Just when you thought Hollywood couldn’t go and reinvent itself – it has done it again. It has created the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures which is set to open in a few years. Why now – many may wonder – after so many decades of great memorabilia being collected from so many classics that we love. Well that’s precisely what I aim to find out and more in this article. I have teamed up with Bill Kramer – Managing Director of the Academy Museum and External Relations – to tell us more about the new and exciting venue that is being built in Los Angeles, California.
Thank you for this honor. I’m obliged to showcase this marvelous museum in the Reel Focus blog. I would like to begin with the most obvious question that everyone probably wants to know: When will the museum be open to the public?
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is scheduled to open in 2017. Designed by architects Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali, the Academy Museum will be located in the heart of Los Angeles in the historic Wilshire May Company building.
Besides the museum being completely awesome, what do you think will be some of the highlights that will lure people to this museum?
Designed to be a cultural center, the Academy Museum will be the best place to experience the past, present, and future of the moving image. The Academy Museum will contain nearly 300,000 square feet of state-of-the-art galleries, exhibition spaces, theaters, screening rooms, education centers and special event spaces.
Visiting the Museum will feel like seeing a great movie–it will be an immersive experience with a beginning, middle, and end. Visitors will have a chance to share laughter, be moved, and maybe even be scared–visitors will experience the same emotions they feel at the movies. The Museum will show how films are made, while preserving and celebrating the magic and enchantment of the movies.
Will this museum only include films that were nominated or awarded by the Academy in its collections or is there more in store for visitors?
The Academy Museum will have a permanent exhibition that will include elements on the history of the Academy and the Academy Awards. These areas will provide a taste of the glamour that is undeniably a part of the Academy’s history. However the Museum will explore all areas of filmmaking and will include a comprehensive array of exhibitions and programming. The Museum will be built on the foundation of the Academy’s public programs and collections. Since the 1930s, the Academy has been collecting and preserving the world’s moviemaking artifacts and creative materials, and today the Academy Collection is the largest motion picture collection in the world. The Collection includes more than 30,000 production and costume design drawings, 165,000 films and videos, 10 million photographs, and 50,000 original posters. While the Collection includes many Oscar-winning and Oscar–nominated films in all categories, the Collection also contains a wide range of films from private home movies of Hollywood legends like Esther Williams to World War II-era propaganda films.
Motion picture has been an integral part of American culture for many decades. Why is such a museum now being built and why Los Angeles?
Momentum for this Museum has been building for a long time and now plans are falling into place to bring this project to fruition. We feel Los Angeles, the epicenter of the film industry, is the perfect home for this Museum and will be a major addition to the cultural landscape of the city.
This is obviously a museum that many generations will grow to love and cherish. Tell us why it is important for audiences to visit this museum once it is completed.
We hope audiences visit the Museum over and over again not only for the latest exhibitions, screenings, and special events, but also for those magical, intangible moments of surprise, inspiration, and even transformation.
Any conversation about film in Georgia has to begin with Margaret Mitchell. Before there were tax incentives and before there were all the great films and television shows being shot on location here in Georgia, there was one very powerful and riveting film that took the world by storm: Gone With The Wind. Just as the book had a profound effect in the world of novels, the film had just as a profound effect. From Atlanta to Hollywood, this story emanates power from a small town lady in the South at a time when very few women had the opportunity to dominate Hollywood, let alone any other industry. In this blog, I have teamed up with the local director of the Marietta Gone With The Wind Museum – Connie Sutherland – to talk about why this movie and this museum still draws many crowds to Atlanta, even in its 75th year since the book’s inception.
Hi, Connie. I’m glad that you could work with me on this project. I am humbled by the things that I have learned about Margaret Mitchell in my research. Who would have thought that she would have had such a phenomenal effect on the world of film, especially at a time when women were expected to be taking care of home, rather than pursuing careers? This blog pays homage to one of the great, fascinating women of Atlanta but specifically, for this blog, I want us to focus on the great things about this museum. First question: What made you want be the director of this museum of all the museums on earth that you could direct?
