The Margaret Herrick Library was established in 1928. It
moved to Beverly Hills in 1991. It's named for Margare Herrick, who
started out as a volunteer librarian for the Academy in the 1930s, and
ultimately became its executive director.
Summer blockbuster season is upon us. Dinosaurs, little yellow
minions, an ant-man, all vying for our hard-earned entertainment
dollars. But if you're looking for gentler thrills, try the Library of the Motion Picture Academy in Beverly Hills. There, you can poke through artifacts from the movies' Golden Years.
Margaret Herrick Library's vaults contain millions of pieces of paper
holdings — director's shooting scripts, photos, production designs,
payrolls, and of course, fan mail.
In one letter, in labored
teenage handwriting on lined notebook paper, an 18-year-old fan writes
to director George Roy Hill, who'd just won the 1974 Oscar for Best
Dear Mr. Hill,
that ... I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning
film "The Sting," starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and enjoyed
it very much, it is all together fitting and proper that you should
The kid really had nerve! He continues:
right away I know what you are thinking ("who is this kid?"), and I can
understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline
High School has heard of me. ... My looks are not stunning. I am not
built like a Greek God, and I can't even grow a mustache, but I figure
if people will pay to see certain films ... they will pay to see me.
of the letter — and the identity of the letter-writer in a moment — but
first, let's dig further into the movie library's vault. Archivist
Howard Prouty presides over shelves of studio art department records,
contracts, production documents and ledgers — with handwritten entries
of weekly salaries for everyone from electricians and messenger boys, to
"We have payroll records from MGM in the 1920s that
will tell you how much money Greta Garbo made in 1926, how much money
Lucille Lesueur made in 1926 before she became Joan Crawford," Prouty
MGM Studio head Louis B. Mayer made $2,000 a week. Greta Garbo? In 1926, just $400.
Garbo was in the first year of her contract at MGM, so she was
essentially on probation, to see if she was going to work out or go back
to Sweden," says Prouty.
The Cowardly Lion's mane in Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz was made from real, blond, human hair.
Richard Harbaugh/Courtesy of AMPAS
That teenage letter-writer would one day earn millions more than
Garbo — but he didn't know it in 1974 when he proposed this to director
George Roy Hill:
out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was
discovered, me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me
and — BANGO — I am a star.
Down the hall
from BANGO boy, the film library has a large Plexiglass box covered with
a big piece of muslin, on which there's a sign that says: "Caution,
lion inside." Inside the box is the Cowardly Lion headdress,
with little pink ears and a mane and beard made of blonde human hair.
The headdress was donated by make-up man Charles Schramm. In 1938 his
job at MGM every morning was to turn actor Bert Lahr into a lion with
The lion's wig, along with a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers, will go to the Academy's film museum, set to open in 2017. The museum will have costumes, too — and the Academy Library has sketches for those costumes.
Arts librarian Anne Coco pulls out a watercolor that costume designers
consider the Holy Grail: It's the design for the famous "curtain dress"
from Gone with the Wind.
Scarlett O'Hara is out of
money, has taxes to pay, and decides to ask her nemesis Rhett Butler for
a loan. Scarlett knows she has to look terrific to call on him, so she
pulls down the green drapes in her drawing room, and has them made into a
Costume designer Walter Plunkett made an intricate watercolor design for Scarlett O'Hara's famous curtain dress in Gone with the Wind.
Courtesy of AMPAS
She looked great in the movie, but it took television to make the
drapery dress a star. "In 1976 it really gained icon status when Bob
Mackie did that very famous riff
on it with Carol Burnett," Coco explains. In this bit, Burnett neglects
to remove the curtain rod from the drapery, so her dress has extremely broad shoulders. "That dress is gorgeous," Harvey Korman as Rhett tells her. "Thank you, I saw it in the window and I just couldn't resist," Burnett replies.
designer Walter Plunkett's watercolor of Scarlett's dress omits the
curtain rod but librarian Anne Coco admires the elegant precision of the
drawing of the fabric. Looking at the watercolor, Coco says, "I feel
like you can brush your hand on it and it feels like velvet."
likely that the ambitious young letter-writer was more casually dressed
when he wrote to director George Roy Hill all those years ago. But,
like Scarlett, he had starry-eyed schemes:
maybe we can do it this way. I stumble into your office one day and beg
for a job. To get rid of me, you give me a stand-in part in your next
film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing
room, and, because you are behind schedule already, you arbitrarily
place me in his part and — BANGO — I am a star.
All of these
plans are fine with me, or we could do it any way you would like, it
makes no difference to me! But let's get one thing straight. Mr. Hill, I
do not want to be some bigtime, Hollywood superstar with girls crawling
all over me, just a hometown American boy who has hit the big-time,
owns a Porsche, and calls Robert Redford "Bob".
Respectfully submitted, Your Pal Forever, Thomas J. Hanks Alameda, California
BANGO! Things ultimately turned out OK for that young
aspiring actor who wrote to director George Roy Hill, all those years
Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas J. Hanks' letter, written when he was 18, illuminates a
piece of movie history, preserved, along with millions of other film
ephemera, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library in