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The Hollywood Museum

Updated on February 24, 2013
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell

The Hollywood Museum routinely features exhibits based on legendary Hollywood starlets like Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and Elizabeth Taylor and houses an extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia including costumes, photographs, posters, and props.

The museum is located in the historic Max Factor Building. Here Max Factor made up Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland. He was the inventor of false eyelashes, eyebrow pencils, waterproof mascara, and lip gloss. All of these items were originally intended for the screen but soon become popular in everyday life. In 1927 Max Factor’s line was officially released to general consumers, and the term make-up soon became part of everyday vocabulary.

Max Factor originally immigrated to the U.S. from Poland and was a wig-maker before he became a make-up artist. On display in the “Hair Department” are the blonde curls of the Good Witch of the North from the Wizard of Oz and Lucy’s iconic red wig that she wore as her character in I Love Lucy. He was also the one to bleach Marilyn Monroe’s hair blonde. Another room shows a short film about Max Factor’s influence.

On the first floor, after passing through the Art Deco lobby, is Lucille Ball’s make-up room, where Lucy got her red hair. The room, known as the Red Heads Only room, has been preserved since it was used to prep the star for her show. There is also a blonde room and a brunette room. The wall paint and lighting were specifically chosen to flatter each hair color – a pale minty green for gingers, powdery blue for blondes, and dusty pale rose for brunettes – and the mirrors and make-up chairs in the room are the same ones used by the stars.

Also on display in the make-up rooms is “The Beauty Calibrator,” invented by Max Factor himself. It looks like a cross between dental headgear and a witches’ bridle, but it was actually used to compare how close an actress’s features came to ideal proportions. Its purpose was to detect minute flaws such as slight asymmetry, so that they could be corrected with make-up before the person appeared in front of the camera, which would exaggerate any flaws.

The top floors are lined with glass cases crammed full of costumes, props, posters, and photographs. There is something for everybody, with exhibits based on classic Hollywood stars, sci-fi and adventure epics, fashionable socialites, and popular teen movies.

James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause
James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause

Highlights of the Museum

  • A recreation of Hannibal Lecter's cell from Silence of the Lambs
  • Marilyn Monroe's Million Dollar Dress
  • R2-D2 and C3P0
  • Dorothy's ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz
  • Wands from the Harry Potter series
  • Costumes from the Twilight movies

James Dean, who is also memorialized throughout town at the Wax Museum and the Griffith Observatory, where scenes of Rebel Without a Cause were filmed, has his own section mostly containing photographs and movies posters. There is also a section for Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and her iconic ruby red slippers are on display. An exhibit on the baby-faced blonde Jean Harlow features photographs and newspapers reporting her premature death at age 26.

A highlight of the museum is Marilyn Monroe’s Million Dollar Dress which she wore in the iconic billboard shoot of her holding down her skirt from blowing up in the wind. The exhibits also include her many magazine covers and a collection of her original pinups. Other fashionable exhibits acquired by the museum include the swing which Nicole Kidman used in Moulin Rouge as well as some of the cancan dancer costumes, and a collection of notorious socialite Paris Hilton’s dresses.

In another part of the museum Darth Vader and C3P0 from Star Wars stand side by side beneath an original poster for the movie. There are ape costumes from the Planet of the Apes, Rocky’s boxing gloves, Indiana Jones’ whip, and Peewee Hermon’s bicycle. Plaques describe the artifacts in detail. Younger fans will also enjoy the exhibits on Twilight and High School Musical.

Down in the basement the eery set used as Hannibal Lecter’s cell in the Silence of the Lambs has been reassembled at the end of a long, dim hallway lined with barred cells. Behind the acrylic and aluminum doors his drawings of Florence and people in torment line the stone walls. His cot lies on one side and opposite is his writing desk, the resting place for his iconic studded muzzle. In between, a headless mannequin supports his blue uniform.

The basement level, which also displays memorabilia from other horror movies, originally served as a speak easy during Prohibition. Now mannequins of Elvira, Freddy Kreuger, and Jason inhabit the halls.

Movie buffs will have a great time exploring this museum, which requires an hour or two. The museum is located at 1660 N Highland Ave off of Hollywood Boulevard.


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