the low estimates many auction houses are known to use. While you never know what something may bring at auction, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these letters bring three-times estimates or more, even much more. They’re that rare and desirable. A friend said it best:

“These letters are very personal, and to my knowledge nothing comparable has ever come to market. They are the holy grail of this pop icon and should produce very spirited bidding, including from me.”
John Reznikoff, University Archives 

Go to Christie’s Pop Culture Department to ask for more information about the letters, or to get on Christie’s Pop Culture mailing list. Or call their London, South Kensington location at +44 (0)20 7930 6074.

Talk about the James Dean letters with other fans, collectors and experts on our community Web site, Autograph Magazine Live!

 

Charlie Sheen: What You See is Half of What You Get

By Lawrence Grobel

Over the years, I’ve often been surprised when someone I’m meeting for the first time says to me, “I’ve seen you on TV.” To which I often reply, “Which one?”

I’m referring to those biographical shows A&E or E! puts on (A&E Biography; the E! True Hollywood Story). I’ve been a “talking head” on a number of them: Al Pacino, Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, Patrick Swayze, Jet Li, Anthony Hopkins, Jean Claude Van Damme, Angelina Jolie, etc. I get recognized far more for these than my books, which is depressing, but to be expected. TV is a far more powerful medium. And it’s not just in the U.S., but in England, France, Poland, Japan. These shows are popular around the world, and they get repeated over and over, so once you’ve done one, you’re connected to that star seemingly for the rest of your life.

Charlie Sheen with Larry Grobel at Sheen's house in Malibu, 1990

 

I’ve never claimed to be an authority about any of these celebrities. But once you’ve written about them for a magazine, you become attached to them. So when a TV producer is looking to put a show together, besides the clips and the narration, he’s trying to find a few reliable “authorities.” I get called to do a lot more than I end up doing because I always ask to be compensated for my time, and these shows think that just being on TV is payment enough.

The most recent request came from E! asking if I would be willing to talk about Charlie Sheen. After the predictable back-and-forth we came to an agreement and I went into my files for the trip down memory lane. I had interviewed Sheen for Movieline twenty years ago, had even been a “talking head” for A&E Biography about him in the late ‘90s. So it was déjà vu, except for the fact that in the last twenty years, Charlie Sheen has been in an out of new marriages and relationships, in and out of rehab, fathered a few more children, and found enormous success on the TV show Two and a Half Men.

One of the first things I read about him in my preparation for E’s coming to my house with their TV crew was a 1994 Movieline article with Stephen Rebello in which Sheen spoke about the encounter he and I had had four years earlier. “Sheen had vowed he did not want to handle this Movieline interview the way he handled his previous Movieline interview,” Rebello wrote. “What, no spilling the beans on such escapades as a youthful four-day crime spree? A credit card scam? A supposed accident involving a loaded gun with his then-girlfriend? …Why ever not? ‘Because I thought I was an a-hole in that interview,’ he confesses. ‘It was during that whole crazy period when I was feeling very much like being an outlaw. Or maintaining the image of an outlaw. Which can be interesting and fun, but not real productive. I was just talking about all kinds of s—, you know? Now, the press wants to maintain that outlaw image?’”

What struck me reading this was that I had no idea how Sheen had felt about our interview. I hadn’t read this piece by Rebello before, and sitting on my patio, a cigar in one hand, some dark chocolate raisins and a cup of decaf on a table next to me, I found myself smiling. Ah Charlie, I thought, I remember so well the time we met….

He was living in Malibu. I drove to his place and I parked next to his black Mercedes 560 SL, thinking, this guy is surely living the high life. Young (he was 25), handsome, a movie star (Platoon and Wall Street were already behind him), a womanizer (he lost his virginity at 15 during a trip he took with his father, actor Martin Sheen, to Las Vegas. Dad had gone to bed early, Charlie and his cousin found a friendly service and ordered in, then he borrowed his father’s credit card to pay the woman $400), and a distant dad (he had fathered a daughter when he was 19). I was more interested in his years growing up in a famous family as I was about his acting career, and when I asked him to tell me about how he once got arrested as a teenager, he gave me this:

“I had a four day crime spree before I got arrested,” Sheen told me. “We got credit card receipts from the trash of the Beverly Hills Hotel. I told the manager I left a term paper in the lobby and he let me look through the trash. I got all these receipts and we’d call up stores in Westwood and ask if they took phone orders. Then we’d order things like televisions, Walkmans, jewelry, watches, and say ‘I’ll send my son in to pick it up.’ So we’d go in and collect the loot and have the option of having it gift wrapped. Very blue collar crime, when you look somebody in the eye and they say, ‘You want your shit gift wrapped?’”

When one of his best friends got caught at a photo store, Sheen was implicated. “I’m standing in front of my art class, second period, senior year, when two cops came walking down the hallway,” he recalled. “They said, ‘You are under arrest for credit card forgery.’ I was 17. I had to find an angle. I got to the station and indicted my friend and gave them all the receipts and told them everything. It was totally despicable and highly illegal but hell, we gave it a shot.”

