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01 February 2013

John Lebold's Costume Collection: Relics or Ruses?

Before all else, I'd like to remind you about Terry Sanderson's upcoming Marlene Dietrich tribute show at Conway Hall on February 16. Read his site for more information. Next, I'd like to bring to your attention that Daughters of Vienna, a novel "freely adapted" by Josef von Sternberg (as Jo Sternberg) from the German, has been in the public domain and is available in electronic form at no cost. I should also make you aware of the Tumblr blog that I have been tinkering with (not to be mistaken for the superb and superior Diva Dietrich) because I just got in my first fight! Some people are not mature enough to have their mistakes pointed out to them [aww . . . some people don't stand by their shade either, but it's still on my Tumblr], but please point out mine because I can only learn from you.

Now, watch this at about 1:15 in case I didn't cue it properly because it's a clip that makes me want to kick myself:



Yes, I somehow missed the infamous black plumage that made cocks crow for Shanghai Lily, the notorious white flower of China. Extraordinarily, the costume's owner, John Lebold, can boast more than Marlene's Dietrich's Shanghai Express frock. The Aimée Entertainment Agency, which appears to represent Lebold, indicates on its website that his collection includes costumes worn by Judy Garland, Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor. Caitlyn Traynor of The Oneida Daily Dispatch reports that Lebold bought a black cocktail dress owned and worn by Dietrich, and the WKTV Utica site quoted Lebold as stating that he was only 9 years old when made this purchase, the first in his Hollywood garment collection.

After picking up my jaw from the ground, I began my online research of Lebold. According to Bob Strauss of Daily News, Lebold's trove is called the Hollywood Legends Collection, Joyce Aimée of the The Aimée Entertainment Agency owns 20 percent of it, and the collection was up for sale in one lot for $10 million. Because Lebold was then infirm in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Aimée seemed to be spearheading the collection's exhibition and sale. A site called Le Podcast Journal indicates that the sale was through February 1, 2012, but I can't determined whether any bidders eventually acquired the collection because its site, www.HollywoodLegendsCollection.org, is no longer available and isn't cached.

Then, I started reading this article on Original Prop Blog by Jason DeBord (who also mentions the mysteriously unarchived Hollywood Legends Collection site) and had to pick up my jaw again. In short, Lebold and Americana Dance Theatre, Inc. (in care of Aimée) were sued by a Richard Abrahamson for allegedly selling inauthentic garments to Abrahamson. It appears that much has transpired in the docket since Abrahamson filed this suit, but I'm not privy to it. Let me know whether you can access any of this information because I hate reading an unfinished saga, especially when it's a matter of one's reputation.

Fortunately, DeBord provides a PDF of the original filing, in which I see this description about Lebold's Hollywood memorabilia collection: "some of which is authentic and some of which upon information and belief, is spurious." As you will read in DeBord's article, even what Lebold has that is authentic falls under the blight of past lawsuits filed by Debbie Reynolds and Warner Bros., alleging that Lebold stole costumes from them.

Frankly, none of these scandals would change my attitude about any Marlene costume that I might have the pleasure of seeing if I were merely venerating La Dietrich. Why would I care about the proper owner of an authentic costume when I have viewed so many dubiously acquired items in museums and elsewhere all my life? Furthermore, why would I care about the authenticity of an item when I lack the expertise to spot a real from a fake? I just as easily could venerate John the Baptist whether I saw his head in its purported locations of Damascus, Rome, or Munich. All that matters is that my reverence is sincere and that I'm honoring the idea of the talent and effort that Marlene (and others) poured into her beautifully-crafted and unexpected costumes.

Sadly, I'm no good at venerating. I'd rather discern the minute decisions that Marlene made about the placement of a bead or sequin to envision how that choice would be more stunning than a bauble stitched a centimeter to the left, and--more base--I'd rather confirm that Marlene didn't in fact sweat on those sumptuous fabrics.

