Since the announcement of the Tompkins & Bush memorabilia auction in November, Julien’s Auctions and Michael Bush have been the subjects of controversy and criticism among numerous members of the Michael Jackson fan community. The battle centers on the legitimacy of several autographed items from the collection of Michael Bush, recently sold in the auction that took place on December 2nd.
Darren Julien, CEO of Julien’s Auctions, contacted MJJ on December 12th and requested that we interview him to give him the opportunity to respond “on the record” to the accusations targeting his auction house and Michael Bush. For this exclusive interview, we allowed our members to submit questions for Julien up through December 18th, and then we compiled them and sent them to him on December 19th. On January 7th, he sent us his responses, which we publish below in their entirety. It is clearly the most extensive and in depth discourse that Julien has provided on this controversy to date.
MJJ: Briefly describe the due diligence involved in authenticating a memorabilia item, especially in those cases where it does not directly come from the celebrity/subject (as is the case for all items pertaining to Michael Jackson). Were each of these measures used in validating the provenance of each of the Tompkins & Bush auction items?
DJ: Like any collection, whether they come directly from a celebrity, an estate, or, in this case, someone who was known for having a close relationship with and direct access to the celebrity, we engage in a thorough diligence process to attempt to authenticate the provenance of the auction items. Among other things, if the item was worn for a public event, we will review videos, archival footage, photographs, or other pictorial records of the item and compare them to the item itself. If the item involves a signature or handwriting, we engage in similar comparisons with known samples of the person’s signature and handwriting. With respect to Michael Jackson, we also have such signatures and handwriting reviewed by someone considered to be the foremost expert on Michael Jackson memorabilia, Laura Woolley from The Collectors Lab. Ms. Woolley has seen and authenticated more Michael Jackson signatures and handwriting than possibly anyone else in the industry. Ms. Woolley has worked with all of the top auction houses when it comes to items of Michael Jackson including Bonham’s, Heritage, and she is regularly consulted and engaged by Sotheby’s and Christies. Finally, as with all auction houses, we rely upon the representations made by the consignors when they consign items to us for sale.
MJJ: These next questions pertain to Lot #648 in your recent Tompkins & Bush auction, being a black cashmere hussars jacket which Michael Jackson wore to the White House in 1990 (apparently bought by “Lady Gaga” for $144,000). When looking at this page in your auction catalog, there appears to be a couple of noticeable differences between the jacket worn on that day and the one sold in your listing. For one, the collar in the listing has two black metal crowns over red fabric in the front portion, whereas the one in the White House photo is all black. Secondly, the jacket in The White House photo has silver behind the braids in the front of the jacket (whereas the one in the listing does not) and the buttons between the two jackets appear to be slightly different as well. Thirdly, the jacket in The White House photos seems to clearly include 14 buttons, where the one sold in the auction listing appears to have 18 buttons (also see this photo taken at The White House for comparison). How do you explain these differences?
DJ: We are thankful to the fans for bringing this issue to our attention. As you noted, the two jackets are nearly identical. The only differences appear to be the color of the crowns on the collar and the buttons down the front of the jacket. The pendant is not a permanent fixture on either jacket. It is an accessory that could and was removed and worn with various articles of clothing. The jacket with the silver crowns on the collar was worn by Michael Jackson to the White House. The one with the red crowns on the collar was worn by Michael Jackson during his famous “kiss” with Lisa Marie Presley at the 1994 MTV VMAs. Neither of them are replicas of any jacket worn by Michael Jackson. They were both indisputably worn by Michael Jackson. You will note that the picture of Michael Jackson in the “silver crown” jacket and the picture of Michael Jackson in the “red crown” jacket were both included in our catalog for the auction. There were over 500 items included in the auction held on December 2, 2012. No matter how much precaution we take and diligence we conduct, the people putting together the auction and the catalogs are, after all, human beings and prone to making a mistake. We are currently looking into this matter but it appears that the jacket was likely misidentified as the one worn at the White House when it was the one worn at the VMAs. Ironically the fact it was part of the famous “kiss” it means it’s worth more money than just worn to the White House. Mistakes like these, which are completely inadvertent, happen as a regular course in the auction industry. And, as with our usual custom and practice, we have alerted the buyer of the potential error. In any event, the jacket that was sold in the auction was a genuine article worn by Michael Jackson.
MJJ: Could it be that the jacket in your auction listing is a near exact replica of the actual jacket worn by MJ at The White House on 4/5/90? Did Michael Bush tell you anything that would lead you to believe that the jacket he consigned in this auction could have been any other than the actual one worn on 4/5/90?
DJ: Please see my response to the prior question.
