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Hollywood has a new pop-up exhibition of horror and sci-fi memorabilia owned by former child actor Rich Correll. Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS

‘I like making people scared’: former child sitcom actor shows Hollywood horror and sci-fi memorabilia from his huge collection in pop-up exhibition

  • Icons of Darkness was set up by former Leave it to Beaver sitcom actor Rich Correll from his US$15 million collection of memorabilia
  • From Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein costume to Jurassic Park dinosaurs, the pieces are on show at a pop-up before a full-time museum opens in 2022

Hollywood’s next attraction meant to lure millions of annual visitors is a feast of movie monsters and science fiction villains gathered by a former child actor turned director whose collecting hobby escalated to blockbuster proportions.

Rich Correll, who made his bones as a regular on legendary boomer sitcom Leave It To Beaver, has amassed a US$15 million collection of props, costumes and other memorabilia that he has plumbed for Icons of Darkness, a new pop-up attraction at the Hollywood & Highland centre in Los Angeles that he hopes to turn into one of the country’s top-drawing entertainment museums.

Correll’s vision: a destination for horror, sci-fi and fantasy fans on par with the venerated Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for music lovers.

On a recent evening, Correll showed off his collection to visitors with boyish enthusiasm, guffawing when funhouse air blasts startled viewers of Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees and figures of other nightmare-inducing creeps clad in their movie-worn costumes.

Margaret Hamilton in a still from The Wizard of Oz. The costume is on display at Icons of Darkness.

Among them are the petite black witch’s robes worn by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, Lon Chaney’s suit from The Phantom of the Opera and Boris Karloff’s monster costume from Frankenstein.

Correll’s collection started when he and Beaver lead Jerry Mathers worked together on the Universal Studios lot. They “were huge monster fans” who loved horror movies and were thrilled by visits to the studio’s make-up lab where monsters were created, Correll says. “It was heaven on earth for little kids who loved horror movies,” he says.

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He was shocked to see props and costumes that seemed precious to him, such as a suit for the actor playing the monster in Creature From the Black Lagoon, get thrown away.

In 1959 or 1960, when he was no more than 12, Correll said he found the nerve to pluck from the trash a costume head from the 1953 horror comedy Abbot and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which started a lifelong obsession with collecting science fiction fantasy and horror films memorabilia.

“It was one of the heads of Hyde,” says the 73-year-old Correll, “and I still have it.” His collection is now the largest of its kind in the world, he says, and includes props as small as Gremlins from Gremlins 2: The New Batch and as large as full-size dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park movies.

A still from Gremlins 2.

About half of Correll’s collection is on display at Hollywood & Highland in a first-floor spot on the boulevard that is a compact preview of what will be the larger long-term home of the museum when it opens in late April, he says.

The more permanent attraction upstairs at Hollywood & Highland will be called Icons of Darkness/The Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror Hall of Fame. “We’re planning to do everything that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does, only on a more frequent basis,” such as induction ceremonies, celebrity appearances and other live-streamed events, Correll says.

It will also have a store “where you can go in and buy zombie-related stuff, but also play games” such as “throwing brains into zombie heads” and shooting at the undead.

Rich Correll in a still from Leave It To Beaver.

Parts of Hollywood & Highland are closed while the centre undergoes a US$100 million renovation intended to make it more modern and appealing to locals as well as tourists. As much as half of the splashy shopping centre’s space will morph into offices for rent, a reflection of the challenging climate for retail stores and the emergence of Hollywood as one of the city’s top office markets.

By Correll’s reckoning, it’s time the traditionally less critically acclaimed side of the movie business got cultural respect in line with its audience appeal. Westerns and musicals have cycled in and out in popularity, for example, but “the one continuing genre in the history of the movies that has never failed to make money or never gone out of style has been horror, sci-fi and fantasy”, he says.

“And yet, the city has never really paid tribute to those movies, even though those have been the box-office champs in years where other movies won best picture.”

Lon Chaney in a still from The Phantom of the Opera.

Being next to the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, where millions of visitors every year step into movie stars’ concrete footprints, puts the museum at the hot centre of Hollywood tourism, which is picking up steam even as the pandemic persists.

From April to June, foot traffic on Hollywood Boulevard jumped as much as 153 per cent, according to a study by the Hollywood Partnership, a business improvement programme for shops along the boulevard and other stakeholders. The hotel occupancy rate in the Hollywood/Beverly Hills area has climbed from 52 per cent in April to 72 per cent in July, according to STR, a global hospitality data and analytics company.

“It’s fair to say that tourists are coming back,” says Drew Planting, chairman of the Hollywood Partnership board of directors.

A still from Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Correll’s partners in the museum are film producer and real estate developer Elie Samaha, and entrepreneur and film producer Steve Markoff. Samaha announced in August that Hollywood’s landmark Yamashiro restaurant, which he co-operates, will open a new branch at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.

Correll, who studied cinema at USC with director George Lucas, has been a sitcom producer, director and writer since 1977. Among his credits are Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Fuller House.

“In 2004, I created the Disney show Hannah Montana, which ended up being a huge hit for Disney,” he says. “So I’ve been involved in comedy, comedy, comedy literally my whole life. My hobby was the polarity of that, collecting fantasy and horror stuff. So I like making people laugh and I like making people scared. It’s kind of fun.”

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The arrival of Correll’s high-profile partnership demonstrates Hollywood’s resilience, Planting says.

“Hollywood is about names, for better or for worse, so the backing of this museum carries a lot of sway,” he says of Correll. “He’s somebody who is in the industry, has succeeded in the industry, is well-known, well-capitalised – all those things resonate in Hollywood.”

Icons of Darkness joins nearby tourist stops including Madame Tussauds Hollywood and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! on the Walk of Fame, which offer an alternative to more highbrow venues such as the social media-fan favourite Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, at Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards, and the city’s formal art museums, says Don Skeoch, chief marketing officer of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.

“Museums like Mr Correll’s that celebrate the Hollywood industry just reinforce LA’s spot as the city where one can get close to movie-making magic,” Skeoch says.