TCMFF 2019: Kicking Off the Festival in Style

Every year I attend the TCM Classic Film Festival, I like to arrive in Los Angeles the day before festival activities get started to give myself a little bit of time to get settled and spend time catching up with friends. This year, however, I didn’t have much time to rest before I got into full festival mode. 

Once I got into town, my first major event was to take a tour of the Margaret Herrick Library with my friend Nikki and other TCM Backlot members. I have several friends who have taken trips to the library to do some research over the years, so I’d heard amazing things about it and was thrilled to have an opportunity to see it for myself.

Margaret Herrick Library Exterior

If you ever have the opportunity to take a tour of the Margaret Herrick Library, I highly recommend it. Being able to explore their collections, even if just for a little while, is pure heaven for anyone with an interest in film history.

While the library itself is open to the public, this tour took us through many areas that the general public doesn’t get to see and each department we visited had a selection of items pulled for us to look at. We started off in their photo department, which is full of publicity photos, behind-the-scenes photographs, and other production-related images, such as continuity photos and so much more. From there, we headed over to other departments where we saw things like original posters, paper items they’re currently working on preserving, and original costume sketches. As someone who loves the art of costume design, I was absolutely delighted to have a chance to see original sketches for costumes from Gone With the WindThe Godfather Part 2, Lady Sings the Blues, and Blonde Venus. I’d seen reprints of those costume sketches before, but they looked even more beautiful in person.

To showcase a very small sampling of items available in their special collections, they pulled several original documents relating to movies being shown during the festival. Some highlights included production code office checksheets from Dark Passage, a 1934 letter stating that a movie based on The Postman Always Rings Twice would be totally unacceptable, a script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, plus many items related to Gone With the Wind, including the mourning brooch worn by Vivien Leigh in the final scenes of the movie.

Near the end of the tour, we got to see some highlights from their collection of magazines, ranging from vintage fan magazines to recent issues of publications like The Hollywood Reporter. We also got to see a selection of movie pressbooks, which included some interesting tips for theaters about how to market these movies. For example, the pressbook they showed us from The Maltese Falcon suggested that theater owners do a limerick contest. The real highlight of the tour was when everyone had a chance to hold a real Oscar statuette. It was definitely heavier than I was expecting. 

Hollywood Heritage Museum Lasky-De Mille Barn Sign At Night

Later in the evening, I headed over to the Hollywood Heritage Museum for a presentation about Gypsy Rose Lee, hosted by her son, Erik Lee Preminger, and Dita Von Teese. The majority of the presentation was a screening of a film Erik created about his mother’s life which features family photos, home movies, clips from TV appearances, footage of her performances, complete with commentary from Erik himself. Much like his mother, Erik is very witty and I easily could’ve listened to his stories all night.

Erik Lee Preminger and Dita Von Teese at Hollywood Heritage Museum

The home movies included in the presentation were a real treat to see. Some of the highlights included footage of Gypsy Rose Lee visiting the troops, footage from a show she did with Bob Hope, and Alice Faye and Tony Martin at 20th Century Fox, with Tony Martin doing a fake striptease for the camera. Being able to visit the Hollywood Heritage Museum is always a pleasure and it was the perfect setting for an event like this. This year was my sixth time traveling to the festival and this event ranks pretty highly on my list of all-time favorite events. 

Festival activities got into full swing on Thursday evening and while lots of people were either around the pool at the Roosevelt for the Ocean’s Eleven party, at the Egyptian for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or lining up in the multiplex for the Boris Karloff pre-code Night World, I was in the bleachers outside of the Chinese Theater watching the red carpet arrivals for the big gala screening of When Harry Met Sally. The first few days I was in Los Angeles, winds were very strong and that led to some difficulties on the red carpet. But it was worth braving the wind to have a chance to see festival guests like Ted Turner, Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, Mario Cantone, Dennis Miller, and Kevin Brownlow, as well as TCM hosts Alicia Malone, Dave Karger, and Eddie Muller. 

Once the red carpet had closed, I ended up getting some dinner before catching my first movie of the festival, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in the TCL Multiplex. Umbrellas is one of my all-time favorite movies; it’s the movie that helped really get me into foreign films and French films in particular. I’ve been wanting to see it on the big screen for years, but never had a chance to before now. I was not disappointed by the experience. Those stunning colors were made to be seen on the big screen. Between that and all the other events I attended before it, to say that this year’s festival got off to an incredible start feels like a huge understatement.