Thursday, May 12, 2022

Not So Welcome at The Academy

Part of Melissa’s (aka The Colonel) visit to LA included a trip to the recently opened Academy Museum in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard, housed in what was originally the May Company building. Melissa channels Judy Garland back in the day as she walked in front of the (former) department store:

The addition to the historic building has the boring but currently trendy industrial chic look:

The inside of the building is just as cold and off-putting, which really makes the life-sized Uncle Oscar statue stand out like a sore thumb. I’m waiting for the day when somebody gets offended by the sculpt and it has to change.

The first order of business was to get to the Shirley Temple Education Studio, which just so happened to be closed.

In case you’re wondering what $5 million dollars from Shirley’s family purchased, here’s an inside peek:

The Museum has a treasure trove of some of Shirley’s most iconic costumes, the desk used in her Fox Studio Bungalow, and memorabilia related to her close friendship/working relationship with dancer/choreographer Bill Robinson. And therein lies the real reason why Shirley is kept on the down-low. Because Robinson portrayed a servant to a plantation family in two of Shirley’s movies (both set in the Civil War), inside sources have revealed that the Museum is afraid of backlash if they put too much of Shirley’s history on display. More on that in another post. Moving on to the other main reason for the visit: the Ruby Slippers.

These are the Ruby Slippers that belonged to Kent Warner, the man who discovered all of the pairs created for “The Wizard of Oz” when MGM was selling off its historic props and costumes in their 1970 auction. Warner picked the best pair to keep for himself. From the display text:

This pair is believed to be the one seen in all close-up shots, as when Dorothy clicks her heels together three times and says, “There’s no place like home.”

You can see #7 Judy Garland handwritten inside the shoe:

They are just incredible to see in person.

[W]hite silk pumps from the Innes Shoe Company of Pasadena and Hollywood were dyed red by the MGM costume department, covered in silk georgette, and hand-embellished with approximately 2,300 sequins each. A red leather bow covered in red rhinestones, bugle beads, and costume jewels was then affixed to each slipper. MGM seamstress Aurora Dueñas was on hand throughout filming to restore loose beads and sequins.

In the detailed shot, it would appear that rather than leather the beads for the bow were affixed to a cloth backing, as you can see the pattern of the fabric below the crystals and bugle beads.

Melissa captured me attempting to shoot the famed slippers without catching the reflection of the glass display. Not an easy task.

The Cowardly Lion’s mane was also on display:

…and the Wicked Witch of the West’s hat. Extra lights were necessary to make Margaret Hamilton’s Witch’s costume register on Technicolor film. Adrian also designed this costume, made of black wool surrounded by a flowing silk scarf:

Here is the concept art by William Tuttle for the Wicked Witch, based on Jack Dawn’s makeup design:

…and the Tin Man. For this one, Dawn and Tuttle stayed faithful to the original book illustrations by W.W. Denslow.

One of the pinafores worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy, designed by Adrian, with a non-original blouse:

This is labeled as the sepia pinafore worn by Garland’s stand-in, Bobbie Koshay, paired with a blouse worn by Garland in unused footage directed by Richard Thorpe:

I recall the first time I saw a Judy Garland Dorothy costume was on the Freedom Train which toured the country in 1975-1976, with a cargo of precious treasures that spanned 200 years. Based on the Freedom Train website, I would have seen the dress somewhere between September 12-15, 1976. I remember my disappointment when it turned out to be a dress not used in the footage from the final film, but rather from the scenes under the direction of Richard Thorpe who was quickly fired. Here’s a shot of the Freedom Train dress from when it was sold by Heritage Auctions in 2013:

Back to the Academy. An early wardrobe test for “Oz,” with Garland wearing a blond wig and an unused version of the pinafore/blouse:

This oil can, used by the Tin Man, was presented to Jack Haley at the completion of filming:

Jack Martin Smith’s concept art for the Emerald City, as envisioned by art director Cedric Gibbons:

A life mask of actress Grace Kelly:

Oscars on display:

This one is a wow; the original backdrop painting of Mount Rushmore for the Alfred Hitchcock film “North by Northwest.” Even though it has been trimmed down over the years, the size (approximately two stories high) is still impressive.

Melissa had arranged for a special Oscars Experience program that requires an additional charge; it was not working when we showed up at our designated time so she was refunded. Below is the restaurant/cafe inside the museum:

Overall, I would say this museum is a huge disappointment. So much space, so little to see. Because of the treatment of Shirley Temple’s legacy, I will not be in a hurry to return.

See more Academy Museum photos at my main website.


"Lou and Sue" said...