15 comments:

  1. Maxime célèbre : "Jean-Baptiste Corot a peint 3000 œuvres, dont 20000 sont aux États-Unis"...

    Le trafic des reliques est encore bien vivant. Il y avait 8 prépuces, 3 nombrils du Christ... Dans ma ville, nous avons la chance de pouvoir nous prosterner devant la pantoufle d'un évêque décédé en 1659.

    Cela confirme que Marlene est une vraie déesse.
    Mais je crois que vous étiez au courant...

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  2. Given that they are earthly objects and remains, I usually associate relics with human (as opposed to angel) saints, not gods and goddesses. If you consider Marlene the new Messiah, then I could see your point.;)

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    1. "Sumptuous fabrics" ? No ! Sumptuous Fabrice !

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    2. Fabrice, I could well imagine what you would have liked MD to do on you.;)

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    3. Fabrice, I'm reading Bozon & his observation about Marlene selling costume jewelry at Drouot would be appropriate to mention, I think:

      "Ses faux se sont mieux vendus que les vrais. L'image fabriquee de Marlene Dietrich avait, une fois encore, pris le pas sur l'authentique."

      Even if this garment in Lebold's collection is fake, it evokes the glamor of MD to those who see it, which trumps authenticity.

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  3. I first saw a picture of this outfit a couple of months ago online,quite honestly it could be any old black dress,and any old boa,and what is that ridiculous hat,not the original for sure.Paul

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    1. Paul, I wanted to scream when I saw a side-by-side photo comparison of this outfit and a photo of MD from Shanghai Express on another blog. I hate to rain on that blogger's parade, but if she has any aspirations of being a designer, she should be able to recognize that the sleeves and collar are completely different in those 2 images. This and this do not look the same, and I--a person with no expertise--can see that.

      I prefer to leave the dirty work of disbelief to you all, but what I've read about Lebold's collecting career makes me quite incredulous. According to this Wicked Local article, Lebold bought the cocktail dress (apparently from Pittsburgh) at the age of 13--not 9, as he is quoted in the WKTV article. I gather from the Wicked Local article that Lebold made this purchase when he was living in the Bronx. According to this article, Lebold was 72 near the end of 2011. In that case, he would have purchased this Pittsburgh cocktail dress around 1948 (if he were a mere 9 years old) or 1952 (if he were a slightly older 13)--about a decade at most after Pittsburgh was made. Were Universal Pictures costumes really circulating in second-hand shops across the U.S. so early?

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  4. Where are the feathers on the cuffs?you can buy those boa's anywhere,need to watch the film again to make a good comparison,but I am not convinced.

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  5. The dress in the film is v-neck,and the fabric looks dull,like a crepe,to make the feathers shine more,also in the film the feathers are worn as a collar,not as a long boa,the dress in his collection is described as silk velvet and looks quite shiny,Of course the dress may be from another Marlene film but not Shanghai Express.Paul

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  6. Joseph,
    Good for Lebold! It's because of guys like him that we are able to see these fabulous costumes that have been kept in mint condition/restored. What a wonderful collection he has.

    That boa of Dietrich's is something else and I love the turban. Thanks for sharing this clip and your research on Lebold.
    Page

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    1. Page, I have doubts that this is really Dietrich's costume, but if I saw it, I would certainly convince myself that it was. Sometimes, I delude myself into believing something's special rather than face my disappointment, which is how I've coped with receiving so many moldy books and fake press photos that I've bought online over the years.

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  7. I was a personal friend of John LeBold, who passed away 7 Dec 2012 at the age of 73. He certainly had the most amazing collection of Hollywood memorabilia.

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    1. Todd, this comes to my surprise! I consider John LeBold a notable person and didn't find any notice of his passing. Do you know where his collection is destined to go?

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  8. it's clearly not the same costume! the original feathers had a green wash (as told in maria's book) and those don't!!! (i know feathers well and that doesn't disappear with time)

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