LOS ANGELES – For decades, Debbie Reynolds has asked Hollywood to help her preserve and display her vast collection of golden age costumes. “These pieces are cultural touchstones that still carry the energy of the stars who performed in them,” she once said, referring to legends such as Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland. There is magic in every thread, button and bow.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rejected it five times. Reynolds quotes a disinterested David Geffen in his memoirs from 2013, when he once said, “Why don’t you just sell these things?”
Hollywood doesn’t care.
Now, four years after she died at the age of 84, there has been a twist in Debbie Reynolds’ costume collection saga that she would no doubt find both insane and satisfying: the Academic Film Museum, which is set to open on April 30 and worth $ 482 million takes care of her collection – at least the part that remains, which includes iconic costumes that she wore in movies like “Singin ‘in the Rain”. There are also on-screen costumes created for Mary Pickford, Deborah Kerr and Side Harris, as well as rare souvenirs from classics such as The Wizard of Oz and The Maltese Falcon.
“There are still amazing pieces,” said Bill Kramer, the museum’s director, over the phone. Reynolds passed the items on to his son, Todd Fisher, a major collector in his own right who has long focused on film cameras and lenses or cinema glass. Fisher also inherited Star Wars souvenirs owned by his sister Carrie Fisher, who died the day before their mother in 2016.
“I turned to Todd about a year ago with the idea of naming our museum’s conservation studio after his mother, which was so key to our history, not only as an artist – acting, dancing, singing, her comedy – but also as a collector and conservationist. Said Kramer. “It turned into a conversation about how we could work with Todd and the collection to bring Debbie’s legacy – and Todd’s and Carrie’s – to the museum in a tangible way.”
For now, Fisher has agreed to give the Academic Museum an item from his own collection: a set of seven Bausch and Lomb Baltar lenses used by Greg Toland, the legendary Citizen Kane cameraman. However, Fisher, 62, said more items would come as long as Debbie Reynolds, a conservation studio, existed on the lower level of the museum next to Shirley Temple’s educational studio.
“My mother was one of the most forgiving people ever,” Fisher said. “She would never want me to be offended just because I have knowledge of all the missed opportunities – how the people running the academy in the past have never been willing to support her. She would like to share these important artifacts with future generations. So while they correctly acknowledged my mother for her contribution to this discipline, I agreed to provide access to everything I had access to. “
Fisher continued: “I’m still here and I know where most of it is – where key figures are. I’m still here and I still have some of it. “
The academy, founded in 1927, began collecting films and related materials in 1929. Its vast holdings include more than 100,000 titles, including obscure documentaries and early American films; approximately 10 million photos; 80,000 scripts; 50,000 posters; and tens of thousands of drawings for the production and design of costumes.
But real clothes never made it. Deborah Nadulman Landis, founding director of the David K. Copley Center for Costume Design at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the Oscars were awarded for art until 1949 and costume designers were unable to provide their own branch. membership within the academy until 2013
“I think it was institutionalized sexism,” Landis said. “Our field was considered women’s work and treated with disrespect.” Landis has been a member of the academy since 1988. Her costume credits include “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (you can thank her for Indy’s fedora and jacket) and Coming to America, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.
Some costumes and props from the early decades of Hollywood have survived only because electricians, make-up artists and other behind-the-scenes workers have taken items home (or thrown them out of the trash) and handed them over as family heirlooms. In some cases, studios cut old costumes to use as floor rags. Reynolds launched his collection in 1970, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sold the content of seven sound scenes; she emptied her bank accounts to buy hundreds of items, including Elizabeth Taylor’s pink and yellow racing silk from National Velvet and the plaid clothing of Leslie Caron’s Gigi schoolgirl, complete with a woolen cloak and straw hat.
“Debbie sat on my couch and cried when she had to sell,” Landis said, recalling the first of Reynolds’ three auctions in 2011 and 2014. “The academy didn’t buy anything. It was a tragedy. “
Kramer noted that the Academy Museum had recently purchased a number of private costumes in private transactions, including Marlene Dietrich’s evening gown from Blonde Venus (1932), Jean Kelly’s sweater and trousers from The American in Paris, and denim and flannel clothing. worn by Cathy Bates in Misery. Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg and Terry Semel, the former head of Warner Bros., teamed up in 2012 to buy a pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz for the museum, which were then aimed at opening in 2017. (Four pairs, size 5, are known to survive.)
And recently, some items were donated in whole or in part to the museum, including Dracula’s nose to Bella Lugosi. (Museum conservators have worked to restore it. The black woolen exterior and purple silk crepe have been torn over the years, probably as a result of changes in humidity.) “It is important for us as a museum to be able to restore and preserve this artifact, especially by knows that much of the material history of the classic horror cycle is lost forever, “said Jessica Nibel, an exhibition curator, in a statement last year.
Designed by Renzo Piano, the Academic Museum, which announced on Friday that it has achieved its pre-opening fundraising goal, hopes to attract more than 800,000 visitors a year. To do this, Kramer must reach out to two dissenting audiences by offering scholarships to academy members (as well as students and film snobs) and sparks to the masses. Suited in the right way, costumes can serve both needs – as Landis demonstrated in 2012 when she curated a Hollywood costume, an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. (Initially, the idea for the exhibition turned to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was handed over.)
The New York Times called the Hollywood costume “extraordinary” and “intelligent.” The show, which finally reached Los Angeles in 2014 with the help of Kramer, became a blockbuster, ranking as one of the biggest draws in V&A’s 168-year history.
It includes at least eight pieces from Reynolds’ original collection.