A Movie Lover’s Dream; the Academy Museum…

The Academy Museum

This week, my wife and I finally went where I’ve wanted to go since the place opened in September of 2021 (at the height of COVID, sadly); the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.  The museum is by-appointment only, via their website or app, and parking is across the street near, of course, an automotive museum (need to see that one next time…).  Driving the hour and change to L.A, we were fortunate that the recent downpours in SoCal stopped long enough for us to enjoy a cool, overcast day for a change (with relatively light traffic—light by LA standards, anyway). 

Top: Walking up to the Museum from Wilshire and Fairfax, the architecture is certainly eye-catching. Bottom: Down below the lobby are the restrooms, along with a rest area and donor wall. Those seats are very “2001”…

Once there, we parked and made our way inside. Right from the corner, you see the gold-plated architecture of the building, along with a hint of the large Dolby Family Terrace dome.  Walking into the building, the lobby has some human-sized Oscar statues (which may or may not have been used in past Oscar telecasts—not sure), as well as a quasi-industrial look and minimalist, red furniture that reminded me of something you’d see on the large Hilton Space Station in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (probably not a coincidence, either).

Top: The main lobby, with Oscar statuary that may (or may not) have been used in an Oscar telecast.  Bottom: In the parking garage, there are some lovingly restored classic cars, like this Lincoln Continental, roped off in special niches.  No coincidence that the automotive museum attendees also park here…

After you get your wristbands for the museum, you begin your self-guided tour.  There’s a Q-code you can scan at the reception desk for an audio-guided tour via your phone, but we didn’t do that; we took the museum sight-by-sight, piece-by-piece, at our own pace.  After you move through a darkened roomful of video monitors called Stories of Cinema (showing clips from past Oscar winners),  you make your way into the first floor full of exhibits… 

The First Floor

The first floor featured exhibits with actual, screen-used props, costumes, script pages and other artifacts from “Boyz in the Hood” (1991), “Casablanca” (1941) and “The Godfather,” Parts 1 & 2 (1972/1974).  “The Godfather” memorabilia occupied several sections, including a lovingly restored set of Don Corleone’s study, along with life-casts of actors Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, and even a surviving dental cast used to give Brando his famous “Vito Corleone” jowls.  I won’t lie–I got more than a little starstruck being so close to Don Corleone’s actual desk from “The Godfather”; yes, I was starstruck by furniture.