He wasn’t thrown out of school then, but he managed to screw up by failing English. “I needed a C- to pass the course and if I didn’t get it I’d be off the baseball team. There was a lot of shit riding on this test. And because I didn’t have a note from my parents because of my absence the day before, she wouldn’t let me take the test. So I pretty much melted down in front of the whole class. I took the test, which was pretty thick, rolled it up into a ball and fired a strike in the middle of her forehead. It knocked her glasses off. She stood there staring at me and in the middle of my rage I said to her that she was lucky I hadn’t killed her yet. Then I ran out of shit to say, it was really an embarrassing moment, so I just started walking out, and there was that infamous trash can. I grabbed it and threw it about thirty feet into the chalkboard and said, ‘Here’s your f***g trash!’ That was my exit.”

High school behind, Sheen became a movie star, got involved with women, and guns.

“With [actress] Rebecca Schaeffer being murdered at her own door one night by a lunatic, with John Lennon, with the continual threat of crazy people towards celebrity, I’ve been carrying a weapon for quite some time because I felt that if shit ever went down I’d want to return some fire. And that even if I was taken out I would want to take the sonofabitch with me. So I used to carry a little .22 Mag and five-shot revolver.”

This was where Sheen paused and asked me to turn off my tape recorder. “Here’s my problem,” he said to me, “I don’t know how to talk about the incident with my girlfriend.” His girlfriend at the time was Kelly Preston, who would go on to marry John Travolta. I had no idea what incident he was even talking about, but all my instincts shouted, Just keep him talking! So I said, “Charlie, in my experience, the best way to talk about an incident is to tell it truly, so that the media can’t distort it. This is your chance to lay it out. I’ll just turn back on the recorder and ask you, simply, what happened. You take it from there.”

This is what he told me:

“I had the revolver in my back pocket where it lived for a number of years. I was downstairs in the bathroom one morning and my girlfriend Kelly was upstairs. She went to move my pants off the weighing scale and the gun fell out of the back pocket and hit the linoleum floor and discharged a round that, thank God, didn’t hit her directly, but it hit the toilet that she was standing next to. She got hit with the porcelain shrapnel and lead from the bullet itself. I heard the shot and I’ve been around enough weapons to know that it wasn’t the shampoo bottle falling in the shower. I knew immediately it was gunfire. I rushed upstairs and there was Kelly in her underwear, holding her wrist and bleeding from several places. I was panicked. I picked up the phone and didn’t know whether to call 411 or 911. It was a terrifying moment. The paramedics came and the police had to come because it was a shooting incident. The police didn’t haul me away for shooting her, but she was taken to the hospital and then released the same day with four stitches, two in her wrist and two in her calf. I felt that if it should have happened to anybody it should have happened to me. We were very fortunate that the bullet itself didn’t hit her directly. I took that particular weapon, after claiming it from the police station where they held it for seventy-two hours, and I threw it in the ocean because it had a vibe about it that was not healthy.

“It was kind of a turning point in my philosophy of arming myself in the streets. I’m studying hand-to-hand now instead of carrying a weapon, learning how to disarm the assailant. It doesn’t mean that I’ve removed the weapons from my house. In the times we live in and the profession we work in I feel it necessary to keep armed.

If some lunatic wants to come and do some damage, he’s going to walk into an arsenal and I’ll have a bead on him.”

To me, what Sheen had just said was a gift. I wasn’t up on my tabloid news, and had no plans on asking him about this because I was clueless. But he offered it up, I encouraged him, and he hit it out of the park. If this would later make him feel like an “a-hole” I really can take no credit. If it enhanced his outlaw image, that was his own doing. Little did I know that twenty years later, the E! True Hollywood Story would be knocking at my door, asking me to repeat Charlie’s stories.

Back at the time I interviewed him, Sheen enjoyed signing autographs. I don’t know if that’s changed over the years, but what he said then was, “It takes more time explaining why you can’t give an autograph, which is usually b.s., than to just do it. I like to sign autographs or pictures because you’re giving people something back for supporting you. Somewhere down the line somebody may think you treated them well and buy a ticket to your film.”

I didn’t ask Charlie for his autograph, but he signed two of his poems to me anyway. He likes to write poetry. He said that 17 publishers had turned down his book of poems because they were “too dark and too violent,” so he started writing poems that were “more romantic and revealing.” He eventually got one published. He also got two highly successful sit-coms, Spin City, replacing Michael J. Fox; and Two and a Half Men, which made him a household name and where he now earns $1.2 million per episode. Well, he was already a household name, appearing on the cover of Time when Platoon came out, and in 1993 when he was singled out in the Heidi Fleiss call girl scandal—he paid her $53,000 in traveler’s checks for services rendered. He’s still in the news for fighting with his wife, again, and going back to rehab to try to take control of some bad habits. But that’s Charlie. What you see is only half of what you get. The whole package makes for a wild ride. As he once said when asked how he’d like to go out:

“Driving a ’67 Stingray off the Grand Canyon on fire, dressed as Spider Man, screaming ‘Mom!’ as it’s all videotaped.”

 

Visit Larry Grobel’s Web site

Talk about it on Autograph Magazine Live!

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