Mo & Mel—a gorgeous Polaroid that I'd love to own (and wouldn't store)
Lots of fans wrote me to ask why I never commented on the Melissa Crow Scandal—Madonna's beloved-by-fans former assistant of many years apparently didn't pay a storage-unit fee and lost ownership of dozens of items when they were auctioned off for $150. The items turned out to include quite a few valuable items from the 1985 to 1992 period, chief among them the infamous dirty birthday poem Madonna handwrote for and read to Melissa as seen in Truth or Dare, many never-before-seen images, a lot of journals written by Crow or Madonna, tons of autographs, images from Madonna's 30th birthday party and a priceless Polaroid showing a Speed-the-Plow-era Madonna kissing a dildo at a party with her publicist Liz Rosenberg and longtime pal Debi Mazar.
I didn't want to write about this at the time it was unfolding because I wasn't sure if Crow's efforts to get the items back were legitimate (was it true she'd been guilty of nonpayment? had they been stolen from her?) and because I was quite interested in bidding on some of the things myself.
This is a still from video of Crow's items actually being sold.
Now that it's all over, some thoughts:
First, I do feel bad for Crow, but if her items were not stolen—and they appear to have been legally obtained by the team who put them up on eBay—then I can't see how she could expect fans not to buy them, as she (or an impostor) posted in the comments section of one of the items. They no longer belong to her, so they will eventually belong to someone. Certainly the sellers were not at fault for lucking into a find such as this, and can't be blamed for profiting. (I did cringe when they decided to auction of Crow's personal diary from high school, which can't have been valuable to anyone but her, though their decision to sell her yearbooks was motivated mostly by their discovery that Crow went to school with a famous athlete, whose early signatures appeared between their covers.)
One of the earliest images from the auction, a 1987 1986 "Who's That Girl" "Open Your Heart" Polaroid with Mel.
As for Madonna, it seems to me if Madonna truly cared, she could have bought up everything, kept what she wanted and re-gifted the rest to Crow. This did not happen. However, Madonna did, via her lawyers, have a couple of items yanked. For example, she had the journals removed for having "misleading" descriptions (apparently, they were mostly written by Melissa as "to-do" lists, and her handwriting bore a passing resemblance to Madonna's).
The journals were great fun to look at—that note about how to clean a gold tooth screams 1992!—but I am convinced they are Melissa's notes and not in Madonna's handwriting. They'd still be superinteresting from a fan's perspective, filled with fill-in-the-blanks notations about the goings-on of Madonna's most fertile years, but I didn't feel bad not bidding $50,000 or more on them when I had the chance, even though I'm told there is some kind of extremely private medical reference made within that Madonna would not cherish having made public (one of her abortions? a cancer scare? STD?). Your thoughts?
Some people have talked about "copyright," but that does not apply here—none of the writings or images would be fair game for buyers to commercialize, all were simply being sold as collectible objects.
I think these 36 Ritts prints were a steal in the $7,000 range.
One thing that perplexed me was that Crow would personally be in possession of some of the items for more than a short time, let alone have them in a storage locker along with her personal items (a book signed to her by Lauren Bacall, etc.). One of the nicest items—a set of Herb Ritts prints from the Who's That Girl Tour program that had been meant for sale at Sotheby's, judging by the box in which they came—was something that an assistant probably wouldn't be given as a gift. The many autographs made out to people made me wonder why she would have sat on those instead of sending them on. Some have even suggested it's possible these were signed as Madonna by Melissa as part of her job. Was Crow saving aside items for a rainy day? Just a question, and in the absence of contact from Crow herself, one we can't answer. (Melissa: I'm all ears if you'd like to contact me, on or off the record!)
$1,025 for a promo slide???
If anyone saved the final prices realized for everything, I'd love to hear from you—but I was shocked by some of them. I mean, why would all those Truth or Dare promo slides go for hundreds of, even over a thousand, dollars? They're simply promo slides that would have been sent to many media outlets and are in no way as collectible as the many original prints of images from shoots with Patrick Demarchelier, Herb Ritts and Steven Meisel. It's like a kind of fever took over as the bidding progressed, but there were great bargains to be had along with the overbid goodies.