“Play it, Sam…”
Exhibit for Warner Bros wartime romance classic, “Casablanca” (1941), starring Ingrid Bergman (“Elsa”) and Humphrey Bogart (“Rick”).  Top: The piano ‘played’ by Dooley Wilson (“Sam”), as well as another piano featured in the film (bottom right).  The pianos themselves were built in the 1920s.  Actor Dooley Wilson (“Sam”) was actually a drummer, and had to pantomime his piano playing.  The actual music was supplied by the actor-musician’s band mate, pianist Elliot Carpenter.  Bottom Middle: The actual doors leading into “Rick’s,” the Moroccan club owned by American expat Rick Blaine (Bogart) in the film.  Bottom Left Corner: The black-and-white globe seen at the very beginning of the film as well. That these pieces from an 82-year old movie survive, let alone look as they did when first filmed, is a tribute to the restorationists servicing the museum’s many artifacts. 
Top Left: The first floor also has a rotunda of Oscars surrounding a small red seating area in a room that reminds me of the entranceways into Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars have been held nearly every year, since 2001. Top Right: The 1978 Oscar for Best Visual Effects, given to the crew of “Star Wars” (1977), including John Dykstra, Robert Blalock, John Stears and Grant McCune.  Bottom Right: Clark Gable’s Oscar for “It Happened One Night” (1934), next to an as-yet-empty display for Hattie McDaniel “Gone With the Wind” (1939). Bottom Middle: Mockup of an Oscars ceremony stage. Bottom Left: Costumes and videos from various Academy Awards ceremonies over the last 95 years.
Top Left and Right: The study/office of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) from “The Godfather”, including many authentic pieces used in the film, including the desk, chairs and other props. Yes, I got seriously starstruck looking at that desk! Bottom Right: Props and fake newspapers used in the movie, including “Genco Olive Oil,” the front company for the Corleone crime family. Bottom Left: The taxidermied horse head used only for rehearsals in “The Godfather”—a real horse’s head, taken from an anonymous local butcher somewhere near the filming location, was used in the final scene.
Top Left: Life-cast of actor Marlon Brando, which was used to design the then-48 year old actor’s age makeup as the patriarchal crime boss, Vito Corleone. Top Right: A life-cast made of actor Al Pacino, who played Vito’s son and heir Michael Corleone. Pacino would be aged in the sequels, “Godfather Part 2” (1974) and “The Godfather Part III” (1991). Bottom: The dental prosthetic used by the late makeup legend Dick Smith (“The Exorcist”) in the movie to give Brando his famous jowls for the character of Don Corleone.  While it’s true that actor Brando put wads of cotton in his mouth to demonstrate his look for the character during tests, Dick Smith created a more reliable appliance for actual filming. 
“All in the Family.”
Costumes used for “The Godfather Part 2”, including pieces worn by Kathleen Beller (as an unnamed actress), Robert DeNiro (who played a younger “Vito Corleone”), Al Pacino (“Michael Corleone”) and Diane Keaton (“Kay Adams-Corleone”).  Some minor pieces, such as shirts worn under suits, shoes, etc. were missing, but were replaced for the exhibit with near-screen perfect facsimiles.
A Queen, a King, and a Prince of Darkness. 
Left to Right: An elaborate red dress worn by Julia Roberts in 2012’s “Mirror, Mirror” (a redux of “Snow White”).  One of several “Goblin King” outfits worn by actor/rock-legend David Bowie (1947-2016) in the Jim Henson fantasy film “Labyrinth” (1985).  A gold-paneled gown worn by Gary Oldman in 1992’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” 
Top Left: Life-cast molds created from the faces of Don Cheadle and Mel Brooks (top row), as well as life-casts from Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Jack Nicholson (bottom row),  Bottom Left: Actor Robin Williams’ life-cast (and wig) for “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993). Right: Character wigs created for Michael Keaton’s titular character of “Beetlejuice” (1988) and Kathy Baker’s bored housewife in “Edward Scissorhands” (1990).

Near the end of the first floor exhibits is a room filled with colorful costumes from various movies, along with wigs and life-casts of actors’ faces. There was also a colorful room filled with various costumes from a wide variety of movies, including “Dick Tracy” (1990), “Badlands” (1973) and “Labyrinth” (1985).  Towards the back of the room, near the exit, was a case filled with various actors’ life-casts and wigs used in films such as “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), “Beetlejuice” (1988) and “Edward Scissorhands” (1990).

The Second Floor

The second floor featured exhibits on stop-motion and hand drawn animation, with lots of exhibits from Laika Studios (“Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Missing Link”) as well as pieces from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (my all-time favorite holiday movie).  A connecting corridor featured various exhibits on stop-motion animation legends such as Willis O’Brien (“King Kong” “Mighty Joe Young”) and Ray Harryhausen (“Jason and the Argonauts” “One Million Years B.C”), along with a look at the early days of computer-generated imagery (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” “Jurassic Park”). 

