May 07, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

We always knew Woody Allen was neurotic. But now we know he’s not anal — at least not about his closets.

On Saturday, April 24, for the first time in his 40-year career, the Woodman took out his movie trash. In a funky Queens, N.Y., warehouse, opposite a seedy topless joint and a run-down Dunkin’ Donuts, Allen auctioned off the collected keepsakes from the past 10 years, from Radio Days (1987) to Celebrity (1998). The idea was everything must go, and anybody willing to pay could play. The proceeds would be given to Woody’s handpicked charities for breast cancer and AIDS. (And cleaning out the junk would help the belt-tightening filmmaker avoid the expense of storing a bunch of old props.)

As approximately 500 fans and dealers rolled in to the sale — coughing up $10 for admission — disappointment quickly set in: Allen, 63, and wife, Soon-Yi Previn, 28, were nowhere to be seen. They’d chosen this day to stroll up Madison Avenue with a baby carriage and introduce their five-month-old infant girl, Bechet Dumaine Allen to the world. With no hope of an Allen sighting at hand, auction-goers turned their attention to the display — and felt a little bit robbed.

Despite a few undeniable treasures — vintage radios and broadcast microphones from Radio Days; model human skulls from Shadows and Fog; Greek-chorus props and Mira Sorvino’s leopard-skin furniture from Mighty Aphrodite; a weeping plastic Jesus from Celebrity — the 432 lots consisted mostly of dust-covered scrap that could have come from a going-out-of-business sale at Woolworth’s: lithographs, musty clothes, old shoes, coasters, hair dryers, kazoos, stuffed animals, apothecary bottles, antique pool tables, and a bunch of old signs that looked cool until you realized they were reproductions from Allen’s upcoming feature which stars Sean Penn and Uma Thurman. Even if it was all for charity, it felt like stepping into the world’s most overblown garage sale.

A few hardcore Woody fans were crestfallen. ”This is it?” said one buyer, summing up a common reaction. Further damping the excitement, the auctioneer’s color-copied catalog did not specify in what movies the props were used — a not-so-minor detail at a film-memorabilia sale. ”We make low-budget films,” longtime Woody friend and producer Jean Doumanian explained in a pre-auction interview. ”A lot of this stuff is just repainted and recycled over and over. Santo [Loquasto, Allen’s frequent production designer] finally made us get rid of it. He was afraid people would notice.” But even Doumanian was stumped by all the faux 1930s Coney Island amusement park props — used in Allen’s fall project — that made up the bulk of the auction lots. ”I haven’t seen it yet,” she said, ”so I don’t know what I’m selling.” (She also doesn’t know which studio will distribute the new film.)

Of course, there were many potential buyers who didn’t mind being left in the dark. ”I love auctions, and I love Woody,” said Don Brunjes, an art director from Long Island, who was looking for vintage ads like the old Burma Shave sign he nearly bought. ”This is like a double feature.”

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