February 28, 2008
The American History Museum, under renovation and due to reopen this fall, now has the typewriter from “Murder She Wrote” and Catwoman’s skin-tight suit.
That’s the result of a cache of recent donations by nine actresses whose pioneering work on stage and screen peaked from the 1920s to 1970s.
These “leading ladies” from classic film, theater and television were all “foundations of 20th-century American entertainment,” says curator Dwight Blocker Bowers.
The museum got quite a haul, including an original script from “The Birds” from Tippi Hedren and Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson giving away her “TV Land Award.”
To get some insight, I called Rose Marie, who donated the black bow she always wore in her hair, playing Sally Rogers on the “Dick Van Dyke Show” in the 1960s. While she still always wears a bow (it’s her trademark), she won’t tell why it’s so important to her.
“It’s a very private personal reason,” she says. “I said I would only give up (the bow) if the Smithsonian wants it.”
But what impressed me most was Rose Marie’s appearance when she was just three-years-old in some of the first talking films in the 1920s as a singing and dancing kid wonder. The clips on YouTube show a little girl with a moptop haircut belting out jazz tunes and scatting with the best of them. Sure enough, Rose Marie also donated her childhood dancing shoes.
While she says that being in the Smithsonian was “the greatest honor an American can get,” she definitely felt that classic actresses deserved a spot there.
Performers “are very important to this country. We taught the country to be entertained, we taught them how to sing, how to dance,” she says. “When the depression was on, for a nickel you could go see a movie and forget your troubles. That is our function.”
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