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)

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A distressed purple Joker suit worn by late actor Heath Ledger while filming "The Dark Knight," was just one highlight from this year's "Outstanding Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" exhibition at the FIDM Museums & Galleries.

"We borrowed it from the Warner Brothers archives," says museum curator Kevin Jones. "We were specifically instructed that the socks had to show."

Since 1992, work by all but two of the artists nominated for a Best Costume Design Academy Award, as well as other popular costumes, have been included in the annual show, which runs from January through March each year. In order for everything to be in place by the Awards, the curators must reserve the costumes long before the nominations are announced.

Jones, a costume historian, was glad "The Duchess" designer Michael O'Connor won this year's Best Costume Design Oscar. "The details were magnificent," Jones says. "It really gave you an idea of what the 18th century was like in movement."

Though all of the costumes in the Motion Picture exhibition are borrowed, the 12,000-piece permanent collection at the FIDM Museums & Galleries is rich in Hollywood history, such as the crème colored, silk dress worn by Jean Harlow in the 1933 film "Bombshell."

In 2005, director George Lucas personally requested the museum host "Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars," an exhibition that included designs from all six films. Over 120 costumes were included, such as the Queen Amidala's gown from the 1999 production of "The Phantom Menace" and Princess Leia's concubine outfit from 1983's "Return of the Jedi."

Oklahoma City Museum of Art Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Film curator Brian Hearn had 30 seconds to decide whether to get his art museum involved in the film collection business. After a janitor from a local university found some old 16-millimeter film prints in a closet, a colleague asked Hearn whether he'd take them. His affirmation began the museum's film collection. Now three years old, it contains more than 500 prints, including rare Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons.

As donations came in, Hearn noticed he was receiving hundreds of film trailers. He decided to create a regular program for visitors, "Movie Trailers: Trash or Treasure?"

"Trailers are promotional items. They're created to have a shelf life," Hearn explains. "Once the movie is theatrically released, the trailer becomes a disposable object to the copyright owner."


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