MJJ: On page 92 of Bush’s book “Dressing Michael Jackson”, we see what appears to be the actual jacket worn at The White House (all black collar, 14 buttons, silver behind the black braids on chest). Yet in Bush’s description (on page 93) we see that it refers to a “recreation” of the jacket that MJ had given away to a ”fan in an elevator”. Is it possible that somehow the two jackets got “mixed up”, as it is clear the one pictured in Bush’s book (page 92 and 93) which appears to be the actual White House jacket, is not the one actually sold in your auction? In fact, the jacket in your listing more closely resembles the jacket MJ wore during the 1994 MTV VMAs (see here) where he famously “kissed” Lisa Marie Presley.
DJ: Please see my response to the prior question.
MJJ: If the jacket sold in your listing is in fact a replica of the jacket worn on 4/5/90, in your opinion would this draw into question the authenticity of any other items (autographed or not) consigned to you by Michael Bush?
DJ: As noted in my response above, the jacket is not a replica and thus does not in any way raise a question about the authenticity of any item consigned by Michael Bush.
MJJ: This next line of questions pertain to the cancelled April, 2009 “Neverland Collection” auction. Many people still assume that MJ never knew about the auction and when he first learned of it, that is when he attempted to halt the sale of these (nearly 2000) items. However, you said in an interview from March, 2009 that you had previously spoken directly with Michael Jackson with regards to the sale of these items. How many times did you speak with him (and approximately when), and how would you describe his demeanor and mind set during these calls? Did he appear to be thinking clearly about what was to take place? Did he give you any indication at all as to why he wanted to part with these items? Did his tone or words ever express any kind of regret, remorse, or reluctance that he was about to part with some of his most personal belongings and effects?
DJ: Due to a confidentiality agreement entered into between Julien’s Auctions and MJJ Productions regarding the Neverland Collection, I am prohibited from discussing any aspect of that auction. Having said that, I think my previous interviews are clear and I stand by those previous statements.
MJJ: Who was the person(s) that originally contacted you and arranged this auction? At the time, what specifically gave you the impression that MJ authorized all of this himself and that he had granted Tohme Tohme the authority to act on his behalf? Did Michael Jackson ever personally sign any legally binding document that authorized Julien’s Auctions to conduct this exhibition and the planned auction?
DJ: Please see my response to the prior question.
MJJ: As you understand it now, did Tohme Tohme in fact ever have the legal authority to act on Michael Jackson’s behalf and enter into this agreement with Julien’s Auctions on MJ’s behalf? Did it ever concern you that Michael Jackson himself (apparently) never gave a signed authorization for the exhibit/sale to take place? In your line of work, is it normal for a manager to enter into these kinds of contracts on behalf of their clients without the written consent of the owner of those items?
DJ: Please see my response to the prior question.
MJJ: How and when did you first learn that Michael Jackson wanted to cancel the auction? Did you ever meet him in person at any point in this process? Did you speak with MJ or anyone else after the sale was cancelled (by court injunction on 4/15/09) as to why it had been cancelled at the 11th hour? Were you ever given any reason at all (or apology) as to why MJ apparently changed his mind in selling these items?
DJ: Please see my response to the prior question.
MJJ: At this point, you had spent nine months and nearly $1 million of your own money in cataloging, photographing, and organizing each of the nearly 2000 items that were to be sold in this auction. This no doubt put you in a very vulnerable financial situation, banking on the sale of these items which of course never took place. Can you share with us your feelings when this auction was cancelled at the last minute after all the time and money you had invested? Did you ever consider filing a lawsuit against Michael Jackson to at least recoup the money you had personally invested?
DJ: Please see my response to the prior question.
MJJ: Julien’s Auctions has sold hundreds of Michael Jackson autographs prior to the recent Tompkins & Bush auction. Did you find it unusual that many of these autographs (i.e.: those signed “To Bush, Love Michael Jackson”) appeared noticeably different than many of the other signed items you had sold in the past? To cite one example, many of these signatures have a very distinct “loop” in the “n” (of JacksoN), which is typically much more pointed in authentic Jackson signatures. If the style of these signatures is not something you have commonly seen, how do you otherwise explain these inconsistencies?
DJ: I did not find them unusual. Autographs change over time, over the years, and even during a single signing event. I would find it incredibly surprising, and even shocking, that a celebrity’s signature remained identical over the years, especially someone like Michael Jackson who was in the public eye for decades. I would seriously question the credentials and qualifications of any so-called expert who can definitively say that a signature is “not authentic” or “not genuine” based upon a single loop or a slant. To me, I find it more unusual that these items have been widely publicized and have been exhibited for more than ten months and no one ever questioned the authenticity of the items until the eve of the auction nor has anyone questioned the authenticity of similar signatures that have been sold in the market place in previous years.
MJJ: You have recently stated that there are “exact samples” of these types/styles of Jackson autographs that you and others have sold in the past few years. Can you provide specific examples (with pictures or links) to autographed items similar to the ones sold in this auction other than anything coming from Michael Bush’s collection? Specifically, can you show similar Michael Jackson autographs as sold previously in your own auction listings?
