Debbie Reynolds, star of one of my favorite movies of all time Singin’ in the Rain, was fortunate and forward-thinking enough to purchase an enormous collection of movie memorabilia when the big studios starting selling off their historic costumes, props, art work, cameras, lights, everything but the bare walls, basically, in the early 1970s.
Reynolds explains the studios’ fire sales thus:
“Well, they [the major studios] just weren’t interested. These are real estate developers, and they’re not interested in motion pictures or the ‘history of.’ They’re not preservationists. They’re not people who are interested in preserving. They’re interested in liquidation, and people that are interested in liquidation are interested in money, and not interested in museums or in saving costumes. To them it’s a lot of junk and a lot of nothing to bother with, so they didn’t bother with it, and many people that cared purchased it.”
Her passion for collecting was born when she was but a teenager under contract to MGM. She was fascinated by the process of movie-making and spent hours in the costume department observing the designers make magic from a few words in the script. It wasn’t until MGM liquidated its inventory in 1970, with Fox following in their footsteps in 1972, however, that Reynolds found herself with the world’s largest collection of movie memorabilia, including many of the most memorable costumes worn by iconic stars like Judy Garland’s ruby slippers and pinafore dress as Dorothy, Marilyn Monroe’s halter dress blown up by the wind from the subway grating in The Seven Year Itch, Claudette Colbert’s gold lamé gown with emerald trim from Cleopatra, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp bowler hat, and so much more.
Her dream was to create a museum to house all these marvels, and in 1972 created a non-profit corporation, the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, to make her dream come true. In 1993, the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas opened. The collection was on display in the casino. Sadly, the casino soon encountered insurmountable financial problems, closing in 1997 and sending Reynolds’ collection into storage.
In 2001, it seemed like her dream might finally come true. The Museum corporation secured 20,000 square feet in a new real estate development in the heart of downtown Hollywood. There was a ground-breaking ceremony and everything. The financing fell through, however, and in 2004 Reynolds announced that the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum would not open in Hollywood, but rather in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near Dolly Parton’s “Dollywood.” That too fell through, leaving Reynolds in a great deal of debt.
And so we come to this very sorry pass. Debbie Reynolds’ magnificent memorabilia collection, lovingly stored and displayed through many ups and downs by the star for 40 years, will be sold at auction on June 18.
Do yourself a favor and download the pdf catalog. It’s page after page of Hollywood history, some of it a great revelation because you see iconic costumes and props in color for the first time. Such a heartbreaking loss for Miz Reynolds and for the rest of us who will never have a chance to see this incredible labor of collecting love in a museum where it belongs. Where is the selfless philanthropist to swoop in and save the day when you need him?