In a small, quaint hotel in Ireland, a gentleman with a strong County Roscommon answers the phone.
"Hello," he says with lively energy.
At the end of the line across the Atlantic Ocean is Martin Nolan, a man who won a green card in the visa lottery in the late 80s and has since won the hearts and trust of countless Hollywood megastars simply by being his charming Irish self.
Nolan, 46, is an auctioneer to the stars. He is in the business of getting the best price possible for umbrellas, dresses, pictures and the like.
However, these are not just anyone’s umbrellas, dresses and pictures. If Nolan's name is attached to them then you can be guaranteed they once belonged to a superstar.
And for the past month in Ireland, Nolan has been watching dearly over 150 personnel possessions once owned by actress and style icon Marilyn Monroe, as they were exhibited at the Newbridge Silverware Museum of Style Icons in County Kildare.
Michael Jackson auction drama
Just last March, Nolan, who is the executive director of Julien’s Auctions based in Los Angeles, made the headlines when pop superstar Michael Jackson changed his mind about selling hundreds of personal possessions. Jackson had hired Julien’s Auctions to sell his property, but when Nolan brought many of Jackson’s items for auction to Ireland for display the reclusive superstar changed his mind.
Weeks of negotiations ensued between lawyers, but a deal was struck and they parted on good terms. In fact, they parted on great terms. Jacko has since invited Nolan and the owner and president of Julien’s Auctions, Darren Julien, to attend his concert and meet him in London this summer.
“We are very happy now,” said Nolan, who hails from Kiltoom, Athlone, County Roscommon
“After nine months we had a huge financial commitment put into it. And when Michael Jackson changed his mind it was difficult for us, but we also didn’t want to do an auction with a cloud over it,” recalls Nolan.
“We didn’t want to spend the next two years in court, so his attorneys and our attorneys got together and reached an agreement that we are very happy with.”
Bringing the stars of "Dallas" to mom
Nolan, who grew up in a small rural town, has brought home many a surprise to his mother.
On one particular visit back home his mother couldn't believe that sitting in her living room, drinking her Barry’s tea and eating her homemade brown bread, was Larry Hagman and Linda Grey -- better know, to Mrs. Nolan as J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing from “Dallas,” a program that she and her son used to watch on their ever so modest television set when he was a young fella.
“They all stay in my mother’s house,” laughs Nolan, as if it all sounds so surreal.
“‘Dallas’ was so huge when we were growing up. Did she ever think that Linda Grey would be sitting at one side of her and Larry Hagman sitting on her other side? Now she is just wondering who next I will drag in,” he said laughing more.
“They (the stars) love it because they get a sense of what real Ireland is about. No one bothers them. We don’t make any fuss,” he added.
Nolan has developed long and solid friendships with actors, movie stars and rock stars. After the business of auctioning off certain memorabilia is taken care of, friendships develop and Nolan and Julien find themselves living the high life in Hollywood.
"I'm by far the most unlikeliest person that you would ever think would be hanging out with the stars," he laughs again.
After finishing his leaving certificate in Ireland, Nolan worked for a few years in the public sector. He then took a year out to travel Australia in 1988.
Upon returning he discovered he had won a green card in the Donnelly visa program, so he packed a bag and said he'd give the land of American dreams a go.
He began his life in New York as a doorman, bellboy and front desk clerk at the Hilton Hotel and Towers in Manhattan. After a few years of luggage lifting and door holding, Nolan decided to try his hand at the stock market. It was where the money seemed to be.
During his time training as a broker he became friends with Darren Julien, a young aspiring businessman from Indiana who owned a little auction house business.
In 2005 Julian asked his Irish buddy to come on board, and Nolan agreed. He left a great job at Merrill Lynch to pursue a job that promised fun and adventure. And he certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Nolan and Julien are a force to be reckoned with. Nolan’s background in finance and Julien’s expertise in marketing makes them one of the most successful small house auctioneers in the U.S.
Prior to setting up his own business, Julien was working as an independent consultant with Sotheby’s.
“Darren’s background was in classic cars. He knew people like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld coming out of Indiana and going to California. From that he built on his celebrity network,” Nolan says.
In 2003 Julien set up his own company. When Nolan joined him in 2005 the company had two major auctions a year. This year they have eight.
"The little auction house that could"
“We are the auction house to the stars. We only do celebrity related auctions. That’s our niche and we have corned that market,” said the Roscommon man.
So how do Nolan and Julien compete with famous auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, companies that have been around for more than 300 years?
“We are the little auction house that could. We are different. We don’t have an auction house. We bring the auction to the people and this works fantastic,” he said.
After hanging up from the Irish Voice newspaper, Nolan was making sure the Marilyn Monroe memorabilia was safely packed away and ready to be shipped off to Las Vegas, where all of the pieces from the Irish exhibition and another 750 pieces, some from Marilyn, and other items belonging to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, actress Ann Miller and legendary singer Frank Sinatra will be auctioned off at the Planet Hollywood Hotel in Vegas on June 26 and 27.
While people will come from all over the world to bid on these precious items, others will bid on the phone and others online at Julien’sauctions.com.
In the meantime, Nolan is in New York this week making a special guest appearance on the “Today” show on Thursday morning, and catching up with his brother Frank who is a barman in Connolly’s Bar and Restaurant on Third Avenue and 47th Street – before returning to the hustle and bustle of life as a celebrity auctioneer in Hollywood.