Academy Museum Offers Debbie Reynolds Her Due as a Costume Conservator
LOS ANGELES — For many years, Debbie Reynolds begged Hollywood to assist her protect and exhibit her huge assortment of golden age costumes. “These items are cultural touchstones that also carry the power of the celebs who carried out in them,” she as soon as mentioned, referring to legends like Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland. “There may be magic in each thread, button and bow.”
The Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences turned her down — 5 occasions. Reynolds quoted an uninterested David Geffen in her 2013 memoir as as soon as saying, “Why don’t you simply promote that stuff?”
In debt, she lastly had no different selection, auctioning Marilyn Monroe’s ivory-pleated halter costume that blew upward in “The Seven 12 months Itch” for $4.6 million and Audrey Hepburn’s lace Royal Ascot quantity from “My Honest Woman” for $3.7 million — costs that shocked moviedom’s aristocracy and proved Reynolds had been proper. Additionally offered, in some instances to nameless abroad collectors, have been Charlton Heston’s “Ben-Hur” tunic and cape, the acoustic guitar Julie Andrews strummed in “The Sound of Music” and each hat that Vivien Leigh flaunted in “Gone With the Wind.”
Hollywood didn’t give a rattling.
Now, 4 years after she died at 84, there was a plot twist within the Debbie Reynolds costume assortment saga, one which she would undoubtedly discover each maddening and satisfying: The Academy Museum of Movement Photos, set to open on April 30 and costing $482 million, finds itself caring about her assortment — at the very least the half that’s left, which incorporates iconic costumes she wore in films like “Singin’ within the Rain.” Additionally remaining are display clothes created for Mary Pickford, Deborah Kerr and Cyd Charisse, in addition to uncommon memorabilia from classics like “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Maltese Falcon.”
“There are nonetheless superb items,” Invoice Kramer, the museum’s director, mentioned by telephone. Reynolds handed the objects to her son, Todd Fisher, a significant collector in his personal proper, who has lengthy centered on movie cameras and lenses, or “cinema glass.” Fisher additionally inherited “Star Wars” memorabilia owned by his sister, Carrie Fisher, who died a day earlier than their mom in 2016.
“I approached Todd a few yr in the past with the thought of naming our museum’s conservation studio after his mom, who was so key to our historical past, not solely as an artist — appearing, dancing, singing, her comedy — but in addition as a collector and preservationist,” Kramer mentioned. “It was a dialog about how we would have the ability to work with Todd and the gathering to convey Debbie’s legacy — and Todd’s and Carrie’s — into the museum in a tangible manner.”
Thus far, Fisher has agreed to mortgage the Academy Museum one merchandise from his personal assortment: a set of seven Bausch and Lomb Baltar lenses utilized by Gregg Toland, the fabled “Citizen Kane” cinematographer. However Fisher, 62, mentioned extra objects would come, so long as the Debbie Reynolds Conservation Studio exists on the museum’s decrease degree subsequent to the Shirley Temple Schooling Studio.
“My mom was one of the forgiving folks ever,” Fisher mentioned. “She would by no means need me to carry a grudge simply because I’ve data of all of the missed alternatives — how the folks operating the academy previously have been by no means keen to step up and assist her. She would have wished me to share these essential artifacts with future generations. So, so long as they’re correctly recognizing my mom for her contribution to this self-discipline, I agreed to offer entry to no matter I’ve entry to.”
Fisher continued: “I’m nonetheless right here, and I do know the place lots of it’s — the place key items ended up. I’m nonetheless right here, and I nonetheless have a few of it.”
The academy, based in 1927, began accumulating movies and supplies associated to them in 1929. Its huge holdings embody greater than 100,000 titles, together with obscure documentaries and early American films; roughly 10 million pictures; 80,000 screenplays; 50,000 posters; and tens of hundreds of manufacturing and costume design drawings.
However the precise clothes by no means ranked. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, founding director of the David C. Copley Heart for Costume Design on the College of California, Los Angeles, identified that an Oscar was not awarded for the artwork till 1949 and costume designers weren’t capable of safe their very own membership department inside the academy in 2013.
“I believe it was institutionalized sexism,” Landis mentioned. “Our discipline was thought of ladies’s work and handled with disrespect.” Landis has been a member of the academy since 1988. Her costume design credit embody “Raiders of the Misplaced Ark” (you’ll be able to 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 Hollywood’s early a long time have solely survived as a result of electricians, make-up artists and different behind-the-scenes staff took objects house (or scavenged them from rubbish bins) and handed them down as household heirlooms. In some cases, studios reduce up previous costumes to make use of as flooring rags. Reynolds began her assortment in 1970, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered the contents of seven soundstages; she emptied her financial institution accounts to purchase lots of of things, together with Elizabeth Taylor’s pink and yellow racing silks from “Nationwide Velvet” and Leslie Caron’s plaid schoolgirl outfit from “Gigi,” full with wool cape and straw hat.
“Debbie sat on my couch and cried when she needed to promote,” Landis mentioned, recalling the primary of three Reynolds auctions in 2011 and 2014. “The academy purchased nothing. It was a tragedy.”
Kramer famous that the Academy Museum had just lately bought an array of costumes in personal transactions, together with Marlene Dietrich’s night gown from “Blonde Venus” (1932), Gene Kelly’s sweater and slacks from “An American in Paris,” and a denim and flannel outfit worn by Kathy Bates in “Distress.” Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg and Terry Semel, the previous Warner Bros. chief, teamed in 2012 to purchase a pair of ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” for the museum, which was then pointed towards a gap in 2017. (4 pairs, dimension 5, are recognized to outlive.)
And a few issues have just lately been gifted in full or half to the museum, together with Bela Lugosi’s floor-length “Dracula” cape. (Museum conservators have labored to revive it. The black wool exterior and taupe silk crepe lining tore aside over time, probably the results of altering humidity.) “You will need to us as a museum to have the ability to restore and safeguard this artifact, particularly understanding that a lot of the fabric historical past of the basic horror cycle has been misplaced eternally,” Jessica Niebel, exhibitions curator, mentioned in a press release final yr.
Designed by Renzo Piano, the Academy Museum, which introduced on Friday that it had reached its pre-opening fund-raising aim, hopes to draw greater than 800,000 guests a yr. To take action, Kramer should enchantment to 2 discordant audiences, providing scholarship for academy members (and college students and movie snobs) and sparkle for the plenty. Approached in the proper manner, costumes may serve each wants — as Landis demonstrated in 2012, when she curated Hollywood Costume, an exhibition on the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. (The Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork was initially approached with the exhibition concept and handed.)
Gadget Clock known as Hollywood Costume “extraordinary” and “clever.” The exhibition, which lastly made its strategy to Los Angeles in 2014 with Kramer’s assist, was a blockbuster, rating as one of many greatest attracts within the V & A’s 168-year historical past.
It included at the very least eight showstopping items from Reynolds’s unique assortment.
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