Enjoy my assessments, and please comment back—especially if you disagree or if you have more (or corrected) info on any of this or if you think buying any of it was unethical:
About eight pages were found loose within the controversial journals. These pages' writing seemed much more Madonna-esque, and yet were a confused jumble of words. Evench, I realized what I believe they were—Madonna, as seen in Truth or Dare, lost her voice and had to communicate with a pad. These were from one of her pads, and contain bits of conversations she was having with various people. One of them notes "John told her to get a tit job" and there is allegedly a reference to having sex "with a large metal object." I just love them. They're not autographed, but they'd be great framed. I'd especially love them because she ruined my life for a moment by canceling her Chicago Blond Ambition Tour stop due to this very same throat ailment.
I've never understood the allure of collecting backstage passes (except the kind for upcoming events!), but whoever got this one got a gem—Crow's pass to Madonna's very first tour, probably from when Crow was still working for Freddy DeMann before being poached by Madonna.
The top image was one of the first items to sell, for around $100. It's pretty great and very reminiscent of Madonna's Truth or Dare phone call to her father. The bottom one is Madonna as she appeared in that dancing montage in the same film, doing her white-girl hustle. Quite delightfully Phyllis Diller.
I adored this note from Madonna to sick, sick Sam. It's so sad that he (or she) never received it. I have it on good authority that this item and many more that were up for sale toward the end were pulled because a foreign buyer (undoubtedly an auction house) made a mid-five-figure offer on the journals, the dildo Polaroid and everything else unsold. Watch for these items to re-emerge for sale in the near future...?
Possibly the centerpiece of everything the seller found in Melissa's secret closet, the handwritten Truth or Dare poem. I thought "I'm gonna fuckin kill myself!" when I saw it listed and promptly bid a Madonna queen's ransom on it. Once the seller decided it was a big effin' deal, he pulled it and asked for too much. If it is re-offered by whomever bought it, I would guess it brings $10,000 to $15,000 at the max. But it's priceless, no?
Allegedly by Ritts, this and a still life of a sneaker went for nothing...can anyone prove they're Ritts?
An address book belonging to Madonna was cool but somewhat overshadowed by other things.
This A League of Their Own lot may have gone for more had the seller pointed out that the bat is obviously signed by original Rockford Peach Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek—who just died.
Some very cool early invites to Madonna events that were pulled from sale early. The k.d. lang image "with" Madonna is fabulously pre-PhotoShop!
These lovely Peter Sorel images of Madonna as Breathless looked unseen to me, but may have been published in the Dick Tracy book. Nice items for a good price!
This letter from an old friend—reminding Madonna of an ancient promise to attend her art show—was cool for showing Madonna's note to Melissa: "Tell her I can't come to opening but will come to the show!" Did Madonna keep her word? I'm digging now. But Maczko has work on view as we speak!
Some of the coolest autographed images (such as these) sold for several hundred bucks, largely because the provenance leads one to believe Madonna actually signed them—this trumps the fact that they're made out to someone else.
I had written a special magazine called Madonna: Superstar of the Century and yet had to beg Touchstone for an invite to the all-media screening of Evita. Here, Melissa is cordially and personally invited to see Dick Tracy. The Breathless images (apparently color Xeroxes) are nice, but the handwritten Post-It from Madonna is the point of interest here. Who knew she was this hands-on in selecting which of her images would be used for which outlets?
The most heart-breaking item—an original 1959 Ciccone family photo—is also an item I can't for the life of me understand winding up in the permanent possession of an assistant. Perhaps it was pulled for an MTV special or book or magazine feature (unused, as it was unseen until eBay), but why wouldn't Melissa have gotten this back to Madonna? I hope a Ciccone bought it—it sold for about $1,500.
This note sold for hundreds, but I have word that the buyer reneged—just as well, as there is no chance this is Madonna's handwriting. Probably a florist penned this.
These killer Polaroids—taken by Melissa around August of 1990—show Madonna in a striking, haute-couture bustier-type outfit, red and green. I have not been able to surmise where they are from, but it's possible these were from a shoot that has never been seen or an event from which no images exist (that have surfaced).