DJ: Yes please see below links:
Legends, October 9th, 2010
-Lot 332, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1726/
-Lot 338, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1726/
-Lot 350, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1742/
-Lot 367, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1737/
-Lot 370, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1736/
-Lot 371, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1748/
-Lot 385, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1738/
-lot 388, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1727/
-lot 389, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1746/
-lot 392, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1746/
-lot 397, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1740/
-lot 409, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1735/
-lot 407, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1743/
-lot 413, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1739/
-lot 416, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1877/
-lot 425, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1745/
-lot 423, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/8/lot/1759/
Icons & Idols, December 4th, 2010
-Lot 532, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2389/
-Lot 548, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2368/
-Lot 551, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2388/
-Lot 569, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2370/
-Lot 578, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1734/
-Lot 587, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2374/
-Lot 589, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1732/
-Lot 595, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2367/
-Lot 597, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2675/
-Lot 600, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1730/
-Lot 602, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2395/
-Lot 605, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1729/
-Lot 608, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1728/
-Lot 610, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2394/
-Lot 611, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2396/
-Lot 614, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2386/
-Lot 615, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2376/
-Lot 616, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1733/
-Lot 631, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2387/
-Lot 634, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2384/
-Lot 635, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/1731/
-Lot 635a, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/3257/
-Lot 635b, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/3263/
-Lot 635c, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/3258/
-Lot 638, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2390/
-Lot 642, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/2385/
-Lot 650b, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/3261/
-Lot 635a, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/3260/
-Lot 658a, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/11/lot/3259/
Music Icons, June 25th, 2011
Lot 514, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7496/
Lot 526, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7508/
Lot 532, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7514/
Lot 552, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7534/
Lot 555, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7537/
Lot 566, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7548/
Lot 574, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7556/
Lot 575, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7557/
Lot 581, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/26/lot/7563/
Legends, October 21st, 2011
-Lot 426, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9531/
-Lot 427, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9532/
-Lot 440, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9535/
-Lot 449, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9554/
-Lot 451, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9556/
-Lot 477, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9582/
-Lot 494, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/30/lot/9599/
Icons & Idols Rock N Roll 2011:
Lot 1519, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12438/
Lot 1439, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12358/
Lot 1450, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12369/
Lot 1528, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12447/
Lot 1540, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12459/
Lot 1574, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12493/
Lot 1610, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12528/
Lot 1699, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/37/lot/12617/
Music Icons, June 23, 2012
Lot 841, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28789/
Lot 862, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28811/
Lot 867, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28815/
Lot 879, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28827/
Lot 894, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28842/
Lot 898, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28846/
Lot 903, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28851/
Lot 915, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28863/
Lot 921, http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/72/lot/28869/
MJJ: Much has been said about the striking similarities between Michael Bush’s signature, and the “Michael Jackson” autographed items sold recently at the T&B auction. In your professional opinion, do you notice any similarities at all between the Jackson and Bush signatures (such as the frequent appearance of the two “x’s” under the signature, which is not a commonly known trademark of previously seen authentic Jackson autographs)? Did anyone else point out these similarities to you prior to the auction, and what was your reaction? Did you ever approach Michael Bush regarding these concerns, and if so, how did he react? How has your opinion or relationship with Michael Bush changed as a result of the events surrounding this auction?
DJ: As I noted above, in the last 7 months, no one has questioned the authenticity of any signature included in the recent auction. These items have been publicly displayed in exhibitions around the world and have been featured by many well-regarded and reputable news sources. The first time the issue was raised was a few days prior to the auction. I note that the issue was raised by two individuals who have managed to magnify their unfounded allegations into an “issue” simply by sheer repetition, and not anything else. To my knowledge, they have no independent confirmation or evidence that any of the signatures are not authentic. The “autograph authentication service” touted by these individuals that calls into question the authenticity of the signatures is, as I am informed, partly owned and co-founded by one of them. When I first heard the allegations, of course my first reaction was to speak with Michael Bush. It should be noted that Mr. Bush has purposefully stayed out of the limelight since Michael Jackson’s death. Because he was Michael Jackson’s costumer for 25 years, he and Dennis Tompkins were regularly sought after by various people for interviews and engagements. Michael Bush has no need for “celebrity.” His reputation and work with Michael Jackson is undisputed and unassailable. As Michael Bush said, “why would I have to [sign the items]”? My opinion and respect for Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins have not changed. In fact I feel for Michael Bush even more knowing how difficult it must be for him to have people turn on him who he considered his friends. I also spoke with several people who worked with Michael Jackson and are well familiar with his signatures and items. Their reactions were the same as mine: there is no issue.
MJJ: Will you state on your reputation that each and every one of the autographs in the T&B auction are 1000% authentic and signed by Michael Jackson’s own hand? Did Michael Bush swear to you that each and every one of these autographs were 1000% authentic? Do you have this guarantee in writing, or is it something that he told to you personally?
DJ: I am confident that the items are authentic, as represented by Michael Bush. It saddens me to believe that, had Dennis Tompkins lived, the same naysayers with ill motives would be blaming him as well. God rest his soul and I am thankful that he and Michael Jackson are not here to see the persecution that is happening to Michael Bush.
