The auction of Jackson family memorabilia at the Hard Rock Hotel had just about everything — gold records, childhood snapshots, funky ’70s outfits — but there wasn’t a single moonwalking impersonator in sight.
Unlike most events connected to the King of Pop, Wednesday’s opening session of the two-day auction was strangely subdued and businesslike. A handful of news cameras rolled as the auctioneer rattled off prices and the curious meandered through the displays of rare Jackson family mementos.
But the usual throngs of Michael Jackson fanatics stayed home, apparently in boycott of the auction that the Jacksons had tried to stop.
The first item — a 1984 proclamation of Michael Jackson Day in Manhattan — went up for bid about 15 minutes late because of a last-minute legal maneuver by the Jacksons. The rapid-fire bidding hit $425, and the first of more than 1,100 items up for auction was sold.
Among the collection was a lithograph from cartoonist Joe Barbera showing Michael Jackson and Scooby-Doo standing side by side.
“Wanna be startin’ somethin’ with yoo,” the inscription read.
The piece caught the eye of Judy Monaghan, who was in town on vacation when she and her husband heard about the auction. The 49-year-old computer support specialist was determined to go home with the Scooby-Doo piece to add to her large collection back home.
“I’m not a Michael Jackson fan,” she said. “I’m a Scooby-Doo fan.”
That wasn’t the case for Ernestine Johnson, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, student who dropped everything to attend the first day of the auction, though she had no intention of buying anything.
Three years ago, she and her friends ditched high school and drove three hours to support Jackson outside court when he faced child molestation charges in Santa Barbara, Calif., so the short drive to the Hard Rock was a no-brainer.
“I had to be there,” said the 20-year-old, wearing a vintage Jackson family tour T-shirt that her grandmother bought in 1981 and custom-painted shoes with Jackson’s image.
Jennifer Hebert felt compelled to attend the auction, but for a far different reason. She said she was a friend of the Jackson family and hoped to buy some of the family’s personal treasures and return them.
“It just doesn’t belong in anyone else’s hands,” she said, near tears.
Michael Jackson filed a lawsuit last month hoping to block the auction. He dropped his challenge after reaching a confidential settlement with property owner Richard Altomare. At a last-minute court hearing Wednesday, Altomare agreed to pull a dozen items from the auction so the bidding could start on time. The items probably will return to the auction, possibly as early as today, he said.
Altomare had bought the collection for $5 million from a New Jersey businessman who claimed the property after the family failed to pay a storage unit bill.
Altomare said he bought the collection to spur publicity for his company, New York-based Universal Express. He said he wanted to sell it to the Jackson family, but they couldn’t reach an agreement.
“They’re very litigious. If they weren’t that way, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Altomare plans more auctions to sell hundreds more items. He expects to earn between $100 million and $200 million for the entire collection.
Karen Huff, chairman of the Black Historical Society of San Diego, blasted the auction as an illegal selling of historical artifacts that should be preserved for their place in American history.
“What’s happening here is really a tragedy,” she said. “They don’t care about history here. They only care about money.”
She promised to file a lawsuit to have the items returned and preserved in a museum.
The collection at the Hard Rock Hotel had a museumlike feel, said a 26-year-old who used the alias Claire Smith to avoid trouble with Jackson fans who felt the auction was a betrayal of their idol.
“You’re never going to see anything like this again,” she said.
Smith, a longtime Jackson fan from London who spent many days outside the courthouse during his trial in Santa Barbara, was vacationing in California when she heard about the auction. She came with a camera and $1,000 to spend.
Although she had hoped to score some rare items herself, Smith said she was saddened that so many irreplaceable possessions were up for bid.
“The stuff I’ve seen today is absolutely priceless,” Smith said.