Iconic movie props on display at Smithsonian National Museum of American History

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Smithsonian movie props (Part 1)

Oscar week is upon us with the 95th Academy Awards airing on Sunday night.

You can celebrate locally with props from Oscar-winning movies at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as part of the new exhibit “Entertainment Nation,” which opened in December on the third floor and will rotate items for at least 20 years.

“It is the museum’s first permanent exhibit that’s dedicated to the history of entertainment, music and sports,” Curator Ryan Lintelman told WTOP. “These things are part of the nation’s history. They’re not separate from political and military events, they actually shape our conversations about what’s happening in the world and our understanding of ourselves.”

The nearly 200 objects include Dorothy’s sparkling ruby slippers from the classic MGM musical “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). The film was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow,” which was voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute.

“One of the things that people request the most are the ruby slippers,” Lintelman said. “The pair that we have is one of four that are known to have survived production of the film. … This is one of the pairs of slippers worn by Judy Garland in the making of the film. They are the Holy Grail of movie props; the most coveted movie props; the most famous pair of shoes.”

The exhibit also includes Sylvester Stallone’s signature boxing robe from “Rocky” (1976), which not only topped the year’s box office but was also nominated for 10 Oscars, winning three prizes for Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Film Editing. The film’s pop-culture legacy endures as the ninth installment “Creed III” just topped the box office this weekend.

“This is the original Italian Stallion robe worn by Stallone in the first ‘Rocky’ film,” Lintelman said. “There’s an ad on there from Shamrock Meats and it’s just so iconic. We’ve got it dressed on a mannequin, so it looks like Rocky is in the room with you. The movie really came out of nowhere to win Best Picture against ‘All the President’s Men,’ ‘Network’ and ‘Taxi Driver.'”

This year’s Oscar nominees include Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”) and James Cameron (“Avatar: The Way of Water”), who both have props in the exhibit. Visitors can see the mosquito-in-amber from Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993), which won three technical Oscars, as well as the egg from Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986), which won two technical Oscars.

“One of the props that has really surprised people when they come into the exhibit so far is the amber with the insect inside from the original ‘Jurassic Park’ where they extract the DNA to create the dinosaurs,” Lintelman said. “We also have this really cool, giant egg from the ‘Alien’ franchise.”

For “Star Wars” fans, the exhibit “has the droids you’re looking for” with the costumes of R2-D2 and C-3PO from “Return of the Jedi” (1983). The 1977 original won six Oscars for Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound, Film Editing, Visual Effects and Original Score, as well as a Special Achievement Award for “the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices.”

“They are film-used droids, larger than life,” Lintelman said. “When you see them you can’t believe they’re right in front of you, but they’re the costumes worn by the actors who portrayed them. … Those have rarely been on display.”

Other movie items include Irving Berlin’s uniform hat from the wartime musical, “This is the Army” (1943); Bette Davis’ overcoat from the iconic romance, “Now Voyager” (1942); original sketches from the original Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” (1928); and Jim Henson’s original Kermit puppet from “Sam and Friends” before creating “The Muppets.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Smithsonian movie props (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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