Whoever says history — even of the queer cinema variety — can’t be recaptured hasn’t visited the Hollywood Museum. The four-floor complex, which inhabits the famed former Max Factor building a short walk from the epicenter of Tinseltown, is a monument to the colorful movie and television history that has doubtlessly helped lead the way to equality in the U.S. Many artifact from that rich history is on display at the museum’s second annual “Reel to Real: Portrayals and Perceptions of Gays in Hollywood” exhibition, which was created in partnership with Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and launched at a gala event during National Gay Pride month in June and remains open to visitors of all ages through September. It’s a stunning exhibit, featuring items that appeal to the most casual film fan, regardless of sexual orientation. Here you’ll see Christopher Reeve’s Superman costume, clothing worn by the cast of Orange is the New Black, a glamorous gown that once belonged to comedy legend Lucille Ball, Paul Lynde’s favorite scark, Joel Grey’s cane from Cabaret, and items that were once part of the personal wardrobes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. There’s also an entire floor devoted exclusively — and deservedly — to the greatest star of them all, Marilyn Monroe. So, as you see, there’s something for everyone.
Donelle Dadigan, the founder and president, doesn’t underestimate her museum as an educational tool, regardless of the age of the tourists who come through her doors.
“We are very quietly educating people,” Dadigan told Queerty. “We get ladies from the midwest in their 70s and 80s. Little by little tolerance and acceptance is happening and it’s all through the form of entertainment.”
She adds, “The Hollywood Museum is about inclusion. There’s something here for everyone, no matter what you relate to, whether or not they’re part of the LGBT community. There’s something here that will draw them.”
Scroll down for photos of some of the fascinating artifacts from the exhibition.
Quick! Name the person widely considered to be the world’s greatest entertainer. If you guessed Judy Garland, you get a gold star. She began her storied career as Frances Gumm on the vaudeville circuit and the museum has two of the tike-size dresses she wore on display, as well as the green dress directly above from late in her career. However, one of the crown jewels of the exhibition — and, indeed, in of all of moviedom — is a pair of ruby slippers (several were made) the great star wore as Dorothy Gale in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. It’s a dazzling experience to see them up close.
Although an undisputed first lady of the silver screen, Bette Davis was rarely regarded as an influential fashion icon. If you see someone in Davis attire, it will likely be a drag queen who should really find some more contemporary material. However, there’s one Davis gown (apart from her costume in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) that steals scenes from the veteran scenery-chewer, it’s her Edith Head-designed cocktail number from 1950’s All About Eve in which she delivered the immortal line “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Probably the most controversial queer-themed film ever released, the 1980 cop drama Cruising was unfairly maligned before it opened — and was even protested and boycotted while filming — due to the perception of its negative portrayal of the gay S/M scene in New York. Earlier this year director William Friedkin told us about the death threats he received during the making of the film. Regardless, Al Pacino was considered pretty darned brave at the time to accept the role of an adventurous detective searching for a killer of gay men and the leather jacket he donned is a vision to behold.
Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will revel at the sight of the simple cocktail dress worn by Violet Chachki when she was crowned victor of season seven earlier this year.
Among the most extraordinarily handsome leading men of the silent film era, Ramon Novarro is chiefly remembered today as the victim of one of the most gruesome — and frequently misreported — crimes in the annals of famous Hollywood murders. Among his most notable films is the original version of the Biblical epic Ben-Hur and his chain mail costume is a fantasy-fueling highlight of the LGBT exhibit.
Although it isn’t part of the LGBT exhibit, the museum’s permanent collection devoted to Marilyn Monroe is certainly of interest to queer film fans and takes up an entire floor of the historic building. More than a half century after her death at age 36 in 1962, Monroe remains suspended in time as one of Hollywood’s most beloved icons, as well as one of its glamorous stars and visitors can regard many of her famous film costumes, items from her personal wardrobe, furniture, paintings, as well as a wall devoted to the famous nude portrait taken of her when she was still aspiring to fame. It might strike some as a bit morbid, but one of the most intriguing items in the museum is the prescription pill bottle that led to Monroe’s accidental overdose.
Despite its tremendous success at both the box office and the Academy Awards, the thriller The Silence of the Lambs ignited a firestorm of controversy upon its release in 1991 when queer activists complained about the depiction of one of the film’s villains, Buffalo Bill, as a negative portrayal of a transgender woman. The backlash reportedly led to director Jonathan Demme to make the legal drama Philadelphia two years later which won a score of best actor trophies for Tom Hanks as a gay man dying of AIDS. The museum has installed the jail cells occupied by Hannibal Lecter so visitors can re-enact FBI agent Clarice Staling’s chilling walk down the dark hallway to interview the killer who ate his victims. Fortunately, you needn’t worry about leaving with unwanted hair product as Multiple Miggs is noticeably missing from the exhibition.
For more information of the museum and its revolving exhibitions, visit TheHollywoodMuseum.com.