MJJ: Isn’t it entirely possible that you could have unknowingly (in this auction or prior auctions) sold autographed items that were not actually signed by Michael Jackson? What is your company policy in dealing with items that were later determined to not be authentic? If you as the auctioneer sold something that you believed was authentic (that was later proven otherwise), would the liability then fall to the consigner?
DJ: No one is perfect. No matter how many precautions we take, and diligence we do, there is always a possibility that a mistake has been made. As with most auction houses, no matter what efforts we make to verify the source, we have to rely to some extent on the representations and warranties made by the consignor. Although we are not under any obligation to do so, because we care very much about our relationships with our clients and their satisfaction, if something is proven not to be authentic, we will provide refunds.
MJJ: As part of your due diligence, did you have any of Bush’s signed items authenticated (i.e.: by an independent third party), or, considering the source, did you not think it was necessary and automatically accept these autographs as authentic? If you did, what third party authenticators (by name) did you consult with that also assured you that these autographs were 1000% authentic and signed by Michael Jackson’s own hand? If you did bring in a third party authenticator to assess the authenticity of the autographs what were their professional conclusions (and were there any autographs that they could not identify as being those of Michael Jackson’s)?
DJ: We followed our usual practice. There were no issues or concerns with the provenance of the items. As you note below, the people who are making these claims appear to have an agenda beyond merely reporting the “facts.” I would urge the Michael Jackson fan community to look into the credentials and qualifications of the “experts” making these unfounded claims and determine the weight to give to their assertions. I am aware of no expertise that these individuals have in Michael Jackson memorabilia, signature, or handwriting. As far as I am aware, none of these “experts” have ever been retained by any of the top auction houses or known celebrity estates to provide authentication on Michael Jackson memorabilia or signature or have had any dealings with Michael Jackson or his companies, or with anything Michael Jackson related. Other than the individuals themselves, I am aware of no other person or entity who recognizes them as “experts” – leading or otherwise – in Michael Jackson memorabilia or signatures.
MJJ: In the past you have stated you brought in two former Jackson employees who were authorized to sign items (as “Michael Jackson”) on his behalf to ascertain which were signed by them, and which were actually signed by Michael Jackson. If you can’t reveal their names (although one was supposedly named as Miko Brando), can you describe this process in more detail? Were they in any way used as authenticators in the signed auction items in the T&B auction, and if so, what were their conclusions? Would you be willing to show an example of a Miko Brando (as “Michael Jackson”) autograph, by way of comparison?
DJ: We have had people review them inside and outside of Michael Jackson’s circle. I am not at liberty to disclose their information.
MJJ: The I-Team at KNBC in Los Angeles recently conducted an investigation where they asked four well known autograph authenticators (including PSA/DNA) to review 11 randomly selected autographed items from your recently completed T&B auction. Three of the four experts concluded that all 11 signatures were probably fakes including PSA/DNA who said all 11 autographs were “Likely Not Genuine”. The fourth expert concluded that eight of the eleven autographs were “not likely to be genuine,” and was “unable to render an opinion” on the other three.
What is your response to this, and have you attempted to have a third party authenticator refute these opinions? You have said that the KNBC story was very one sided and excluded much of the material which you provided to them. Can you give us insight as to what particulars they did not include in their initial report? Please be as specific as you can.
DJ: I would first question your phrase “well known autograph authenticators.” Other than their self-made proclamation, I am unaware of anyone in the auction industry that recognizes any of these individuals as “well known autograph authenticators.” With respect to PSA/DNA, I am informed that it is partly owned by Steve Cyrkin and/or Roger Epperson. As you note below, two of the “experts” interviewed by KNBC were Roger Epperson and Steve Cyrkin. I again would urge you to delve into their credentials and qualifications and determine whether they have any expertise as to Michael Jackson autographs and whether they have the requisite expertise to speak on the topic. I am informed by other experts who are very well known in the Michael Jackson memorabilia world that Phil Drechsler and Joel Grover contacted them about the piece but, when they confirmed the authenticity of the signatures, KNBC chose not to use their opinions or comments. KNBC also interviewed several of our clients at the auction who put them in their place in regards to the authentication and they did not air or show any of these interviews. I observed one of the interviews where Phil Drechsler was flustered because he could not get the words out of the client that he wanted. The client then came up to me and said these guys are fishing for bad information and don’t want to hear the truth. Their dismissal of Ms. Woolley’s confirmation as to the authenticity of the items, and mischaracterization of her as a “paid consultant” of Julien’s Auctions speaks volumes about the obvious biases in the story.
