Hollywood on Exhibit

Movie memories come to life inside the filmmaking collections of these seven museums

The ivory pleated dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 comedy “The Seven Year itch” is the most popular attraction at the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Museum. (Bettmann / Corbis)

We all remember transformative movie moments—not just the actors, but the props and costumes that bring them to life. But what happens to our favorite movie relics when their lives on film end?

In the past, movie memorabilia was scattered -- actors and film crews kept objects from the set as valuable souvenirs or prized items were sold to the highest bidder. Most movie artifacts ended up in private collections, stored away by the studios or, unknowingly, in Halloween costume shops.

Today, there is movie magic on display in museums across the country, inside institutions that realize the historical value present in wizard robes, film trailers and historic scripts. Below are seven museums that bring the treasures of filmmaking to the visiting public:

Smithsonian's National Museum of American History Washington, DC

Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers dons latex gloves before removing Dustin Hoffman's dress from "Tootsie." The petite, red-sequined gown was a gift from the actor after the 1982 film, in which he played a difficult actor who lands a role on a daytime soap opera as his drag alter ego, Dorothy Michaels.

"Hoffman wanted the dress here," says Bowers, who oversees the Smithsonian museum's entertainment collection, containing over 750 pieces of movie-related memorabilia. "This happened in the days when people would just call up and give things. Now we pursue them a little bit more," he says. "We depend a great deal on the kindness of strangers."

The dress is securely stored in a cabinet, a few shelves above actor Bruce Willis's simulated bloody white tank top and badge from the "Die Hard" action movies. Nearby, are shoes worn by 6-year-old vaudeville performer Rose Marie (of Dick Van Dyke fame) in the first talking picture short, a prologue to "The Jazz Singer" in 1927.

Bowers takes care to preserve objects that evoke an emotional response and tell the story of American film. The collection is famous for its ruby slippers from the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz", but also includes an early production copy of the film's script. In that script, the slippers are silver and there are several more characters, including Prince Florizel, the Cowardly Lion's alter ego, and Lizzie Smithers, the Tin Man's love interest.

"It shows you the creative process," Bowers says. "It shows you the revisions that take place and how the product goes from the initial vision to that which the public sees."

The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum & Galleries Los Angeles, California


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus