Return of the Mack: Tempus meets Artist Bill Mack as he brings unique Hollywood collection to London
Tempus talks to collector and artist Bill Mack who is bringing the original Hollywood sign to London for the first time
When it comes to modern historical artefacts, the Hollywood sign is the most acclaimed of them all. Instantly recognisable and an enduring symbol of the golden era of cinema – the age of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor – it’s a timeless icon for film buffs and savvy investors alike.
The sign that stands high atop Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills, today is actually the second set of letters – the original stood from 1923 to 1978. Artist and collector Bill Mack took his fondness for this American iconography to new heights by purchasing the H from the original set, and is this June bringing it to London's O2 Arena as part of The Heart of Hollywood World Tour, which also features his own portraits of the Golden Age's biggest stars.
"This is the first time anybody has seen the Hollywood H in 40 years," he exclusively told Tempus. "It’s one of the most, if not the most, iconic structure in the world, every person knows about it – they might not know the Eiffel Tower but they’ll know about this." Here, we sit down with Mack at London's Savoy Hotel to discover insider secrets from his new exhibition and to find out about the risks and rewards of investing in cultural objects...
What can we expect from your Heart of Hollywood Tour?
We’re starting the tour on the 95th anniversary of the first Hollywood sign, and continuing it until the 100th anniversary in 2023. A tribute to all the great actors and actresses from the golden years will be projected onto the H, like Michael Caine for example – hopefully he’ll attend. My paintings will also be exhibited – they are created on the actual metal that was taken from the original letters of the Hollywood sign. There will be a theatre inside, an opportunity to take photos of the sign with The O2 in the background, live acts, private events, incredible music – it’s going to be spellbinding. You wouldn't ever think you’d ever get to see it in your lifetime. I want to show it at the opera house in Sydney, in Tehran, along the river in Shanghai – the possibilities are endless. >>
Why did you decide to purchase the Hollywood H?
I never got the chance to go up and see it, so if I was ever going to walk up to the Hollywood H I was going to have to own it myself. It’s the holy grail of movie memorabilia.
How did you come to make the investment?
I owned the white ascot dress from My Fair Lady, and put it in an auction along with The Cowardly Lion's suit from The Wizard of Oz, which I also owned. The lot sold for £72,000 – the most money a costume had ever sold for at the time, so it generated a lot of publicity. Actress Debbie Reynolds bought it, and prior to her death, they auctioned them off and she got $3.2 million. Someone I know paid the city of Los Angeles for the H and contacted me, knowing I was an artist and a collector, and suggested those letter panels would make the ideal canvas to paint iconic images on to, which is exactly what I’ve done. As far as I knew it was still up there, it was the most undercover thing I’d ever heard of, it was unbelievable. I’m primarily a sculptor, but the idea that I could own the Hollywood sign was just too amazing to pass up.
What other pieces do you have in your personal collection and how do you source it all?
I’ve got 2000 signed photos, documents and papers on display in my home. My studio is a 25,000-foot castle in Minneapolis. In the beginning I was consumed by it. I remember I was talking to the actor Tony Curtis, a friend of mine, when he was 70 years old – at the time I'd sometimes I’d have to hop on a plane to somewhere obscure to get this rare stuff – and he said I had to stop doing that. He told me, ‘You’ve got to spend more time getting your own signature collection'. So I started collecting during the sweet spot prior to 1980 – after that it went retail to auctions and prices skyrocketed. I do pick up pieces from auctions but back in the beginning it was all via exchange.
Do you have any favourite pieces in your collection?
I like meaningful historical documents. I’ve got a beautiful, Queen Victoria knighting document from America in great condition. A lot of letters from kings and queens, as well as astronauts – including Neil Armstrong.
What has been your career highlight so far?
I’ve done more sculptural relief work than anyone who’s ever lived by far, and I’m pretty much the person who started off that trend. It's pretty typical in sculpture to make additions to buildings, and over the past 30 years I've sold thousands of reliefs to countries around the world. If you see relief work in someone’s home or office, it’s probably my work. There are reliefs on buildings all over London; high relief, flower motifs, designs in the stone. That was all me.
What advice would you give to someone looking to invest in a collection like this?
Collect art that you like. It sounds obvious, but it’s true that the more money you pay for something, the more valuable it’s going to be. Go to Sotheby's and buy something for a million dollars or more and it’s going to be a good investment. Commercially priced artwork is a great investment. If you’re going to collect movie memorabilia, collect Marilyn Monroe – it’s impossible for her ever to be forgotten, she’s more well known today than when she died. If Elizabeth Taylor had died younger and with the same controversy she’d probably be the one to collect, because she was a greater star during her life.