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A quirky museum in Hollywood casts a nostalgic glow on movies' golden era

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Sunday brings the Oscars, the prom night of Hollywood. As usual, we can expect perfectly groomed actors handing out gold-plated statuettes to those voted best in their category. It's the 95th year of this ritual. And to mark the occasion, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg visited the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles to browse through movie artifacts from years gone by.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The museum has things from a film that could scare you to death.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS")

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti (slurping).

STAMBERG: Anthony Hopkins is Hannibal Lecter, a cannibal killer. Jodie Foster, in training for the FBI, comes to visit his jail cell. The Hollywood Museum has his cell, her chair and the horrifying mask cannibal Hannibal wears to protect his victims.

Terrifying.

DONELLE DADIGAN: It is, when you think about - they put this mask on him because it covered from his nose down. You could see his mouth moving and his teeth, but he could not get his tongue or his teeth out of that mask to be able to give you a love bite.

STAMBERG: Ew. And yet, says museum founder and president Donelle Dadigan, Hannibal Hopkins got an Oscar. If you think about it, Oscars, movies and masks are what Hollywood is all about. Actors assume the masks of the characters. Costumes, lighting, makeup all help. The Hollywood Museum has a pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers and the red silk robe Rocky wore - not all the time, mind you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROCKY")

SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As Rocky Balboa) I'm wearing white pants with a red stripe.

STAMBERG: The road is on the museum's third floor, where Max Factor invented tube lipstick. That's the makeup part. The museum is in the old Max Factor building. He was Hollywood's first great makeup man. In Russia, he'd been a hairstylist. When he enlisted in the Royal Russian Army, Max was too short to serve on the front lines, so the brass gave him a quieter task.

DADIGAN: He was given the job to clean up the dead and make, sadly, the soldiers look presentable for when their family members came to claim the bodies.

STAMBERG: In this country, Factor had more glamorous work.

DADIGAN: This is the room where Lucille Ball, America's favorite comedian - this is where she became a redhead, in this very room.

STAMBERG: There was a redhead room, a brunettes-only room, a blondes-only room - Marilyn Monroe used that one - director's chair in front of a big mirror, a counter with makeup pots. Max asked Marilyn her favorite movie star.

DADIGAN: She said, I love Jean Harlow. Max Factor said, do you like her hair color? And she said, yes. He says, well, great. She's wearing my hair color.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES")

MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) Diamonds are a girl's best friend.

STAMBERG: The old Max Factor building on Hollywood Boulevard was where Elizabeth Taylor, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, so many others got their looks. Today at the Hollywood Museum, visitors can see how the magic was made. But with a shiny new Motion Picture Academy Museum in another part of town, why need this one? Of course, Donelle Dadigan has the answer.

DADIGAN: It's the center of all the tourists that come to try to find a little bit of Hollywood. And we're thrilled because we're giving them what they want - the history as well as today.

STAMBERG: Where else could they walk down a scary corridor to a jail cell and, lips firmly shut, tiptoe around the case with terrible Hannibal's mask.

In Hollywood, I'm Susan Stamberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD")

ROSEMARY CLOONEY: (Singing) Hooray for Hollywood, that screwy ballyhooey Hollywood. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.