The Oscar won by costume designer Dorothy Jeakins for 'Night of the Iguana' in 1964 is on display this week in the Special Collections Department at Young Research Library.
That’s a far cry from the pomp and global popularity of the Oscars today. The red-carpeted, celebrity-mobbed 86th Academy Awards set for this Sunday, March 2, will be held in the glittering Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, emceed by Ellen DeGeneres and broadcast to an estimated 40 million viewers worldwide.
The evolution of the Oscars and the moviemakers they pay tribute to are stories told in the UCLA Library’s Performing Arts Special Collections, an amazing amalgam of more than 400 separate collections of historical records and personal papers documenting film, television, theater and music.
The Academy Awards are broadly represented in the collections, which have been donated to the library by individuals and organizations to ensure the materials’ preservation for years to come. “We have the papers of Cecil B. DeMille and Lionel Barrymore,” said the collection’s curator, Peggy Alexander. “We have Johnny Carson’s scripts [as emcee] … and [Oscar winner] Barbara Stanwyk’s pay stubs” from the RKO Radio Pictures Collection, containing papers and paraphernalia pertaining to the studio’s thousands of projects between 1928 and 1958. “We also have an actual Oscar, won by costume designer Dorothy Jeakins.”
A 1953 program scribbled with a reporter's notes.
All of the materials are accessible through the reading room at Charles Young Research Library. (Also in Special Collections is a first edition of Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, "Twelve Years a Slave," upon which the film up for for best picture this year is based.)
Many of the items offer a behind-the-scenes peek into past Academy Award ceremonies. Programs dating back to 1939 show the handwritten scrawl of reporters who covered these red-carpet events and noted who wore what and who won what. The Gower Champion papers document the 1969 show produced by the Tony Award-winning director. You can peruse scripts of Carson's monologues and view TV specials about the awards ceremonies. Among more recent materials are awards programs and other materials representing director Alexander Payne, an alumnus of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, two-time Oscar winner for "Sideways" (2004) and "The Descendents" and up for an Oscar this year for "Nebraska."
A collection of thousands of motion picture stills dating back to 1903 includes this scene from Cecil B. Demille's "Samson and Delilah" (1949), starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lemarr.
“Not every single item is as important as the next, but they put in context a unique story about the person or organization," said Alexander, whose ambitious mandate is to document the performing arts throughout Los Angeles and Southern California.
The collections include dozens of original screenplays of Academy Award-winning movies, among them, “The Great McGinty” (1940) written by Preston Sturges, “The Apartment” (1960) and “West Side Story” (1961) by Walter Mirisch, and “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956) by James Poe. Particularly cherished is the final draft of the screenplay for “Gone with the Wind,” which walked off with eight Oscars in 1940. Written by Sidney Howard and four others, their efforts are painstakingly documented in this and multiple earlier drafts, abundantly annotated with edits and censors’ comments.
Materials on matinee idol Randolph Scott, best known for his leading-man roles in westerns between 1928 and 1962, include a handmade leather binder in which he carried scripts during filming. “The binder has front and back inside pockets which held letters from his wife,” Alexander said, as well as crossword puzzles, suggestive of the abundant down time between shooting scenes. “Unique items like this offer great insights into who the people were."
A first edition of Solomon Northup's 1853 "Twelve Years a Slave" is part of the library's Special Collections.
There are photos of charcoal and pen-and-ink drawings of the Academy Award-winning sets for “Samson and Delilah” (1949) and “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) by the late Paramount art director and set designer Hans Drier. And along with costume designer Jeakins’ Oscar statuette for “Night of the Iguana” (1964), you’ll find her papers and drawings related to the 58 other films she worked on, including Oscar-winning “Joan of Arc” (1948) and “Samson and Delilah.”
“All of this puts together a picture of the creative process that’s involved in motion pictures,” said Alexander. “It’s not all about the most famous people, but it’s a reliable history of what’s gone on and what’s [still] going on.”
Materials for the Performing Arts Special Collections continue to be donated to the library, many of them now in digital formats.
“This is all a part of Los Angeles history,” Alexander said.
Learn more by visiting the UCLA Library’s Performing Arts Special Collections website. Also, drop by the Special Collections Department in Charles Young Research Library through March 2 to see a rotating exhibit about each of the nine films up for best-picture awards this year, from “12 Years a Slave” to “Nebraska.” Learn more about "Nebraska" director, Oscar nominee and UCLA alumnus Payne in this story.