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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)

Hollywood on Exhibit

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

smithsonian.com

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More than 300 trailers in the museum's collection span approximately 40 years. "They are meaningful in a lot of ways," Hearn says. "Some are innovative in their design, or were for very important films. And some are just funny as hell," referring to the preview to the 1975 British satire "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

The oldest trailer in the collection is for director Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science-fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey," and features the movie's key musical motif by German composer Richard Strauss. One of the more recent previews acquired by Hearn is for 2004's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," which ran as an infomercial for Lacuna, Inc., the fictional organization that attempts to erase bad memories from the brain.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Los Angeles, California

When King Kong first climbed the Empire State Building in 1933, it was a historical moment, both for giant gorillas and stop motion animation. The art of creating film from snapshots of posed prehistoric figures was the hallmark of special effects artist Willis O'Brien. He designed the hand Kong used to scale New York City and the sailor-killing apatosaurus featured in the film. Both can be found in the archives of the Los Angeles County's Natural History Museum.

With a collection spanning back to the 1930s, the museum has amassed tens of thousands of artifacts from the city's motion picture industry. Among the museum's acquisitions are the tramp costume worn by Charlie Chaplin in the 1931 silent film "City Lights," the animation stand that Walt Disney used to sketch the first Mickey Mouse cartoons and a velociraptor from the 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park."

To be considered for acquisition by the museum, a piece of movie memorabilia must be a signature piece from a major film or a significant piece of equipment—"something that defines the progression of the technology and the industry," says collections manager Beth Werling.

Currently, much of the collection is not on display due to renovations, but more motion picture artifacts will be on view when the museum's new California History Gallery opens in 2012.

Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Museum Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

When Hollywood studios Fox and MGM liquidated their backlots in the early 1970s, movie costumes were considered to have little value. Debbie Reynolds knew better: The actress stepped in, sorted through the wardrobe departments and started the seeds of her museum.

Before Reynolds began her collection, movie wardrobes were often lost to rental businesses. "Gone with the Wind costumes could have ended up in Halloween shops," says Todd Fisher, Reynolds's son and Chief Executive Officer of her Motion Picture Museum. "Debbie was one of the few people trying to preserve these things, though people thought she was out of her mind."

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