Contents of a Hollywood Vault Up for Auction The 20th Century Fox studio offers a treasure-trove of documents from Hollywood's golden era up for auction — from Bogart's first contract to a memo on Marilyn Monroe's name change.
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Contents of a Hollywood Vault Up for Auction

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Contents of a Hollywood Vault Up for Auction

Contents of a Hollywood Vault Up for Auction

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, the papers being sold amount to a treasure throve for film buffs.

JIM ZARROLI: 20th Century Fox may not have had the glamour of MGM or the street smart allure of Warner Brothers, but during the '30s, '40s and '50s, it had plenty of Hollywood magic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND")

MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl's best friend.

ZARROLI: Norma Jeane Dougherty wandered onto the studio lot in 1946, got a screen test and a new name - Marilyn Monroe. The documents being sold today at Swann Auction Galleries make up a kind of storyboard of Monroe's rise and fall. There's a contract for her first movie, a 1954 letter firing her agent, and lots of angry letters from studio executives complaining about her behavior. Jeremy Markowitz is Swann's autograph specialist.

JEREMY MARKOWITZ: Marilyn material is incredibly sought after for a number of reasons. One, she's such an icon. And two, the actual autographs of Marilyn Monroe are quite scarce.

ZARROLI: Markowitz says like a lot of big stars of her era, Monroe usually left autograph signing to her assistants and secretaries. In an industry that traffics and make believe in magic, it can be hard for memorabilia collectors to tell what's real. Markowitz says that's what makes the decision by 20th Century Fox to auction off these items so unusual.

MARKOWITZ: Unidentified Man: There he is folks, the land of milk and honey - California.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "THE GRAPES OF WRATH")

ZARROLI: In a sense, the documents chart the collapse of the old Hollywood system, in which studios had complete control over their stars. One of the items being sold is Jimmy Stewart's contract for "Call Northside 777." Again, Jeremy Markowitz.

MARKOWITZ: What made it really just a first in Hollywood was that he didn't get a salary for the film. Instead, he got a percentage of the gross receipts - in his case 8 and half percent. And that had never happened before under the studio system.

ZARROLI: After that, Markowitz says big stars began to have more control over what movies they made. Like Stewart's contract, a lot of the items being auctioned off have considerable historic value. That makes them uniquely valuable to collectors says, book dealer Dan Wexler, who is visiting the gallery yesterday.

DAN WEXLER: Unlike, you know, a signed photograph where there might be an enormous number of those floating around. You can always buy them at some point if you have the money and you want to. These are opportunities to get things that are sort of more of a one of a kind type moment in the artist's history.

ZARROLI: Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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