It’s 4 p.m and I’m hanging out at this warehouse-sized loft in downtown L.A., two blocks from where an episode of CSI-Los Angeles is being filmed. I’m waiting for my turn to appear before four art and antique dealers for the Discovery Channel’s new reality show Final Offer. The show is based on one from England called Four Rooms. The idea is that four separate dealers will be presented with different objects which may or may not tickle their fancy. The seller first presents what he has brought to all of them, then he chooses which dealer he would like to negotiate with first, second, third, and, if he hasn’t sold it by then, fourth. The only caveat is that if he turns down an offer and walks out of the room, he cannot go back to accept it later. It’s sort of a cross between The Antique Road Show, where “experts” look at what you’ve brought and give you an educated guess at how much it might be worth, and Shark Tank, where you present your business idea to four entrepreneurs who, if they like it, will make an offer to partner with you.
I was asked if I wanted to participate because one of the producers knew of my association with a lot of the movie stars that I have interviewed and gotten to know over the years. I wrestled with what I might consider parting with: art that Henry Fonda gave me; first edition books that were made into films and signed by the stars (Silence of the Lambs, signed and inscribed by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster; Leaving Las Vegas, signed by Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue; The Misfits, signed by playwright Arthur Miller and director John Huston; Schindler’s Ark, the true first of Schindler’s List, signed by Liam Neeson and author Thomas Kennelly; Born on the Fourth of July, signed by author Ron Kovick and by Tom Cruise and director Oliver Stone); a sketch Anthony Hopkins did while I was talking to him; some annotated pages in Barbra Streisand’s handwriting of an interview I did with her; film posters signed by Jim Carrey, Elliott Gould, Oliver Stone, Diane Keaton and others. I also had a few dozen items that Al Pacino signed for me over the years, including a Scarface shirt and poster which contains the complete script of the movie, a few Playbills from the off-Broadway plays The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and Chinese Coffee, two signed scripts (Revolution and City Hall), a signed photo of the actor when he was young and handsome, an unopened Scarface two-disc anniversary DVD, a Dec. 21, 1990 Entertainment Weekly cover story I wrote, and a dozen or so signed and inscribed books that became Pacino films (Panic in Needle Park, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather, And Justice For All, Carlito’s Way, Cruising, Donnie Brasco) or were plays that he did (American Buffalo; The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel), and two biographies about him. The first was by Andrew Yule and since Al didn’t like it, he told me mine was the only copy he ever signed, expressing his feelings with “Forget About It.” The other was the one I had written, a compilation of a series of conversations that I had had with him over the years. Since he had written the forward to that, he didn’t mind adding his signature.
I decided to go with the Pacino potpourri. I really had no idea what it all might be worth, but my wife has been on me for some time now about downsizing and getting rid of some of the stuff that clutters our house, and I thought that Pacino wouldn’t get upset with doing this because for years he’s been asking me when I’m going to stop finding these things for him to sign. But before I would go on national television to negotiate with savvy dealers I thought I’d better get some idea what all this stuff might be worth.
A West Hollywood book dealer who specialized in rare signed first editions told me that anything signed by Al Pacino that wasn’t a photograph was worth at least $500, even in a book that had nothing to do with him, like Philip Roth’s A Dying Animal which Pacino had signed after he told me that he was thinking of playing the character in a film. (Ben Kingsley wound up in the role and the film was called Elegy). When he saw how playful some of Pacino’s inscriptions were, he said such books could go for thousands, especially in such hard to find books like The Panic in Needle Park (“This was my first picture & look I’ve learned to spell”), Serpico (“This was my fourth picture & I’m still able to grow a beard”), Pavlo Hummel (“How do you find these books!”), and American Buffalo (where I asked him to curse me using the F. word, which is what his character used over and over again when he first entered the stage, and he complied). Of all the books, though, it was The Godfather that most impressed him, because it was not only signed by the author, Mario Puzo (a hard enough signature to obtain), but by producer Robert Evans, by one of the screenwriters, Robert Towne, by Pacino (who wrote “Please try to understand”) and by Diane Keaton, who devilishly had looked at the previous signatures and then turned to the last page and wrote “They all lied! Kay,” referring to the memorable last scene of the movie, when Pacino as Michael Corelone lies to her (Kay) and then closes the door in her face. The book itself wasn’t in pristine condition: the cover was chipped, the binding a bit loose—but with those signatures he felt a true collector might fork over a bundle to have it.
