The Syfy show, Hollywood Treasure, depicts the hunt for famous memorabilia from classic films.
Many of those special items — marked-up scripts, trophies and a lot of Hollywood’s most memorable moments — are located here on the USC campus.
Although non-cinema students might occasionally notice USC’s close ties with the film industry, they might not be aware of the behind-the-scenes effort to preserve Hollywood’s most precious moments for our intellectual benefit.
Perhaps no one knows the rich history between USC and Hollywood better than Steve Hanson, head of the Cinematic Arts Library, and Sandra Garcia-Myers, the assistant director.
“Our relations with Hollywood were being built since the 1930s,” said Myers as he and I observed the Hugh Hefner Gallery at the cinema school. “And it’s a continual cycle. It’s only getting bigger and bigger.”
Interest in donating items to USC has skyrocketed over the last few years.
What started as a group of film professors giving their memorabilia to the cinema school sprouted into a full-fledged effort from many in Hollywood to donate their items to the university.
“At first, a lot of professors would come in and ask,‘You want my stuff?’ Often they would donate items from their own garage,” Hanson said. “Now the relationship is stronger than ever. … The new cinema building has made it easier for people from Hollywood to come see our exhibits, who in turn call us up to donate their own items.”
The preservation of Hollywood history is undoubtedly a testament to our university mission, as we strive to be the single focal point of motion picture and television research — as opposed to other competitive institutions such as UCLA, the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress.
USC’s role in preserving Hollywood history has allowed us to reconnect with our past. For more than a decade, Hanson said plans were made to create a John Wayne exhibit at the cinema school.
Though Wayne gave away most of his memorabilia to the public, his son, Michael, worked to regain these items in the interest of putting them on display on campus.
Hanson said Michael Wayne, who died in 2003, was able to fill 27 storage units of his father’s collectibles at the time of his death. Beginning this week, the school’s archives will be collecting thousands of posters and production materials from Wayne’s career.
“That became his life commitment,” Hanson said. “He went to auctions and other events to get his father’s things back. Now his work will be preserved here at USC. … What we do is about relationships, and these people will keep coming back.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit of safeguarding Hollywood memorabilia — a significant aspect of Los Angeles history — is that USC students can gain a new appreciation for the industry right at their own doorstep.
It only takes a walk over to Hefner Gallery to see what items are at our fingertips.
Here you will find a mix of modern memorabilia, such as the Batman suit used in Dark Knight, and items that have been preserved over time, such as the marked-up script of West Side Story.
“Hugh Hefner [has] a love for classics,” Myers said, “He donated the gallery for this reason. … Preserving the fullest picture of Hollywood history. We hope that students can also have a appreciation and understanding of the industry.”
Clearly, part of our university mission is to enrich our minds with the vast resources and opportunities available to us.
Yet, the other part of our mission is to continue to demonstrate the Trojan Family at work, just as it has in the past.
“We stand on the shoulders of greats. And the thrill of having a USC student becoming influenced by a script we preserve, that carries on a tradition,” Hanson said.
Myers ended with one piece of valuable advice: “Don’t throw anything away. You can contribute to a piece of history.”
Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations. His column, “USC on the Move,” ran Thursdays.