MJJ: It appears that you have an ongoing feud or “competitive rivalry” with at least two other autograph experts (who were not, however, included in the four well known autograph authenticators in the above referenced KNBC study): Roger Epperson and Steve Cyrkin, editor of Autograph Magazine Live. Epperson was interviewed extensively by KNBC and reviewed 50 of the nearly 300 autographs in the T&B auction. On one such autograph he remarked: “The ‘n’ in “Jackson” leans towards the right. A real one leans more to the left. The shapes are wrong, the slants are wrong, the size is wrong. There’s a zero percent chance that that’s an authentic signature of Michael Jackson.” He concluded “I would definitely stake my reputation on the fact that these autographs are not authentic” when asked about the 50 autographs. Do you have any comment on his findings?
DJ: Actually, I disagree with your question in two significant respects: (1) Roger Epperson was the so-called expert that KNBC relied almost exclusively on in its piece to allegedly establish that the signatures are not authentic and was prominently featured in the KNBC story. Mr. Epperson and Steve Cyrkin are well-known partners and one of claims to have co-founded PSA/DNA. KNBC relied on PSA/DNA to show that the signatures were allegedly inauthentic. (2) Julien’s Auctions does not have a “rivalry” with either Mr. Epperson or Mr. Cyrkin as they are not “competitors” of Julien’s Auctions. Whatever business they hope to do in the auction industry is at a level far different than Julien’s Auctions. In no way can they be considered “rivals” or “competitors” of Julien’s Auctions. However, you are correct that these individuals appear to have some type of a personal vendetta or agenda against Julien’s Auctions. I would ask you to take those matters into consideration in giving any weight to their allegations. I would look into the history of Mr. Epperson and Mr. Cyrkin in which they have made similar allegations about other auction houses and celebrity signatures, which were later proven to be false. On a final note, I would pose this question: what does it mean to stake a reputation on something when no reputation exists?
MJJ: Of the same autographs, Cyrkin stated “All but a few autographs in the Tompkins and Bush sale (at Julien’s) are so bad they don’t even resemble Michael Jackson’s signature.” Do you have any comments on Cyrkin’s statement? Cyrkin has revealed (on his above mentioned blog) that you threatened him with a lawsuit. Can you confirm or deny if you have any pending legal proceedings involving either Cyrkin or Epperson (which may partially explain and professional bias they may have against you or your auction house)?
DJ: I would refer you to my prior answer and ask you to review Mr. Cyrkin’s credentials and qualifications to speak about the authenticity of Michael Jackson’s signature. I would also ask you to review his history of making similar unfounded allegations about other autographs and/or auction houses. I am not at liberty at this time to speak about any legal proceeding against Mr. Cyrkin and Mr. Epperson. However, I will note that Julien’s has spent considerable time, energy and resources to build its reputation, name, and goodwill and takes pride in its integrity and honesty. It takes very seriously any efforts by any persons to denigrate or impugn its hard-won reputation and will enforce all of its rights and interests against such persons.
MJJ: At least two authenticators used in the above KNBC story have stated that they have been contacted by the FBI who wants to interview them in conjunction with this story. Has anyone from the FBI been in contact with you regarding the authenticity of the autographs sold in the T&B auction? Were you contacted by The Michael Jackson Estate with regards to any concerns they had in the authenticity of any of these autographs?
DJ: No, the FBI has not contacted us and this is another fabrication. I am informed that Cyrkin and Epperson have contacted the FBI, as well as other agencies, to try to get them involved, but to no avail. I have worked with the FBI on several cases and they are very familiar with us. I would welcome their involvement as we have nothing to hide.
MJJ: These next questions are pertaining to Lot #749, being a signed 2009 LA Gear standee from your recent T&B auction. Felix Sebacious, the Sr. VP of A&R and Licensing of Bravado International, recently confirmed that the controversial signed standee was not commercially produced until October, 2009, and even the earliest of prototypes were not made until well after Michael’s passing (and therefore were never sent to him). What is your response to that, and do you remain 100% convinced that this item was signed by Michael Jackson? What evidence, apart from the word of Michael Bush, are you basing that upon?
The following passage was taken from Felix Sebacious’ witness statement filed 4/12/11:
“In connection with Bravado serving as the merchandising company for Mr. Jackson’s “This Is It Tour”, Bravado created over 300 designs of Michael Jackson related merchandise. Tom Bennett of Bravado presented all of those Jackson merchandise designs to Mr. Jackson personally in Los Angeles, California. At a meeting attended by Mr. Bennett as well as Mr. Jackson in early June 2009, Mr. Jackson personally approved 295 of the Jackson merchandise designs presented to him for creation and sale in connection with the “This Is It Tour” and the official Jackson merchandise website.”
In reference to the authenticity of the signed 2009 LA Gear standee, you have pointed to the fact that in early June, 2009, Michael Jackson approved 295 designs that were to be used in conjunction with his planned “This Is It” concerts (as confirmed above in Mr. Sebacious’ statement). However, also according to Mr. Sebacious’ statement, what Michael Jackson was presented in early June 2009, were not finished items or even prototypes, they were proposed designs for items, and that these designs were created by Bravado, and specifically to be used in conjunction with the This Is It concerts. If true, this would certainly exclude the LA Gear standee, since that artwork was originally created by LA Gear in 1990 (and therefore not newly created by Bravado in 2009) and was never meant to be used to promote the This Is It concerts, since that was the only license Bravado owned prior to MJ’s passing.
