Time to Clean Out Your Closets & Garages!

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

Oscar-winning design - Culver City Historical Society

Summer is upon us and I, for one, am trying to clean out the quantities of “stuff” that seem to multiply mysteriously over the years in my garage. I unpack my summer clothes and look at them once more.

Do they still fit? Are they representative of who I am this year? Even though that garment used to be my absolute favorite – isn’t it a bit shabby after all these years?

All this evaluating got me thinking about the readers of this column and what you may have in your garage.

Might There Be Some MGM Auction Items Around?

Although I moved here from England over three decades ago, I was not here for the legendary MGM auction. I have worked at various museums where donors have come in from time to time with items they purchased at the auction saying “it seemed like a good idea at the time!”

And actually it was, because now those objects have been saved from obscurity (as well as Halloween and the grand kids dress-up!), and will be catalogued, researched and preserved for current and future generations to enjoy.

So I am wondering if any of you have items in your garage that may be of interest to the Culver City Historical Society? We are particularly interested in costumes that were acquired at the MGM auction, or other costumes that you may have held onto, because you mother or grandmother worked in the industry, or perhaps you yourself were an actor and held onto a favorite character you played.

CCHS ARC Donation Policy

The policy of the Culver City Historical Society Archives and Resource Center (ARC) states that it “will gratefully accept donations that relate to local history.” However, “the Society reserves the right to decline donations deemed inappropriate to the enhancement of the collection.”

Each donor will receive an official letter of acknowledgement stating the CCHS is a charitable non-profit 501(c)3 organization, with our tax identification number listed along with an inventory or description of the donation.

As it is considered a conflict of interest for the CCHS to appraise your donation, please speak with your accountant about valuing your donation. The IRS often changes such details and sums under which donations need not have an official appraisal, which is why I advise professional advice in such situations.

Academy Award Winner

Here is a photo of a costume that was donated by Ann Bein to the Woodbury Fashion Study Collection, from the MGM auction. It is from the 1962 musical The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm starring Laurence Harvey & an all-star cast, and it won a costume Oscar for Mary Wills.

Again, be reminded that costumes and other film artifacts should be pertinent to the local history of Culver City as well as having connections to our three majors and the minor studios which make us the “Heart of Screenland.”

Now, I wonder what you will discover in your “summer” cleaning…

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Costumes Spring 2010

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair


March 6th was a red-letter day for the costume collection at the Archives & Research Center (ARC), because it was the day that we finally completed the re-boxing of all 70-odd costumes from the famous MGM studio auction in 1970!

Why was re-boxing so significant? Well, it has been an ongoing project for the past couple of years, ever since we ordered special archival boxes of sufficient size and sturdiness not to crush some of the voluminous skirts and petticoats evident in mid-20th Century film costumes, often depicting silhouettes of bygone eras.

Metal-edged and acidic tags (sometimes original from the auction) were removed and replaced with archival tags, in keeping with current museum standards. Descriptions and condition reports were made and photographs taken – all of which information was then entered into our database system.

The old, decrepit acidic boxes, going back to the 1980s, were unceremoniously placed in the building’s dumpster, and a great relief was felt by all!


This feat was accomplished with the seasoned help of two Woodbury University Fashion Design graduates, Karla Contreras and Ashley Evans. While each has worked with cataloguing costume collections before, both commented on the extraordinary workmanship of these MGM costumes, the likes of which they had never seen before.


In our ongoing effort to make available to the public as many of these costumes as possible, we rotate our mannequin displays so that you can enjoy them and learn a little film history while doing so.

Earlier this year, we mounted a gorgeous green and silver charmeuse (a high-quality satin silk originally from France) gown, in the early 19th Century style, worn by actress Jennifer Jones as Emma Bovary in MGM’s 1949 film, Madame Bovary, co-starring Charles Boyer.

Ms. Jones, who passed away on December 17th, 2009 at the age of 90, was acknowledged at this year’s Academy Awards. She was born Phylis Lee Isley in Tulsa, OK, and had a film career that spanned almost four decades, earning her five Oscar© nominations and winning for Best Actress in 1944 for The Song of Bernadette, at the age of 25. Many of her films have become classics, including Duel in the Sun, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing and Portrait of Jennie.

The costume on display was designed by Walter Plunkett, famous for designing the costumes for Gone With The Wind.

Our second mannequin case features an elaborate, colorful and be-tassled dancer’s costume worn by actress Sono Osato as Bianca in MGM’s The Kissing Bandit, also from 1949. This musical starred Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson (who passed away on February 17, 2010, at the age of 88).

This film also depicted the early 19th Century, and its costumes too were designed by Walter Plunkett. It represented the clothing of the Californios, the early residents of New Spain before it (California) became part of the United States. Plunkett researched the period from surviving garments in rare collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, now known as the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

We hope you will find time to visit these costumes (as well as many other historical delights on display) on the first and third Saturday afternoons of each month.

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Costumes Winter 2010

Louise Coffey-Webb - Culver City Historical Societyby Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair


This has been a busy, full and very productive year for the ARC and the costume collections we have been able to display for the public.

We began the year with a display of the “candy cane” jacket that the great Gene Kelly wore in the musical, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, directed by Busby Berkeley in 1949. It was designed by Valles (full name: J. Arlington Valles, who worked for MGM for two decades). It brought back lots of happy memories for many locals!

In March, before I had the incredible opportunity to take a trip to China (made possible by the Maxine Frankel Foundation) I had just enough time to change out a costume display to highlight the 70th celebration of what many consider to be the greatest year in all filmdom: 1939. Though we do not yet have a costume from the classic Gone With The Wind, we were able to find a gown (c. 1860 and the Civil War) from the wonderful film, The Pirate, starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

The trip to China included visits to Chinese Vogue, Image consultants, couture designers and the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology. It is an extraordinary time for Chinese fashion right now – they are integrating their incredible history with their enormous appetite for new fashions and styles, resulting in a unique sensibility.

This Fall, and continuing into 2010, we will continue the dedicated work to finish cataloguing the MGM Costume Collection at the ARC. The final step in this process is to convert all the information onto our new computer database system – and our new VP, Museum/Archives Winston Gieseke, who is a computer wizard, will make it happen!


Avery Clayton, who headed the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum located in Culver City, died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 62.

His mother, Mayme A. Clayton, had spent a lifetime assembling a major collection of African-American artifacts – gathering a treasure trove of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, feature films and other ephemera. Several scholars have called the collection one of the most important of its kind in the country.

After his mother’s passing in 2006 at 83, Avery took over the mantel to create an appropriate source to house and display his mother’s extraordinary collection. “Her part was to assemble the collection,” Clayton often said. “I really believe my part is to bring it to the world.”

The CCHS sends its condolences to the Clayton family and friends, and its best wishes to Cynthia Hudley, a UC Santa Barbara education professor, who has been named interim executive director of the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. We look forward to continuing our friendship as sister Culver City historical organizations.

I wish you all a wonderful 2010!

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by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

If you have been by the ARC (Archive Resource Center) lately, you will have noticed a new mannequin in the central display area. She is wearing another of our “Princess” costumes from the Fiesta La Ballona, circa 1951.

The label inside states “Rosalie Utterback Original.” Rosalie was former Chair of the Fashion Design Department at Woodbury University (where I now am.) She was at Woodbury for 30 years, from 1966 through 1996. Before that, she had her own dressmaking business, and this costume is obviously from that period.

If any of you readers have photographs of Fiesta costumes from the 1950s, it would be great fun to see if they feature one of Rosalie’s dresses! Our dress features a pretty fitted lace bodice, with an attached four-tiered floor-length skirt in faille.

In front of the mannequin is a trophy which was given to Elsie Mohler in 1962. The engraving reads “Fiesta La Ballona, Culver City Chamber of Commerce, The Chamber of President’s Award.”

This Fall, work will continue on finishing up the cataloguing of the MGM Costume Collection at the ARC. The final step in this process is converting all the information onto our new computer database system.

My hope is that visitors will be able to sit at a computer in the Center and view the inventory on a monitor, complete with photos – thus making the entire collection available, rather than waiting for each costume to be individually displayed.

Stay tuned for a progress report!

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by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair



Summer is a time when many people travel abroad. For me, it’s time for a “Staycation” because, luckily, I have been traveling a lot this year – beginning with spending the new year in Brazil with my extended family.

In March, thanks to the Maxine Frankel Foundation, I traveled to Beijing and Shanghai, China, with two students and another professor from Woodbury University, where I am Chair of the Fashion Design Department.

It was a thrilling trip over Spring Break, first visiting the cultural highlights to understand some of the very long history of Chinese culture, followed by fashion-focused visits to Chinese Vogue, Image consultants, couture designers, the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and tea with the first lady to bring western-style fashion shows to Beijing in 1980.

Overall it was enormously stimulating. It is an extraordinary time for Chinese fashion right now, as they integrate their incredible history with their enormous appetite for new fashions and styles, resulting in a unique sensibility.


At the end of May, I was invited to give a lecture on peacocks in fashion and costume at the annual Costume Society of America Symposium, this year in Phoenix, Arizona. The Costume Society of America*, founded in 1973, is devoted to the encouragement and support of the study of dress.

Interestingly, Cecil B. De Mille’s inspiration for the extravagant peacock cape worn by Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah (Paramount Pictures,1949), came from the gown worn by the Indian Vicereine, Lady Curzon, to the Dunbar Ball in 1903. The ball celebrated King Edward VII as Emperor of India, and the gown was entirely embroidered to create golden peacock feathers and each “eye” was created with the wing of a scarab beetle.

According to Edith Head, the peacock feathers used for Hedy Lamarr’s gown as Delilah, were gathered from the Demille’s estate. Samson and Delilah won the Costume Oscar© for all six of its costume designers: Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins, Elois Jenssen, Gile Steele and Gwen Wakeling.

Now, back to the Culver City Historical Society and the wonderful MGM costume collection! The Society will be working with the city on plans for the future which may include a costume exhibition on Woodbury University’s Campus, in conjunction with the Second Annual International Burbank Film Festival in March of 2010. Stay tuned – and have a wonderful summer!

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