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Issue: Issue Summer 2000

The City and the Myth: Local Museums Unite the Two Hollywoods


Far from being a random collection of movie memorabilia, Hollywood's museums tell a story that goes beyond our city limits-one inscribed within a greater cultural legend: the myth of Hollywood. Whether it is the undergarments on display at Frederick's, the Star Trek set at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, or the Spirit of Romance Gallery at the Autry, our museums link the actual past of Tinsel town with the fictional tales that made it famous.

Local museums depict Hollywood, the city which blossomed with the emergence of the motion picture industry in the early 1900's, and Hollywood, the dream which it came to represent. Not only do they preserve a culture that has been imported throughout the world, they enrich the community, attract tourism, and actively participate in local outreach and education programs.

The largest and most elaborate of our museums is the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, located on a 13-acre site in Griffith Park. Exhibiting art and artifacts related to the history of the American West, the Autry compares glorified cowboy images projected through westerns with the historical experiences of settlers and frontiersmen.

Six theme-oriented galleries, designed by Walt Disney Imageering, house the permanent collection and two special galleries are devoted to changing exhibits. The museum also accommodates daily scholo0l visits and has summer day camp. Having recently "adopted" two elementary schools in the area, the museum organizes projects for children to trace their family history and to design their own exhibition for the Children's Discovery Gallery.

Many visitors are surprised to find that the museum is not simply a "cowboy" museum dedicated to Gene Autry. Often, first-time visitors leave the museum amazed at the grand scope of the American West.

In contrast to the saloon area, steerhorn furniture, Concord stagecoach, and carbines on display at the Autry, the 33,000 square foot Hollywood Entertainment Museum offers a behind-the-scenes look at the entertainment industry, featuring movie sets, costumes, make-up, and interactive displays.

The Entertainment Museum aims to educate and entertain. The exhibits celebrate Hollywood, the place and the myth, in a variety of ways, exploring how the entertainment industry and pop culture affect each other, and how the movies relate to history. Permanent exhibits, such as Hollywood in miniature, completed in the 1940's, allow us to see how the historic fabric of the city still remains.

The Museum provides for an experiential and participatory experience. In the "Reflections" section, the close link between the news and the entertainment industry is revealed. Visitors can watch newsreels from any decade in the twentieth century or see clips from movies based on actual headlines. The exhibit highlights the many ways in which motion pictures reflect actual events in the world, reminding us that life can imitate art as much as art imitates life. 

Museum director, Phyllis Caskey, sees the role of the museum director, Phyllis Caskey, sees the role of the museum as a "catalyst and major participant in all that goes on" in the community. To encourage visits, the museum promotes special events and changes exhibits every two months.

Community involvement and outreach are also high on the museum's priority list. The Entertainment academy7 at the Museum, in cooperation with the Juvenile Courts and the LA County Department of Education works with "at-risk" youth, providing a strong after-school training program, mentoring opportunities, internships, and jobs at entertainment industry companies.

Among the many museums clustered in the area, the Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie shop and museum on Hollywood Blvd. Offers a more intimate peek at historic Hollywood. Featuring a retrospective exhibition of vintage under fashions dating back to 1946, from Judy Garland's bustiers to Madonna's bodysuit designed by Jean-Paul-Gautier for Who's That Girl, the museum also includes some more peculiar items. Besides the petticoats, garters, and bustiers, there is a section devoted to "missiles and snow cones" and a special display of "Tender Tips." The place of some of these old-fashioned oddities in history is perhaps best left to the imagination, but the museum's presence amidst zebra-striped thigh-high boots, panther pumps, and feather-down underwear in the lingerie store carries a legacy unique to Hollywood, making it a historical landmark in its own right.

The Hollywood History Museum in the Max Factor Building, though still under renovation, has been restored to look like the Art Deco palace it was in 1935 when the Czar of Hollywood make-up first built it. The "Living Legacy" museum will take us back to Hollywood's Golden Age and aims to tell the story of the Max Factor legacy, the Entertainment Industry, and the community. Tours, video presentations, and special exhibits will allow visitors to step back in time to the fledgling film community's agricultural roots and watch the development of historic Hollywood. The re-opening of this landmark building later this year is highly anticipated.

Anywhere else, a draught-ridden plot of land with barely 100 years of history would not provide much proverbial grist to feed the museum-making mill. But local museums have managed not only to preserve Hollywood's heritage, capturing the history of a world-famous community within their walls, but also recreate the countless other stories which have become part of the ongoing legacy of this town as well.