Issue: Spring 2012

Hollywood Museums

For nearly 50 years Hollywood has been trying to create its own museum, but celebrating the history of movies in the home of the movies hasn’t been easy.   

Hopes were high when the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts & Sciences bought the $50m lot adjacent to their Mary Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study and announced they were going to build a spectacular museum.

Sadly, late last year, a partnership between AMPAS and LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) was announced and the museum’s proposed location was to be housed in the former May Co. department store building on Wilshire, a part of the LACMA museum complex.

Thankfully, Hollywood still has two museums dedicated to its signature industry.

Back in 1983, non-profit preservation group Hollywood Heritage gave a lifeline to Tinsel Town history with its acquisition of an old barn that had been kept at Paramount Pictures and was languishing behind a chain link fence seeking a home befitting its status as a California State Historic Landmark. They began repairs and restoration, and then – with great fanfare – had it slowly towed to the location of another museum attempt near the Hollywood Bowl, and opened the doors in 1985.  

Known as the Lasky-DeMille Barn it was originally located near Selma and Vine as part of a citrus ranch, but the burgeoning movie business saw the hay and horses moved aside.  In 1913, it was leased for $250 a month by director Cecil B. DeMille and pioneer producers Jesse Lasky and Sam Goldwyn as an office and studio for The Squaw Man, the first feature-length movie to be produced in Hollywood .

Paramount Pictures at Selma and Vine

It was a huge hit, and Lasky, DeMille and Goldwyn went on to co-found Paramount Pictures – the barn coming along for the ride and serving as a rehearsal room, meeting hall, library and gym – before the move “off the lot” and behind fences in 1979

Today you’ll find an accurate recreation of Cecil B. DeMille’s office inside – complete with his personal bullhorn, shoes, puttees and horsewhip – and a wooden wastepaper basket he rested his feet on when the horses were being watered next door!

There are also colorized postcards, glasses, milk jugs, matchbooks, cutlery and event programs from the great hotels, clubs and eateries of L.A., plus old movie equipment – from before and after the Age of Sound – countless props from DeMille’s later movies (plenty of swords, armor, shields and exotic Egyptian mementoes) and a gallery of “Silent Players” such as Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and sex symbol Rudolph Valentino.

Props from Cecil B. DeMille films

Just a short distance south, also on Highland Avenue , can be found the Hollywood Museum , a building that was once the site of Max Factor, the legendary cosmetician who invented lip gloss, the human hair wig and popularized the term “make-up”. Back in 1928 he had the building converted into a busy factory and salon so the biggest stars of the day could come and be transformed into a million bucks, and mere mortals could buy the same products their heroines – and heroes – used.

A glamorous opening on November 26, 1934 saw everyone who was anyone in attendance, Mae West’s invitation promising “surprises that should be of particular interest” – including a special color-coordinated rooms for blondes, redheads, brunettes and “brownettes”.

Above, The Redhead Room

The legendary Max Factor name and original studio was acquired by several corporate entities through the years—Revlon, Playtex and Proctor & Gamble, to name a few.  After Factor’s death the building became a “Museum of Beauty” dedicated to Factor, but when it closed in 1994 the future seemed uncertain – until local resident and businesswoman, Donelle Dadigan, decided she wanted the building, and simply wouldn’t take “no” for an answer:

“I wanted to give something back to the community, and the number one export from Hollywood is the movies. As a teacher I had learned that the best way to teach kids was to be entertaining, and I wanted to share with the world the experience of learning.”

Thanks to some lucky finds in the basement – the original sale display cases you see in the foyer and someone coming forward with old blueprints – they were able to restore everything to its 1930s heyday and opened for visitors in 1996.

The foyer is glitzy, glamorous Art Deco gem of white and pink-rose marble, chandeliers, antique furniture and faux 22 carat gold and silver trim, and showcases some of the original wigs, lipsticks, perfumes – as well as dresses, magazine covers, telegrams and photographs – from the days of Max Factor. Judy Garland’s red shoes are here too, and costumes from television series “The Good Wife” and “The Borgias”.

The museum boasts that they hold the most extensive movie memorabilia collection anywhere – around 10,000 items – and the special-colored rooms. These original “studios” were designed to provide a pampering experience and complement the coloring of blonds, brunettes and redheads. … More It was here that Factor himself personally applied cosmetics to every actress of the era transforming the ordinary into extraordinary beauty for the camera.  These rooms now celebrate Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe (who first became a blond here) with newspap er clippings, personal items, posters, pictures, dresses and make-up from these legendary ladies.  

The second and third floors are devoted to props, posters, souvenirs and costumes from countless movies and television series such as Twilight, Planet of the Apes, Jaws, High School Musical, “Glee” and “The Sopranos”. Check out the stunning premiere dress worn by Angelina Jolie and the big screen apparel of Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt and Marilyn and Elvis.

Costumes from, among others, Ben Hur

There’s also a priceless collection of 6000 autographs – the entire 60 year archive of “Autograph King” Joe Ackerman, and the unique archive of the late Johnny Grant “The Honorary Mayor of Hollywood”, which includes the very first design idea for the stars on the Walk of Fame (a caricature of Cary Grant).

The Autograph Room

The darker side of Hollywood takes over on the lower level, which is a long walk down the same jail corridor that Jodie Foster walked in Silence of the Lambs – and ends up in front of the Hannibal Lecter’s cell. His blue overalls and mask are still there, but where is he?

Props and costumes from movies like Halloween, Stargate, Psycho, The Mummy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Trek, Phantom of the Opera, Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen and others are on this level too, as well as the gold death masks of Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price.

There’s also a family connection to the museum for Dadigan, whose godfather was pianist and conductor José Iturbi and is celebrated in a display containing his piano, posters and pictures. He was the first classical artist to sell 1 million records and appeared in movies including the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra:

“I’m a huge collector of anything to do with entertainment, and the whole museum just warms my soul so much.”