Classic Movie Star Museums: A Travel Guide

johnwaynemusuem

Next month marks the grand opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, Iowa. During the last 30 years more than one million visitors have reportedly journeyed to Winterset to tour the small house where Wayne was born on May 26, 1907 but now fans of the much beloved movie star will be able to enjoy a brand new 5,000 square facility built alongside Wayne’s original home. The museum features the largest collection of John Wayne memorabilia in existence including original movie posters, film costumes, props, scripts, photos, personal letters, original artwork, sculptures, a customized automobile and a movie theater where visitors can enjoy a documentary about Wayne and watch his films. The grand opening will take place between May 22-24 and includes a ribbon cutting ceremony presented by Scott Eyman (author of John Wayne: The Life and the Legend), a rodeo show and a guest appearance from actor, rodeo competitor and politician Chris Mitchum (Robert Mitchum’s son) who appeared with Wayne in BIG JAKE (1971). Color me impressed! I think it’s encouraging to see small towns like Winterset celebrating their film history. For more information, please visit their official website: John Wayne Birthplace Museum

In light of this news, I started thinking about other smaller museums outside of Hollywood dedicated to preserving the memory of classic movie stars. I follow some of them on Twitter and occasionally try to share information about their fundraising efforts but now that spring’s arrived and many of us are starting to plan summer vacations I thought I’d put together a list of the small hometown museums that have sprung up across the U.S. honoring their local celebrities. It should be of interest to classic film fans who are planning a road trip soon or it just might surprise someone who unknowingly has a museum dedicated to a Hollywood personality in their own backyard.

khepburnmusuem

The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main Street | Old Saybrook, Connecticut 06475

The 110-year-old building is located in the Connecticut town where Hepburn was born and died. In 1997 it was renamed the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and is used to “promote the variety and diversity of the performing arts on the Connecticut Shoreline by providing an artistic home for these arts while honoring the legacy of Connecticut’s’ finest actress.” Inside you can also find a museum dedicated to Hepburn that includes original film posters, photographs, artwork and awards that Hepburn won throughout her career. More information can be found on their website: katharinehepburntheater.org

cgablem

The Clark Gable Foundation, 138 Charleston Street | Cadiz, Ohio 43907

The Clark Gable Foundation formed in 1984 in an effort to preserve Gable’s memory. Since then members have carefully reconstructed Gable’s house in Cadiz, Ohio where the “King of Hollywood” was born. Inside you can tour the rooms that contain Gable memorabilia including items from the actor’s childhood. They also organize yearly events to celebrate their hometown hero. For more information, please visit their website: clarkgablefoundation.com

avagmusuem

The Ava Gardner Museum, 325 East Market Street | Smithfield, North Carolina 27577

The Ava Gardner Museum was the brainchild of Thomas M. Banks who was a lifelong friend of the actress. Banks, who also briefly worked as a publicist for Columbia Pictures, began collecting Gardner memorabilia in the 1960s and with the actresses’ approval; he bought her childhood home in Smithfield where he opened the first Ava Gardner Museum. After Banks died, the museum expanded even further and eventually moved to a 6,400 square foot building where they could display their vast collection of Gardner memorabilia that includes film costumes, props, posters, photographs and artwork. The museum regularly hosts special exhibits and contains a research library as well as screening room where you can watch a documentary about Gardner’s life and career. Nearby you can visit Gardner’s home as well as her grave site. More information can be found on their website: avagardner.org

jimmysmusuem

The Jimmy Stewart Museum, 835 Philadelphia Street | Indiana, Pennsylvania 15701

The Jimmy Stewart museum is located in the actor’s hometown on the Third Floor of the Indiana County Community Building and is dedicated to celebrating “its namesake’s accomplishments in film, radio and TV. His roles as military hero, civic leader, family man and world citizen are also woven into displays, film presentations and gallery talks.” Inside you can find a vast array of Stewart memorabilia including many mementos Stewart personally selected to display such as a Winchester commemorative rifle and a propeller blade autographed by the cast and crew of FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965). For more information, please visit their website: jimmy.org

