By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Indeed. With his trademark head rag — he has a seemingly endless supply in various shades and patterns — wraparound sunglasses, and carefully sculpted, graying facial hair, Orr looks more like a Central Casting biker than a man in search of a Stickley dining suite. Think Bruce Willis without the swagger. Mickey Rourke before the plastic surgery. Pickers, one imagines, would be slender, effeminate men and better-than-middle-aged housewives with an eye for Hummel figurines, not gruff, articulate, middle-aged dudes with a droopy goatee and a voice like gravel frying in brown butter.
The dealers Orr sells to aren't paying for appearances. They want his eye for rare stuff. "You can't buy what Rick has," according to Jonathan Wayne, who owns RED Modern Furniture in Phoenix and has bought from Orr for nearly 10 years. "You can't train people to know what he knows. He's an anomaly — a fair businessman with amazing knowledge about art and furniture."
It's knowledge Orr's refined over a lifetime of picking. He built his secondhand empire buying big-deal paintings for $5 and reselling them for thousands. He started as a kid, growing up in Hollywood and raised by a mother Orr describes as "a hippie with little ambition." Dad was small-time movie actor Greg Benedict (you can see him in the 1963 Troy Donahue picture Palm Springs Weekend), whom Orr rarely saw.
"My stepbrother and I would go pester this old guy in our neighborhood named Junkman Jack," Orr recalls. "He'd go out picking, be gone for a week, and come home with these great stories and a truck full of stuff — Tiffany lamps and cool old furniture. He gave me a glimpse into a world most kids wouldn't care about."
Orr cared. Deeply. He dropped out of school at 15, scrounged up enough to buy a used truck, and became consumed with picking. Eventually, treasure-hunting took its toll on Orr's personal life. When he was married, he saw his wife only once a week; when he was home, he was on the phone brokering art deals. Time spent with his daughter, Shannon, usually involved camping out overnight in front of estate sales so Orr could be first in line when the house opened the next morning. Eventually, his wife left him.
He might have picked for a few more years, then moved on to something else — perhaps opened a gallery in Los Angeles or become a dealer himself — if he hadn't spotted that Picasso hanging over the mantel of a spec home in the desert north of Scottsdale where Orr had come to scrounge.
"The house was crammed with all kinds of sculpture and studio pottery and fine art," he remembers. "The sellers didn't know what they had, so everything was priced cheap. I turned the corner, and there was this Cubist painting of three figures. Lots of bright colors. It was beautiful, and it was priced at $500 — more money than I had in the world at the time. I was paying for my stuff and this lady walked up with the painting under her arm, handed the seller cash, and left."
A few days later, leafing through a book on Spanish painters, Orr spotted a photo of the painting he'd just missed owning. "It was a Picasso," he says with quiet despair. "It got away from me, and I've been chasing it ever since."
The one about the valuable painting procured from a garage sale is an oft-told tale — and more often than not, it seems, the painting is one by Picasso. Last year, an early watercolor by the famed painter was found in an attic in Dorchester, Dorset, England. The year before, a Carolina Beach, North Carolina, couple bought a Picasso for a dollar at an estate sale. And just this past October, a Shreveport, Louisiana, woman paid $2 for a Picasso at a yard sale. "It just kind of caught my eye," she told a local news reporter. "It looks like a woman, holding a guitar or possibly a baby."
Orr doesn't begrudge these folks their yard-sale Picassos. "The guy was prolific," he says, laughing. "He paid bar tabs with paintings. And then there are the copies — good ones, too. That one in Shreveport doesn't look right to me. I've seen fakes, but I'm not fooled. I keep right on going."
Orr is holding out for the real thing. It's a quest that once made him a very wealthy man — and, more recently, an extremely poor one.
"I have a decent head for business, but when things were going great, I lived large," he admits. "I'd drive by a Mercedes dealership and see a car I liked and go in and write a check. I drove a Rolls and a Bentley. I had homes here and in L.A. I had huge years where I could afford to live like that. I didn't know it would end. I figured, people will always die; they'll leave behind valuable stuff I can buy and resell. I thought I could always make good money."
He was apparently mistaken. Orr sold his last Mercedes, a G-500, in 2007; he needed the cash for picking. He lost his home, and he had to sell off his personal possessions as the Internet gobbled up his business, putting him and many other pickers mostly out to pasture.
Read this story when it first came out. He better speed up the production of his film because tonight I saw a commercial on one of the cable stations for a new show about "pickers." On the History Channel I believe. It's called "American Pickers."
Looks like his "Pablo 15 minutes of fame" has already been given to someone else.
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I would be remissed if I did not tell Rick Orr that his film would be totally enjoyed by Himself, Dennis Hopper, a man made clean and sober by his dad, Owen Orr, as indeed his Dad did tell me the story.
I was living with Owen at an apartment house he was manager of for and owned by the Directors Guild of America behind their Sunset Blvd headquarters. Owen burst in on me one afternoon and said, "Come on, I need you to ride shotgun." I got off the bed, threw some water on my face and said, "Wha ?"...He explained that some East El Aye punks had broken into Dennis Hoppers agent/managers Mercedes and snatched his briefcase with four signed, sealed and delivered movie deals. We drove down the Strip to the agent/managers office and were delivered right in where set a discolate Dennis Hopper and his main man. The deal was that we were to go down to the Watts neigborhood corner the banditos had directed him to and he was to pass a grand ($1000) and get the briefcase back.
