Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

Hollywood Movie Museum

Dream to Reality


Marilyn Slater

July 3, 2016




          Dreams fade as we awake and we forget.  Some dreams are recurring. Sadly, few ever become real.  Hollywood is a land of dreams as elusive and as fragile as the visions of the night. 

          If you have recently driven by the historic May Company department store built in 1939 at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax and wondered about the constructions going on, it is a dream coming to our waking world.  The site is becoming the 250 million dollar, six-story Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, planned to be completed in 2018. It is a truly inspired location, next to the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA), west of the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum. It is across the street from the Petersen Automotive Museum. Remember, it is the Academy Museum, NOT the “Los Angeles County Hollywood Museum.” That was another version of the dream that was dreamed for years, but faded over time…


          April 17, 1960 Governor Edmund G. Brown signed a bill allowing the Los Angeles county board of supervisors to establish the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, which would cost an estimated $4 million.  The state Senate had approved the measure 31-01.

          Sol Lesser was named president of the Hollywood Museum Associates, non-profit corporation.  Vance King was named PR director & manager of Hollywood Museum. Two hundred TV, movie, and community leaders became founder-members (price: $1,000 each). Among those signed were Bing Crosby, Robert Cummings, Desi Arnaz, Walt Disney, Ralph Edwards, and Frank Sinatra. The name was changed to the Los Angeles County Motion Picture & Television Museum.  It wasn’t long before Syd Cassyd, who founded the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, became the curator of the Television Collection.

Programs showed to the public, the collection of artifacts and the plans of the museum, to be located in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles County. The acquiring of historic American films began, with the cooperation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Museum of Modern Art, Eastman House, Cinematheque Francaise, and the Library of Congress.  It all starts with the movies.




          Sol Lesser showed the interested public clips from Art Linkletter and John Guoded productions.  In the lobby, as examples of what might be part of the museum, were wax figures, created by Katherine Stubergh, of Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Rudolph Valentino, and artifacts from the collections of Sol Lesser and Cecil B. DeMille.

          The building was developed by William I Pereira. It was to be a rectangular structure 50 feet high and 450 feet long, a series of floating platforms, connected by ramps and escalators.  The central section was devoted to demonstrations of motion picture and television productions.  Other features included a restaurant, shops, and concessions. The design represented four years of work by Pereira, who was the architect of the Los Angeles County Art Museum, on Wilshire.  His plan for the Hollywood Museum was deemed as unfeasible and far too expensive to build and operate Pereira explained that the museum was “not a repository for dusty relics but a dynamic exposition of a creative and exciting art form and industry.”  (…but personally, I like dusty relics) 




          The location of the museum became fluid; the Los Angeles County Supervisors required that it be in the Hollywood district.  By 1963, the costs had bloomed and the County had awarded a grant of 6.5 million dollars for the museum. 

          The land was purchased across from the Hollywood Bowl.  The County evicted Steven B. Anthony from the land under the doctrine of eminent domain.  He claimed that he was illegally removed from his home as “man’s home is his castle.” He held off sheriff’s deputies with a shotgun for seven hours. When the legal hassle finally ended, Anthony had gleaned a great deal of public sympathy.

          The name of the proposed museum was again changed, to the “Hollywood Center for Audio Visual Arts”.  Similar to the original museum concept, the proposed center would contain displays depicting trends and history in movies, television, radio, and recording.  The ground breaking for the now $14 million Hollywood Center was held Sunday, October 20, 1963, with a gathering of over 3,000 Hollywood representatives, including:

·        For Motion Pictures - Mary Pickford, Walt Disney, Gregory Peck, Jack Warner, and Gloria Swanson  

·        For Radio – Charles Correll (Amos ‘n’ Andy), Gene Autry, and Jack Benny

·        For TV – Jack Webb 

·        For Recordings – Lionel Hampton :

Rosalind Russell served as Master of Ceremonies, Sol Lesser, president of the Hollywood Museum and Ernest E. Debs, County Supervisor were part of group.  The museum dream didn’t come to reality, like many of Hollywood dreams it was turned into “a parking lot”. 



          The Garden Court Apartments at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard, owned by Erwin Karz, opened in 1919 with luxurious apartments, Mack Sennett and Mae Murray called it home near the ends of their lives; with oriental carpets, imported wood trim hand-carved molding and even, cherry-wood toilet seats. The elegant rooms were spacious, with original oil paintings. For more than 30 years, Louis B. Mayer kept apartment 417.  The guest register listed hundreds of famous names.