These hot Polaroids are from Patrick Demarchelier's gorgeous Glamour Magazine shoot in August September 1990 (see image below the 'roids). The final cover was brusquely retouched, showing Madonna with yellow hair and bonded teeth. She hated it. Fortunately, the mag idiotically failed to match an interior shot with the cover, so we got a better taste of Demarchelier's time with the icon. FYI: The Polaroid on the right, though covered for eBay, shows Madonna vogueing to the camera. Classic!
I fell in love with these two never-before-seen outtakes from Patrick Demarchelier's 1989 Vogue shoot. The images sold for the high hundreds/low $1,000s. These kinds of images from the auction—quality prints on photo paper, seem to me to be the second most collectible items after the Polaroids. After all, they're not only unseen images, they were obviously printed by the actual photographers (Demarchelier, Ritts, Meisel), whose signed originals sell for over $10,000 apiece. None in this auction were signed, but as in this case, the quality of the images makes up for that—I think the top one is superior to the cute shot actually used, which is here:
I wanted these images, but the lot was priced way too high at $5,000. Also, the most intriguing element—the birthday video—made me suspicious. I assumed that a video exactly 15 minutes in length called "Happy B-day 'Mo' '88" could very easily have been a bunch of Warner Bros. employees saying, "Happy birthday, Madonna!" The date on it was a Friday, three days after her birthday, so I wondered if perhaps Madonna—then in Speed-the-Plow, had waited till Friday to celebrate and maybe WB had had this tape made last-minute for the festivities. It did not make sense to me that anyone would be filming video of the party and edit it down to only 15 minutes. Eventually, I learned the video was fans at a concert singing "Happy birthday." That left the photos. Good photos, but regular prints. The eventual sale price of just under $2,000 was a lot more like it. Anyone know who the sexy unibrowed man is?
The other big-deal video of the auction was this life-is-a-mysterious number, a tape called "The Making of 'Like a Prayer' II". I'd never heard of any making-of for the video, so wondered if it could be a long-lost MTV special, killed by the Pepsi controversy. The running time of 1:19 splashed cold water on this theory—it's not an hour and 19 minutes, it's a minute and 19 seconds. Whatever it is, it almost can't be anything extraordinary. Perhaps the winner will come forward with details.
This FAX from Liz Rosenberg to Madonna seeking a Freddy DeMann quote had terrific content, but I would hesitate to collect anything handwritten on 1990s heat-sensitive FAX paper, which is subject to deterioration even if a little friction is applied.
Madonna's incoming-call log—in Melissa's hand—interests me for its mention of Madonna's art consultant Darlene Lutz and Exorcist director William Friedkin. Wonder if Friedkin wanted to cast her in something? A quick scan of his iMDB shows nothing major around that period.
Burying the lede with this one out of respect for Liz, but really, what's so embarrassing about Madonna, her publicist and her buddy Debi Mazar playfully kissing a dildo in a party setting? This Polaroid would've been a huge, huge, huge deal in 1988, when it was taken. In 2010, it's still a great item. It was bought out along with the other stuff by that overseas dealer or investor, so it could re-emerge soon. I think the asking price of $35,000 or $100,000 was nuts. I would think more in the $2,000-$3,000 range.
I really liked the Oscars tickets and was thisclose to scoring them. I realized they were Madonna's and Michael Jackson's, but so did the seller, who decided to ask a crazy price in order to be able to receive private offers. They were part of the lot sold to the overseas dealer. I would think they're worth $1,500 or so, but definitely more than the Governor's Ball tickets, since I don't believe the dynamic duo actually attended that one after the awards...?
Loved these cute snaps of Madonna with an unidentified Latin man. She's clearly wearing (and sitting next to) Gaultier. Had never seen her in this outfit before. Funny how the server seems to be hopping in for the shot!
I'm not sure why this Tower gift certificate went for so much...what's odd is that it says it's TO Madonna from Christopher. I'm willing to believe this was a gift from her now-estranged bro, but Madonna wouldn't sign it if so. My theory is that Christopher signed her name under "to" as a little joke, mimicking her signature. Still a Ciccone artifact.
