|Unrelated photo of M.D. and Billy Wilder from here|
Thanks for posting what may be the most comprehensive overview of Debbie Reynolds' collection efforts. I have been seeking such an article since I read about the big auction and failed to find one until I stumbled upon your blog. This situation reminded me of Maria Riva's claim that that she offered her mother Marlene Dietrich's estate as a donation to American film museums (see this video), and when no one showed interest, Riva reportedly sold it to the city of Berlin for $5 million, which subsequently made the Filmmuseum Berlin [note: then known as Deutsche Kinemathek, no?] its caretaker. The contradiction between donation and sale makes me wonder whether Riva acted solely as an altruist, and I harbor similar suspicions about Debbie. Certainly, I wouldn't blame either woman for making money (or, in Debbie's case, attempting to recuperate money) from a Hollywood collection. If it's their property, they have every right to sell it.
On another note related to this blog entry, the contradiction between donation and sale also reminds me that the distinction between culture and commodity can be blurred, which is why I wouldn't consider Debbie's auction items national treasures. Debbie's former possessions have made a cultural impact in films, but they are also the products of profit-driven movie studios, which do not uphold all the criteria of non-profit institutions such as museums. For the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) or another local museum to accept Hollywood memorabilia, the following criteria would have to be met: first, the memorabilia would have to promote the museum's mission; second, the memorabilia would have to be affordable; third, the museum would require the staff and space to properly preserve the memorabilia; fourth, these staff and this space would have to be affordable.
When movie studios such as MGM housed old costumes, they had to deal with the second, third, and fourth criteria, but because they are businesses, they had no obligation to accept the most important criterion, the first one. If a business needs money to stay afloat, it will sell its assets; museums could never ethically follow such a model (although some have, e.g. the Hermitage Museum when its hometown was called Leningrad). Certainly, the memorabilia from Debbie's collection would meet the mission of LACMA and even the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), but I don't know whether any museums in the United States let alone in L.A. have the money, staff, and space to properly preserve items such as costumes—and such an extensive collection as Debbie's was. Only the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum comes to mind as a local option, but I can only say with certainty that they have the staff to care for what Debbie sold. As for financial means and space—I don't know. They thrive on donations—dress and textile as well as financial—which suggests that unless someone donates a multimillion-dollar Monroe gown or donates millions so they can purchase a Monroe gown, they can't afford to play with the big spenders at auctions.
Personally, I would love to see every museum, library, and archive object (Hollywood memorabilia, fine art, cuneiform, what have you) digitized in a high-quality three-dimensional form to maximize their accessibility so that people who might never even have a chance to visit an institution could view and research its holdings, but I know the costs of my dreams are currently nowhere near the reality of any institution's budget.