          Karz in a partnership with Debbie Reynolds launched a plan to convert the Garden Court’s 160 apartments where Hollywood elite had lived and dined into the repository for her auction purchases worth hundred of thousands of dollars.  The Garden Court is just 300 feet west of the (Grauman’s) Chinese Theater where millions of tourists annually visit.   


          When Harold Lloyd died, his will asked that his 16-acre “Green Acres” estate in Beverly Hills be used as the location of a Hollywood museum.  Lloyd also left a fund to pay for upkeep.  However, the city of Beverly Hills prohibits business operation in a residential district.   The dream faded.




          The City of Los Angeles had purchased the 50-acre Wattles Park in the Hollywood Hills for $2 million dollars ($600,000 of federal funds); Julia V. Wattles would be allowed to continue living in her home on the land.  It was thought this might be a site for the museum.








          The dream faded again and was forgotten until now.  Another site has been chosen: the May Company building on the northeast corner of Wilshire and Fairfax.  It has always been agreed that a home is needed for the tons of priceless memorabilia that tells the history of Hollywood.  The Academy Board of Governors approved the project in October, 2012.



          Now, back in the “parking lot” across from the Hollywood Bowl at 2100 North Highland Avenue is the Hollywood Heritage Museum. In 1979, Paramount Pictures donated the Lasky-DeMille Barn to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce's Hollywood Historic Trust.  The barn was used in the making of the 1914 feature film, Squaw Man.  In 1983, the Chamber and Paramount re-donated the barn to the Hollywood Heritage, a California State non-profit founded in 1980.  The Barn was moved to the parking lot on Highland Ave., in February 1982. The following three years were spent in restoring the building.  It was dedicated on December 13, 1985.  This was the land originally designated in the 1960s for the Hollywood Museum that was never realized.  




          Another Hollywood Museum opened in 2003, at 1660 North Highland, south of Hollywood Boulevard in the Max Factor Building. Originally a wig maker, make-up artist, and cosmetics manufacturer on Hill Street in Los Angeles, Max Factor opened his S. Charles Lee designed “Hollywood Regency Art Deco” style studio in 1935.  Lee was the architect of a number of grand movie palaces. 

          It is believed that Max Factor originated the term “make-up.”  In the lobby of the Max Factor Museum is a photo of Mabel Normand with Max Factor, applying make-up for her Hal Roach movie “Anything Once” (1926) taken before Max Factor built his studio on Highland.  This Hollywood Museum contains over 10,000 items including costumes, props, photographs, scripts, and other artifacts. Of special interest are three make-up salons dedicated to blonde, brunette, and redhead complexions.





          The collections of Hollywood treasures had been coming together for years for the ill-fated Los Angeles County Hollywood Museum, from archives and personal collections, and included photographs, postcards, historic documents, films, scripts, costumes, and other movie memorabilia.  The permanent exhibition was planned to demonstrate motion picture and television production, have a TV studio, and house exhibits of animation, editing, lighting, cinematography, make-up, and other professional techniques.  Of course, a completely equipped theatre for presentation of films and concerts, administrative offices, and classrooms were planned.

          The collections of Sol Lesser and Cecilia B. DeMille were added, with some of the first color television cameras and the newest motion picture cameras.  The museum needed artifacts, but money perhaps was even more important.  Ben Hoberman, vice president and general manager of KABC Radio in 1963 gave a public service check and a tape of KABC promo spots, as part of a month-long campaign on behalf of the 14 million dollar museum. 

          The Los Angeles County Hollywood Museum in 1964 added new board members who brought with them money, like Harold C. McClellan, chairman of Old Colony Paint & Chemical Company who had deep pockets. The board totaled 41 members representing different segments of the “audio and visual arts”, each with their own motivations.

          Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE) member, Ray Brian, business agent of the Peoria and Pekin Union Railway, made a donation of his “antique projectors” for the permanent exhibit to Arthur Knight, curator at the Hollywood Museum.

          Among the items that came from the Cecilia B. DeMille estate were the original camera used in “The Squaw Man” and prints of 70 of DeMille’s films, albums, costumes, and scripts. He had always been interested in establishing of the Hollywood museum.  (It is lovely that his “Barn” sits on the site of the planned museum.)

          As time passed and the civic project delayed, it had begun to be maligned and mocked. It was called a boondoggle, a white elephant, a Hollywood peep show, and a tourist trap.  A year and half after the ground-breaking nothing was on the site.  The plans for the museum were called “a quicksand of indecision, with a lack of direction and misunderstanding as to its purpose and value.”

