Jennings Osborne and the eye of the needle 

His worldly possessions went under the hammer last week. The collection of a lifetime, scattered to the winds.

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The auction of the personal effects of Jennings Osborne was held June 8 and 9 at a 15,000-square-foot warehouse near Prothro Junction in North Little Rock, the warehouse stacked half full. Blackmon opened the doors at 7 a.m. every day, to give the bidders a chance to walk through and inspect things before the first hammer at 9 a.m.

Like the money from the houses on Cantrell, and a lake house in Hot Springs, and a horse farm on Kanis Road that sold on Thursday, all the money raised at the Prothro sale would be going to the banks.

It's nearly impossible to describe some of what was up for sale there, so ostentatious that it seemed like the set-dressing of a dream. It's wholly impossible to list it all in the space we have. There were cookbooks, books on magic, and books signed by presidents. There was a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of a mermaid, swimming down to touch the bottom of the warehouse sea, her hair flowing out behind her. There was a giant, stained-glass window that once advertised a bar called "The Brass Bottle." There were couches by the dozen, chairs by the score, and too many tables to count. There was a fantastical, cut-crystal Lalique table, which gleamed behind velvet ropes for two days (and which I heard was once kept covered in a tablecloth and Osborne's Razorback memorabilia). There were skee-ball ramps, air-hockey tables, three juke boxes, six pinball machines, a vintage Coke machine, and enough classic arcade games to start your own arcade, circa 1986. There were knick-knacks — a 5-inch porcelain canary, sitting on a porcelain branch, the canary's eyes black as onyx. There were two fireman's helmets, gleaming red, both appointed in brass. There was a 5,000-pound jade ship, the sails intricate pierce-work, and the rigging all done in yards of tiny chain, each link carved from the stone. There was Disney memorabilia by the truckload. There was a four-by-four pallet, stacked four feet deep, each of the boxes filled with nothing but framed, signed photos of Razorback cheerleaders. There were toy cars by the dozen. There was a sled. There were sixteen pairs of binoculars, ranging in size from opera glasses to "that German U-boat is out there, and I'm going to find it."

In a big room lined with tables, each table stacked six inches deep, there were literally hundreds of photographs and dozens of pieces of memorabilia, all signed by famous people: politicians, movie stars, criminals, astronauts. Heather Locklear, Buzz Aldrin, Al Capone, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Jack Nicholson, the entire cast of "Seinfeld," the entire cast of "Steel Magnolias," the entire cast of "All in the Family," the entire cast of "Beverly Hills 90210." There were autographs from Alfred Hitchcock, every president going back at least to Truman, Monica Lewinsky, and a pair of underpants signed by the Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. There was a yellowed baseball signed by Babe Ruth, a bat signed by Hank Aaron, and a framed, canceled check from the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. There was a case, no bigger than a breadbox and watched at all times by a uniformed cop, that contained the Osborne jewels: pins, broaches, Rolex watches, rings — another fortune's fortune.


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