So, armed with whatever knowledge this visit brought me, I put all of these items on our dining room table and asked my wife to take a look and give me a bottom-line estimate. Since she was the one who wanted me to downsize, I figured she should at least give me an idea of what I should hold out for. She said she had no clue. I told her what some of the stuff might be worth. I also said that I had no idea what the shirt might go for, but it was signed on both the front (“Best wishes”) and back (“Oh man, you are nuts”) and that signing was done on a private jet to Las Vegas, the day I flew with Pacino when he was thinking of doing Oscar Wilde’s Salome on the MGM Grand stage. He was making a film about the play and asked me to be in it as his ”biographer,” and though my asking him to sign the Scarface shirt didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, it well might make it as an outtake when the DVD is released.
“Fifteen thousand,” my wife said.
“Fair enough,” I said. “That’s my bottom line.”
* * *
But even with The Godfather book and that crazy shirt, I wondered if that number was accurate. After all, a dealer is also looking to make a profit, and that had to be taken into consideration. So I went to the loft which had been furnished to look like four different rooms and two other sets where the seller presented to the dealers, talked to the host, and did a pre- and post show interview to explain his strategies and expectations going in and what he thought of what happened going out. There must have been 60 people there all doing their jobs—setting up lights and cameras, dealing with the sellers and their items, making sure forms got signed, making food for everyone to nibble on throughout the day. As I unpacked my Pacino smorgasbord I saw the dinosaur skull and bones in a crate and two Andy Warhol drawings, one of the artist Joseph Beuys, which impressed me. There was also a dress that Marilyn Monroe wore on her last, unfinished film, Something’s Got to Give. All items worth a lot more than my Pacino items. So I knew that these dealers had money to spend. But did my stuff fit with their clientele?
I spoke to one of the producers, who told me that an 8.5 carat ring from Kashmir was sold for $250,000 and flipped that same day. He also said that one of the dealers was disappointingly tight with his offers and didn’t make for good TV. I couldn’t squeeze any more out of this producer, but I did realize the importance of choosing to negotiate with the dealers in the right order. One didn’t want to go to the most interested dealer right away. Best to first go to the ones who might not be interested, to get a feel of the show, before entering the rooms where one had to be tough to get the best possible deal.
By 6 p.m. I entered the door to Patrick Painter’s room. As I shook his hand, which was heavy from the two oversized diamond and gold rings on his fingers and the two diamond and gold bracelets on his wrist, I called him Peter and he corrected me. I looked at the gold bling around his neck and on two fingers of his other hand and thought, I chose the right guy first, because this man, the owner of Patrick Painter Gallery, Editions and Artist Representation, is someone who wears his gold proudly and doesn’t easily part with it. I asked him if anyone ever told him he looked like Elton John, which he did, though he was a bit more bloated, and he said no, but I didn’t believe him. Again, score one for me for picking the right door, because I would soon be out of there. And we didn’t waste much time. “I’ll give you $3,000,” he said.
“For which piece?” I asked.
“Multiply that by ten,” I said, “and we can start talking.”
He wasn’t amused, and I shook his hand again and walked to Jake Chait’s room. He
was a 29-year-old dealer (I.M. Chait Gallery) who specialized in auctions. He asked me how much I wanted, and instead of beating around the bush, I just said, “Forty thousand.” What the hell, I jumped up ten grand because I knew Chait wasn’t that interested, I could see it in his blank expression. He said that he didn’t want to insult me with a low offer, so he decided to pass. “Jordan’s your guy,” he said, mentioning one of the two remaining dealers. I wasn’t disappointed. Why haggle when it won’t get anywhere? It was already late, I’d been there for over four hours, and I had called my wife to tell her to eat dinner without me.
My third choice was William Roland, who was an antique dealer and auctioneer (Roland Antiques) based in New York. He was friendly and preferred to talk first. He didn’t ask me what I wanted, he told me that what I had he wanted, and he was willing to pay me….$5,000 for it all. I said that wouldn’t cover The Godfather book. He jumped to $6,000, then $7,000, $8,000, $10,000. I smiled and said, “We’re not close.” He looked stressed. “I really want to bring Pacino back to New York,” he said and then his lips started moving and I could hear him whispering numbers to himself. I leaned forward and said, “If you’re thinking of going to fifteen, it’s not enough.”