For the long answer, I am one of the rare individuals in Atlanta known as a “native.” Born and raised in Atlanta, I grew up hearing about Gone With The Wind and Margaret Mitchell. As a child, while my friends were outdoors playing, I was indoors writing. I wrote my first poem at age 10 and began writing short stories and songs as well. When I was a teenager I saw the movie for the first time in Atlanta at the Loew’s Grand Theatre (home of the 1939 premiere) on Thanksgiving night. As soon as the giant letters spelling Gone With The Wind swept across the screen and the haunting melody of Tara’s Theme began to play, I knew something special was about to happen. Just under four hours later I knew it had.
The wonderful movie prompted me to read Margaret Mitchell’s book. I fell in love with her, the story, the characters; all of it. The love affair continued as I began to collect memorabilia, watch the film when it aired on Turner Classic Movies and read the book – just to feel close to my friends the O’Hara’s.
One day I read in the newspaper that a group had formed to try and save the house where Margaret Mitchell had written my favorite book. Next thing I knew, I was a volunteer helping with the effort. By the time the house opened in 1997, I had been hired as group sales manager. I was there for three years and loved every minute of it, but did not love the commute. I was working for a local CPA firm when I read about a museum opening on the Marietta square (I read a lot) and I lived only two miles away from the museum. I had a full-time obligation at the time but fate was on my side when my boss decided to sell his CPA practice which coincided with the City of Marietta’s need for a director. So, in 2004 I was hired and ten years later, here I am still in love.
What can a visitor expect from visiting this museum?
I like to say that you don’t have to be a die-hard fan of Gone With The Wind to appreciate the history in our museum; but, it is a Gone With The Wind fan’s dream. The collection belongs to a retired doctor in Ohio, Chris Sullivan, who read the book, fell in love as I did and began collecting memorabilia. His first purchase was a first edition copy of the book signed by Margaret Mitchell. The collection now has hundreds of artifacts and all of them original to the book or movie.
Visitors may expect to be surprised by items in the museum that they would never have expected to see. One of my favorite pieces is a copy of GWTW that belonged to actress Lana Turner. It was gifted to her by Louis B. Mayer when she was under contract with his studio. She was going to test for the role of Scarlett and Mr. Mayor gave her the book to read. She had it rebound in black leather and her name imprinted on the front in gold. It’s also signed by her.
The most anticipated item in the museum is the bengaline honeymoon gown. It’s the original dress worn by Vivien Leigh in her role as Scarlett during the scene in New Orleans when she marries Rhett Butler. Turner Classic Movies borrowed the gown in 2005 for their Lights, Camera, Classics Exhibition and it became the focal point of the exhibit. They even had a special crate built so the costume would not have to be taken off the form causing additional stress to the fabric. It was gone three months and I can tell you it was truly missed. I told Chris Sullivan that it could never leave us again and he agreed.
Another wonderful feature about the museum is that the collection is housed in a building erected in 1875. It was at one time a cotton warehouse and a carriage house and still has the original hewn beams and weathered brick from that time. It’s so conducive to a collection such as this one and it’s as though the visitors step back in time when they view the memorabilia. There is truly something in this museum that captures the interest of everyone.
Why was Marietta chosen as the place for this museum, considering that the museum for the book itself is down on Peachtree Street?
I get this question a lot. I can be technical about it and answer that Marietta is mentioned in the book several times and that Margaret Mitchell visited friends in a home in Marietta with some history that may be part of her story. But, it isn’t really about the connection between Atlanta and Gone With The Wind because it is loved worldwide. The City of Marietta believed a museum of this type would attract visitors.
The museum actually opened with a different collection in 2002. That one did not work out but the museum still had an existing lease. So, when Chris contacted them to let them know about his collection, they were thrilled to invite him in. It was a smart decision on the city’s part as the museum is thriving and has been here for eleven years.
What do you think is the lure of this museum? What keeps people coming back?
