Friday, August 1, 2014

Waxing Nostaligic...

Today we're going to take a look at that oddball museum attraction, the wax figure (in this case, naturally, celebrity figures!) Sometimes they can really hit the mark and then other times there is something strangely off about them. (For example, this one at left of Charles Laughton is pretty decent. Interesting that the curators felt no need to list his first name on the adjacent clapboard, though other far more famous stars have theirs printed!)

Most of these hail from the legendary Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Vista, California and are notable for the aforementioned movie clapboards present near the statuettes which describe the performer, film in question, director, etc... A few others have crept into this collection from other sources, though. Movieland was open from 1962 to 2005 when it closed after having seen 10,000,000 patrons stroll through its exhibits. Note this latter-day pamphlet which obviously sought to entice visitors with the promise of some waxy beefcake in the form of Sylvester Stallone and Yul Brynner!


Now, on with the show...





I thought that Al Jolson performed "Mammy" in blackface during The Jazz Singer, but perhaps I am mistaken, though they certainly weren't going to immortalize him that way!

If something seems off about the famous Groucho Marx in this vignette from Animal Crackers, it is likely the fact that instead of his full, curly, middle-parted hair from that era, they've given him the slicked-back look that he wore years later while hosting You Bet Your Life on TV!

My, what a busy set piece for Miss Shirley Temple! Sometimes the settings could get rather elaborate.
Depicted here is the historic cinematic costarring of all three famed Barrymores, Lionel, Ethel and John in Rasputin and the Empress.
A trio of famed movie cowboys, William S. Hart, Tom Mix and Ken Maynard.
Classic screen lovers Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor from Seventh Heaven
One of the early on-location adventure films, Trader Horn, starred Harey Carey.
One of the screen's most enduring icons, Rudolph Valentino (though he is also permitted to go by only his last name here!) Note the peek of thick chest hair, though I could bet my life he was smooth in the movie!
In fact, look at this version of the figure... he's smooth and with different headgear! I wonder which costuming and detailing came first and why changes were made. I'm going to guess that the 1970s, with all its macho glory, led to a more hirsute appearance!
Checking in now with Buckwheat, Alfalfa, Darla and Spanky of Our Gang/The Little Rascals.
Why don't I ever think of Garbo - another star who rates a single name, though in this case she was often billed that way in real life - as being this BLONDE in Queen Christina??
Hmmm... I'm not sure how flattering this figure of platinum sex symbol Jean Harlow is.
The legendary comic team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Madcap comedian Harold Lloyd is shown in a moment from Mad Wednesday. Note the ferocious lion clawing its way out the window!
Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler were both unlikely, considering Hollywood beauty standards, yet phenomenally popular actors of the 1930s.
Here's a curiosity... Hollywood royalty Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in Taming of the Shrew, but set against a red curtain with minimal props. Compare this to the next shot...
Here we see the couple in a far more suitable and elaborate setting (but with Mary's signature curls in place instead of the shorter 'do!) Were they initially displayed this way, but later downgraded to make room for further exhibits?
I can't imagine that either Robert Taylor or Hedy Lamarr would have been in love with the particularly stiff and unbecoming figures that represent them in Lady of the Tropics.
More becoming is this vignette of Jeannette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in The Merry Widow.
In this display of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, it seems to be that we have another example of the wrong era of hair being placed atop the star's head, in this case Ginger's?
This rendition, from a completely different museum I believe, does a better job of capturing the famous dancers in their prime.
Clark Gable would seem to be a fairly easy persona to capture in wax, with his pronounced, weathered features and bone structure, while the more delicate Vivien Leigh appears to be more elusive.
I'm going to presume that this reworked vignette, with added figures and different clothing, poses and background came later?
An otherwise decent rendition of Judy Garland and friends from The Wizard of Oz is spoiled by having Dorothy in red (!) gingham rather than the customary blue and a pair of simple shoes instead of the famed ruby slippers! Pardon my French, but just how the fuck do you manage to mess something like this up?! 
The craftspeople certainly did Gary Cooper no favors when they fashioned his statue for High Noon!
Likewise, Alan Ladd of Shane wound up looking a bit cross-eyed in his inert display.
For some reason, an iconic wax figure of iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe has her feet covered up by a bolt of fabric...
This depiction, from another museum I think, captures her in quite a bit more lively stage.
Here we find screen idol Tyrone Power in his bullfighting get-up from Blood and Sand.
A rather unamused Moses of The Ten Commandments (as played by Charlton Heston) prepares to hurl a tablet at some out of control revelers.
When it comes to Gina Lollobrigida, we have another subtle change. In this one (the first rendition?), her hair has distinct curls in front.
Now her hair is more bouffant, the drape is red instead of green and her little simian friend is at the foot of the lounger, facing a different direction!
Legendary actors Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are shown in their cinematic teaming The African Queen.
Plenty of "skin" is in evidence for this wax figure of Brigitte Bardot from ...And God Created Woman.
Later, like many statuettes, she got a different hairstyle and also turned in her bikini bottom for a glorified handkerchief!
Nancy Kwan in one of her best-known movies, The World of Suzie Wong. (Best known to me because, as a child, I would see her on TV hawking Pearl Cream and she would give her resume as, "Flower Drum Song, The World of Suzie Wong, and Noble House...")
Miss Debbie Reynolds has a rather startled look on her face here or else seems somehow crossbred with Charlie McCarthy! (Maybe it's just that they have her showing SO much dang forehead as a nun!)
This seems a good likeness of operatic singing movie star Mario Lanza.
Some of you will recall Mexican hyphenate Cantinflas, a prolific and very popular comedian in his homeland, from his role in Around the World in 80 Days.
What an imposing set up this is, a gladiatorial bout from Kirk Douglas' Spartacus.
Now the curious case of James Dean. (Is it me or was he usually "Jimmy" when folks referred to him that way rather than "Jimmie?") Not only is his figure not really all that close in resemblance to him, but...
...at some point he lost his famous red windbreaker and wound up only in a flimsy shirt opened to there!...
...then, based on this personal snapshot of someone's, he also went through a leather jacket phase, though I don't believe he ever wore one of those in a movie!

