For ages, the powers-that-be have been promising to build a grand Hollywood museum, dedicated to preserving precious Hollywood memories.
Certainly, this town would
be the logical location for such a museum. The public wants one, Hollywood
needs one (if only to breathe new life into the old neighborhood). And
surely there must be more than enough precious Tinseltown heirlooms wasting
away in studio storage space (and in stars' personal collections) to stock
a dozen such museums.
Decades ago, for instance, there were plans to build a spectacular Hollywood museum across from the Hollywood Bowl. They even bought up the land and tore down the houses of angry residents to make way for the proposed project. Yet those plans fell through, and that land still sits empty - except for the small DeMille barn where "The Squaw Man" was filmed.
But at long last, Hollywood finally has a museum. It's called the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, and it opened in late 1996, right on Hollywood Blvd.
Unfortunately, this isn't quite what we were hoping for. This is a small, fairly modest museum, with a few intriguing exhibits, but a far cry from the grand Hollywood Museum we would all like to see. But it will do until something better comes along.
Actually, there has been a recent surge of new Tinseltown museums going up around town. Besides this Hollywood Entertainment Museum, there's the Museum of Television & Radio, the new Warner Bros Museum, the old Hollywood Studio Museum, and the soon-to-open Hollywood History Museum at the Max Factor Building. Now if only they could consolidate those various venues into one single, spectacular space...
But in the meanwhile, let's take a look at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
This museum's main drawback is the building that houses it. Although it's situated just a block west of the famous Chinese Theatre (a seemingly ideal location), it's located in the basement floor of the modern Galaxy Center - you have to take an elevator down to the museum entrance and inside the space is relatively small and office-sterile.
The museum's main strengths are two large-scale sets from "Cheers" and "Star Trek" - more about those later.
The largest main room (called "The Rotunda") has a high-tech/industrial look to it, and houses an eclectic group of different exhibits, ranging from Ernie Kovak's infamous ape masks ("The Nairobi Trio"), to a sword and chestplate from Charlton Heston's "Ben-Hur," to a display of old Max Factor cosmetics that were once on display at the now-closed Max Factor Museum, including the bizarre "beauty calibrator.")
Towering over it all, in the center of the room, you'll find a "Goddess of Entertainment" statue (which, unfortunately, does not live up to its billing.)
Nearby, there's a fascinating, large scale model of the city of Hollywood as it looked during its prime, called "Hollywood in Miniature". You can walk on top of the glass which covers this one-quarter-inch scale city, and peer down at the Lilliputian buildings around Hollywood & Vine. A timeline lists important dates in the history of Hollywood.
A few steps away, you'll find another display, this one with telephone receivers. Pick one up, push a button, and you can listen to Hollywood legends discussing the industry: Orson Wells talking about money, Walt Disney talking about animation, Jimmy Stewart talking about acting, etc.
There's a tiny collection of movie memorabilia, most notably the grotesque head of "Dorian Gray" (from the movie of the same name), and the webbed foot of the Gill Man from "The Creature From the Black Lagoon."
There are three women's costumes on display - dresses worn in the movies by actresses including Marilyn Monroe. You'll also find some camera equipment, and a few video monitors which (at the push of a button) will screen film & TV clips related to newspaper headlines posted in the area.
Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to this museum may be its relatively small size - all of the exhibits I just listed are crammed into the fairly small space of the Rotunda.
Every half hour or so, the lights dim in the Rotunda, the Goddess lights up, and visitors are treated to a multimedia show, featuring a short film about the movies projected on numerous screens around the room, accompanied by a light show of sorts. What you see is basically a series of clips from famous movie scenes, ranging from Valentino to "Close Encounters." But to a movie buff, it's almost like seeing your life flash before your eyes - only in this case it's all those other "lives" we've vicariously shared in over the years.
Eventually, a tour guide will round up the people in the main room and begin one of two brief tours.
The tour of the "east wing" consists of a screening a short movie and a visit to the foley room. The "movie" is nothing more than 20 one-minute commercials from the L.A. Times, featuring insightful looks behind the scenes of movie-making; the very same ads we've all seen shown during the coming-attractions trailers before movies. They didn't even bother to edit out the Times tagline at the end of each brief episode. And it's shown via a video projection system, so the picture quality is less than ideal.
