Going Once, Going Twice

The man behind the auction block for history- making sales like Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” for more than $5 million and R2D2 for $2.76 million

  • Category
  • Photographed by
    Michael Becker
  • Grooming by
    Cat Sherwin

From famous actors to showbiz head honchos, when someone has a high-profile item they want to put on the auction block, they turn to Joe Maddalena. As CEO of Profiles in History, Joe is considered the world’s largest auctioneer and dealer of original Hollywood memorabilia, historical autographs, letters, documents, vintage photographs and manuscripts.

“As I always say, people aren’t collecting ‘things.’ They’re collecting nostalgic memories.”

His company holds all its auctions at their Calabasas headquarters (also Joe’s hometown). VB editor Linda Grasso gets some behind-the-scenes scoop about what it’s like running the legendary auction house and having close encounters with some of the most famous items in Hollywood history.

How did you get into auctioneering memorabilia?

I’ve always had a great interest in culture. As a kid, I collected baseball cards. As I learned more about collecting, I developed an interest in historical documents. But at the end of the day, all of this lead me to apply my knowledge and passion to the vast craft that makes up the great American art form of filmmaking.

The most exciting auction of your career?

My first Debbie Reynolds auction. Debbie loved the history of movies as much as any fan, and her personal proximity on set to all the crafts, costumes and art allowed her to accumulate the largest world-class collection ever. That sale brought in more than 24 million dollars!

How do you ensure items are authentic?

Over the decades, I’ve established relationships with most of the experts in the field of collecting as well as the artists and effects wizards who actually created the pieces. While others struggle to prove authenticity, we have the luxury of knowing the absolute origin of each item to ensure the strongest provenance.

Biggest price tag item you’ve sold?

Audrey Hepburn’s stunning “ascot dress” from My Fair Lady sold for $3.7 million!

You sold the dance floor used in Saturday Night Fever for 1.2 million dollars. Who bought it and what do they plan to do with it?

One of the hallmarks of our business is confidentiality. In this case, I can’t tell you who purchased the dance floor, but I can tell you it came directly from a seller who owned the nightclub that was featured in Saturday Night Fever. It’s a big, glamorous item, so my bet is that it’ll reveal itself to the public again before too long.

What price tag really surprised you and why?

Steve McQueen’s racing jumpsuit from Le Mans estimated at $200,000 to $300,000, which sold for $800,000. That’s the excitement of the auction business.


EYE OF THE BEHOLDER  |  An Oscar and a hoverboard from Back to the Future Part II— both of which are from Joe’s personal collection.

What motivates buyers to shell out big bucks for Hollywood memorabilia?

As I always say, people aren’t collecting “things.” They’re collecting nostalgic memories. These objects are tangible pieces of the stories that have shaped our lives and imaginations and those of the people we love.

Share with us the journey of an item like R2D2.

With R2D2 or any iconic item, they come to us for a variety of reasons. One is that the owner has taken care of the treasure for a long time and is ready for it to take care of them. Sometimes the owner truly loves the piece, and they believe that another collector can take better care of it or share it with more fans. Often a collector waits for just the right time to release the item to the public. Items find their way to Profiles in History due to our reputation for presenting them beautifully and bringing top dollar for them. It’s also because they know my staff and I love and respect their treasures as much as they do.

What’s coming up for Profiles in History?

In late May, the Liza Minnelli collection, which features items from her career and life as well as the lives of her mother, Judy Garland, and her father, Vincente Minnelli. This will be a fan’s dream come true.