Fundraising, Gwen Verdon and a New Costumes Chair

by Louise Coffee-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

Some of you may have been aware that Debbie Reynolds has been auctioning her famous “Hollywood” collection this year, at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio). She began collecting in 1970 at the time of the famed MGM auctions. I was working at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising when Ms. Reynolds lent her incredible collection for an exhibition there in the late 1990s. She has made numerous attempts to begin museums, and for a short while, had one in Las Vegas, and there was also a valiant attempt in Hollywood. But in spite of her efforts, it never became a viable project. I mention this because, having worked in museums for decades, I know how expensive they are to maintain, and how labor-intensive the curation of costumes is. To put it succinctly; nobody ever gets rich running a museum. So, most of them are charitable organizations, helped by beneficent donors and docents.

Fundraising Essential To Add To Our Wonderful Collections

The Archive and Resource Center (ARC) of the Culver City Historical Society likewise survives through its membership and fundraising programs. And thanks to our fundraising events (such as the recent “Doozy” evening at the Culver Hotel), we were able to bid on some items at the Debbie Reynolds auction to add to our collection.I made a whole list of items that might be appropriate – and affordable – and we managed to acquire one costume! [By the time you read this, our purchase will be in the ARC awaiting cataloguing.]

I recognized many of the costumes in the auction, because they had previously been exhibited at the first major film costume exhibition on the west coast: “Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film,” which I worked on while at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, in the late 1980s. Since that time, the collection and appreciation of film costumes has grown enormously.

Corset work by Gwen Verdon in The Merry Widow (MGM, 1952) Gwen Verdon

Gwen VerdonI know you are wondering what we acquired: It was the corset work by Gwen Verdon in The Merry Widow (MGM, 1952) during the can-can scene at Maxim’s in Paris. Ms. Verdon was born in Culver City in 1925 and went to Hamilton High. She later married Bob Fosse (who first cast her in “Damn Yankees”).

The costume is black with a large pink silk bow and trimmed with black lace, and was designed by Helen Rose. How do we know it belonged to Ms. Verdon? It has a handwritten label inside: G. VERDON.”

The CCHS Welcomes Sharon Shore As New Costumes Chair

In the previous newsletter, I introduced you to our new Costume Chair, Sharon Shore, and we all are looking forward to her presence and expertise at the ARC. During this “changing of the guard” I wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to write and let us know what you, our members, would like to read about in this, the costumes column. As we all make vows to diet in the new year – so we can fit into our own costumes – I want to wish you and extraordinary 2012 and I look forward to meeting more of you at our programs, or when you visit the ARC to see our latest displays.

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