By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Robrt L. Pela
These were losses that Orr sustained with good grace. There's an excruciatingly obvious but unavoidable irony in Orr's life: He's a minimalist.
"You get jaded, being in the stuff business," he offers. "I have a couple of cool things I've kept through the years because they had stories behind them that meant something to me, but when business took a dive, I sold them off. My rule is, 'Everything is for sale.'"
No one knows this rule better than Shannon Narron, Orr's 27-year-old daughter. She lived with her dad through her teen years, and remembers on more than one occasion coming home to find the sofa gone.
"I grew up in a gallery of constantly rotating furniture and artwork," Narron says with no trace of bitterness. "Nothing stayed long. If he got a good price for it, it was out the door."
She's proud of what her father made of his life, she says. Her childhood taught her to roll with punches, helped her grow a tough skin. She needed one, growing up in Scottsdale.
"My friends' dads were lawyers and doctors," she explains. "Nobody I knew even knew what a picker was. I couldn't have a sleepover because the beds might have been sold the day before. Or because there was no place to sleep over at, because we weren't living anywhere."
It was embarrassing, she says. But there were good times. "Dad would get a big score, and we'd go out to dinner and have fun and he'd be real happy. Then there were weeks where he wasn't finding anything, and it was macaroni and cheese and hanging around the house. Which was okay, too."
Narron remains bewildered, she says, by her father's ability to survive without what she considers essential comforts. "I always ask him, 'How can you not have a toaster?' I go to see him, and he has this great piece of art, but there's nothing to sit on."
"I have always been mystified by the value of things," Orr says. "I've sold quarter-million-dollar paintings to guys who just bought a signature on a piece of old canvas. I've sold valuable paintings to people who have said, 'Can you hold the check until payday?' I'd want to say, 'Are you shitting me? You're spending next week's paycheck on a painting instead of food?' But I'd be like, 'Okay. Whatever. I'll hold your check for $10,000.'"
Those days are long past. Earlier this year, one of Orr's most reliable clients, an art collector in Maui, returned to Orr a canvas he'd been considering for some weeks. "The guy loved the painting," Orr says, "but he said, 'I can't buy it because I lost $10 million on the stock market last week.' You know you're in trouble when billionaires are passing on your stuff."
The world's most famous picker is on the prowl. It's nearly lunchtime on a Saturday in early fall; Orr has been driving around the many cities and towns that make up metropolitan Phoenix since before 8 a.m. — practically the middle of the day for a professional picker — looking for posterboard signs pointing to estate sales. In the old days, he'd have left the house before the sun rose. "And," he says, jabbing a thumb behind him at the empty interior of his van, "this truck would have been packed with amazing things. Packed."
Monday used to be Sun City day; Tuesday he'd have headed to Apache Junction. He drove farther, too: to Prescott once a week, to Flagstaff every other week. A weekly haul from Las Vegas always netted him an unusual amount of Mid-Century Modern furniture. He knew on what day each thrift store in Los Angeles and Orange County put out new merchandise. Most shops held items for him, based on what he'd bought from them the last time he was there. Once his van was full, he'd head home.
"When I was pounding hard, I was covering an entire half of the Valley in a day," he says. "There was plenty of competition back then, but if some other guy got something I'd missed, I thought, 'Eh. There's so much crap out here, I don't even care.'"
Today, he barely slows his van as he cruises past the umpteenth north Scottsdale estate sale of the morning. He can tell, he says, whether there's anything interesting inside based on what's for sale on the driveway. "Piles of baby clothes out front," he explains, "means flatware from IKEA in the kitchen."
Orr pulls up in front of a tract home draped with a banner announcing "Susie's Estate Sales!" and disappears inside. The house smells like adult diapers and despair. A cheerful woman clutching a cash box near the door calls out, "We're makin' deals today, fellas!" A handmade sign behind her reads, "Hi-Fi not for sell."
With a little coaching from Orr, it's easy to spot the other pickers: They're quiet, moving quickly through the house. They're not the gals chatting while they paw through a box of soiled linens marked "$2 each, firm!" or the fellow considering the dented cookie press for 75 cents. One picker holds up a Fiestaware disc pitcher, and his companion rolls her eyes and whispers, "Repro!" The two head for the door.
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...
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