Top Left: The Animation exhibit of the Museum, on the 2nd floor.  In the far corner, by the red wall, you can see the desk of animator Frank Thomas, 1912-2004 (“Robin Hood,” “The Rescuers,” “Iron Giant”). Top Right: The Bigfoot (“Mr. Link”) from Laika Studio’s 2019 stop-motion adventure comedy “Missing Link.” Bottom Right: A beautifully detailed miniature house used for Laika Studios’ stop-motion fantasy “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). Bottom Left: The “Kubo” stop-motion puppet used for Laika Studios’ stop-motion fantasy “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). Middle: The various expressions used in the stop-motion puppets of “Jack Skellington” for 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (my favorite holiday movie).
In the foreground left, you see the costume for ‘Okoye’ (Danai Gurira), as seen in Marvel’s “Black Panther” (2018).  Also visible in the shot are costumes from the original Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “Donnie Darko” (2001).
Top: Actor Anthony Daniels’ C3PO costume from the original “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-1983).  While I’ve seen many C3PO reproductions over the years, it’s a bit awesome to see the genuine article up-close.  Bottom: The late actor Kenny Baker’s R2-D2 costume for the original “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-1983). The easiest way to spot an original prop/costume from a modern replica are the tiny imperfections—the originals are never quite as clean, perfect or symmetrical as modern 3D-printed recreations.
Top, Bottom Left: An actual surviving ‘moon-suit’ worn by one of the actors (not William Sylvester) in “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) for the scene where Dr. Floyd (Sylvester) and his team examine the alien monolith uncovered on the moon. Up close, you can see the faux life-support apparatuses on the suit, which includes authentic signage, even though such details were never visible on screen. Bottom Middle, Right: One of the few surviving miniatures from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968); the “Ares 1B” lunar lander seen in the middle act of the film.  I was shocked to see these pieces, since director Stanley Kubrick reportedly ordered all sets, props and miniatures from the film destroyed, to prevent their re-use in later movies and TV shows; such as pieces used (and reused) from “Forbidden Planet.” Kubrick sought to preserve his movie’s uniqueness
Top Left: The original “ALIEN” appliance designed by H.R. Giger and crafted by Carlo Rambaldi (“E.T”), as worn by Bolaji Badelo, before it was fitted with a smooth cowl covering the creature’s eyes and other features, thus making it appear truly ‘alien.’ Right: The animatronic ‘stunt head’ of the T-800 model terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991). Bottom Left: Shapeshifting Dracula’s bat-face from 1992’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
Left to Right:  Amphibious Man costume worn by exceptionally gifted actor Doug Jones in 2017’s Best Picture, “The Shape of Water,” directed by Guillermo del Toro.  I’ve seen this suit before, at the IMATS Makeup Show in Pasadena, but it still takes my breath away. Having rewatched the movie only recently, the staggering amount of practical detailing on the suit still amazes me.
Top: Detailed miniature of the “Cobblepot Estate” from the opening sequence of 1992’s “Batman Returns.” Bottom: Matte painting of Gotham Park used for 1992’s “Batman Returns” (the live-action elements are projected through the ‘hole’ in the artwork).  While I’m not the biggest fan of this particular Batman movie, I’m still amazed by its level of craftsmanship and attention to detail.  It was also made just on the cusp of the CGI revolution, when most lovingly handcrafted miniature and hand-painted effects such as these are now made almost entirely with computerized renderings. 

From the FX evolution gallery, you enter a large darkened exhibit area featuring costumes, props, puppets, matte paintings and miniatures from various popular sci-fi/fantasy/horror films, such as “Star Wars” (1977), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Black Panther” (2018), “The Shape Of Water” (2017), “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992), “Donnie Darko” (2001) and “Batman Returns” (1992).  The sci-fi geek part of me (the part that writes this column) could’ve stayed in this section all day long, so help me…

Between the Third and Fourth Floors

Outside the exhibit halls, suspended from the ceiling between floors, you’ll see a massive recreation of the original mechanical shark prop from “JAWS” (1975), named “Bruce” after director Steven Spielberg’s then-lawyer, Bruce Ramer.  While the actual shark props from JAWS didn’t survive into the 21st century, makeup artist/producer/director Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”) used the original blueprints to recreate a near 1:1 mannequin of the prop (without the original’s troublesome mechanical innards). The 25 ft shark (“three tons of him”) greets visitors with a wide, toothy grin and those infamous “black eyes, like a doll’s eyes…” to quote Robert Shaw’s “Quint.” 

