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AN APPRECIATION

Waxing on about the closure of Movieland

October 27, 2005|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

THE Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park is closing, and the reason is clear -- in a world of virtual-reality video games, there aren't too many people who will pay to see a life-size doll of Don Knotts fashioned out of bleached beeswax.

That's a shame because my daughter and I fall into the dwindling category of throwback rubes who still love the kitschy tourist trap. She's only 7, so at least she has an excuse.

The first time I took her, she stood outside with the anxious expression of a kid who doesn't know if she's going to Disneyland or the dentist. "Is it scary?" she asked. I nodded. "Of course it's scary," I said, "that's why you go to a wax museum."

This weekend will be the last time Addie and I may pose for a photograph next to the ancient George Burns figure in the lobby, as every visitor must do before passing through the turnstile. When the place opened 43 years ago, Mary Pickford showed up to christen it. In with a bang, out with a wheeze; the owners have slashed the admission price to $5 to pull in a last-ditch crowd before the Halloween night farewell.

Addie took the news hard. "That's terrible! They won't let them all melt away, will they?"

No, some of the figures will be crated and shipped to a San Francisco museum while others go on the auction block. She chewed on that for a minute. "Can we buy Shirley Temple? I could put her in my room, and we could play all the time!"

My daughter has gotten quirky history lessons from the place. How many 7-year-olds can pick Harold Lloyd out of a photo lineup? She learned the theme song to "Bonanza" and Capt. Kirk's preamble ("Space, the final frontier ... ") not from TV but by hearing them endlessly looped through chilly corridors of Movieland.

The normal rules of Hollywood hierarchy do not apply in wax. There's no Luke Skywalker or Lucille Ball, but you do get LeVar Burton of "Reading Rainbow" and Zazu Pitts. The collection of the all-time icons of pop music includes Madonna, Michael Jackson and ... Billy Ray Cyrus? I don't know how much a wax figure costs, but I'm guessing it would be cheaper to hire the real Cyrus to stand around.

Some figures look great (Paul Newman and Will Rogers really have amazing auras to them, and Ed Asner as Lou Grant is spooky in its realism), but the worst of the lot are the newer additions to the gallery. Poor John Lennon resembles the severe farmhouse matron from "American Gothic," and Robin Williams is worse -- he looks like the embalmed lovechild of Boris Karloff and Jay Leno.

Britney Spears may be worthy of cultural scorn, but even she doesn't deserve the grotesque doppelganger bearing her name. The reason is almost certainly the specialty of wax-figure art going the way of typewriter repair, but it's also kind of heartening to pretend that the old stars just have more magic.

There are some sly amusements in the hall too. I doubt there wasn't a smirk on the face of the museum executive who decided to put Marilyn Monroe and her gusting dress next to the reenactment of the 1963 film "PT 109," with Cliff Robertson as JFK beneath a beatific spotlight. And California's nurses might approve of Arnold Schwarzenegger's spot in the Chamber of Horrors -- he had been there as "The Terminator" long before becoming governor.

"My favorite is 'The Wizard of Oz' ones," Addie declared with the relaxed certainty of a veteran connoisseur. "And Shirley Temple!" Right, we got that. My own favorites are the "Ben-Hur" chariot scene and the gorgeous icicle-melodrama of "Dr. Zhivago." "It's very romantic," my daughter says solemnly every time we visit and hear "Lara's Theme."

Romance is not reserved for the beautiful or popular, and this weekend my daughter and I will bid farewell to these fragile still-life citizens with an odd amount of affection. We'll take pictures of them for the first time too, since nothing is frozen in time.

*

Movieland Wax Museum

Where: 7711 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends. Museum's last day of operation is Monday.

Price: $5

Info: (714) 522-1155

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