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A Glimpse at Treasures in the Academy Museum

Elizabeth Taylor in 1963’s “Cleopatra.”

Classic-film fans have been waiting for years for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to debut its long-promised museum in Los Angeles, and though an opening date still hasn’t been announced, we’re starting to get a look at more of the items secured for exhibition. Located at 6067 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has collected roughly 2,500 items since 2008, ranging from motion-picture technology to costume design, makeup and hairstyling items, awards, promotional materials and memorabilia, and more.

As we continue to anticipate an official opening date — “Hours and ticket prices coming soon,” promises the museum's website — here’s a look at some of the latest acquisitions, as well as two iconic favorites that surely will top the must-visit list of every classic-film fan.

Wig worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, 1963.

British-born wigmaker Stanley Hall crafted 40 to 45 wigs for the Joseph L. Mankiewicz epic, including this piece, a museum purchase. A handful of wigs have been sold by Heritage Auctions over the past decade, though this piece doesn’t appear to be among them, likely making it a private sale from a collector. Though Taylor’s costumes and wigs in Cleopatra were extensive, this piece, distinguished by its gold braid on the crown and along the sides, as well as its distinctive beading, allow it to be identified as the wig worn by Taylor during the scene in which Cleopatra discusses Caesar’s new role as “dictator of Rome for life.”

Of course, costumes, makeup and hairstyling historically have been considered an Academy afterthought. Best Costume Design wasn’t added as an Academy Award category until 1948, though the talents behind the costumes for Cleopatra — Vittorio Nino Novarese, Renié Hubert, and Irene Sharaff, specifically credited with Taylor’s costumes — picked up the Oscar for 1963. The Academy Award for Best Makeup wasn’t added until 1981, and it wasn’t until 2012 that the category’s designation was officially changed to Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Gown, cape, crown and scepter from The Little Princess, 1939.

The Academy notes that these pieces were a gift from the family of Shirley Temple Black, who wore the costume during a fantasy sequence in The Little Princess, the iconic child star's first all-Technicolor film. The costume was designed by Gwen Wakeling, who worked on most of Temple's films during the height of her fame in the 1930s, including Heidi, Poor Little Rich Girl and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Temple’s costume for The Little Princess is also notable for being in near-pristine condition. While many costumes during that period were repurposed and refashioned for other films, Temple’s costumes were the exception, largely because they simply wouldn’t fit another actress. Known in her adult life as Shirley Temple Black after she married naval officer Charles Alden Black in 1950, the actress later distinguished herself as an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. But she also saved many pieces from her film career and preserved them; following Temple’s death in 2014, a variety of those costumes and other memorabilia from her personal archives were sold at a pair of 2015 auctions — her iconic red and white polka-dot dress from 1934’s Stand Up and Cheer, for example, sold for $75,000.

Ensemble worn by Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris, 1951.

Designed by Orry-Kelly, this costume is worn by Gene Kelly during the elaborate, 17-minute dream sequence that serves as the climax of An American in Paris and was a purchase by the Academy Museum.

Directed by Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture and Best Costume Design (color); the award was shared by Orry-Kelly, Irene Sharaff, credited with designing the ballet costumes, and Walter Plunkett, who conceptualized the costume designs for the film’s Beaux Arts Ball sequence.

Bela Lugosi’s cape from Dracula, 1931.

Vera West was never received an official on-screen credit as the costume designer of Universal's legendary “monster” films of 1930s, including Frankenstein, also made in 1931, and 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, so it’s tough to confirm that she was the confirmed designer of Lugosi’s iconic cape, which the Hungarian-born actor employed to great effect in his most famous role.

Following the success of Dracula, Lugosi kept the cape, wearing it in subsequent films and for personal appearances. The cape stayed in Lugosi’s family after his death in 1956, initially kept by his ex-wife, Lillian Lugosi, before she passed it to the son she and Lugosi had together, Bela G. Lugosi.

“My father’s screen-worn cape has had a very special place in my life and in the lives of my children and grandchildren,” Bela G. Lugosi said in a statement released by the Academy Museum. “In fact, it has been part of my mother’s household and then my household since I was born — for over 80 years. After several years of discussions with founding [museum] director Kerry Brougher, who showed such care and appreciation of its important role in film history, it became clear that there is no better home for the cape than the Academy Museum, allowing movie lovers to view a piece of classic horror film history and enjoy Bela Lugosi’s acclaimed performance for years to come.”

Jessica Niebel, exhibitions curator of the Academy Museum, added, “It is important to us as a museum to be able to restore and safeguard this artifact, knowing that much of the material history of the classic horror cycle has been lost forever. We are deeply grateful to the Lugosi family for entrusting us with a treasure that means so much to them.”

Meanwhile, previously announced gifts to the museum include:

Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

Designed by Adrian and among the most iconic movie props in cinema history, anywhere from four to seven pairs of ruby slippers were believed to be created for the 1939 Judy Garland musical. This screen-used pair was purchased at auction in 2012 with the express purpose of being gifted to the Academy Museum. Of the pairs known to exist — other ruby slippers can be found at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota — this pair is believed to be in the best condition and was used for close-ups.

Soon after the slippers were gifted to the Academy Museum, it was revealed that a consortium of buyers made the donation possible, a group that included Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg. The slippers will be found in the museum’s Grand Lobby, home of the Spielberg Family Gallery, which will house the installation that’s expected to be a long-term exhibition, Making Of: The Wizard of Oz.

Rick’s Café Américain entrance doors from Casablanca, 1942.

These may be the most famous doors in movie history: The entrance to Rick’s Café Américain — seen in several scenes throughout the Michael Curtiz-directed classic starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid — will be key to a second-floor gallery that’s been dubbed “The Studio System,” which also includes a backdrop from 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain and Alfred Hitchcock’s typewriter from 1960’s Psycho.

The wood and glass doors sold for $115,000 at “TCM Presents … There’s No Place Like Hollywood,” a 2014 auction presented by Bonhams. They have since been restored (as seen here) before their placement in the Academy Museum.


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