“For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing…”

As longtime readers of this column might have guessed from my lengthy reviews of the four JAWS movies (yes, even the rotten fourth one), I am a JAWS maniac.  And while I was aware this was not the actual prop from the movie, it still made my heart skip a beat when I first caught sight of this amazing leviathan from cinematic lore so lovingly recreated.  It truly is “a miracle of (cinematic) evolution”, as Richard Dreyfuss’s “Matt Hooper” might paraphrase. Pro-tip: viewing the creature on the escalator rides between floors gets you some terrific angles for photographs.

The Third Floor

My wife and I then went to Level 3’s “Regeneration Black Cinema, 1898-1971” exhibit. This floor’s exhibits celebrated Black Cinema, from the years 1898 to 1971, including the works of such multitalented performers as Hattie McDaniel (the first Black woman to win an Oscar for “Gone With the Wind”), Sammy Davis Jr. (“Porgy and Bess” “Ocean’s Eleven”), Lena Horne (“Ziegfeld Follies,” “Stormy Weather,” “The Wiz”), Eartha Kitt (“Batman,” “Boomerang”), Sidney Poitier (“The Defiant Ones,” “To Sir With Love” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”), Harry Belafonte (“Carmen Jones,” “The World, the Flesh and the Devil”), Diahann Carroll (“Julia,” “Dynasty”), along with filmmakers such as Melvin Van Peeples (“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” “Watermelon Man”). 

Actress Hattie McDaniel accepting her 1940 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role of “Mammy” for 1939’s “Gone With the Wind.”  McDaniel was the first Black actress to win an Oscar.  McDaniel was a genuine trailblazer.
Top Left: Costume worn by Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) in the film “Porgy and Bess” (1959).  The multitalented Davis was an actor, comedian, singer, dancer and musician. Top Right: “Regeneration Black Cinema, 1898-1971” exhibit, showcasing clips from Black cinema. Bottom Right: The legendary Earth Kitt; a singer, dancer, and actress who came from an impoverished background to become a groundbreaking voice in entertainment. Bottom Left: A trio of costumes worn in the Lena Horne-starring musical “Stormy Weather” (1943).  Horne (1917-2010) was most famous to kids of my generation as the object of junkyard dealer Fred Sanford’s (Redd Foxx) long-standing crush on the TV sitcom, “Sanford and Son” (1972-1977), a series Horne actually guest-starred in, despite her movie star status.

The exhibits also honored many lesser known black entertainers, who had sizable followings but remained largely unknown to white audiences, such as “colored” comedian Sam Lucas, along with many other unsung trailblazers in Black cinema and entertainment.  Also saluted were documentaries featuring the voices and words of celebrated activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and James Baldwin.  This exhibit has a bit more gravitas than others. Nice to see so many of these unsung entertainers and groundbreakers getting their long overdue ovations.

Fourth Floor: The Barbara Streisand Bridge/The Dolby Family Terrace

The fourth floor doesn’t feature any exhibits, but after crossing the Barbara Streisand Bridge into the Dolby Family Terrace, it does offer attendees a nice place to chill and check out the L.A. skyline.  The Terrace is a large glass dome with red chairs and open spaces to check out the skyscrapers, the hills surrounding the city, and—way off in the distance—the Hollywood sign itself (formerly “Hollywoodland”).  

Top and Bottom: The Dolby Family Terrace, located atop the Museum’s 4th Floor, across the Barbara Streisand Bridge; the area offered my wife and I a lovely view of L.A, including the Hollywood sign (waaay off in the distance, and not visible in these shots). The refreshingly spartan furnishings and large uncluttered spaces make for a nice, relaxing spot after a long day of museuming.

The class dome enclosure reminded me of something you’d on the planet Krypton in the opening act of 1978’s “Superman: The Movie” (or “Kriptin,” as Marlon Brando’s Jor-El might say).  The venue doesn’t feature anything that screams Hollywood, as its generic red chairs and concrete floors offer a nice, relaxing space to collect oneself before venturing back into the memorabilia-filled museum.

