Steve Martin: From “The Jerk” to Ed Ruscha

Steve Martin became famous as a stand-up comedian with an arrow through his head -- but lately his taste has run a bit more high brow.

His latest book is about the New York City art world, and at Barnes & Noble in Union Square Tuesday night he reminisced how he got a taste of art dealership with the first print he ever owned.

“The first significant thing was a Ed Ruscha print of Hollywood, a Hollywood sign,” said the actor/ musician/ novelist at a discussion and book signing of An Object of Beauty. “I lived in Los Angeles and near Hollywood, and I thought it spoke to me. You know, I was a comedy writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

Martin said he bought the print in 1968 during “the first time I could spare any money at all” for $125 and actually made a profit out of it later in life.

“Several years later when I was really fed up with Los Angeles and Hollywood I moved to Santa Fe and symbolically sold the Ruscha print to a dealer,” Martin recounted. “And I said, how much can I get for this and he said I'll give you $625 for it. And I said 'I really like this art stuff!'”

Hundreds turned up to hear the celebrity read the passage from the novel about an ambitious young girl working up her way in Sotheby's and answer fans' questions. Martin stuck around for at least another hour signing copies, so that “no fan was left behind” as Barnes & Noble event planner Maria Celis had promised.

While Martin is recognizable from his roles in “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “It's Complicated,” -- and earlier comedic gems such as "The Jerk" and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" -- he is also an accomplished banjo-player. The multi-hyphenate has also penned screenplays and novels, including Shopgirl, which was later adapted into a movie in 2005.

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