Photo Essays

New LA Museum Spotlights Hollywood Costumes, From Dracula Cape to Spider Woman Dress

Ahead of its opening, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is highlighting one major aspect of its holdings: costume design.

Bela Lugosi in a scene from Dracula (1931) (image courtesy Universal Studios Licensing LLC and Margaret Herrick Library)

LOS ANGELES — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that gives out the Oscars, has been building a museum collection over the past decade. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is now set to open next year, is expected to be the first major institution devoted to film history in the United States.

The museum is located in Los Angeles’s Mid-Wilshire — just a stone’s throw away from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and other museums — and is designed by Renzo Piano. The building is six floors, which will feature exhibition spaces and a 288-seat theater. Programming for next year has already been partially announced, including a retrospective on the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and an exhibition on Black cinema.

Ahead of its opening, the Academy Museum is highlighting one major aspect of its 3,500 holdings: costume design. Among its recently acquired items is the cape Bela Lugosi wore in the 1931 movie Dracula. Apparently, Lugosi loved his cape so much that he continued to wear it after the movie and kept it until his death. “It has been a part of my mother’s household and then my household since I was born — for over 80 years,” his daughter, Bela G. Lugosi, is quoted in the museum’s press release. On the occasion of the Academy Museum, she decided it was time to part with the cape.

Left: Costume worn by Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe in The Little Princess (1939) (Gift of Shirley Temple Black and Family, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation); right: Still from The Little Princess (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

The costumes of movie stars often have curious afterlives. In 2017, a Shirley Temple dress from The Little Princess (1939) almost got lost in the mail. The dress belonged to a woman in Florida named Tonya Bervaldi-Camaratta, who had mailed the dress to Vermont for a Hollywood Convention. After pursuing an investigation, UPS found that the royal satin gown had been sold at auction in Kansas City, and returned the item to its incensed owner. Bervaldi-Camaratta is a die-hard fan: She is the author of The Complete Guide to Shirley Temple Dolls and Collectibles, where she relays her childhood obsession with the actress: “I curled my hair like Shirley, took tap dancing lessons, tried to sing like her, and even copied her mannerisms.” Today, that Little Princess dress is in the Academy Museum collection.

Below is a glimpse of some of the other costumes that were recently acquired. The items in themselves are often gorgeous, and if you have any personal attachment to these movies, chances are you’ll be giddy just to see the objects. But sometimes these archival displays run the risk of draining out the magic. Let’s hope the museum makes some effort to contextualize the costumes within their histories: alongside the movies that brought them to life and the people who cared for and loved them.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Wig in Cleopatra (1963) 

Left: Still from Cleopatra (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube); right: Wig worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963) (Museum Purchase, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation)

The Quintessential Robe of “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski (1998) 

Robe ensemble worn by Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski (1998) (Museum Purchase, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation)
Still from The Big Lebowski (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

Jack Nicholson’s Jacket in The Shining (1980) 

Jacket worn by Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980) (Museum Purchase, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation)

Susan Sarandon’s Waitress Uniform in Thelma & Louise (1991) 

Right: Waitress uniform worn by Susan Sarandon as Louise in Thelma & Louise (1991) (Museum Purchase, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation); left: Still from Thelma & Louise (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

One of Gene Kelly’s Outfits as Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris (1951)

Ensemble worn by Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris (1951) (Museum Purchase, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation)

Sonia Braga’s Sequin Gown in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

Black sequin long-sleeved gown worn by Sonia Braga in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) (Museum Purchase, photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures © Academy Museum Foundation)

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will open in 2020.

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