Friday, June 17, 2011

Debbie Reynolds' Costumes

A few months ago, some of you may recall (though many of you may not) my museum hosted a traveling exhibit called "Incredible Costumes from Film and TV." The exhibit itself, from the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, featured a lot of costumes from Star Trek, Star Wars, the Terminator, and so on…. which was fabulous, but since our average visitor is 5 years old and the mere sight of Arnold ominously declaring "AHL BE BECK" is enough to reduce many of them to tears, the exhibit team was charged to enhance the exhibit by adding some costumes with Broader Family Appeal. So our Director of Collections set about making phone calls to various costume brokers/collectors/storage facilities, etc… and one of the people she ended up talking to was a guy named Todd Fisher.

Todd's mother is actress Debbie Reynolds, who is currently (for about another 12 hours—more on that later) the owner of the world's most comprehensive collection of Hollywood costumes from the silent era on forward. Due to her unique position as both participant in and collector of Hollywood history, she's accumulated costumes and associated props that go beyond amazement for us film nerd-o types—not just from her own films, but from every freakin' movie you ever loved. And it's been her intention to house all of this collection in a Hollywood history museum someday. Those of us in the museum world were aware that the possibility of a Debbie Reynolds costume museum was floating around out there for quite a while—I know some of the collection's been on display at a venue in Vegas, and I think there have been other places as well. But the long-term museum plan didn't work out, for whatever reason, and the collection is being sold at auction. All of it.

Debbie Reynolds, seen here in one of her most memorable film roles

Our museum doesn't have the wherewithal to buy a collection like that. No museum does, frankly, in this day and age. But our curator talked to Todd F. about the possibility of borrowing a few items from the collection prior to the auction—and he was nice as could be and talked to us about it at length. As it turned out, the timing was poor; an auction house needs to have the items a good 2 months before an auction to prep the catalog, and our exhibit didn't close til May 12. So it didn't happen, and we ended up getting some fabulous stuff from other sources, some of which I blogged about on the museum's website, if you're interested. The exhibit was a great success, and Arnie didn't make anyone cry (as far as I know,) so I think it was all good.

Anyway, this week I finally saw the catalog for the Debbie Reynolds costume auction, and it's unbelievable. Incredible, one of a kind stuff from the movies I grew up watching over and over—I kept flipping back to the page with the horrible green check suits from the "Fit as a Fiddle" number in "Singin' in the Rain" for some reason. I hope someone buys both and keeps them together. I hope that whoever buys most of this stuff finds a way to keep segments of the collection together and intact, and makes it available to the public and to researchers, as the projected museum would have.

A museum centered around this collection would have been an amazing thing to visit. I would have killed to be its exhibit developer. (Not that I don't love being an exhibit developer where I am now… but come on, seriously. I'd jump at the chance to write labels about Gene Kelly's shoes any day, and twice on Sundays. I'm just that lame.) I'll be watching the auction online tomorrow, and I might even bid on a couple things. Not that I'll be in contention for any of it, but it's about the experience. And I hope with all my heart that some of it—a lot of it—ends up in someone's museum, and doesn't just disappear into some billionaire's closet.

If you want to check it out, go to Profiles in History and download the catalog. It'll blow your mind.