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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Academy Museum Acquires Bela Lugosi’s Dracula Cape

In preparation of the eventual grand opening, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is not only making itself as glamorously beautiful as possible, it's also in the process of acquiring many trinkets, artifacts, and all things related to the grand art of filmmaking. To achieve the desired effect of a truly immersive experience, the organization is including all facets of the movie making world, including costume design, which will be one of the many motion-picture arts explored in the Museum’s inaugural exhibitions.

To that end, the museum is pleased to announce numerous iconic movie costumes it has acquired over the last year through generous donations, partial gifts, and purchase. Among the exceptional additions to the fast-growing collection is the cape that Bela Lugosi wore in his legendary performance as the title character in the 1931 production of Dracula. As part of a gift package from the Lugosi Family, the famed cape was personally owned by Lugosi, who continued to wear the cape on stage and in personal appearances. The cape remained in his possession until his death, and then in the possession of his ex-wife, Lillian Lugosi. She later presented it to their son, Bela G. Lugosi. This legendary cape has been in the Lugosi family for over 80 years, and now Academy Museum visitors will be able to see it in person.

“My father’s screen-worn cape has had a very special place in my life and in the lives of my children and grandchildren. In fact, it has been a part of my mother’s household and then my household since I was born—for over 80 years,” said Bela G. Lugosi. “After several years of discussions with Founding Director Kerry Brougher, who showed such care and appreciation of its important role in film history, it became clear that there is no better home for the cape than the Academy Museum, allowing movie lovers to view a piece of classic horror film history and enjoy Bela Lugosi’s acclaimed performance for years to come.”

The multi-generational family worked with Kerry Brougher and Exhibitions Curator Jessica Niebel to navigate the journey of transferring the treasured Dracula cape from the family collection to the Academy Museum. Niebel said, “This outstanding acquisition simultaneously represents the character of Count Dracula as a cultural icon and the life and career of an extraordinary actor, Bela Lugosi. It is important to us as a museum to be able to restore and safeguard this artifact, especially knowing that much of the material history of the classic horror cycle has been lost forever. We are deeply grateful to the Lugosi family for entrusting us with a treasure that means so much to them.”

Other major gifts include Shirley Temple’s gown, cape, crown, and scepter from her only Technicolor production, The Little Princess. These pieces have been donated directly from the Family of Shirley Temple Black. Because many of the costumes worn by the child actor were so identified with the iconic mega-star they could not be easily repurposed for other films and fell into the possession of Temple. Therefore, these items are in near-pristine condition, holding a well-earned place among cinematic art. I remember being mesmerized be the outfit when I first saw the movie as a child. I imagine it should be a truly spectacular sight to see in person. Other donations include a wedding dress worn by Jennifer Jones in Madame Bovary, a cloche worn by Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain, and a Gown worn by Ann Blyth in The King’s Thief.

The Museum has also expanded its collection through purchase, including Marlene Dietrich’s evening robe from Blonde Venus, Gene Kelly’s sweater and slacks from An American in Paris, Sammy Davis, Jr.’s two-piece, black-and-white-patterned Sportin’ Life suit from Porgy and Bess, the crimson jacket worn by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, a Black wig with gold trim worn by Elizabeth Taylor as the title character in Cleopatra, Diana Ross’s Billie Holiday jacket and skirt ensemble from Lady Sings the Blues, Richard Pryor’s baseball uniform from The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, a Black sequined dress worn by Sonia Braga as the title character in Kiss of the Spider Woman, a Denim and flannel ensemble worn by Kathy Bates in Misery, and the three-piece, poly-cotton waitress uniform worn by Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has also nabbed the famous robe, shirt, and shorts that helped Jeff Bridges transform into "The Dude" in the cult favorite The Big Lebowski. Other items from The Big Lebowski in the collection include coveralls worn by Bridges, a Pin Girl costume from the “Gutterballs” dance sequence, and outfits for the "Mr. Lebowski" played by David Huddleston. That’s quite a Big Lebowski mini-collection.

The Academy Museum will be the world’s premier institution dedicated to the art and science of movies. The Museum will be simultaneously immersive, experimental, educational, and entertaining. More than a museum, this dynamic film center will offer unparalleled experiences and insights into movies and moviemaking. All on the site that was formerly known as the May Company building, which was (appropriately) built in the historic year of 1939. The Museum will feature six floors for exhibition spaces, the 288-seat theater, an education studio, special event spaces, conservation areas, a café, and gift store. The new spherical addition will connect to the Saban Building via glass bridges and will feature the state-of-the-art 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater and the rooftop Dolby Family Terrace with sweeping views of the Hollywood Hills. A grand structure befitting the history to be housed within.

The Academy Museum has actively been acquiring three-dimensional motion picture objects since 2008. Its holdings now number approximately 3,500 items representing costume design, motion picture technology, production design, makeup and hairstyling, promotional materials and memorabilia, and awards. Memberships are still available, and include many unique perks. Membership is likely to be the ideal holiday gift this season for the devoted movie fan.


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