Given these facts, how do you validate your contention that the LA Gear standee in your auction must have been a “prototype” of some sort (since it was not commercially issued until four months after MJ’s passing)? Did someone tell you that this was a “prototype”, or is there other evidence on the item itself that it is any different to the commercial release? Have you ever been in contact with Mr. Sebacious or anyone else at Bravado regarding when the first prototypes for this commercial standee were produced, and how (and when) Michael Jackson may have obtained them?
DJ: As an initial matter, I have never claimed that the standee must have been a prototype of an official Bravado merchandise. Further, the authenticity of the standee is not and never should be an issue for discussion. Julien’s Auctions made no warranty as to the authenticity of the standee, artwork and/or identifying marks shown on the standee. Items in our auction may be legitimate or bootleg items of merchandise. We make no representations or warranties regarding the authenticity of the merchandise as being an authorized and licensed Michael Jackson merchandise. Having said that, it is a well-known fact in the merchandising business that professional bootleggers and counterfeiters acquire designs of authorized and licensed merchandise long before the items are legitimately produced and released. These counterfeiters are then able to get a head start on the market by putting out their illegitimate products long before the launch of the official merchandise and before anyone can determine that their versions are fakes. It is a regular and accepted part of the merchandising game that these counterfeits hit the market long before the official products do. Counterfeiting is a multi-million dollar industry.
Looking at the standee sold in the auction and the “official” standee sold by Bravado, there are clear and distinct deviations. Among other things, Michael Jackson’s face measurements between the two versions are noticeably different; the license plates behind Michael Jackson in the two versions are wholly different; and the shoes worn by Michael Jackson in the two standees appear to be different. Based on these comparisons, it would appear to us that the standee sold in the auction was, in fact, a counterfeit or bootleg that came out before the official version. So, what Mr. Sebacious said (whether accurately stated or misstated by various bloggers and fans) has no bearing on the issue. We do not appear to be dealing with the official Bravado merchandise.
Nonetheless, because the standee appears to be a bootleg, it is not possible to determine with absolute certainty when it was released. At the end of the day, the most important thing to us is our reputation, goodwill, and name, and upholding the trust and faith that our clients have in us. Accordingly, in order to eliminate any concern whatsoever, we have canceled the sale.
MJJ: Also clearly visible in your auction listing for this item is the “2009 Triumph International Inc., Under License From Bravado Merchandising” copyright. Yet Triumph International (a California corporation with file# C1301282) was suspended as of August 1st, 2007 and was not reinstated for use again until August 14th, 2009 (again, after MJ had died). How do you then explain the existence of this “2009 Triumph International” trademark on the autographed 2009 LA Gear standee?
Further to this point, the following passage was taken from the same above referenced witness statement from Felix Sebacious:
“After Mr. Jackson’s untimely death on June 25, 2009, Bravado entered into agreements with the Estate of Michael Jackson and Triumph International, Inc. for the licensing to Bravado of the merchandising rights previously agreed to with AEG as well as additional merchandising rights for products featuring the name, likeness, symbols, logos, trademarks, etc. associated with Michael Jackson. The Probate Court with jurisdiction over the Estate approved these agreements on August 21, 2009.”
This statement clearly indicates two important points which seem to contradict any contention that the signed LA Gear standee in your auction was a “prototype”. Firstly, Mr. Sebacious clearly states that Bravado did not enter into an agreement with Triumph International, Inc. until AFTER Michael Jackson’s death on June 25th, 2009. Secondly, he indicates that Bravado did not acquire merchandising rights above and beyond the This Is It concert merchandising (which would have included LA Gear, and other earlier licenses) until August 21st, 2009 (again, nearly two months after Michael Jackson’s passing).
DJ: First, we are an auction house. We sell items consigned to us for sale. As noted above, it is not our job to confirm that the item being sold is an “official, licensed” version of the merchandise, nor are we attorneys who can speak to the right of a corporation to conduct business, regardless of its status with the Secretary of State. However, I can say that, to my knowledge, a company may be “suspended” by the Secretary of State for the State of California for a number of reasons, including for failing to file a simple updated Statement of Information. It is possible that a suspended entity continues in operations and to hold various intellectual property rights and licenses. Second, with respect to the “merchandising rights,” as I noted above, the standee does not appear to be the official, licensed merchandise sold by Bravado.
MJJ: Yet, given these facts, one can clearly see in Image 2 of your auction listing the inclusion of copyrights for both Bravado and Triumph International, which according to Mr. Sebacious’ sworn statement (as well as the above referenced official filings of Triumph International with the Secretary of State of California), would be impossible. How do you then explain the existence of a standee with both of these copyrights (which would not have been possible until well after Michael Jackson’s death) to be autographed by Michael Jackson’s own hand? Do you agree that these facts cast at least some doubt as to the authenticity of not just the signed LA Gear standee, but on several of the other signed T&B auction items which bear the similar (and very unusual) “Michael Jackson” signatures?
