Hollywood heirs selling off Tinseltown trinkets

A Hollywood family is selling off part of its massive stash of jewelry worn by the biggest stars on the silver screen – starting with two of Vivien Leigh’s necklaces from “Gone with the Wind,” Liz Taylor’s serpent bracelet in “Cleopatra” and earrings worn by Marilyn Monroe for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

The costume jewelry -- created by Joseff of Hollywood -- is featured in the latest episode of the FOX Business Network series Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby. It premieres on FBN on Monday, March 12, at 9 p.m. ET.

Eugene Joseff was an ad man who dabbled in jewelry making before he moved from Chicago to southern California in 1928. His elevation to Tinseltown’s crown jeweler started with an off-the-cuff comment to a friend in the movie business, says his daughter-in-law Tina Joseff.

“He noted that in a period film the star was wearing a gorgeous gown -- period correct – but also a modern necklace,” she tells Colby in the program. “He just thought that was the worst thing ever – and that he could do better.”

Joseff soon got the chance to put up or shut up.

“A studio needed ornaments quickly made for a bunch of dancers, but no one wanted the job,” says Hollywood historian Laura Wooley. “It was Friday and they needed them on Monday. Joseff said he would do it.”

Joseff finished the job just before shooting started. Soon he was the film industry’s go-to guy for costume jewelry. And because his company only rented its inventory to the studios, over the next couple of decades it amassed a vault full of more than 200,000 items.

Film buffs will likely recognize such Joseff of Hollywood creations as Bette Davis’s (faux-jeweled) tiara from “The Virgin Queen,” Shelley Winters’s teardrop pendant necklace from “South Sea Sinner,” and Katharine Hepburn’s necklace of (simulated) diamonds, rubies and pearls from “Mary of Scotland.” Then there’s the crown Shirley Temple wore in “The Little Princess,” a necklace for Greta Garbo in “Camille,” and Clark Gable’s cigar box from “Gone with the Wind.”

When Joseff died in a plane crash in 1948, his wife Joan inherited the company. She died in 2010 at age 97, leaving the “screen gems” to her daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

Last November the Joseff heirs auctioned off 500 pieces from their strange inheritance. They learned that though the jewelry’s fake, it’s still worth a mint.

A pair of Grace Kelly “High Society” earrings sold for $19,000, a Bette Davis “All About Eve” brooch went for $21,000 and a Rita Hayworth “Down to Earth” bracelet fetched $22,000. But the biggest-ticket items were that Rhett Butler cigar case ($31,000), a Scarlett O’Hara necklace ($45,000) and Marilyn Monroe’s earrings ($90,000).

Talk about a girl’s best friend.

All told, the auction brought in just under $2 million. Not a bad day at the box office. No wonder everyone’s looking forward to the sequel.