Hollywood Stripped: Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher and a Life’s Work Undone

This Saturday's auction—and break-up—of the most comprehensive single collection of Hollywood's greatest costumes is a major blow to all of us fans of cinema and clothes. After decades of trying to realize a museum for the hundreds of costumes and artifacts she's rescued over four decades, legendary actress and film buff Debbie Reynolds is going to put them on the auction block, not because she wants to—but because she simply cannot afford to maintain them.

Her heartbreak and that of her daughter Carrie Fisher, who is truly pained to see her mother's wish unrealized, was not something I first learned about when I sat with Carrie at her home in April for a story in this month's Harper's Bazaar about the auction. When I got the call to do the interview, I didn't need much of a backstory: I'd stayed in Ms. Reynold's short-lived Las Vegas casino with the in-house showcase of so many of these iconic costumes when it opened in 1993. When it closed six years later, I was both saddened because it didn't succeed and hopeful the museum would be embraced by some institution or wealthy benefactor in Los Angeles.

Preservation and presentation of clothes is an expensive proposition. Take into account the fragile quality of so many of these costumes—from Charlie Chaplin's bowler to Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra headdresses, the white Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch pleated halter dress to Bette Davis' Queen Elizabeth gowns—and the undertaking requires the financial and maintenance means of, say, an institution like the Metropolitan Musuem of Art, the V&A, or (here's a thought) a hometown home such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (paging Michael Govan!).

Auction house Profiles in History in Beverly Hills estimates the nearly 600 items on the block (conducted both inhouse and online) could bring $10 million in the sale (a second phase will take place in December).

But at what a cost to our heritage? Yes, heritage. These frocks are a part of our collective history, as important or even moreso than cars or neon lights, both which boast museums of their own in this city. If a museum here can step up with donors' millions to scoop up European fashions from centuries before this town was a sparkle in the eye of those created Tinseltown, then why can't that same spirit and drive come together to acquire the whole kit and kaboodle of Ms. Reynold's life's work? 

A final public viewing of the collection is being held from noon to 5 on Friday, June 17 at the Paley Center for Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills.

Posted in Current Affairs, Design, Film, Style


  1. SaamATL

    What a shame Debbie Reynolds has to part with these iconic items that I’m sure she has dearly treasured.
    Seems as though we ALL have had to resort to “letting go” (sigh) of private treasures lately.

  2. Neon Lighting

    Its really hard to let of things you kept for a very long time. Especially those things which is sentimental and have precious memories in it. I understand how it is so painful for D. Reynolds.

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