DJ: See responses above.
MJJ: Were you aware of the above facts prior to the December 2nd Tompkins & Bush auction? Have you been made aware of any efforts by The Estate Of Michael Jackson and/or Bravado International to verify the authenticity of this item? Knowing what you know now, would you have pulled this particular listing (Lot #749) as part of your due diligence to verify the authenticity and provenance of the item?
DJ: Our general policy is to pull any item from an auction if there is any question regarding the authenticity of Attribution. I was not aware of any issues regarding the standee until after the auction took place. As I have mentioned, we have canceled the sale.
MJJ: According to various postings and communications, you have apparently alleged that many of these autographs were signed in 2009 at Michael Bush’s house while MJ was recovering from treatment after visiting Dr. Klein’s Beverly Hills office. How (and when) was this story communicated to you—did it come directly from Michael Bush? Apparently, you have since concluded that the reason these autographs were so visibly different to any other authentic Michael Jackson signatures was because he was so heavily medicated, can you confirm that as your belief? If true, does it bother you at all that MJ supposedly signed at least some of these items in a heavily drugged state?
DJ: Most of these statements are created by others in an attempt to cause confusion and to spread falsehoods. These statements did not come from Julien’s Auctions.
MJJ: Has Michael Bush offered any evidence to support his claim, and at least prove that MJ even visited his house in 2009, when many of these auction items were supposedly signed? If so, what are the approximate dates that this took place (according to Bush)? Is it your present contention that these items were largely signed over a period of several years, or that most of them were signed during these “recovery periods” at Bush’s house sometime in 2009?
DJ: Again, as these statements were not made by Julien’s Auctions, there is no need for Mr. Bush to offer any evidence to support them.
MJJ: There are a number of individuals who followed MJ’s every move during this time period, and insist that he never visited Michael Bush’s residence following his visits to Klein’s office, not only in June of 2009, but for the entire period from December 2008 (while living at Carolwood) up through and including June 25th, 2009. How do you explain that?
DJ: As noted above, these claims are not being made by anyone from Julien’s Auctions or Mr. Bush. The falsity of these statements made by others is something that the fans should take into account when deciding to give weight to any of the allegations being made by the same people.
MJJ: Did you recently claim there was a video of MJ signing some of these items, and if so, who owns it, why was it done, and why did you (or the owner) decide not to release it? Have you watched this alleged video in its entirety? Where was it recorded (Michael Bush’s house?), and what specific date(s) was it supposedly filmed? Does the video include footage of MJ signing the controversial 2009 LA Gear standee? If the video is too “disturbing” to release (even edited), what possible reason could there be to not release a few still screen caps of MJ signing some of these auction items to at least quash the beliefs held by many that these items were signed by Michael BUSH, not Michael JACKSON?
DJ: As with above, these statements did not come from Julien’s Auctions.
MJJ: In your 2010 Music Icons auction, you sold a Michael Jackson autograph dated June 24th, 2009, during a time period we now know Michael Jackson was taking heavy medication (including what we now know was Propofol). This autograph, however, still looks very similar to what we have come to accept as an authentic Michael Jackson signature, which would seem to refute the theory that his signature was significantly different when he was heavily medicated. Given these facts, in your professional opinion, why does this autograph (from June 24th, 2009) look very similar to other commonly accepted Michael Jackson autographs, but nothing at all like many of those autographed items recently sold at your auction from Michael Bush’s collection? If the unusual style of the autographs from the T&B auction cannot be reasonably explained through the “he was heavily medicated at the time” argument, what other possible explanation could you offer for this in your expert opinion?
DJ: As with above, these statements did not come from Julien’s Auctions.
MJJ: As you know, this recent auction caused quite a bit of controversy among several individuals who claimed that at least some of the autographed items were not authentic. How has your opinion of MJ fans/collectors changed as a result of some of the attacks directed at you and/or Michael Bush? Can you share with us (without naming names) some of the conduct that took place, and why you think that it was over the line?
DJ: My opinions regarding our valued clients and collectors have not changed because they have not been swayed by the false and, frankly, malicious allegations being made. Most of our clients have long-standing relationships with Julien’s Auctions and know us for our honesty and integrity. They are also familiar with the individuals making the allegations and have judged these individuals’ credentials and motives for themselves. Our clients have concluded, rightly so, that the allegations simply do not have merit and they have nothing with which to be concerned. With regard to the Michael Jackson fans, I am saddened that any of them would choose to believe these baseless allegations without, it seems to me, any attempt to really delve into and investigate the history, experiences, and motives of the parties making them. Julien’s Auctions has always embraced the Michael Jackson fans and have gone out of our way to include them in all things involving Michael Jackson, including providing free catalogs to anyone who asks and hosting VIP receptions and other events exclusively for the fans. We do not undertake these efforts because of any financial benefit to us; there really is no financial benefit. We do it purely because of our history with Michael Jackson and out of respect for his life and career. Part of honoring Michael Jackson is to respect his fans who have been such an integral part of his life. I would like to think that the fans, to whom we have been so loyal and giving, would extend the same courtesy and consideration to us. It truly is disheartening that there are any fans out there who would disregard the history of Julien’s Auctions and all we have done for the fans all over salacious and ultimately unsupportable fabrications by ill-intended individuals.
