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Pennsylvania Retiree Inherits Two Bizarre Art Collections

Brian Gaffney

Oil paintings by Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan, watercolors by Paul McCartney and Charles Manson, portraits by Peter Falk and Dinah Shore, doodles by Ed Asner and Jimmy Stewart, and a cityscape by Adolph Hitler.

They’re all part of a bizarre art collection left to a retired trucking executive, Hugh Hooper of Pennsylvania. 

Unlikely as that inheritance was, Hooper also found himself heir to a separate collection of “automobile art.” Imagine a fleet of customized cars that includes a BMW Isetta wrapped in psychedelic fur, a “can-vertible” adorned with soda cans, or a clock-covered “time machine.”

The tale of the two art collections is told in the latest episode of Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby. It premieres Monday, April 3 at 9 p.m. on the Fox Business Network, and stars two New York City characters from the Studio 54-era.

First the cars – they’re the creations of Hooper’s brother Stephen, aka “Hoop.” As an art student he admired Andy Warhol and the psychedelic painters of the 60s – and yearned to be part of their scene.  

By the 80s Hoop gained local celebrity status, dubbing himself the “King of Art” as he drove around the Big Apple in his “Hoopmobiles.”

“He actually cut the front end off a van, bolted it on the back of another, so he had two front ends,” recalls Hugh Hooper. “He’d say, ‘I don’t know if I’m coming or going.’” 

Perhaps it was inevitable Hoop would run into Baird Jones, a preppy planner of star-studded parties at the Palladium, Studio 54 and other clubs. 

That’s where the celebrity art collection comes in.

Jones had a penchant for paintings and drawings by entertainers, politicians and other celebrities not known as artists. An endless variety of names hung on his walls, from Jimmy Hendrix to Princess Grace, from Mel Brooks to Jack Kevorkian, from Buddy Hackett to Marcel Marceau. 

“Quite a weird collection, but a lot of name-brand material” is how Robert Rogal of RoGallery, an art dealer and gallery in Long Island City, New York describes it.

Jones, scion of a social-register family, claimed to have spent $1 million on the collection.

Hoop and Jones became friends, as well as fixtures on the Manhattan party scene.

That scene took a heavy toll on Jones, who died of a heart attack at the age of 53 in 2008. He bequeathed his art collection to Hoop.

Hoop died of cancer in 2001 at age of 64, and left his big brother Hugh both collections – the cars and the celebrity art.

Hugh still has a handful of his brother’s cars on his property but, realizing there isn’t a market for used Hoopmobiles, he let Hoop’s friends drive away with any cars they wished.

Hugh had higher expectations for Jones’ celebrity art, and put it up for auction at RoGallery in 2016.

A Muhammad Ali painting “Sting like a Bee” commanded the highest bid -- $2,800.  A magic-marker drawing by Dee-Dee Ramone, called “Horror Hospital,” sold for $1,500. A pen and ink

by Mob boss John Gotti, called “Bikini on Mars,” drew $1,100.

The total take: $43,000.

Of the 300 pieces of art, 200 didn’t sell at all — including works by James Dean, Fred Astaire, Phyllis Diller and Kurt Vonnegut.

Those bold-face names you’ll never see at the Louvre, but it’s not a bad start on an invite list if Baird and Hoop are still throwing parties at that big dance club in the sky.

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