The Foley room has promise, but doesn't quite live up to it. First, visitors see a brief film about the nature of the "foley" process, in which experts use various props to add sounds to movies. Then guests are led into another tiny room where they are encouraged to try their hand at doing the same - adding sounds to a short silent film (called "The Chicken Detectives") as it plays on a video monitor. Visitors walk on various surfaces, pick up phones, ring doorbells, and otherwise try to match the sounds they make to what's happening on the screen. Afterward, they get to watch their efforts played back to them on a monitor. It's fun, but the results would be more satisfying if the final movie mixed dialog and music into the finished product. Instead, volunteers are rewarded only with the sounds they produced themselves, which sound rather artificial standing alone.
The tour of the "west wing" saves the best for last.
But first, you have to go through three tiny rooms containing assorted props and costumes. Alas, the props are (for the most part) very minor, and the clothing is locked behind glass, still on hangers. It has all the impact of looking into one's own closet. (Although the odd-shaped helmets from "The Coneheads" are an amusing exception.) They should either eliminate these cramped rooms from the tour or improve the quality of the items on display.
Finally, it's on to the good stuff: some major sets from well-known TV productions.
First, you step into a "Star Trek” transporter, where you're "beamed" to your next destination: the original set of the USS Enterprise's command bridge from "Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The actual "transporter" effects are rather cheesy, but once inside, the familiar bridge set will warm any Trekee's heart.
You can actually sit in Picard’s Captain's chair, check out the bridge control panel, take in the engineering compartments (featuring some small jokes worked into the details), and take a close-up look at Picard's desk (not to mention that round aquarium that was always featured in the Captain's quarters.)
In the adjacent room is an area devoted to large set pieces from the alien worlds of ST. Klingon items include masks and the giant Klingon statues (actually made of Styrofoam) that were featured in the DS9 episode where Worf travelled to his homeworld and exposed a shape-shifter posing as a Klingon leader. Nearby are towering statues of the "Prophets," and an incense-burning Bajoran altar. On one wall are the original artist renderings of the same set pieces.
Considering that the active "Star Trek" sets at Paramount Studios are off-limits to tour guests, this may be your only chance to visit an actual Trek set.
Finally, you turn a corner, and find yourself on the actual set of "Cheers.” It is great! For anyone who has watched the show, it's like coming home to the place "where everybody knows your name." Everything you remember from the classic TV show is there: the large bar, the wooden Indian, the familiar pictures on the wall - you name it. You can sit on Norm’s stool, visit Sam’s office, and even walk up the stairs leading "up to the street” (which actually go nowhere). Some of the regulars (Cliff, Rebecca and the rest) even carved their names on the bartop during the show's final episode. Nice.
On your way out, you walk through Sam's office and into a standard gift shop before exiting.
(I understand that they have now added a "Star Wares" outlet to the gift shop. Star Wares sells clothing and other memorabilia owned by celebrities.)
When you get back out on the street, you'll notice that the Walk of Fame star for actor Ted Danson (who played 'Sam Malone' on "Cheers") is located right in front of the Museum. And just recently they gave Kelsey Grammer ("Fraiser") a star there as well.
Since I last took the tour, they have added yet another well-known set from a popuar TV show.
This time, it's the set which served as Agent Fox Mulder’s chaotic office from "The X-Files". The set was struck from the studio’s Century City lot and transported to the Museum, where it has been faithfully reconstructed with all of its original set dressing.
The Museum also hosts temporary
exhibits: here is a list of their upcoming exhibit schedule:
Thursday - Sunday: 11
a.m. - 6 p.m.). In the Summer months, the Museum is open daily (10 a.m.
- 6 p.m.). The Museum is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New
Getting there: The museum is located in what used to be the Hollywood Galaxy center (now called the Hollywood Museum Center), just a short distance (west) from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. From Hollywood & Vine, go three blocks west on Hollywood Boulevard to Sycamore. The museum site will be on your right (north) side.
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