Photo above: Jody Harrison Grass, chair of the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s board of trustees; Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer; TCM host Ben Mankiewicz; Boca Raton Museum of Art exec. director Irvin Lippman and exhibit curator Thomas A. Walsh
By Rachel Galvin
With an entourage of fans in tow, Ben Mankiewicz went room by room through the Art of the Hollywood Backdrop exhibit still on display at the Boca Raton Museum of Art on December 10 enjoying the oversized backdrops that told the stories of the golden age of Hollywood. This beloved Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host had plenty to say about the exhibit, saying it exceeded his expectations after hearing all the hype about it. He was at the museum for a special meet and greet event in which fans could have a chance to talk to him and he could see the displays before going on to do a talk at the nearby The Boca Raton (formerly the Boca Raton Resort & Club).
“It’s dazzling,” he said of the exhibit, adding that the turnout was also impressive. It made him realize that fans of this art form are all over the country, that such an exhibit did not need to necessarily only be in places like New York or Los Angeles. He also said the exhibit is for everyone from the dedicated cinephile to people who just like movies, who will be left “slackjawed” after seeing an inside peek into what it takes to make the movies.
Thomas A. Walsh, who also attended the exhibit event that brought Mankiewicz to the museum, was the co-curator of the exhibit, along with Karen Maness. “It’s great to get Ben here as an endorser of our efforts,” he said. “He’s got a rich legacy in film and has the DNA of Herman Mankiewicz.” Herman Mankiekwicz, known as the co-screenwriter for “Citizen Kane,” was Ben Mankiewicz’s grandfather. And that was just one well-known name in the film industry in his family tree.
Walsh went on to say, “This is just terrific exposure for the museum,” adding, “This is a culmination of a long successful run.”
He said before bringing the exhibit here, he shopped the idea around to many museums. “They thought it was a lovely idea, but couldn’t figure out how to do it” (since the backdrops were so large). “Boca lent itself to it well.”
The crowd who assembled for this particular event were of all ages and most were avid fans of Turner Classic Movies. “I have never been here before,” said a very excited Diana Hubert. “I saw this on Facebook and (TCM) is the only channel I watch.”
Also in attendance were museum members, sponsors and dignitaries, including Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer, who said in a video produced by News Travels Fast, “These backdrops are works of art in themselves, and it is so wonderful that they are here at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.”
The golden age of moviemaking could not have been possible without backdrops and the many dedicated creators that brought them to life. Who could imagine movies like “Wizard of Oz,” for example, without using backdrops at the time?
Many of such masterpieces were ready for the trash heap, only to be rescued. Two hundred and seven backdrops were saved from being thrown in the trash after Lynne Coakley, the president of JC Backings, one of the largest companies to rent out such backdrops, decided to donate them to the Art Directors Guild instead of tossing them. The guild, under the direction of Walsh, who is also the Art Guild President, has been working to preserve these precious items since. One of the recipients of some of the backdrops was the University of Texas Austin.
The collection of backdrops that is on display in Boca Raton is accompanied by videos showing how they were used and other written information. The videos also talk about the creators behind them and the process of making them. The artists of these backdrops were usually not listed in the credits at the time. Much like the workers who helped craft the greatest pieces of the Renaissance masters, these artisans would be lost to history … until now.
Twenty of the backdrops are courtesy of the Texas Performing Arts Hollywood Backdrop Collection at the University of Texas. The Motion Picture Academy in Los Angeles has also loaned two works: the 1952 backdrop for “Singin’ in the Rain,” made famous by Donald O’Connor’s comic performance of “Make ‘Em Laugh;” and the tapestry backdrop for “Marie Antoinette” (1938), which was reused in “North by Northwest” (1959) in the auction house scene.
There are so many iconic backdrops on display that serve as perfect photo ops. Here, you can see large-scale the grandiosity of Rome as seen in movies like “Ben Hur;” the Austrian Alps used in “The Sound of Music;” the majestic Mount Rushmore, which once served as a location in “North by Northwest;” and more. The backdrops all were used from 1938 to 1968.
The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop will be on display until Jan. 22, 2023. For more information, visit https://bocamuseum.org.
More photos soon on the Let’s Talk Magazine Facebook page.