Dave, though your day at the Academy obviously did not go as originally planned, your added humor made this post an enjoyable read. Thanks for some great photos and information.

Nanook said...

Thanks so much for all these great images - and the spectacular photography.

I used to work at a museum that suffered from the same "disease": where the hell are the artifacts-?? I would'a thunk that AMPAS was smart-enough to understand that 'trap' - evidently not. Seems like the same 'group think' that continues to green-light the abomination that is the annual Oscar Telecast has influenced their new museum. Truly a pity; as they have SO MUCH to share with the world.

Sorry... I got carried away. I really appreciate your commentary and the images you both captured and shared with us.

Melissa said...

The May Company, where Mary Livingston worked before meeting Jack Benny! You captured a lot of great photos of what little they did have on display, so I hope you still consider it a day well spent. And I so covet Melissa's dashing red chapeau.

Didn't I read that Debbie Reynolds had another pair of the Dorothy shoes in her collection? I may be mixing them up with something else and I've totally misplaced her book. I was a pint-sized literary snob at the usual age kids start loving that movie, and resented all the changes from the books. Now that I'm old enough to appreciate it on its own merits I've got a lot of catching up to do. I had no idea that BOTH Tuttle and Dawn worked on the makeup; no wonder it was so brilliant! (I liked William Tuttle's name so much as a teenager that I named a character after him in a comic narrative poem.) The Great MGM Rummage Sale is definitely one of the preset stops as soon as I get that time machine built.

Melissa said...

And I totally get why films like Song of the South aren't being re-released, because Disney Home Video just isn't equipped or motivated to put it into context with any sensitivity like, say, Turner Classic Movies or the Criterion Collection does when including a title with racially sensitive material, and the majority of the target audience for Disney Home Video probably wouldn't pay attention if they tried. And aside from the technological achievements and some of the music, it just isn't that special of a movie to make the effort for.

But museums literally exist for just that sort of thing. When I worked in an art museum we Did this with all kinds of exhibits. Both Robinson and Temple deserve to be on display.

Anonymous said...

Let’s all be positive and give it time to build and grow. We have been is a pandemic for two years which screwed up the timeline of the museum. I for one am grateful just to have a building where proper storage for costumes can be held. It’s a privilege to see them, but a wonderful achievement to care for them

Fifthrider said...

True, the real value here is a place to store/display costumes and yet so much wasted space. Temple's family spent HOW MUCH?! For THAT?! Even if there's more the pic did not reveal, it's not 5 mil worth of expense. James Basket won an award for Song of the South and Bill Robinson's dancing is the thing of legend. Sadly the same people who want better recognition destroy or hide that recognition when it's given. The way things are going, I expect Chapek to green-light a live action remake of Song of the South any day now. ( Grabs popcorn ) Go ahead Bob, we're all waiting. Do it.

Daveland said...

Anonymous - Unless you have some insider information, this is not a topic I am able to Pollyanna about. I am also sick of the pandemic being used as an excuse for decisions made that had absolutely nothing to do with the two year delay. Errors on descriptive placards, leaving out founding members of Hollywood, and as to your being grateful for the storage...I guess you aren't aware of the volumes of costumes the Academy turned down because the Barbra Streisand bridge couldn't hold the weight of the costume racks.

Michelle Russell said...

Love the detailed photo, but like you, even though I have not been there, I am deeply disappointed by the Academy's treatment of Shirley Temple. They created a boring school room with her name. They could make it lively and fascinating with Shirley's artifacts and photos. My God, she was number one in the box off for four years I believe and she hadn't even reached the age of ten. To hide the legacy of Bill Robinson is ridiculous. So he played a servant so then you are never going to talk about him and his talent? The people who have come after stand on his shoulders. Shirley and Bill were the first inter-racial movie star couple. People need to stop kow-towing and dumbig down to the public. Explain the history! Another issue as I understand it is that originally the Academy had no interest in costumes so they by passed Debbie Reynolds amazing costume collection. Of course, a costume collection involves care. Sad after the billion or how many millions people donated to bring this museum into existence.

Fifthrider said...

Ok, wait, what?! So it's not even adequate storage? The errors on placards is a major deal breaker for me. That kind of move just indicates that the people in charge simply don't care. If the bridge can't hold the weight of costume racks then this is just more evidence.

In a word, this place sounds like FRAUD. I wonder who Anonymous is. If Anonymous comes back to read further comments, clearly understand you're defending something created on fraud. I suspect they work for the establishment and are out looking for favorable coverage. It doesn't sound like you've worked for it.

My prediction: this place will be closed as soon as the initial funding runs out. You're not in it to win it, you're just hustling for funding then failing to deliver because you never really cared about your subject.