As soon as guests, as diverse as Nancy Sinatra, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Patricia Heaton, Buzz Aldrin and Mimi Rogers, got past the obligatory red carpet and entered the foyer of Beverly Hills’ Paley Center, they were greeted by what was clearly an almost overwhelming display of movie memories. A painting of Garbo as Camille, two of the rare Marion Davies portraits Hearst commissioned with each of her films and then the gem of the collection, Marilyn Monroe’s “subway grate” dress from The Seven Year Itch.
Even though the catalogue was available for sale, the director John Landis (Animal House) was getting up close and personal with the costumes, photographing them with his digital camera while his wife, Deborah Nadoolman Landis (who is the chair of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA) stood back to admire Elizabeth Taylor’s racing silks from National Velvet, Judy Garland’s blue cotton dress and red slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the red sequined gown worn by Marilyn Monroe in Gentleman Prefer Blondes. If anyone appreciates the value of the collection it is Deborah who, while saying it breaks her heart that the industry did not somehow step up to keep at least part of the collection together for continued public display, hopes that at least some of the people who will purchase the items will be willing to loan them for future exhibitions.
For Disney star Nancy Olson Livingston, (Sunset Boulevard) it was “my life flashing before my eyes.” Her first husband was Alan Jay Lerner, and there was the Audrey Hepburn Ascot Races dress, designed by Cecil Beaton, and the incredible hat that went with it, along with Rex Harrison’s suit and My Fair Lady memorabilia. A little farther down was a dress worn by Betty Hutton, who had been married to Nancy’s second husband, Alan Livingston, before he and Nancy found each other and were together for almost fifty years.
For several decades, Reynolds has tried desperately to establish a museum for her collection and it’s the debts that she has accumulated in that attempt that have finally forced her to auction it all off. She says that selling it is “the hardest thing I have ever done,” but there she was smiling graciously and greeting her guests, so surrounded she was barely able to move, let alone get to the rooftop bar where her long-time accompanist (she still travels the country with her one woman show) Joey Singer was playing Gershwin, Porter and other classics. Debbie’s children, Todd and Carrie Fisher, were also there in support of their mother.
So between now and June 17, take advantage of what may be the last opportunity to see these amazing costumes in one place, open to the public and free of charge at the Paley Center at the corner of Beverly and Santa Monica in Beverly Hills. You don’t want to miss it.