When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gathered for a recent staff meeting at the Pickford Center in Hollywood, the group had the opportunity to see a piece of movie history that impressed even the most senior executives: a pair of ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.”
It was the first time since AMPAS made the acquisition in February that anyone within the org had seen the shoes, and everyone celebrated with red velvet cupcakes embellished with tiny, garnet-colored shoes.
The footwear unveiling was a tangible sign of how much closer the org is getting to opening the decades-in-the-making Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the centerpiece of which will be Dorothy’s magical shoes. The Academy recently named execs to run the museum, which is targeted to open at LACMA’s May Co. building in 2016.
“The experience of seeing (the slippers), especially in a crowd, puts everyone in touch with their inner film geek,” said Anne Coco, graphic arts librarian.
The high-profile pair of shoes is just one of the recent additions to the Academy’s massive collection of scripts, press clippings, biographies, costume sketches, movie posters and personal papers, amassed over more than eight decades, that will provide fodder for a wide scope of exhibits when the museum opens.
Until then, it’s all housed in the Margaret Herrick Library on La Cienega Boulevard under library director Linda Harris Mehr — except the ruby slippers, which Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said were shuttled to an undisclosed location shortly after their recent unveiling. “Even I don’t know where they are,” she said with a laugh.
Among the recent additions to the collection is a donation of costume sketches from Mark Bridges, who won a costume design Oscar last month for his work on best picture winner “The Artist.” Like so much of the material the Academy holds, the Bridges donation came out of a casual conversation, according to Coco.
“I met him a couple of years ago at a branch mixer here at the library, and in the course of our conversation, he mentioned the Richard Hornung drawings he had in his possession. I’ve been in pursuit since then,” said Coco, who was able to pick up the sketches two weeks ago.
Not only did Bridges make good on his promise of sketches from Hornung, who was best known for his work on “Young Guns,” “Nixon” and “Dave,” he also provided examples of his own work including “There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights.”
“It is hugely exciting to receive drawings from today’s production and costume designers because it keeps our collection current and ensures that the history we preserve is a continuum,” Coco said.
Like the Bridges gifts, much of the content of the Herrick Library has come from industry professionals. Edith Head’s dining room table and a working kinetoscope are housed in the special collections room. Nestled in the stacks are personal papers and annotated scripts from film notable including John Huston and Fred Zinnemann. Down that same hallway is an original wig that Bert Lahr wore to play the Cowardly Lion, just a few feet from three-inch-thick payroll logs from the early days of MGM.
Composer Van Alexander, who started as a big-band musician in the 1930s and became an arranger for film in the 1950s, recently gave his personal collection to the library, including a binder of photographs signed by the likes of Eddie Cantor, Steve Allen, Nipsey Russell and Rudy Vallee. His gift included scores from “Straightjacket” and “I Saw What You Did,” as well as correspondence from John Williams.
The library is also processing late-2011 donations from producer Stephen Chin, who gave the library several kung-fu movie posters, and Chicago-based real estate developer Dwight Cleveland, who provided rare film posters from his collection.
Among the more unique components of the graphic arts collection is a set of hand-painted movie posters from Batiste Madalena, an Italian-born artist who created promo material for George Eastman’s New York theater. After Eastman sold the theater, Madalena happened to be walking by around the time the new owners had put his work in the trash and rescued what he could. The collection stayed in his attic until the 1970s when documentarian Steven Katten and his wife, Judith, discovered Madalena’s posters at an art show. Ultimately, Katten bought several of the paintings and started the Academy’s painted-poster collection with a gift several years ago.
Preservation and conservation for every aspect of filmmaking are crucial for the Herrick Library, be it production design sketches for an Oscar-winning picture or a shooting script from an independent feature, because it’s all part of entertainment heritage.
“The library is the history of our country, the history of our culture,” Hudson explained.