          The county government continued to support the project, but more than 1.2 million dollars of government funds had been spent, so they cut off the money and appointed a 3-person committee to investigate.  The committee’s report criticized the museum’s management, the lack of professional staff, its interior design, missing funds, and a lack of fund raising.    The land had cost $460,000, and nearly 1 million dollars had been paid for architectural services and site development before the county froze all spending at the end of 1964.



          Eight years later, Los Angeles City purchased several million dollars of stored memorabilia from the Hollywood Museum Associates. After the county had stop the funding, accordingi to William Frederickson, general manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, the City of Los Angeles paid $22,000 in back storage fees and was given the rights to artifacts, in what was termed a holding action.”


          Although other museums were interested in purchasing the artifacts, Mayor Sam Yorty and Councilman Paul Lamport headed a drive to keep the material until the city could find a permanent home for them.  It was a time of tight budgets, C. Irwin Piper, who was general manager at the time cut the budget at Recreation and Parks (R&P).  R&P had taken over the collection – ranging from the projector used in L.A.’s first movie theater to the costumes of Hollywood sex symbols. 

          Clarion Inman, director of the City Photography Center was placed in charge of most of the artifacts.   Many of the artifacts were deteriorating.  Hundred of actors and technicians had donated photos, costumes, props, equipment, and tons of printed matter.   The city agreed to display two items at the R&P Photography Center.   The rest were stored 



          Back in 1987, Los Angeles Times’ writer Dean Murphy wrote “Rare Hollywood Artifacts,” the City of Los Angeles could not find a home for the Hollywood memorabilia because of the donation agreement required that the material be kept in the Hollywood district, and if an outside institution took control of the storage of the collection, the city could ask for the items back at anytime.

          In 1965, the five-story Lincoln Heights jail at 421 North Avenue 19 at the edge of the Santa Fe Railroad yard was closed as a jail.  Subsequently, the City of Los Angeles used the second floor to store the Hollywood Museum items, but sadly old magazines, programs, and books, were damaged by water from burst pipes, dirt from open windows coating the walls and floors, no heat, and no air conditioning.  In 1984, Linda Barth, who oversaw the collection for the Department of Recreation and Parks said, "Some of the material is molding so badly you can't tell what it is anymore."

          According to the Los Angeles Times article, dozens of items, including a white tuxedo worn in 1935 by Marlene Dietrich in "The Devil Is a Woman," were missing from the collection, presumably stolen by film crews who often shot prison movies at the unattended jail.  Heavy locks on the storage rooms had been cut or picked open several times over the years.  It was reported that much of that collection, was on loan to several universities and libraries in an effort to get the most valuable items to safety, including UCLA, USC, American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Natural History Museum, and Fashion Institute of Design Merchandising. The remaining collection was left in unorganized heaps on dirty floors.  Most of the passed-over artifacts were thought worthless.  Even a piano thought to have been owned by Rudolph Valentino was left to decay.

          At one point, the City officials wanted the University of California, Riverside's library to temporarily house the over 15,000, 78- and 33-rpm recordings stored in cardboard boxes at the Lincoln Heights jail. However, John Tanno, librarian at Riverside, said they were not interested in caring for a collection that could be taken away.

          Edward Maeder, then curator of the costume and textile department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), said the museum would accept the city's collection if the museum could get rid of damaged pieces and those of little artistic or historical significance.  LACMA, which has a 60,000-piece costume and textile department, refused to accept any of the costumes.  The collection included everything from a pair of blue jeans worn by Gary Cooper in "High Noon" in 1952 to the slinky gown Jean Harlow wore when she sunk her feet in concrete outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1933, "We would want to be able to pick and choose," Maeder said.




          Sam Gill, former archivist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, took about 80,000 photographs and negatives from the city’s collection, for the Margaret Herrick Library. Gill said the Academy took items on loan because they were not being properly cared for by the City. “Stability of the collection is an important issue,” he said.

          Sheldon Jensen, assistant general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said the Department at one time paid about $15,000 a year to provide cold storage for the collection's delicate nitrate films; those films were loaned to UCLA in 1981.



          The Recreation and Parks Department also asked the city attorney's office to look into amending the Hollywood Museum Associates contract so that some of the collection could be donated to institutions outside Hollywood. Hollywood Museum Associates no longer exists, however, getting the terms could have been difficult, city officials said.  The city ran into opposition from Hollywood Exhibition, which negotiated to build a $60-million museum as part of a 17-story office tower and hotel near the Chinese Theatre. (This never happened).  The money and plans evaporated like so many dreams.



