Seeing Stars: Hollywood Museums

6780 Hollywood Boulevard (at Highland),
Hollywood, CA. / (323) 466-6335

Shades of "Jurassic Park"! It's not every day that you can see the mammoth head and shoulders of a fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex protruding from the roof of a building in downtown Hollywood.

Well, actually, it is now... since this T-Rex is a permanent part of the new Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

This giant, toothy dinosaur looks as if he has just broken through the roof of the museum, and he's chewing on their huge clock... (The hands of the clock, incidentally, move backward, yet it keeps accurate time.)

Step into the museum's open lobby, and you're in for another surprise: there you'll find the massive feet of the T-Rex, smashing down through the roof, partly crushing the box office!

The new Ripley Museum is located right across the street from the old Hollywood Wax Museum, and just a few doors east of the new Guinness World Record Museum; the Ripley people obviously hope to give their neighbors a run for their money.

Any new sign of life is certainly welcome on the moribund Boulevard, but the Ripley museum actually has little to do with Hollywood. (It is included in this chapter mainly because it is located right in the center of the Hollywood Boulevard tourist district.) Their so-called "Hollywood section" is filled with busts of human freaks, not movie stars. Then again, Ripley's glitzy presentation and overblown hype is pure "Tinseltown."

There are almost 300 items on display here, running the gamut from miniature pool tables to giant scale models of the Queen Mary. Alas, this museum displays the same inclination towards the grotesque as the Orange County Ripley's. If shrunken heads, human freaks, and three-headed babies are your thing, then step right in. But if the idea of seeing a man impaled on an iron rod (sticking in through his cheek, and emerging out of the top of his head) gives you pause, then you might prefer Madame Tussaud's wax museum nearby.

The bizarre and the fantastic are what you will see here. At least replicas of the bizarre and the fantastic; only a few of the exhibits are originals. Most appear to be facsimiles of objects, and wax figures of people (except for that shrunken head, which is supposed to be real).

Bear in mind that Robert Ripley - who traveled to 190 countries collecting these oddities - never said that all of his items were genuine. He said "believe it or not"! And many of these supposed oddities are indeed very hard to believe.

For instance, there is not one, but three separate wax figure displays of men who could supposedly climb into a red-hot oven holding an item of food (an apple, a leg of lamb...), remain in the oven until the item they were holding was cooked, and then emerge personally unscathed. Yeah... sure.

And are we really supposed to believe that "The Lighthouse Man " of Chunking, China lived his life with a candle growing out of the top of his head?

Other items are more believable, but just slightly disgusting, such as a tiny fake "mermaid" once displayed by P.T. Barnum as the real thing, or a video that shows a man doing revolting things, such as putting a live mouse in his mouth, and blowing up a balloon via his eye socket...

Some displays cater to our sadistic curiosity: a torture chamber uses wax figures to demonstrate such exotic forms of torment as nailing a man's hat to his head (a deed attributed to Ivan the Terrible), or placing a person inside a spiked beer barrel and rolling it down a mountain, or making a naked man climb a fiery-hot greased pole, while bound and gagged. The walls of this chamber of horrors are lined with actual instruments of torture: leg shackles, flesh pinchers, etc.

Nearby, a black-hooded executioner stands next to a pig dressed as a man. The pig was convicted of killing a child, dressed in clothing, and executed.

Still other items on display are merely peculiar: a life-size portrait of John Wayne created out of household lint, for example, or a lumpy statue of Marilyn Monroe made out of shredded dollar bills ($250,000 worth, or so they say). Or how about a scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge made out of toothpicks? Or a human hair bikini (created by a barber)?

And what are we to make of a dragon boat made out of beef bones? Paintings made from butterfly wings? A life-size cake in the shape of George Washington? A gum-wrapper paper chain representing $1000 worth of gum? A beer bottle with a piece of wood driven through it? A life-size figure of a child made out of buttons?

Then it's back to the gross. Another room resembles an industrial boiler room, and is filled with grotesque accident victims. One figure is of a man (Phineas P. Gage) impaled by a 4-foot-long crowbar, which enters his face beneath his left eye and emerges from the back of his head. Another victim is impaled on a 27' wooden plank, which is thrust through his back and out his chest - he supposedly walked over half a mile under his own power after the accident. Most of these galleries include video displays, which constantly run bizarre movies of other assorted oddities.

One of the more interesting items is a large, genuine slab of the Berlin Wall (decorated with graffiti), which visitors can touch.

One attractive display is a mock jungle of plants and animals, tiki gods & waterfalls. But as you might expect, this hillside is studded with the busts of natives who practice disfiguring arts - such as the Ubangis of Africa, who insert large disks in their lips, or the ring-necked women of Burma. On one wall is a life-size figure of a Mandan Indian man being strung up by hooks embedded in his flesh in the rite of o-kee-pa (ala "A Man Called Horse"). Step out on a balcony here, and a crocodile at your feet suddenly leaps at you from out of the shadows, with a loud roar.

The exhibit labeled as "Hollywood" has little to do with Tinseltown. Instead, it contains figures of a man who set records walking backward, villagers who share excess fingers on their hands, and a triple-amputee who hitch-hiked across the continent. This "Hollywood" room also includes a figure of the world's tallest man (8', 11" Robert Wadlow ), as well as a dwarf kept in a bird cage, and a table full of people who have set bizarre eating records - one man ate an entire birch tree. (Ironically, the Guinness Museum right next door also has a life-size figure of Robert Wadlow...)

Another minor caveat: near the museum's entrance is a mirror, with a sign that invites you to try to mimic a bizarre, "girning" face. Near the end of the tour, you pass this same mirror (from the other side), and you see that it is really a two-way mirror, where visitors can watch other visitors making fools out of themselves - while a sound track laughs uproariously in the background. (This same tactless stunt was found at Ripley's Buena Park museum.)

On a lighter note: have you ever seen a 20-foot T-Rex wearing a Santa hat and a white beard? Drive by Ripley's at Christmas time, and you will!

[ Update: I am told that they have made significant changes at Ripley's since my visit, and they have replaced many of the more gruesome exibits with more family-friendly fare.  I will revise this review after my next visit. ]

Open every day (except Oscars day): 10 AM to midnight.

Admission Price:

    Adults (13-over):              $17.99
    Children (5-12):                $  8.99

    There are online package deals online offering one low price for all three of these smaller museums (Ripley's, Guiness, and the Hollywood Wax Museum)  In 2015, you could get the combo for just $29.95 (click here),
    or a single ticket to Ripley's for $14.99.

 Getting there: The museum is located on the southeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, just one block east of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. / From Hollywood & Vine, go west on Hollywood Boulevard (about 3/4 of a mile) and the museum will be on your left (south) side. Look for the T-Rex!

[For more information on this subject, you can access the official Ripley's website at:] 

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