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Five Reasons to Visit the Academy Museum When It Opens

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

In advance of its September debut, museum officials offered a virtual tour of the layout and upcoming exhibitions.

Judy Garland, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger in a scene from 1939's "The Wizard of Oz."

Laura Dern described the layout, Rita Moreno talked about her historic Oscar win for 1961's West Side Story, designer Ruth E. Carter highlighted the impact of costumes, and Spike Lee discussed the thrill of his own memorabilia collection becoming a temporary exhibit.

The exterior of the Academy Museum, set to open September 30.

Hollywood’s heavy-hitters came out on a recent Wednesday morning for a preview of the Academy Museum, which after a few false starts, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now scheduled to open to the public on September 30. Located at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, the 300,000-square-foot museum, designed by legendary architect Renzo Piano, promises to offer a comprehensive look at the history of cinema, from its earliest days to modern blockbusters.

The "Citizen Kane" vignette in the museum's "Stories of Cinema" section.

Information about pieces in the museum's permanent collection was previously released in October 2019, revealing that exhibits would include everything from a wig worn by Elizabeth Taylor in 1963's Cleopatra to the doors to Rick's Café Américain in 1942's Casablanca. As the opening nears, the Academy Museum is also kicking off a variety of online programs to continue to whet appetites before the doors open. From weekly costume illustrations by Carter that can be downloaded for coloring to monthly panel discussions—including April 22nd's "Breaking the Oscars Ceiling," which includes Sophia Loren, Whoopi Goldberg and Marlee Matlin—a full slate of activities have been planned to both highlight the museum's offerings and inspire conversations about cinema.

That sense of discovery will be felt throughout the spaces, museum planners said. “Visitors are encouraged to wander and explore at their own pace, and there are moments of surprise and discovery throughout,” explained Kulapat Yantrasast, founder of Los Angeles-based wHY Architecture and designer of the museum’s core gallery spaces. “Humans are deeply curious, and we want to give people the chance to gravitate toward their personal interests, as well as discover new artists, new films and cinematic moments and when we are excited and interested in our surroundings, we are ready to be curious about others, too. For me, cinema and good design has always been a way to promote empathy between different groups and individuals.”

A collection of 20 historic Oscar statues also will be included among the museum's exhibits.

Costume design, hairstyling and makeup will be key to the museum’s “Identity” gallery, presenting “a wide swath of film history, from early classics to contemporary masterpieces. What makes a memorable sartorial statement is on full display,” Dern noted.

A look at green satin gown by Travis Banton for Claudette Colbert in 1934’s Cleopatra was shown as Carter discussed the impact of a designer’s work. “Most people marvel when they look at the costume that was in a movie that they remember, because they see the detail in person,” she said. “They see all the hard work that went into creating the experience for the viewer and the audience in a movie theater … it’s a wonderful way to honor the film and the craftsmanship.”

With that in mind, here’s a look at five exhibits that should thrill classic-film fans when the doors open this fall:

Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

A pair of ruby slippers from 1939's The Wizard of Oz resides in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and now the Academy Museum will feature its own pair on the West Coast. These are the shoes that were famously purchased in 2012 for the museum while the venue was still in its planning stages, by a consortium that included Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg. They’re also believed to be in the best original condition of the ruby slippers still known to exist, as they were worn only for close-ups.

The shoes will take center stage in "The Art of Moviemaking," a gallery designed to highlight a single film—"a deep dive into the collaborative process of moviemaking," Dern called it—and which will open with The Wizard of Oz. Renderings indicate that the Academy Museum has built an exhibit around the slippers, with other items that include one and perhaps two of Judy Garland’s gingham costumes.

William Tuttle’s Makeup Case

The makeup artist behind films ranging from An American in Paris to Summer Stock and North by Northwest, Tuttle was in high demand by A-list actresses, including Elizabeth Taylor for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Lauren Bacall for Designing Woman.

Long before the Academy added a makeup and hairstyling category to the Oscars, Tuttle (seen below with Esther Williams on the set of Jupiter’s Darling) was also the first makeup artist to take home an Academy Award, receiving an honorary trophy for 1964’s 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. The treasures seen within Tuttle’s case ultimately should offer a glimpse into both the depth and diversity of his work.

William Tuttle with Esther Williams on the set of 1955's "Jupiter's Darling."

A Page from Gregory Peck’s To Kill a Mockingbird Script

Few performances continue to be more revered in 20th-century cinema than Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which makes it all the more thrilling to read his own notes, scribbled on a page of the script, from a pivotal scene in the Robert Mulligan film. Peck won an Oscar for his portrayal of Harper Lee’s iconic character, and that win becomes all the more impressive upon realizing Peck’s thoughtful approach to each line and motivation. Read this one page and then go back and watch the film again.

A Diana Ross Costume from Lady Sings the Blues

Bob Mackie, Ray Aghayan and Norma Koch received an Oscar nomination for their work on this 1972 biopic of the highs and lows in the life of Billie Holiday, and its presence in the Academy Museum carries more significance than its style: Lady Sings the Blues was the first biopic of a Black American to be nominated for an Academy Award, and in addition to Best Costume Design, the film received four other nods, including Diana Ross, nominated as Best Actress (unfortunately she was up against Liza Minnelli, who took home the award for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in Cabaret). The exhibited costume and others created for the film not only honor Holiday’s image both onstage and in real life, they’re also a terrific example of the relationship between the fashion of the 1930s and the 1970s.

The Clapperboard from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

It’s fun to think of this piece on the set of the 1953 Howard Hawks film, marking the start and end of every scene in this musical starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. But this piece of on-set equipment isn’t the only element from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that we’re likely to see at the Academy Museum: During Wednesday’s preview, renderings of exhibition spaces offered hints at other elements that will be seen when the museum opens its doors, and judging from those renderings, that will include at least one costume from the opening number of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Designed by William Travilla, the beaded red gowns worn by Monroe and Russell for the number seen during the pre-title sequence, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” were among the highlights of a sale at Julien’s Auctions in September 2019, and one of these beaded gowns is seen in exhibition renderings.

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