judygmusuem

Judy Garland Museum, 2727 Highway 169 South | Grand Rapids, Minnesota 55744

In Grand Rapids, you’ll find the Judy Garland Museum where they “Honor the talent and legacy of America’s Treasure.” Their mission is to “engage people in exploring Judy Garland’s life and times.” The museum is housed in Garland’s birthplace, which has been carefully restored thanks to historic photographs and oral histories. Besides displaying mementos from Garland’s life, the museum regularly hosts events including a WIZARD OF OZ festival that attracts thousands of visitors. More information is available on their website: judygarlandmuseum.com

jamesdmuseum

The James Dean Gallery, 425 N. Main Street | Fairmount, Indiana 46928

The James Dean Memorial Gallery was established in 1988 in the actor’s hometown and final resting place of Fairmount, Indiana. The extensive exhibit on display is the private collection of archivist David Loehr, who began collecting Dean memorabilia in 1974. Besides original film posters, artwork, photographs, film props and costumes, The James Dean Gallery also hosts an unparalleled archive and library that has been used by authors and film-makers working on documentaries about the actor. For more information please visit their website: jamesdeangallery.com

rosemarycmusuem

Rosemary Clooney House, 106 East Riverside Drive | Augusta, Kentucky 41002

Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, Kentucky but moved to Augusta in 1980 where she eventually passed away. After Rosemary’s death her family, along with Dr. Steve Henry (former Kentucky Lt. Governor) and his wife, Heather French Henry, established The Rosemary Clooney House dedicated to preserving her final home where visitors can enjoy memorabilia from her life and career including the largest collection of WHITE CHRISTMAS memorabilia anywhere in the world. More information can be found on their website: rosemaryclooney.org

bobhopemusuem

Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memory Exhibit, One World Golf Place Street | Augustine, Florida 32092

Funnyman Bob Hope was born in England but in Augustine Florida you can find the year-round Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memory Exhibit on display at the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum. This extensive exhibit “traces Bob Hope’s life from his immigration from England as a young child through his rise to the top of the century’s major forms of entertainment – vaudeville, Broadway, film, radio and television.” Covering more than 3,000 square feet, visitors can enjoy photos, films and mementos from Hope’s life that celebrate his lifelong devotion to U.S. troops and the various ways he championed the game of golf. To learn more about the ongoing exhibit visit the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum website: Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memory.

lucydmusuem

Lucy Desi Museum & Center for Comedy, 2 West 3rd Street | Jamestown, New York 14701

At the impressive Lucy Desi Museum & Center for Comedy visitors can enjoy costumes, awards, photographs, and other vintage memorabilia on display from the estates of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. There are also rooms devoted to Desilu Studios including re-creations of Lucy and Ricky’s New York City apartment and Ricardo’s famous Manhattan night club, The Tropicana Room. The museum regularly holds events including a popular comedy festival. More information is available on their website: lucy-desi.com

tlaurelhardymusuem

The Laurel and Hardy Museum, 250 North Louisville Street | Harlem, Georgia 30814

Harlem was the birthplace of Oliver Hardy and this small Georgia town has established a popular museum in his memory that honors both Hardy and his comedy partner Stan Laurel. Inside you can find memorabilia on display such as film posters, props, costumes, photographs, artwork and merchandise while a small cinema shows their films on a continuous loop. Each year thousands of visitors come here to enjoy the annual Oliver Hardy Festival that takes place on the first Saturday of October and encourages participants to come dressed as the much beloved comedy team. For more information visit their website: laurelandhardymuseum.com

bkeatonmusuem

Buster Keaton Museum, 302 South Hill Street | Piqua, Kansas 66761

In the tiny town of Piqua, where Buster Keaton was born, visitors can visit the Buster Keaton Museum housed inside The Piqua Water Department building. Piqua currently doesn’t have enough visitors or extra funds to establish a separate museum but this one room exhibit includes movie posters, photographs and other mementos from Keaton’s life and career. Visitors are also encouraged to watch his films, which are available on video. More information can be found on their website: Buster Keaton Museum

stoogesm

The Stoogeum, 904 Sheble Lane | Ambler, Pennsylvania 19002

Larry Fine was the only member of the Three Stooges comedy team born in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA to be exact) but The Stoogeum was established in Ambler, “To collect, preserve and interpret historically or culturally significant pieces of Stoogeabilia in order to further the enjoyment and appreciation of the Three Stooges and to maintain the legacy of their comedy for future generations.” Inside this impressive museum you’ll find the headquarters of the Three Stooges Fan Club as well as nearly 100,000 pieces of Stoogeabilia including movie props, posters, costumes and artwork. For more information please visit their website: stoogeum.com