MJJ: At least some of these fans are alleging that they were threatened by you (with lawsuits, etc.) for what you may characterize as libel, defamation of character, and numerous unsubstantiated claims made against Julien’s Auctions and you personally. With respect to the attacks from these “MJ fans”, did you ever consult an attorney, and were you ever advised to consider taking legal action against these individuals to protect yourself? If not, what would be the “tipping point” for you to have to resort to such measures?
DJ: These are the types of false and malicious statements that take root and spread, even though there is absolutely no support, because people keep repeating them. We have never threatened any fan with a lawsuit.
MJJ: In the eyes of many Jackson collectors, your reputation (personally and professionally) has been irreparably damaged as a result of the controversy surrounding this recent auction. Given that at least some of these collectors are potential buyers (and in some cases, sellers) for your future auctions, does this concern you and why?
DJ: As noted above, none of our clients and collectors, including the Michael Jackson collectors, have changed their opinions of Julien’s Auctions. They stand behind and by Julien’s Auctions. In point of fact, we held an extremely successful auction for the Estate of Greta Garbo only two weeks after the one for Tompkins and Bush, while the alleged controversy was going on. We have a number of high-profile auctions for various celebrities scheduled for the next two years, which remain unchanged. If the purpose and hope of spreading these false rumors and allegations were to negatively affect our business, these detractors will be sorely disappointed. If our reputation with Michael Jackson fans have been “irreparably damaged” because of these false allegations, I can only repeat my response that I am sorely disappointed and saddened by their reaction.
MJJ: With respect to this recent T&B auction, how many buyers have asked for refunds (as a result of questioning the authenticity of the autographs) and how many have you agreed to grant? Was one of these refund requests from the buyer of the “LA Gear” listing? What is your typical policy on this (i.e.: can buyers request refunds for any or no reason within a certain time limit, or is it at your sole discretion whether or not to honor refund requests)? And since you claim that all of these autographs are in fact authentic, then why would you be compelled to offer refunds to these buyers?
DJ: To be clear, we have no obligation to provide any refunds to anyone and do not feel compelled to provide any. Having said that, we value our relationship with our clients and do what we can to make sure that they are happy with the service and products being offered by us. For that reason, we have always provided discretionary refunds in certain instances. Certainly, if it is proven that something is not authentic, of course we will provide a refund. In this instance, other than speculation and unsubstantiated allegations, no one has provided any evidence that any item is not authentic. With the Tompkins and Bush auction, we have had three buyers ask for a refund (for a total of less than $3,000). This number is no different than the usual number of refund requests we receive for any auction. As noted above, we have canceled the sale of the standee, not because the item is not authentic, but to avoid any concern the buyer may have because of the unnecessary controversy created by these allegations.
MJJ: According to your auction results, the T&B auction items were sold for a combined $5 million. Can you share approximately how much (in gross sales and/or commissions profit) Julien’s Auctions has made from the sale of Michael Jackson related memorabilia since 2009?
DJ: Because our financial information is confidential and proprietary, we cannot provide this information.
MJJ: What, if anything will you change the way in which you obtain, authenticate, or promote signed Michael Jackson memorabilia in the future? What specific lessons have you learned from this entire experience? Has the controversy surrounding this auction made you less likely to auction Michael Jackson memorabilia in the future? Where and when do you plan the next scheduled music memorabilia auction and at this time do you plan to include any Michael Jackson related memorabilia or autographs in it?
DJ: Because we conducted full due diligence and followed the industry custom and practice, as we always do, in conducting the Tompkins and Bush auction, we will not change anything we do in the future. We also fully intend to offer Michael Jackson memorabilia in future auctions, should we be fortunate enough to be consigned such items. The only thing this entire experience has changed is perhaps our willingness to be so open with the fans. We truly considered the Michael Jackson fans to be part of Julien’s Auctions’ community and family. We have gone out of our way to provide exhibitions of Michael Jackson memorabilia around the world so that the fans, who otherwise would not have the opportunity, would be able to see these incredible, iconic items up close and in person. We have hosted VIP receptions and special events for the fans only – most of whom do not bid in our auctions and have never been a client of Julien’s Auctions – so that they would have the opportunity to be a part of the Michael Jackson experience. It is heartbreaking that these fans, who we considered friends, would be so willing, so quickly, to believe these frivolous allegations.
[this interview is now deleted from MJJ]
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