We drove down in Owens puke smelling Cadillac to the corner and parked across the street from the drop zone. There was a gang of , what did we call them, Niggers hanging there and we were like standing out like white narcs at a bust about to happen.I pointed out to Owen that their were eight of them and only two of us and we didnt have even a tire iron to confront them with if the deal went wrong...The agent/manager pulled up, took down his right side window and we saw him and the nigger pass an envelope and the briefcase...the deal was done as the agent/manager checked to see the papers were there. Whew ! We drove back to Hollywood wondering what ta fuck we would have done if the niggers had jumped the agent/manager, took the dough and closed the show. We'll never know as it all turned out just fine. One can only wonder how dem black boys knew that them papers was worth a grand ?
We could go on and on as our adventures with Owen Orr continued, Ricks father was a never ending source of wonderment to all of us who knew him well, and didnt...You could look into his burning Irish eyes and see hell didnt have a chance and he did indeed teach us all how to dance beyond the demons rums trance....Blessed are the Owens who would take us to a place we could not get to without them....
Yeah, Rick Orr is a pure picker, seeking treasures in other peoples recycled treasures. I too am a picker, I pick among obscure books and newspapers to hopefully find a gem or two that can be recycled in my memoirs. In ,"Chasing Pablo: For Old School Art Pickers, the Thrill is Fading...and so's the Payoff", I was gifted with finding the son of one of the most towering people in my life, his father, Owen Orr, aka, Greg Benedict, the actor. Thank you Robert Pela for bringing my ole pals son to our attention and consideration.
Owen Orr was indeed a towering figure in my high school days in Riverside , California. At 6'4" and with a face that could have been chisled by Michaelanglo,the story on his arrival was as a Bad Assed Mick that could lick any bully that dare bugged his Buddies. He was Old World Irish it was said, a fighter and an actor who would not only drink you under the table but then karate chop the table down on top of you. He came in from out of the blue, or was it the emerald isle, became the Pal of my Pals, Gordon Whitmer and Stephen Dale Squires and the other rowdy boy's of 1950's Riverside.
On graduation he disappeared into Hollywoodland and would come back with tales of the starlets he had fucked and the stars he was shucking and jiving with. It was pure Irish bullshite and we knew it, but, later we learned that it was all true and that he was running with the Brat Pack that included, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Troy Donahue, Dean Stockwell and a host of others with tabloid names and fame.Although he did not become a leading man in the movies, he became more a leading man in life, lifting countless alcoholic drunks from the gutters of El Aye and leading them back into a productive life. Those drunks included the aforementioned, Dennis Hopper, Troy Donahue, Dean Stockwell who would tell you to this day that Owen Orr was their savior when they hit the bottom and he was the only one with the way up out of the shitholes they were wallowing in when it was cool to be a drunk punk puking on your best Buds girlfriends floor.
The day they kicked me out of Betty Fords for passing funny paper (nsf check) on the former First Lady, it was Owen who rode out on his big bad Kawasaki and drove me at 80 miles per hour through rush hour traffic on the Ventura and San Diego Freeways to my first AA meeting in El Aye, the Beverly Hill Stag. I had never seen so many badd assed dudes in my life as was assembled in that room that day. Owen plunked me down in a seat on the first row and went over to the leader of the meeting, said something to him and pointed at me. Opps, I knew I was in for something an sure enough the leader introduced me first after the serenity prayer and I had to get up , go to the mic and announce that my name was Bob and I am an alcoholic and was bounced that morning from Betty Fords when my deposit check to the former First Lady had indeed bounced. The applause and gaffaws was thunderous as the 200 plus drunks in the room related to my fuck up. If I'd of had a tail it was between my legs as I returned to the seat in the front row.There was a guy standing in what would be considered the stage door who looked familuar, Jeez, it was Troy Donahue headed then right to me with open arms. He gave me a great bear hug and said, "Keep comming back, you'll get it." God bless, with Owens winds in my sales, I got it and stayed sober with him as my mentor, guide and best Bud for the next several years.
There is much I could tell Rick Orr about his Dad, the days up in Aspen when he tended bar at the Motherlode, the restaurant our pal, Gordon Whitmer ran for some 30 odd years. How Owen after getting sober told Gordon that he had tapped the till and owed he figured eight grand to The Lode. He paid it off and at his wedding at the Riverea Country Club we all came together to praise our high school Buddy and wish him well in his days ahead. And , he had many a fine day that followed him.
So Rick and Robert, thanks for the memorys, they will be indeed included in my memoirs of a life in music, art, entertainment and hospitality. To be Orr, Orr not to be, that is a good question
Robert W. Gatelyrwgately@yahoo.com(520) 424-8658
Great movie, I bought a copy off of pickingforpicasso.com and really enjoyed this man's story. I wish there were more films like this.
While everyone would love to make that great find, there is always somebody else on the other side of that find who was just ripped-off. Pickers are preying on the uninformed.
The film from this story PICKING FOR PICASSO will screen this Saturday,December 5 at Space 55, 636 East Pierce,Phoenix AZ 85004 at 7 pm (doors at 6:45)with tickets at $6.00.
Very surprised it wasn't mentioned in the article, but you can get more info at http://www.nofestivalrquired.w...