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More Hints Emerge About Costumes at the Academy Museum

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

A virtual talk with two of the museum’s costume experts revealed new details about what will be seen when the doors open on September 30.

Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain."

As the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures gets closer to its September 30 opening date, details continue to emerge about the cinema treasures planned for exhibition.

On Saturday afternoon, assistant curator Sophia Serrano and senior director of registration and collection management Sonja Wong Laeon hosted an online presentation that explored the museum’s efforts in costume conservation, and in doing so revealed a few more hints about costume designs scheduled to be on view. Here are five tidbits revealed during the hour-long event:

Judy Garland, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger in "The Wizard of Oz."

The Museum’s Costume Collection: Serrano noted that the museum possesses 650 costumes in its permanent collection, with plans to change out pieces on display “on a six- to 12-month cycle,” she said, not only to make room for new exhibitions, but also to ensure that fragile costumes are not being taxed too heavily. In seeking out and validating possible acquisitions, Serrano also explained that the museum is primarily interested in “screen-used originals,” adding that historians and fans alike place the highest value on costumes actually worn, vs. copies or duplicates.

Previous announcements have mentioned planned exhibitions that include Dorothy’s ruby slippers from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, and while not yet confirmed, a look at museum renderings indicates that the ruby slippers may be displayed alongside two costumes: a blue-and-white gingham pinafore worn by Judy Garland, and possibly also the black-and-white pinafore worn by Garland’s set double, Bobie Koshay; the latter, seen briefly when Dorothy exits the sepia-toned house into the Technicolor of Munchkinland, sold for $750,000 at a 2019 auction.

Check out this Academy Museum video and pause at the 15-second mark to see the proposed Wizard of Oz exhibit rendering. On August 20, museum members will get the next look at what the museum has planned when it presents “The Wizard of Oz Gallery with Dara Jaffe.” An assistant curator, Jaffe will discuss the making of the film and its enduring popularity while also displaying objects planned for exhibition. The online presentation is open to museum members only; click here for membership information.

A rendering of a gallery in the Academy Museum's "Stories of Cinema."

Debbie Reynolds Conservation Studio: Fans of Debbie Reynolds and her legendary love of collecting costumes can rest assured that her presence will be felt in the Academy Museum. On Saturday, Serrano and Wong Laeon acknowledged Reynolds’s role in collecting costumes long before the industry considered them valuable or worth saving. In November 2020, the museum announced that a lower-level space devoted to costume conservation would be renamed the Debbie Reynolds Conservation Studio.

Todd Fisher, Debbie’s son with Eddie Fisher, explained to The New York Times in an interview the same month that, while Reynolds had been auctioning many acquisitions in recent years, she still possessed roughly half of her collection when she passed away in December 2016. While Fisher also auctioned part of the collection in October 2017, including the iconic gown Audrey Hepburn wore in 1954’s Sabrina, he maintained in 2020 that the collection still included screen-worn costumes from Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, and The Maltese Falcon. The photos accompanying the story—which included an image of the dress Reynolds wore during the “Good Morning” sequence in Singin' in the Rain (seen at top of story)—seem to support that idea, while museum director Bill Kramer also told The New York Times, “There are still amazing pieces.”

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," in costumes designed by Travilla.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: While discussing how costumes are restored, Serrano featured an image of the feathered headpiece worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In sharing details about its restoration, Serrano hinted that, once refurbished, it will be seen in the museum not only with its Travilla-designed costume, but a partner look as well. The conclusion to be drawn: Get ready to see the red-sequined gowns worn by both Monroe and Jane Russell in the number that preceded the opening titles, “Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” once again side by side. Both dresses were sold at a 2019 auction.

Greta Garbo in 1931's "Mata Hari," in a costume designed by Adrian.

Mata Hari Headpiece: During a Q&A following the presentation, the pair was asked about the oldest costume in the collection. Sonja Wong Laeon mentioned that the museum possessed a headpiece from Mata Hari that was in remarkably good condition, while also acknowledging that she wasn’t certain whether it was the oldest piece in the collection. With no opportunity for follow-up questions, however, it wasn’t confirmed which version of Mata Hari Wong Laeon was referring to; while chances are good she meant the 1931 MGM film directed by George Fitzmaurice and starring Greta Garbo, with costumes by Adrian, two earlier versions were produced, a 1920 silent starring Asta Nielsen and a 1927 German production.

Of course, the Garbo version is the best known from the era, leaving fans hopeful that it will be an Adrian-designed piece soon finding its way to a museum display—perhaps even from the image seen here, which also inspired Andy Warhol to create one of his best-known prints, “The Star,” part of his 1981 "Myths" collection.

Shirley Temple with George Murphy in "Little Miss Broadway."

Shirley Temple Costumes: Previous Academy Museum news releases have mentioned the acquisition of Shirley Temple costumes, including dresses from 1935’s The Little Colonel and 1939’s The Little Princess, designed by William Lambert and Gwen Wakeling, respectively. On Saturday, Serrano and Wong Laeon featured another Wakeling design, a dress and tiara worn by Temple (seen here with George Murphy) from 1938’s Little Miss Broadway.

Other fun facts were also revealed: alongside the other two dresses, the Little Miss Broadway costume was part of a substantial gift to the museum from Shirley Temple Black and Family, valued at more than $5 million and first announced in 2015 (Temple Black passed away in 2014 at the age of 85). Serrano and Wong Laeon indicated on Saturday that additional costumes were part of the acquisition, which also included the special “Juvenile Award” Oscar given to the child star by the Academy in 1935 and her first Fox Studio set chair. In recognition of the gift, the Academy Museum announced in 2015 that its education center would be named the Shirley Temple Education Studio.

Finally, Saturday’s display of the Little Miss Broadway dress (alongside costumes from 2002’s Frida and 1978’s The Wiz) also highlighted the museum's decision to commission custom mannequins that will honor each design’s head-to-toe look, hair included. Said Serrano, “How could we exhibit a Shirley Temple costume and not show her famous curls?”

Shirley Temple's 1935 Oscar, flanked by her costumes from "The Little Princess," left, and "The Little Colonel."

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