Back to the Second Floor

As we left the Dolby Family Terrace and headed back into the museum, it occurred to my wife and I that we’d missed something. We’d both seen various videos and photos of the museum showing a large mural of Mt. Rushmore (aka, the Presidents’ mountain thingamajig in South Dakota) that was used in the production of Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.  In the movie, there’s a cafeteria scene at Mt Rushmore (the cafeteria is a Hollywood soundstage) where you see the face of the mountain, just outside a window.  Since the movie was not shot on location, Mt. Rushmore was convincingly recreated using a battery of movie magic tricks, including a two story-high painted backdrop, which was hung just outside of the faux eatery seen in the movie.  

Top: Seen from above, the mammoth, two-story Mt. Rushmore backdrop painting used for the cafeteria scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” (1959). Bottom Left: Details on the creation of the painting. Bottom Right: The bottom right corner of the painting, which seems so deceptively simple.

Going back down to the third floor, my wife and I went into a balcony where you could look down upon the massive painting, but we wanted to see it from the ground up, so we took the escalator down to the second floor. There, we walked into the space directly below the third floor balcony, and saw painting as it appeared in the movie. The painting itself is simple tempura paint on muslin fabric, and when viewed up close, it’s not terribly realistic, either.  But take a few steps back, look up at it from under those warm lights, and the illusion of standing near the base of Mt. Rushmore in daylight is jaw-dropping.  This is 64-year old movie technology that still works today. True movie magic.

Gift Shop

On the way out, we went back to the first floor gift shop which (mercifully) doesn’t block the museum’s exit, as so many gift shops do; instead, it’s thoughtfully located at the rear of the first floor, so that you don’t have to cross through it if you don’t want to—however, my wife and I both wanted to, even if we’re not the avid collectors we were a few years ago.  She wound up buying a beautiful zoetrope for her classroom, as well as a few other goodies.  I walked away with a new copy of actor/writer Carl Gottlieb’s “The JAWS Log,” after losing my old copy during one of my bachelor-day moves. 

Top Left: The gift shop, tactfully not blocking the exits.  Top Right: Merch for “The Godfather,” with some of it located under a neon sign used for the very Italian restaurant where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) makes his first kills in the original 1972 movie. Bottom Right: The Amoeba Records sub-store (Amoeba is a popular L.A area music/video store), stocked with movie soundtracks (some of them are Japanese LP imports).  Bottom Left: Some JAWS merch, including copies of the blueprints used to make the mechanical shark in the original film—these same blueprints were later used to help make Greg Nicotero’s Academy Museum “Bruce” recreation. 

The gift shop also included collections of merch from “JAWS,” “The Godfather,” the legends of Black Cinema, the Laika Studios stop-motion movies, and the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki.  Even if you don’t walk away with armfuls of collectibles, just browsing the gift shop at the end of the trip makes for a nice “cherry on top” for a day at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. 

There’s More, If You’re Curious…

This concludes the virtual tour for this column. However, the photos shown here represent but a fraction of the museum’s amazing sights. If you want to see more? Check out the link below, but you might want to clear an evening to view ALL of the photos:

All 238 of my photos (gasp!) from the Academy Museum can be viewed in FULL via this link to my Flickr Album. Enjoy!

Location, Hours, Admission Price.

The Academy Museum is open from 10 am to 6 pm, and is located at 6067 Wilshire Blvd, in Los Angeles, CA 90036. Scheduled reservations are required, and are available through the museum’s website (academymuseum.org). Tickets are $25 for adults, $19 for seniors (62 and up), $15 for students, and are free for visitors 17 and younger. An interactive ‘Oscar night role play’ called the Oscars Experience costs an additional $15, but my wife and I didn’t do that. If you’re in the L.A. area and love movies, as I do? This museum is a must-see.

Images/collages: Author, various

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    Oh wow, what an amazing visit to this museum! You must’ve had a brilliant time. Great photos you took of some of the exhibits as well, especially like the 2001 space suit and the model mansion from Batman Returns! Thanks for sharing your great visit!

    1. Thanks, Paul.
      Hope I succeeded in vicariously allowing others to see and experience the amazing things I saw.

      1. scifimike70 says:

        Quite a collection in that museum. Thank you for sharing.

      2. You’re very welcome. Glad you enjoyed it!

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