The Death of the Movie Star Museum

The Death of the Movie Star Museum

Jul 15, 2011

Would you pay admission to view a $6 check, written from Golden Age movie star Clark Gable to an exterminator?  How about a ticket to see Jimmy Stewart’s prep school diploma?  These are just a few of the items currently housed in movie star museum collections, a hodge-podge of genuine film artifacts and more mundane personal items owned by the movie stars of yesteryear.  The Columbus Dispatch speculates that these types of shrines to old Hollywood royalty may be in danger of dying off, and what strikes me is that it doesn’t seem like any newer stars are ready to replace them.

On the one hand, I can totally understand that there’d be no real market for a Jason Statham or Kristen Wiig museum, but what about some of the biggest stars from just a few decades ago?  As time marches on and audiences age, devout fandom for stars like Clark Gable will fade.  That doesn’t take anything away from their body of work; it’s just the nature of pop culture.  Movie stardom didn’t end with the 1950s, so where are the museums that fill that gap between the Golden Age and the Modern Age?  Is there an audience for a museum dedicated to, say, Clint Eastwood or Whoopi Goldberg?

Part of the issue with the decline in these museums may be in the exhibits themselves.  There’s no real mystique in a household object, no matter how much box office clout the previous owner had.  A museum may experience strong attendance upon opening, but they’re going to rise and fall, in part, on the strengths of their collection.  Planet Hollywood may have served mediocre, overpriced food, but they bolstered their brand by offering actual movie props on display at all of their locations.  The future of these kinds of places may not be in the individual stars themselves, but in themed collections featuring props that all of us can remember seeing onscreen. 

Just an example, but the San Diego Comic-Con will be offering $20 photo opps next week for the chance to sit in the DeLorean from Back to the Future Pt. III.  If I were a betting man, I’d bet that car takes in more money in an hour than North Carolina’s Ava Gardner Museum does in a week.  Over-exposure may have taken a lot of mystique away from the cult of the movie star celebrity, so I think audiences feel that attachment to the individual films now, not so much to the stars themselves.  Donna Bailey-Taylor told Columbus Dispatch. "They were special times in the movies, and the stars were bigger than life. These days, we know way too much about them."

What do you think?  Has the connection between audiences and movie stars changed drastically over the years, and, if it has, what do you think caused that shift?  Do you agree that general audiences are losing their awareness of Golden Age Hollywood stars?  Do you think there’s any appeal in museums dedicated to modern stars?


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