“Fifteen thousand,” he said, snapping out of his self-induced calculations.
“Afraid not,” I said.
“That’s a strong offer,” he said. “I’m serious about this.”
“So am I,” I said.
“You’re not here to sell, are you? You’re too emotionally attached to your items.”
“I’m not sure about that,” I said. “I might be. But for the right price, you can have them.”
“How about The Godfather? I’ll give you $1,500.”
I smiled and shook my head. He went into auctioneer mode once again. “$2,000, $2,500, $3,000, $3,500.” And he stopped. That was his limit.
“I’m looking for more than that,” I said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind book.”
He looked at me and saw I wasn’t going to budge and he decided that Al Pacino would just have to stay in L.A.
I went into the fourth, and last, room, where Jordan Tabach-Bank was waiting. He owned Beverly Loan in Beverly Hills, and was known as the Pawnbroker to the Stars. Apparently when stars needed money, they brought him their jewelry, fine art or entertainment memorabilia and he gave them money and held it until they could repay with interest. He, too, was young and aggressive. “I like what you have,” he said, “but the problem is that because so many inscriptions are personalized I’d need to find a buyer named Larry to sell it to.”
“I can understand that,” I said, “but I have written a book about him and I am in his latest film, Wilde Salome, so you’d have to agree that I’m a legitimate association.”
“I don’t think you’re right,” he said. “In fact, I’m 100% sure of that. I’m 120%.”
Well, I thought, Jake Chait was wrong. Jordan wasn’t my guy. But then he surprised me by saying he was interested in The Godfather. I told him I’d already turned down $3,500. “I’ll give you $3,700,” he said. Pacino had written my name in his inscription, so I guess Jordan wasn’t really 120% convinced that it had little value.
“Not enough,” I said.
“What number are you looking for?”
“$7,500.” I knew that was probably the price he might get for it, and not the price he would pay, but one has to start somewhere.
“I’ll give you $4,000.”
“I’ll go to six,” I said. This was now getting to that murky area where a deal could very well be made if we decided to split the difference. But Jordan held firm.
“How about the shirt?” he asked. “I’ll give you $750 for it.”
“That’s one of those unique items,” I said. “There’s nothing like it.”
“With the poster, a thousand dollars.”
This was a shirt my daughter had called “nasty.” She thought it was basically worthless. Who would ever want it? Wait till she heard that I was turning down a thousand bucks.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “take my book, which we both signed, and you can have the shirt, poster and book for $1,500.”
“Forget the book,” he said.
Forget my book? How insulting! I was told by that West Hollywood bookseller it might be worth $750. I was giving Jordan a bargain. Well, then, forget his thousand.
“You did what?” my daughter, who is a therapist, yelled into the phone when I told her about the shirt. “That shirt, are you kidding me? A thousand dollars for that shirt? And you said no?”
“It might be worth more,” I said.
“Not to me it isn’t. And I’m the one who’s going to inherit all your shit when you’re gone. And you know what I’m going to do with it? I’m going to bring it to Goodwill and circle it over my head chanting your name as I toss it in their clothes bin. You should call that guy tomorrow and say you made a mistake and see if he still wants it.”
“I walked out of the room, honey,” I said. “You can’t go back. That’s the rule.”
“Rule my ass. If someone wants to pay a thousand dollars for a shirt you didn’t even pay for, for Al’s signature, there’s no rule to keep you from selling it.”
“I also turned down $15,000 for everything. Your mother’s bottom line.”
“Are you trying to give mom a heart attack? You know how much she wants you to get rid of your stuff. You know what you are? You’re certifiable. You are one crazy man.”
“Wait till the show airs,” I said. “Then we’ll see.”
But, alas, my segment didn’t make the final cut. Had I taken one of the offers, sold the shirt, The Godfather, or the whole collection, I’d have been on my first reality show. But it’s probably all for the best. When my wife found out that I turned down fifteen grand for a bunch of books that are kept in a cabinet in our closet she said she wasn’t surprised. “We’re never going to move, because you’re a hoarder,” she said. “You can’t get rid of anything.”
So, to prove her wrong, I contacted an auction house. They want to sell all of my books, not just the signed Pacinos, and I said yes. Only not this year. Maybe next.