To answer question number one I would say the subject matter. People love Gone With The Wind. The book has touched so many people’s lives in its 75+ years. I don’t believe another novel has impacted and influenced its readers the way that Margaret Mitchell’s book has done. Even in 1936 with the original release the book sold a million copies within six months at $3 per copy. That was a great deal of money at the time to spend on reading material. The movie was also one of the most anticipated films in history. In fact, it’s still the number one box office film of all time when allowing for inflation. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
The museum offers the daily visitor an opportunity to connect with the exciting romance between Rhett and Scarlett. It allows them to stand before the bengaline gown and imagine Vivien Leigh wearing it or to picture Olivia de Havilland being fitted with the mourning bonnet that’s on display. Reading about history is exciting and seeing it on the big screen is fun. But, there’s nothing like viewing history up close and personal and that is what these artifacts do for visitors. We have several wonderful museums on the historic Marietta square. But, someone once called us the “hook” that brings the cars off the interstate and they’re right. People have traveled to our museum from all 50 states and more than 80 countries. Gone With The Wind is universally known and loved. There are so many stories I could provide as testimony to my statement. But, that would be a book itself.
We see so many senior group tours which are one of our major sources of visitation. And, we rent the facility for receptions, parties, rehearsal dinners and that sort of thing. Because guests are seated throughout the museum itself, they might be enjoying a meal next to Vivien Leigh’s contract to play Scarlett or an award given to David O. Selznick. But, I would say our annual events are the number one attraction for the museum.
So, here we go on question number two: In 2005 we began hosting events whereby the cast members would attend and talk about their roles in the movie and sign autographs. The events grew larger every year and in 2009 for the 70th anniversary, we outdid ourselves. We had visitors attend from 26 different states and 2 countries (Germany and Poland). Warner Bros and TCM were both involved that year which enhanced the event greatly. I had long dreamed of re-creating the 1939 premiere and with the City of Marietta’s support we did just that. Ann Rutherford who played Carreen O’Hara in the film was again one of our special guests along with 3 of the 4 Beaus (all played the same character at different ages). In 1939, Ann was given the key to the City of Atlanta so our mayor [here in Marietta] gave her the key to our city.
We tried to do everything that took place in 1939. The stars arrived to a red carpet showing of the movie at the Loew’s Grand that year and arrived to a red carpet showing of the movie at our Strand Theatre in 2005. And, it was in the same style of the original premiere thanks to a wonderful car collector named Mike Coggins who recruited enough beautiful 1930’s vehicles in which to take all of the celebrities to the theater. A Belles and Beaus Ball was held and everyone dressed in period costumes. Miss Olivia de Havilland suggested in lieu of a visit (which was not possible at the time) that she make an audio recording introducing the movie. She did and it was a glorious night and event, one well-remembered by all who attended.
Now, five years later we are preparing to celebrate our 75th anniversary event the weekend of June 6-8. We have lost our Bonnie Blue and our Carreen and even some of the fans who attended religiously. But, as they would wish for us to do, we will continue carrying the torch for Gone With The Wind with some new faces and many familiar ones. We have some wonderful plans for the event including the following
• an 11 person author’s forum • a re-creation of the Bazaar Ball • Vivien, a one-woman play starring Judith Chapman of The Young and the Restless • a parody of GWTW entitled “The Wind Has Left” in the form of an old-time radio program • a guided tour of the Wilbur Kurtz Exhibit by his grandson • the author of a book about Kurtz and the collector whose painting are in the exhibit • experts who will discuss the fashions of GWTW • and of course and autograph signing, auction and more
We are even holding out on what is tentatively going to be a surprise guest at the dinner. The particulars are on our website at www.gwtwmarietta.com and tickets are on sale now. A weekend ticket is $200 and includes everything. Single activity tickets are also available. There is less and less an opportunity to meet the wonderful individuals who had a part in the greatest movie of all time. I am so blessed to have known the ones who are now gone and to continue my friendship with those who remain.
To digress to my very first answer, you could say that the love affair with Gone With The Wind that began for me as a teenager was not just a passing thing. It was real and I know that I am destined to grow old with my devoted companions beside me. The fact that they happen to be in the form of a book and DVD is just fine with me. A word to future visitors to our museum—prepare for the Gone With The Wind arrow of Cupid too!
Interior photo from museum taken by Melisha Childs