          The hunt for all the donations is in full swing.  Ben Turpin’s widow in the 1960s wanted the Hollywood Museum to have Turpin’s bronzed lucky shoe and a radiator cap made from a World War One shell. Original artifacts from all over Hollywood are waiting to have a home.  Many are still decaying in the Lincoln Heights Jail.   The question is, will the Academy Museum be the dream come true?



Notes & References

1960, June 01         The Daily Bureau, “Hollywood Museum Reception


1960 June 15          Motion Picture Daily, “Coast Museum Plans Told


1963 March 4  Sponsor, “To Help Launch New Hollywood Museum  photo caption


1963 October 28  Broadcasting, “Hollywood Starts Its Museum Construction


1963 October 21  Sponsor, “Hollywood Museum a Reality!”


1963 April  International Projectionist, Ray Gallo, “Projected Highlights


1964        Sponsor,Broadcaster Have Niche in Hollywood Museum


1965 April, 04  Los Angeles Times, Cecil Smith, “Hollywood Museum at Impasse


1968 August 25 Times News Service, Robert Rawitch, “Memorabilia Gather Dust in Storage”


1971 August 22  Cincinnati Enquirer, “The, Frank Taylor, Once-Posh Apartment


1987 October20  Los Angeles Times, Dean Murphy, “Rare Hollywood Artifactshttp://articles.latimes.com/1987-10-20/local/me-14761_1_hollywood-museum


1995 September 10  Daily News, Chip Jacobs, History of Hollywood http://chipjacobs.com/articles/redevelopment/history-of-hollywood-museum-reads-like-horror-movie-script/


Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences AMPAS, website, http://www.oscar.org/


Fashion Institute of Design Merchandising FIDM website.  http://fidmmuseum..org/


Hollywood Heritage Museum http://hollywoodheritage.org/


Time River Productions, 2016 photos, Academy Museum construction site




Thanks for the support and information from:

Kevin Cloud Brechner

Diane Crost

Paul E. Gierucki

Steve Rydzewski

Kim Walling






A note from Paul Gierurki… (July 6, 2016)  “Our friend Marilyn Slater has penned a marvelous article documenting the sad fate of some critical movie memorabilia that was donated for a proposed Hollywood museum -- which never materialized. People like archivist Sam Gill, who saved some of it, need to be celebrated for their foresight and quick action. Others... not so much. This should be required reading for every single collector, archivist, historian, and classic film fan, so that something like this never happens again.” Paul



An email from Jack Ince “Lonestar Jack”… (July 6, 2016)

“You have awakened a trove of long forgotten memories from my
youth when I stayed on and off with my uncle John Ince on
Orchid Ave just a few yards uphill from Franklin Blvd right
behind Grauman's Chinese theater.

I used to take my tennis racket over to the Garden Court
Apartments and taken a clay court lesson from Guy de Leon.
Afterwards I would go across the street to the Gotham Deli
and Hotel for a huge corned beef sandwich or go down the
block to Brown's Ice Cream Shop for their never to be
duplicated hot fudge sundae.

A few years later after
surviving a tour of duty with the 82nd Airborne Div along
with Richard St Johns and William O Wiard I was enraged at
the Sam Yorty and Sheriff Pritchess eviction of Steven
Anthony. I even wanted to join forces with the soon to be
disposed Mr. Anthony. It was the youth in me I guess. Rumor
had it that he was relocated to the Bakersfield area where
he spent his few remaining years. (I can’t find
anything on Google). That was when we lived on Courtney Ave
next door to the unfortunate Barbara Payton -- where Tom
Neal decked Franchot Tone.

Later we built a house on Harold Way and wound up two houses
from Brenda Allen.

See what memories you stirred up -- but I love it.

I knew "Clarence" Iman from his Photo Center days
when he sent one of my competition photographs to LA's
sister city in Japan as part of an exchange program where it
ended up on the cover of that city's publication.

Forgive my rambling, but the names that I no longed hear and
the images I no longer see by virtue of living in a way
different world seem to set off the old memory maker in me.
No longer can I drive up the coast and say "that is
where Thelma Todd died of carbon monoxide, or up Summit
drive and say "remember Tom Mix and Ronald
Coleman" they lived there.

Is the iconic gold cylinder of the May Co going to be a
thing of the past -- the end of Miracle Mile?

It is only through dedicated people like you who can make
the Academy dream come true as the trend seems to be away
from history in the younger generation and first hand
knowledge and the "I was there stories" are fast

Unfortunately, I came along about a generation too late to
be able to contribute anything to the early history of this
fabulous industry and as a result I can only feed off and
enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Once again I appreciate your work and devotion to the
Looking for Mabel web site and the pleasures it brings me.

Jack Ince