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Auction House Wants Its $60,000|for ‘Ten Commandments’ Tablets

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Hollywood auction house claims in court that a bidder owes it $60,000 for the "Ten Commandments tablets written by the finger of God," the famous prop used in Cecil B. DeMille's classic movie.

The auction house, Profiles In History, sued Albert Tapper in Superior Court. It claims he owes it $60,000 plus the buyer's premium for his successful bid for the "Ten Commandments" tablets, and another $8,000 for a letter written by Clark Gable.

Tapper and his Doe co-defendants placed the winning bids on the two items in December 2012, the auction house says.

The Ten Commandment tablets are 23-by-12-by-1-inch engraved tablets that Paramount created for the 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments," starring Charlton Heston.

The letter from Clark Gable to his estranged father, Will Gable, was written as the actor was about to star in his first Broadway play.

The tablet sold for $60,000 plus buyer's premium and the letter for $8,000 plus buyer's premium, the auction house says.

"Following the [Dec. 15-16] auction, plaintiffs' offices were closed for the Christmas/New Years' holiday period," according to the complaint. "Immediately thereafter, plaintiff sent invoices to defendants and requested payment. Defendants, and each of them, refused to purchase the substantially more expensive lot 422 [the tablets] but represented that they would purchase the substantially less expensive Lot 197 [the letter]. Their asserted basis for picking and choosing what they would pay for was that they did not receive an immediate confirmation that they had won the items but instead had to wait two weeks to find out." (Brackets added.)

The auction house says Tapper has "steadfastly refused" to pay.

"Defendants concealed from plaintiff the fact that they had no intention of paying for the major item purchased at auction, but that defendants carried out an elaborate plan in which they would agree to purchase the substantially less expensive item while keeping the major item for which they were the successful bidder from being sold to anyone else at the auction. This could only have been done through intentional manipulation," the complaint states.

The description of Lot 422, cited in the complaint, says the "Ten Commandments tablets written by the finger of God" are "(c)onstructed of richly hewn fiberglass on wood backing ... in an early Canaanite script practiced in the late Bronze Age (c. 13th century B.C.) Moses era. These tablets were created by Paramount Studios scenic artist A.J. Cirialo, who made them to be slightly irregular with molded chips, craters and dings since they were to be cared with God's fire bolts, and he painted them in great detail to appear as carved stone." The tablets come with a letter of authenticity from Cirialo's family and are in "fine condition," according to the lot description.

In Lot 197, the letter, according to the lot description cited in the complaint, "Just before his sensational, breakout performance on Broadway, young Clark Gable pours out his heart to his estranged father, from whom he had just received a letter."

The 8-page letter, signed by Gable, was written on letterhead of The Shelton hotel in New York, dated "Sunday Morn" in the fall of 1928.

Gable had worked with his father in the Oklahoma oilfields before deciding that acting was his true calling. But Gable's father deemed the profession unmanly.

According to the lot description, Gable went 10 years without seeing his father in person, and they seldom wrote to each other.

In the letter, which is quoted in the complaint, Gable's longing to reunite with his father is palpable. He reminds his father several times to "write every week," and floats the idea of going into business together in California.

He details his failed two-year marriage with acting coach Josephine Dillon, who was 12 years his senior. He split with Dillon not long after he secured his role on Broadway, according to the lot description.

In the letter, which the complaint cites "in full," Gable tells his father: "(W)hen we separated she came on here to N.Y. and was here last winter and this summer. The letter you wrote on May 26th [1928] was delivered to me when I arrived in N.Y. Aug. 1st she had opened it, read it, and didnt have the decency to forward it to me. They gave it to her at the Actors Equity Assn on June 2nd. The only thing that interested her in the least was the inheritance you spoke of, and she immediately wrote Uncle Tom regarding it. He never answered so she dropped the whole thing until I arrived her in August and then she quite casually announced that she had a letter from you to me. I sent two letters Air Mail to San Angelo but they were both returned and that is the whole story. I too have been wanting to get in touch with you for a long time but not even Uncle Frank could give me your address, now that we are in touch with each other again I want it to continue, you must write to me every week now so we won't lose each other again. Because you are my Dad and I love you. I have taken up the state as a means of making a living, and have been successful to a certain extent, although it is a very uncertain game in many ways the compensation is high if you can hit."

According to the complaint (not in Gable's letter), when Gable asked for a divorce Dillon told him: "'You'd better become the best actor you can, as you will never be a man.'"

The auction house demands $81,600, and punitive damages for fraudulent concealment, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of written contract.

It is represented by Robert Enders.

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