I don't think this is from the Movieland Museum, but I am including it because I thought Beatles fans might like it.
Someone whose eternal youth could sometimes remind one of a wax figure was American Bandstand host and creator Dick Clark.

The Movieland exhibits weren't always cinematic in origin, though, as evidenced by this depiction of TV's The Beverly Hillbillies.
Or how about a stone-faced Robert Stack from The Untouchables?
I got a kick out of these expertly-rendered versions of LaWanda Page and Redd Foxx from TV's Sanford & Son! (Love the set, too!)
Where no wax man has gone before... the bridge of Star Trek's The Enterprise!
Some additional shots of the Enterprise crew.

What about this eye-popping creation signifying David Hasselhoff of Baywatch?!
As shown in the previous photo, the real David Hasselhoff was on hand to meet his doppelganger and that was a remarkably common occurrence. Gina Lollbrigida stopped by to ensure that her figure wasn't showing too much skin and, as seen here, Sammy Davis Jr. dropped in on his statuette to share a quick drink.
Sometimes if the star couldn't come by personally, they would assist with the unveiling in another way such as, according to this press release photo, donating a piece of authentic clothing to the figure.
Here is Sophia Loren's same figure in color from the movie Two Women.
However, at some point later, the figure's face and hair are different and scarcely resemble Loren at all!!! It's almost as if someone accidentally attached a Liza Minnelli head to the figure! WTF?
One star who tended to be cooperative with the press and with publicity-oriented events in general was Natalie Wood, who was present at the unveiling of her figure's sculptured head.
Whether she truly liked it or not, she was apparently a good enough actress to feign being overjoyed. That's her ultra-controlling stage mother ("Mud") to the right of her.
I don't believe the finished product does her justice if you want my own unvarnished opinion!
Here is the final product in color and, though I still say this looks nothing like Natalie, they got her stiff costar Richard Beymer down pat!
Movieland often put forth publicity photos and stories to increase interest in their attraction. Here, Santa Claus accidentally stumbles into the tundra-like set of Dr. Zhivago, which houses Rod Steiger!
This is what the Zhivago set ordinarily looked like. Strange that the movie's chief stars, Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, seem to be taking a back set to Steiger in the exhibit.
Other stars who have been captured by the camera sidling up to their wax twins include Elvira, Mistress of the Dark...
...Hee Haw's Roy Clark...
...legendary comic actor George Burns...
...Dudley Moore, commemorating his role in Arthur...
...Ed Asner, comparing grimaces with his Lou Grant persona...
...comedy TV royalty Miss Carol Burnett, whose figure looks awfully Stepford Wife-ish to me...
...Burt Reynolds and his jeans coming to pay a call on his truly bad Deliverance statuette...
...and the great Miss Gloria Swanson, popping in to give her figure from Sunset Boulevard a lucky red carnation. Interestingly, her character in the film had some card-playing buddies - retired movie actors - who referred to themselves as "The Waxworks!"
Like many vignettes, the Sunset Blvd one misses the mark on several details, but as shown in the prior photo, the figure did resemble Miss Swanson at a certain angle.
Later, for reasons unknown, her figure got a new hairstyle, added jewelry and a different fur wrap! Costar William Holden's arms are now at his side rather than being folded.
We've burnt through a ton of these wax figures and are now at the end of our wick, but leave you with this rendition of Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, which combines the look her character sported in the film blended with her affection for the color violet. But that's not all...
I just had to conclude with this hooty display of Miss Taylor and her gallery of husbands!! From The San Francisco Wax Museum, whoever came up with this dilly had no idea that she was only a little over halfway there! She would divorce fifth husband Richard Burton, remarry and divorce him again, then we John Warner and finally Larry Fortensky! (The other spouses, for the record, are Nicky Hilton, Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher - on the floor, natch!, and Michael Wilding.)