Discover A Trove Of Hollywood Treasures At The Motion Picture Academy Library Here, you can find the Cowardly Lion's mane, the designs for Scarlett O'Hara's drapery dress, and many other artifacts that reveal the history of the movie biz.

Discover A Trove Of Hollywood Treasures At The Motion Picture Academy Library

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The summer blockbuster season is upon us. Dinosaurs, little yellow minions, an ant-man all vying for our entertainment dollars. In search of gentler thrills, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg went to the Library of the Motion Picture Academy in Beverly Hills to poke through artifacts from the movies' Golden Years.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: It's freezing in here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I know, I told you...

STAMBERG: The Margaret Herrick Library's vaults are cold to preserve their millions of pieces of paper holdings - directors' shooting scripts, photos, production designs, payrolls, fan mail, like this letter in labored teenage handwriting on lined notebook paper from an 18-year-old fan to director George Roy Hill, who had just won the 1974 Oscar for best director.

SILAS GORDON BRIGHAM: (Reading) Dear Mr. Hill, seeing that I have seen your fantastically entertaining and award-winning film "The Sting," starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and enjoyed it very much, it is altogether fitting and proper that you should discover me.

STAMBERG: You've got to like this fellow. He's got nerve.

BRIGHAM: (Reading) Now, right away, I know what you are thinking - who is this kid? And I can understand your apprehensions. I am a nobody. No one outside of Skyline High School has heard of me. My looks are not stunning. I am not built like a Greek God, and I can't even grow a mustache. But I figure if people will pay to see certain films, they will pay to see me.

STAMBERG: More of the letter - and the identity of the letter-writer in a moment, or two - but first, more from the movie library's vault, where archivist Howard Prouty presides over shelves of studio art department records, contracts, production documents, ledgers with handwritten entries of weekly salaries for everyone from electricians and messenger boys to top stars.

HOWARD PROUTY: We have payroll records from MGM from the 1920s that will tell you how much money Greta Garbo made in 1926, how much money Lucille Lesueur made in 1926 - Lucille Lesueur before she became Joan Crawford.

STAMBERG: MGM Studio head Louis B. Mayer made 2,000 a week. Greta Garbo? In 1926, just $400.

PROUTY: Greta Garbo was in the first year of her contract at MGM, so she was essentially on probation, to see if she was going to work out or if she was going to go back to Sweden.

STAMBERG: Now, that teenage letter-writer would earn millions more than Garbo, but he didn't know it in 1974, when he proposed this to director George Roy Hill.

BRIGHAM: (Reading) Let's work out the details of my discovery. We can do it the way Lana Turner was discovered - me sitting on a soda shop stool, you walk in and notice me and - BANGO (ph) - I am a star.

STAMBERG: Down the hall from bango boy, the film library has a large Plexiglas box covered with a big piece of muslin, on which there's a sign.

And it says caution, lion inside. Do you think you could lift that covering for me?

PROUTY: Let's see what's inside.

STAMBERG: (Laughter) It's the Cowardly Lion's headdress - little pink years, a mane and beard made of human hair, blonde, donated by make-up man Charles Schramm. In 1938, his job every morning from 7 to 8 a.m. at MGM was to turn actor Bert Lahr into a lion with bravery issues.


BERT LAHR: (As Cowardly Lion) You're right, I am a coward. I haven't any courage at all. I even scare myself.

STAMBERG: The lion's wig, along with a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers, will go to the Academy's film museum, set to open in 2017. The museum will have costumes too, but the Academy library has sketches for costumes. Graphic arts librarian Anne Coco hauls a big flat box off her cart and pulls out a watercolor that costume designers consider the Holy Grail.

ANNE COCO: This is a drawing for "Gone With The Wind."

STAMBERG: Wrapped in special archival tissue paper. Oh, my goodness, look at this.

COCO: Yeah. It's a very famous green curtain dress...

STAMBERG: It's the drapery dress.

COCO: ...From "Gone With The Wind." Yeah.

STAMBERG: Scarlett O'Hara is out of money, has taxes to pay and decides to ask her nemesis Rhett Butler for a loan. Scarlett has to look terrific to call on him, so she pulls down the green drapes in her drawing room and has them made into a dress.


VIVIEN LEIGH: (As Scarlett O'Hara) Great balls of fire. They're my portieres now. I'm going to a man for that $300, and I've got to go looking like a queen.

STAMBERG: She did look great in the movie, but it took television to make the drapery dress a star.


CAROL BURNETT: (As Scarlett O'Hara) Just help me take these down.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Well, what are you doing that for?

BURNETT: (As Scarlett O'Hara) Never you mind, now...

COCO: In 1976, it really gained icon status when Bob Mackie did that very famous riff on it, right, with Carol Burnett?

STAMBERG: For Carol Burnett.


BURNETT: (As Scarlett O'Hara) I've got me a dress to make.


STAMBERG: Carol Burnett and the curtain rod. She forgets to take the rod off the drapery, so she comes down with extremely broad shoulders.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Scarlet, that gown is gorgeous.


BURNETT: (As Scarlett O'Hara) Thank you. I saw it in the window, and I just couldn't resist it.

STAMBERG: Costume designer Walter Plunkett's watercolor of Scarlett's dress omits the curtain rod, but Motion Picture Academy librarian Anne Coco admires the elegant precision of the drawing.

COCO: You can see all the detail and the feather that's atop her hat. This is a costume that was made of velvet. And when I look at it, I feel like you could brush your hand on it and it feels like velvet.

STAMBERG: It's likely that the letter-writing bango boy was more casually dressed when he wrote to director George Roy Hill all those years ago. But like Scarlett, he had starry-eyed schemes.

BRIGHAM: (Reading) Or maybe we can do it this way. You give me a stand-in part in your next film. While shooting the film, the star breaks his leg in the dressing room and you arbitrarily place me in his part and - BANGO - I am a star.

STAMBERG: Any idea who the ambitious young letter-writer is? Here's a hint.


TOM HANKS: (As Forrest Gump) Do you want a chocolate?

BRIGHAM: (Reading) All of these plans are fine with me. But let's get one thing straight - Mr. Hill, I do not want to be some big-time Hollywood superstar with girls crawling all over me, just a hometown American boy who has hit the big time, owns a Porsche and calls Robert Redford Bob. Respectfully submitted, your pal forever, Thomas J. Hanks, Alameda, Calif.

STAMBERG: Thomas J. Hanks, played by actor Silas Gordon Brigham, hoping to illuminate a piece of movie history, preserved along with millions of others film ephemera at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences library in Los Angeles. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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