The above three images were, for me, the only interesting parts of an initially overpriced lot mistakenly identified as being by Herb Ritts. The top image is a fun pap shot of Madonna jogging in France, the middle an extremely cool Lorraine Day image from the Rock the Vote campaign and the bottom one is a superb shot I'd love to have, possibly from the "True Blue" video shoot. What's with Madonna and mirrors? They love her even more than cameras, it seems.
These Meisel photographs (on quality paper) were highlights. I wasn't so attracted to the admittedly beautiful shots from the Rolling Stone 1992 shoot—except for the group shot, which I believe is an outtake, and which apparently disappeared rather than making it to the person who won it at auction—and so was taken aback when many went for big money. The one of Madonna using her feet to drink is, I believe, a tribute to another famous image. I do like it, but was not thinking it would go for over a thousand, as it did. I love the image of Madonna from the Erotica era that was used for a Japanese commercial; it's on heavy card stock and a classic image that should have been more widely distributed. Finally, the Vanity Fair cover image is definitely one of Madonna's best all-time shots and, in this uncropped version, deservedly sold for nearly a thousand bucks.
This signed Speed-the-Plow Playbill—she probably didn't sign too many, since she was not known to hang around doing this at the stage door—meant for a school auction was one of the first items sold. It was offered as a buy-it-now, so would have gone for more had it been listed for a week with no ceiling.
I'm pretty sure this outfit was from a Mitsubishi campaign. Had Madonna worn it, it would be worth much, much more than the spare change for which it changed hands...but I have no idea if she ever did or would have.
If I were selling it, I might not have put up a page from this "Summer 1987 World Tour with 'Madonna'...." diary by Melissa if only because in the sample used, one can see how boring her notes might be within. I would have simply referenced the interesting JFK Jr. notation. I would have liked to have had this, but I also would have liked Melissa to have kept far more detailed notes! :0)
I am a collector of Madonna Polaroids. I have originals from shoots she did with Maripol, Curtis Knapp, Demarchelier and more. So these Polaroids from her Herb Ritts Immaculate Collection packaging shoot are astonishing to me. Also, the main image and the top right image are quite artsy and displayable. The image with Warren is less likely to hang on your wall, but imagine if it had leaked back when it was taken? It would have been the cover of the Enquirer in a heartbeat.
All of the above snapshots (some Polaroids) are fine examples of Madonna from the period of 1989 till about 1992. I'd never seen most of them, notably her "This Used to Be My Playground" Polaroid. The one of Madonna covering her eyes is quite unique for her! And does anyone know the gentleman in the top pic? seems to be Tommy Hilfiger, by popular consensus. That particular picture was sold but disappeared and never reached the buyer.
All of the many scripts, tour itineraries and glorified call sheets that appeared in the auction intrigued me. These things have come up for auction before, but are not common. In fact, I'm pretty sure several of these are the only examples of their specific kind to ever be seen. For example, I don't believe that the booklet for the "Justify My Love" video shoot has been seen before, nor the one for the "Vogue" video shoot (listing Nike as the "client"!). Madonna's personal script for the film Slammer (later retitled Who's That Girl) also impressed me. All went for hundreds.
The last Ritts lot I'm examining is the series of black-and-white images of Madonna during Who's That Girl Tour rehearsals with her band. There is no indication they were actually taken by Ritts, but it's not impossible—they're not very standard shots from rehearsals. I liked the inclusion of the folder noting Liz Rosenberg as the recipient. To me, the shot of Madonna singing made the whole lot worthwhile...and how funny to remember that she once went on tour with a kid (Chris Finch)!
Finally, the following three 16"X20" images were not included in this auction, but were allegedly obtained from Crow's sale and sold by another auctioneer. They went for very little money and I'm curious—has anyone else seen these images before? I think the Like a Prayer one in the flowery dress is known (note Madonna wearing that dress in the Polaroid that begins this post), but those Bloodhounds of Broadway shots (the first rare, the second never-before-seen) are blowing my mind: