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The Stuff of Movies

Exhibit showcases props from Warner Bros. films

April 16, 1999|MICHAEL P. LUCAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — The thrill of recognizing the G.I. combat helmet worn by Pvt. Joker in "Full Metal Jacket"--with its peace button and the scrawled message "Born to Kill"--is part of the enjoyable stroll along Hollywood memory lane offered in the new exhibit "75 Years Entertaining the World" at the Warner Bros. Museum.

The new collection premiered Feb. 11 and will continue indefinitely. A visit to the 10,000-square-foot museum--a stop on the Warner Bros. Studio VIP Tour--is a chance to wander among icons of filmdom--of popular culture, no less--such as that symbol of conflicted humanity that Pvt. Joker (Matthew Modine) bore at the heart of the late director Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam War saga.

"The helmet has become much more treasured in the last few weeks," Leith Adams, the studio's corporate archivist, said. It was sent to Burbank two months ago by the revered director, who barely finished editing his summer-release movie, "Eyes Wide Shut," before he died on March 7.

"That was somebody I thought was going to live forever. He's certainly been a part of my life," said Adams, underscoring the near-spiritual bond between filmmaker and filmgoer that's the essence of the Hollywood mystique. It's a bond that the exhibit exploits cleverly by displaying many props and costumes alongside monitors that show the same items in movie clips.

For instance, you can watch the memorable "Day-O" dinner sequence from "Beetlejuice," and put your face to one of the very shrimp cocktail hands that reached up and grabbed Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara. And you can study your reflection in Whitney Houston's chrome bustier from "The Bodyguard" while a monitor shows it, and the actress, in action.

The costumes themselves are entrancing: Faye Dunaway's frock from "Bonnie and Clyde" is laced with bullet holes, and Judy Garland's dress from "A Star Is Born" is backless to compensate for her fabled weight fluctuations.

And the bright red gown that Bette Davis wore in her Oscar-winning performance in "Jezebel" is nearly as haughty as the 1937 telegram to producer Hal Wallis on display complaining that the "constant work . . . has left me in a state of mental exhaustion." Many correspondences also offer insight on the blustery, ironfisted studio chief Jack L. Warner, who is seen firing off complaints about negative reviews and bemoaning budget overruns.

It's all the stuff of legend. The fabled black bird sought by Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" was borrowed for the exhibit from Beverly Hills dentist and filmphile Gary Milan.

As impossible as it would be to completely cover the studio's storied past, the exhibit hits many highlights, roughly organized around the studio's seven best picture Oscars. At one end of the timeline is the mixing board used in making the first sound film, "The Jazz Singer." Of recent vintage are Michael Jordan's shoes from "Space Jam" and a creepy-fun crowd of mannequins in Batman-film costumes.

Of course, many visitors just want to hear about the stars, said docent Eddie Bockser of Toluca Lake, a retired 35-year studio employee who regales tourists with anecdotes of his encounters with actors such as George Clooney--"ER" is filmed on the lot--back to legendary reprobate and action star Errol Flynn.

"Errol was a great guy," Bockser recalls. "He made me go have a drink with him once at 10:30 in the morning. He told me he'd make sure it was OK with Mr. Warner."

DETAILS

"75 Years Entertaining the World" will continue indefinitely at the Warner Bros. Museum, Gate 4, Olive Avenue and Hollywood Way, Burbank. VIP tours run from 9 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. The museum closes at 5 p.m. Tickets are $30. Call (818) 954-1744.

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