How Lauren Bacall auctioneer arranged sale with actress

Jon King of Bonhams met the Hollywood icon once every two weeks for five years. They talked about "Bogey", books, politics and her love of art

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2015, 11:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2015, 11:13am

Henry Moore statues, paintings by Teddy Kennedy and Henry Fonda, and Jean Schlumberger jewellery owned by the late Hollywood icon Lauren Bacall will be sold in New York next week. Ahead of the sale Bonhams auctioneer Jon King talked in Hong Kong about getting to know the actress and how he arranged the auction with her personally.

More than 750 items will go under King's hammer in a two-day sale that starts on March 31.

King, vice-president and director of Bonhams in New York, knew Bacall for five years, and they met at her home every other week. The initial meeting was to “lighten her load”, King said, and led to her decision to auction the items up for sale next week. Bacall was very decisive, he said, and never cared much for money. She had a penchant for peppermints and pecans, he recalled.

Their business relationship gradually grew to include conversations not only about arts and literature, but politics. She would ask him to leave by 5.30pm so that she could watch the six o’clock evening news.

Known for her starring roles in movies including The Big Sleep, How to Marry a Millionaire, and The Mirror has Two Faces, and on  Broadway in Applause and Woman of the Year, she died, aged, 89, in August 2014.

The actress met Humphrey Bogart on the set of To Have and Have Not in 1944 and despite their 25-year age difference they married in 1945. King says in their conversations she would refer to her late husband as “Bogey”, and auction items related to him include a trophy won in a yachting race, and also a statue of the actor.

Pictures of her home show tabletops covered in items, from knick-knacks to photographs - she didn’t want guests to be bored. King said Bacall was very interested in items that “had honesty and character” and wanted to get to know the artist to understand the process involved in making the art.

One of her favourite artists was sculptor Henry Moore, and when she met him at his home in the English village of Much Hadman in 1976 she was just as starstruck with him as he was with her. Afterwards they corresponded and met whenever she was in London.

“Even though she found it hard to put it into words, she loved the artistic thought process in art,” King says. “She marvelled at how artists were able to translate ideas into physical form.”

Among the highlights of the auction will be some small Moore statues, one of them called Three-Quarter Mother and Child on Round Base, which was one of her favourites.

She also had a penchant for jewellery, though not on the same scale as fellow actress Elizabeth Taylor, and among the jewels going under the hammer are pieces by Jean Schlumberger, who she would visit in Paris to see the latest creations he had for sale. King says she liked Schlumberger’s talent for putting unusual materials together.

Also in the sale are artworks by the late US senator Edward Kennedy – a painting of daffodils – and by legendary actor Henry Fonda, who painted a watercolour of hats, including the one he wore for On Golden Pond, and dedicated the work to Bacall. 

These aren't the only Bacall possessions up for sale - her apartment in New York is on the market. When she bought it in 1960 she paid US$48,000. The asking price today is US$26 million.