tmm

Tom Mix Musuem, 721 N Delaware Street | Dewey, Oklahoma 74029

Western fans should enjoy a trip to the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma. Mix lived and worked in Dewey before becoming one of Hollywood’s first cowboy stars and residents established a museum there to honor his memory in 1965. The museum contains items that once belonged to Mix and were used by him in his daily activities, including clothing, guns, saddles and hats as well as photographs and other mementos. The museum also hosts an annual Tom Mix Festival and Western Heritage Days Celebration. More information can be found on their website: tommixmuseum.com

geneamusuem

Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum, 47 Prairie Street | Gene Autry, Oklahoma 73436

In Gene Autry, Oklahoma you can find a museum devoted to its namesake and the history of Hollywood’s singing cowboys. The Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum contains, “Colorful, informative displays” featuring many western stars including Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Eddie Dean and Ken Maynard as well as movie posters, albums, comic books, toys and other unique collectibles. For 18 years the museum also hosted the Gene Autry Oklahoma Film & Music Festival, but that ended in 2009 after the aging director of the museum and his wife fell ill. For more information please visit their website: geneautryokmuseum.com

I’m sure there are a lot more tiny museums across the U.S. devoted to celebrating the careers of classic Hollywood stars so if I neglected to include one of your favorites, please share it in the comments section! In the meantime I hope readers will make time to visit these sites and support what they do. Small museums rely on outside help to continue their work and donations, letters of support and regular visitors help them thrive.

7 Responses Classic Movie Star Museums: A Travel Guide
Posted By Taylor Sartre : April 23, 2015 9:23 pm

Thank you for this wonderful information! I’m thinking ROADTRIP! #1 on the itinerary: Judy Garland Museum during Annual Wizard of Oz Days!

Posted By GINWA : April 23, 2015 9:26 pm

Francis Ford Coppola had a museum in his winery in Napa. I don’t know if it’s still there. Had a few props and costumes from his movies, his Oscar, a family tree, etc. including a Tucker!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 23, 2015 9:37 pm

I wasn’t thinking about directors when I was compiling this list but thanks for mentioning the Coppola museum in Napa, Ginwa! I live nearby and would like to visit someday although I believe it’s moved further North to the Sonoma area.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 23, 2015 9:46 pm

Thanks, Taylor! I hope the guide will encourage people to visit these out of the way places. I love spending time in small quirky museums myself.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 24, 2015 3:59 am

I love movie-star museums. I have been to the Clark Gable home in Ohio. One room is devoted to Carole Lombard, including pieces of the airplane that crashed with her aboard. A local resident has been to the site several times over the decades and retrieved pieces of the plane. Very odd.

I have also been to the James Dean Gallery (and his grave) in Fairmount.

Also, one you did not mention was the Hopalong Cassidy Museum in Cambridge, Ohio. He lived in a tiny town near Cambridge, but this place in Cambridge is the official museum.

Posted By swac44 : April 24, 2015 10:49 am

I’d love to visit more of these, I need to get out into the heartland more. Here in Canada you’d think we’d have similar memorials to native sons and daughters like Mack Sennett (whose hometown is also where my French Canadian great-grandparents lived) or Mary Pickford, but no dice. But we do have the Marie Dressler House in Cobourg, Ontario, which also serves as the town’s tourist information centre. I’ve been and it has a nice collection of memorabilia, plus the wax statues of Dressler and Wallace Beery as Min & Bill, originally from a Hollywood wax museum.

Worth a stop if you’re crusing down the 401 to or from Toronto!

http://www.mariedressler.ca/

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : April 24, 2015 6:16 pm

Thanks for sharing your insights, Susan & SWAC! The Clark Gable museum sounds intriguing and I’d really like to visit James Dean’s hometown someday. I’m also happy to hear that Canada has at least one small museum honoring a classic film star.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Academy Awards  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art Direction  Art in Movies  Asians in Hollywood  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Black Film  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films About Gambling  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Memorabilia  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  New Releases  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies