LA’s new Academy Museum to display iconic movie props and costumes

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

What would “Lord of the Rings” be if the One Ring had never been crafted in the fires of Mount Doom? How would Tom Hanks have fared on the remote island in “Castaway” without his ever-silent but unflinchingly loyal volleyball companion, Wilson?

A single object can steer a movie’s entire narrative arc — and, depending on where it ends up after filming wraps, its folklore can extend far beyond the big screen.

Famous pieces of movie history can sell for millions of dollars, like Robby the Robot from 1956’s “Forbidden Planet,” which fetched nearly $5.4 million in 2017, or Marilyn Monroe’s white halter dress from “The Seven Year Itch,” which sold for $4.6 million in 2011. Others, however, have wound up in less glamorous places — the blue gingham frock worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” was recently found stashed in a trash bag, while Bruce the Shark from “Jaws” spent many years in a California junkyard.

But now, Bruce — who was rescued and restored — is among a host of iconic movie props and costumes going on display at LA’s new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opens this September following years of delays.

Here are eight of the museum’s most prized objects, chosen with the help of its collections curator, Nathalie Morris.

“Some (items) are legendary in cinema history,” she said in a video interview. “And a few other pieces may be a bit more unusual, but (they) illustrate interesting aspects of film techniques and technology.”

Alien head, “Alien”

A prop head designed and created by H.R. Giger for "Alien" (1979).

A prop head designed and created by H.R. Giger for “Alien” (1979). Credit: Joshua White/JWPictures/Academy Museum Foundation

When director Ridley Scott set out to create the xenomorph baddie in “Alien,” a slimy black endoparasitoid that loves dramatic rib-busting entrances, he didn’t want Sigourney Weaver’s 7-foot-tall nemesis to look “like a man in a suit,” Morris said.

So Scott tapped Swiss “biomechanical” artist H.R. Giger and special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi to make one of the scariest extraterrestrials on the silver screen. “(Scott) really wanted something that was nightmarish and primordial and visceral, and H.R. Giger has pieces that really did the job,” Morris added.

There were multiple different versions of the alien head, including several mechanized ones used for close-ups (like the dripping jaws that revealed a monstrous Pez-dispenser-like inner jaw). But it’s the one worn by 6-foot-10-inch artist and actor Bolaji Badejo in the original movie that is going on display at the Academy Museum this fall.

Ruby slippers, “The Wizard of Oz”

A screen-used pair of the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz."

A screen-used pair of the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Credit: Joshua White/JWPictures/Academy Museum Foundation

No one knows how many pairs of ruby slippers were worn by Judy Garland during filming for the classic 1939 fantasy “The Wizard of Oz.” But the ones we do know about have had quite a ride. One pair sold at auction for $666,000 in 2000 and another was recovered by the FBI in 2018 after being stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota 13 years earlier.

“What we know is there are four pairs that definitely survived,” Morris said. “But there were at least seven pairs made — ours is labeled number seven.”

The heel-clicking magic of the sequined, low-heeled shoes has captured children’s imaginations for generations.

“It’s such a well-loved film, and it’s really become very much part of American folklore and history,” said Morris. “The ruby slippers bring all of that magic together into an object.”

Bruce the Shark, “Jaws”

"Bruce the Shark" installation at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

“Bruce the Shark” installation at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/Academy Museum Foundation

Bruce the Shark, the formidable Great White from “Jaws,” remains “one of the great screen villains of all time,” said Morris.

The version found at the Academy Museum is one of four produced for the movie, all from a single cast. The first three didn’t survive filming, but this Bruce did — perhaps because he never made an on-screen appearance. Instead, he was put on display at Universal Studios as a visitor attraction before winding up in a junkyard.

After the model was donated to its collection in 2016, the Academy Museum undertook “a big restoration project” to return it to its former glory, said Morris, adding: “He had to be stripped back and repainted and he had his teeth replaced.”

At 25 feet long, this is the largest piece of memorabilia in the museum’s collection. “You don’t necessarily think about him as an object,” Morris said. “You think about him as a character.”

Frida Kahlo costume, “Frida”

A costume worn by Salma Hayek in 2002's "Frida."

A costume worn by Salma Hayek in 2002’s “Frida.” Credit: Joshua White/JWPictures/Academy Museum Foundation

Salma Hayek earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in the 2002 biopic “Frida” — and so, too, did costume designer Julie Weiss.

