You can see Clark Gable's Mercedes Benz, Lucille Ball's Ghia coupe, the "Love Bug," the "Seinfeld" taxi and other "cars of the stars" at the new Petersen Automotive Museum, which opened its doors in the summer of 1994.
Strictly speaking, this isn't a Hollywood museum. As the newest satellite branch of the Natural History Museum, the Petersen Museum chronicles the history of Los Angeles through the city's relationship with the automobile.
The three-level, 300,000-square foot building is chock full of gorgeous, glittering dream cars from every era and social strata, nostalgic dioramas and street scenes, even art galleries with paintings devoted to the automobile as subject. But the museum does have an entire section dedicated to Hollywood automobiles, and it is located on the Hollywood border (just a few blocks away from Farmers Market & CBS TV City).
The Hollywood Gallery (on the museum's second floor) features a changing collection of cars owned by Tinseltown celebrities, as well as cars that were featured in movies & television. The shining black floors of this gallery glitter with gold sparkles, and the walls are plastered with movie posters of films featuring cars - such as "Hot Rods to Hell," "The Solid Gold Cadillac," "Christine," "Gone In 60 Seconds," and "Days of Thunder."
Director Cecil B. DeMille, a car lover, encouraged his stars to drive glamorous cars to enhance their image, and many heeded his advice. Clark Gable owned a posh brown 1956 Mercedes Benz 300SC coupe, which is on display here. So is Joan Crawford's 1933 Cadillac Fleetwood town car, and Jean Harlow's 1932 Packard Phaeton convertible. Harlow drove her Packard for 26,000 miles but never raised the top on car. You'll see a 1962 Ghia coupe owned by Lucille Ball, a 1957 Lincoln owned by Jane Mansfield, and a 1967 Imperial convertible owned by the Jack Benny. There's even a 1942 Indian Scout motorcycle that belonged to Steve McQueen.
These "cars of the stars" are accompanied by caricature sketches of the actors on the adjacent wall, as well as by a photograph of each movie star, and a brief bio of the star and his or her automobile. There are also life-size wax likenesses of two of the stars, Jack Benny and Jean Harlow, standing next to their autos.
Besides cars owned by celebrities, you'll also see cars that made appearances in the movies, such as the General Lee from the popular TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard," the original Batmobile from the '60s TV series "Batman", as well as the more modern Batmobile driven by Michael Keaton in the 1989 movie "Batman"; a 1950 Mercury from Sly Stalone's "Cobra", the "Green Hornet" car, and the Hannibal 8 from the movie "The Great Race" (which starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood). The Gallery also has a 1920 Moon luxury touring car (only two of which were ever built) which appeared in numerous movies and TV series, including the Warren Beatty film "Bugsy."
(They rotate these exhibits, so the cars mentioned will probably not all be on display at the same time.)
Elsewhere in this Hollywood gallery are the tools of the film trade; special vehicles used exclusively for Hollywood movie-making. One example is a "process body," a mock-up cut-away of the back section of an automobile used by movie-makers to shoot interior scenes (while a worker bounced the car up and down to simulate motion); the one on display is a pretend 1922 Pierce-Arrow, which was used by Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck in the 1948 thriller "Sorry, Wrong Number." There is also a "camera car" here, designed to allow a camera crew to follow alongside a moving vehicle; this one is a 1950 Chrysler, with a flatbed installed in the back to hold the camera steady, and a convertible roof for better communication between driver and cameraman.
Tucked away in a back corner of this Hollywood gallery is a mock living room, replete with sofa, coffee tables, & even a copy of TV Guide. Relax here while a large-screen television flashes a series of excerpts from such auto-related TV shows as "My Mother the Car," "Knight Rider," "Starsky & Hutch" and "Route 66."
There is also one notable Hollywood exhibit downstairs, in the main "Streetscape" section. It is a diorama taken from the 1930 movie comedy "Hog Wild" (which was filmed on location just south of downtown Los Angeles, near USC). The exhibit features excellent wax likenesses of Laurel & Hardy. The boys sit in an old model-T, which has been squashed between two L.A. trolley cars. Steam rises from the radiator of their demolished jalopy, and you can even board the authentic antique trolley car and walk up into the driver's section (for a closer look at Stan and Oliver).
In June of 2000, the Museum played host to a celebrity-studded party following the movie premiere of (appropriately enough) "Gone in 60 Seconds." Stars at the party included Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Billy Bob Thorton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Robert Duvall, Robert Towne, Juliette Lewis, producer Joel Silver, directors Jerry Bruckheimer & Michael Bay, Disney chairman Michael Eisner; and former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca. Not to mention cars on display from the movie.
Each year, the Museum also hosts a "Cars & Stars Gala," a charity benefit which attracts stars such as Jay Leno, Tim Allen, Charlton Heston, James Garner and Robert Stack. This is an annual event, and tickets are available to the public, at $175 per ticket. In 2001, the gala was held on Thursday, June 14. If you'd like to attend next year's event, give them a call (at 323-964-6344) some time in May.
The Hollywood gallery is only a small part of this huge new museum, which also features acres of state-of-the-art historical dioramas, hundreds of dazzling automobiles, motorcycles, custom machines, prototypes, art galleries, and much more. If you're a car buff, you'll think you died and went to heaven.
Museum also played a small role in a recent celebrity murder. Rapper Notorious B.I.G.
had attended a Soul Train awards party at the Petersen on March 9, 1997;
when the controversial rapper left the party in his car, he was gunned
down nearby in a drive-by shooting.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. (Closed on Mondays.)
Getting there: Although officially a branch of the Natural History Museum, the Petersen is located about seven miles northwest of the original Exposition Park museum. The Petersen Automotive Museum is located on "Museum Row," at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, just a few blocks south of Farmers Market. / From the Santa Monica (10) Freeway, take the Fairfax offramp and go north on Fairfax, about a mile and a half, to Wilshire Blvd. The museum will be on your right (east) side. / From Farmers Market, just go south on Fairfax half a mile to Wilshire. The museum will be on your left.
more information on this subject, you can access the Petersen's official
website at: http://www.petersen.org.]
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