Equity halts Christie's auction to protect secrets of the stars

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The Independent Online

A sale of documents containing confidential details about some of Hollywood's biggest names including Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra has been halted just days ahead of the Christie's auction.

A sale of documents containing confidential details about some of Hollywood's biggest names including Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra has been halted just days ahead of the Christie's auction.

Christie's in London had been due to sell the papers from 78 major stars at a sale of film and entertainment memorabilia on Tuesday. Individual lots were expected to fetch up to £3,500.

But actors' union Equity said the paperwork - application forms for membership, which include private information, addresses and birth dates - had been taken from its archives. The disappearance was noticed only after The Independent on Sunday approached Equity and informed the union of the sale.

Christie's yesterday agreed to drop the 11 lots from the sale and to return them to the union. Equity has launched an internal investigation into the removal of the forms which were filled out by the stars and date from the 1930s through to the 1970s.

US stars and other overseas performers, as well as British actors who had settled abroad, had to complete temporary membership of Equity to allow them to work in the UK because of the closed shop the union operates. It meant that whenever a Hollywood star came to work at a British studio, they would have to lodge the details with the union at its London offices.

Among stars whose papers were due to be sold included those of Brando, whose form reveals he paid £60 to join what was then known as British Actors' Equity Association in 1965 for his work on the film The Countess. It was expected to fetch up to £700 at the sale.

Another of the lots was made up of 65 documents including application forms submitted by Dudley Moore, Sid James and David Niven, which had been estimated to reach £3,500.

The unnamed vendor is believed to have told Christie's that the items were salvaged by a relative from a skip.

Equity had been unaware of the sale - which was tipped to raise up to £9,000 - until it was alerted by the IoS. The union then called in its legal team who asked for the sale to be stopped and requested the return of the items.

The union's spokesman, Martin Brown, said: "These documents are confidential forms completed by a number of performers, many no longer with us but some of them very much with us and still working. We take the issue of confidentiality extremely seriously and have taken immediate and firm action to ensure that these documents come back into our possession.

"We also launched an internal inquiry to attempt to discover how these documents were removed from our archives without either our knowledge or our permission."

A spokeswoman for Christie's said: "We've withdrawn the lots." The auction house refused to comment further.

The incident is the latest in a long line of cases in which sales have been delayed or stopped after the ownership of lots has been disputed.

In 2002 Sir Paul McCartney won a High Court order to stop the Christie's sale of a set of handwritten lyrics for the song "Hey Jude" which he claimed had disappeared from his home.

And last week a Rachmaninov manuscript for his second symphony was withdrawn from auction at Sotheby's in London after an 11th-hour claim from the composer's estate.

The market for memorabilia is huge, with many auction houses holding several sales each year to cater to collectors. Earlier this year a 12in figure from the Alien movie was bought by singer Chris de Burgh for £29,875 - two and a half times the estimate.

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