Her reimagination of the painter’s green dress, with a red rebozo shawl, is among the many costumes going on display at the Academy Museum. The garment was based on one worn in a wedding portrait that Kahlo painted of her and artist Diego Rivera, whom she married more than once in her lifetime.

Director Julie Taymor “wanted to infuse Frida Kahlo’s paintings into the narrative structure of the film,” Morris said, adding that the green dress “became such an important part of her look.”

C-3PO and R2-D2, “Star Wars”

C-3PO and R2-D2 from the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

C-3PO and R2-D2 from the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Credit: FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

Beloved droid duo C-3PO and R2-D2 have amused “Star Wars” fans with their pithy banter since the franchise debuted in 1977. In both the original and prequel trilogies, R2-D2 was played by British actor Kenny Baker in a droid suit. But a mechanized version was also used, Morris said,

“The head could rotate. And he (R2-D2) could emote, to the extent that a droid can emote,” she said, adding that the Academy Museum’s model is a loan from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which opens in 2023.

Meanwhile, actor Anthony Daniels’ original gold C-3PO costume in “A New Hope” got blazingly hot in the desert locations used for the fictional planet Tatooine, according to Morris.

“He obviously was very uncomfortable in the desert,” she said. “He had to keep reminding people that he was actually an actor inside that costume, and he needed attention between tapes. And because the mouth hole was so small, it was very difficult for him to speak clearly … There were lots of tweaks made subsequently to make it more comfortable.”

The C-3PO costume on display at the Academy Museum is an updated version that first appeared in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Rosebud sled, “Citizen Kane”

A balsa sled made for "Citizen Kane," photographed in 1982.

A balsa sled made for “Citizen Kane,” photographed in 1982. Credit: Denver Post/Getty Images

The 1941 drama “Citizen Kane,” starring and directed by Orson Welles, is often hailed as the pinnacle of filmmaking. And the Rosebud sleigh, a symbol of the protagonist’s loss of innocence, is “a holy grail of cinema history,” said Morris. “It’s the object that drives the mystery and plot.”

Four versions of the sled were made: a pinewood one that appears early on (and was later sold at auction for $233,500) and three balsa wood copies for the movie’s fiery conclusion.

“Orson Welles didn’t like the first take, but he loved the second,” Morris explained. “So the third sled that was made, survived.”

It wound up in the office of none other than Steven Spielberg, who paid $60,500 for it at a 1982 auction, and has now loaned it to the Academy Museum. Shortly after the auction, the Washington Post reported that the Rosebud sled had passed through multiple hands prior to the sale, having nearly met its demise in a trash heap outside the movie studio’s prop vault.

Life mask of Grace Kelly, Unknown

Life mask of Grace Kelly. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Life mask of Grace Kelly. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Credit: Joshua White/JWPictures/Academy Museum Foundation

Grace Kelly had a brief but iconic Hollywood career, including starring roles in Alfred Hitchcock classics like “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder.” A “life mask” of the actress, used to test hair and makeup, is part of the Academy Museum’s collection, though it’s not known which movie the mask is from.

“We haven’t actually been able to attribute it to a film,” Morris said. “I thought this was an interesting piece, because it illustrates the work of the makeup artist and the actor — and their interaction … It’s almost like a beautiful piece of sculpture.”

Life masks can be cast again and again, meaning that the collector’s market is flooded with them. (On Etsy, allegedly authentic life casts of Kelly — as well as celebrities including Jack Nicholson and David Bowie — can be bought for under $150). Life casts of Clark Gable, Mel Brooks and Don Cheadle are among those on display at the Academy Museum.

Dinosaur Input Device (DID), “Jurassic Park”

Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur Input Device (D.I.D.) from "Jurassic Park" (1993).

Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur Input Device (D.I.D.) from “Jurassic Park” (1993). Credit: Joshua White/JWPictures/Academy Museum Foundation

When Spielberg first envisaged 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” he wanted an entire cast of giant animatronic dinosaurs. But the cost would have been exorbitant, so the director instead settled on a mix of animatronics and stop-motion technology. Creating herds’ worth of believable dinosaurs was still a challenge, however.

Enter the Dinosaur Input Device, or Digital Input Device (DID), a piece of cinema tech designed to make lifelike dinosaurs on a budget. The first was a metal Tyrannosaurus Rex armature decked out with sensors, which stop-motion animators could position as needed. Data from the DID was then fed into graphics software that animators used to build out the creature’s form, features and skin textures. It was so successful that another T. Rex and two velociraptors followed.

“It’s a very important piece of cinema technology,” said Morris. “It represents a bridge between traditional stop-motion animation and digital effects.”

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