Clark Gable's jacket from Gone With the Wind

Whitney Houston Auction Raises The Question: Is Collecting Movie Memorabilia Morbid?

While some folks (who, themselves, live in glass houses) cry, “Beyond Tacky!”, Julien’s Auctions is going ahead with plans to auction off Whitney Houston items at their 2012 Hollywood Legends auction to be held on Saturday, March 31 and Sunday, April 1 in Beverly Hills, California.

Among the over 800 items of Hollywood memorabilia and historic Americana, the Houston tems up for sale include a pair of earrings and a brown satin vest worn by Whitney in The Bodyguard (1992) as well as a black velvet dress owned by the legendary performer.

Celebrity auctioneer Darren Julien said Sunday the pieces and other Houston items became available after the singer’s unexpected death on Feb. 11 and will be included among a long-planned sale of Hollywood memorabilia such as Charlie Chaplin’s cane, Clark Gable’s jacket from “Gone With the Wind” and Charlton Heston’s staff from “The Ten Commandments.”

Julien said celebrity collectibles often become available after their namesakes die.

“It proves a point that these items, they’re an investment,” Julien said. “You buy items just like a stock. Buy at the right time and sell at the right time, and they just increase in value.”

But could it be too soon to profit from Houston’s passing? She was just buried on Saturday.

“It’s a celebration of her life,” Julien said. “If you hide these things in fear that you’re going to offend someone — her life is to be celebrated. These items are historic now that she passed. They become a part of history. They should be in museums. She’s lived a life and had a career that nobody else has ever had.”

Houston is “someone who’s going to maintain a collectability,” he said. “For people who are fans of Whitney Houston and never would have had a chance to meet her and never got to talk to her, these are items that literally touched a part of her life. They are a way to relate to her or be a part of her life without having known her.”

Whatever you think of profiting off celebrity, in life or after death, this isn’t anything new. Julien’s, naturally, takes the rather pragmatic position of collecting entertainment memorabilia as investment:

Accumulating these coveted treasures is often a twofold endeavor; obtaining tangible nostalgia and making a sound investment choice. Acquiring such a collection gives buyers the opportunity to gain intimacy with fond memories anchored in the property. The other reason is based on the steadily increasing prices, which has been recently noted as a solid asset for Wall Street investment bankers and executives around the globe.

And why shouldn’t they? As a culture, we stalk celebrities by collecting, alive or dead.

If there is any such thing as a cultural rule about the length of time which ought to pass before we profit by selling off items connected to a recently deceased celebrity, it is far less a matter of morbidity and more a matter of our capitalistic nature. The market dictates that we bid as high as our emotions run; and emotions run pretty high when there’s a death.

As my friend and fellow columnist at Collectors Quest said upon the passing of Michael Jackson, “One’s fame is directly proportional to how fast people will learn the intimate details of your life, or death, as the case may be… Where celebrity meets mortality, there is eBay.”

Celebrities thrive by this very rule — they use our emotions to sell us less than proper things while alive, such as Michael Jackson “Thriller” panties. So why wouldn’t we buy-buy-buy when they die?

Etiquette rarely, if ever, applies to celebrity.

And how can Perez, of all people, complain about this when he’s “beyond tacky” and a “bloodthirsty” parasite living off celebrities himself?

I’m not sure there’s anything inherently wrong with buying Whitney Houston’s movie-worn clothing weeks after her death than there is buying Clark Gable’s jacket from Gone With the Wind decades later. Do you?

Related: See my article at Collectors Quest on the dangers of Certificates Of Authenticity (COAs).

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Deanna

Deanna is the founder of Inherited Values, among other sites. She is also an antique dealer.

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