Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Old Hollywood at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
A Columbus Day visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston cost us nothing but gave us many riches in return. Two exhibits in particular made this classic-film-loving-gal's heart sing.

The first exhibit was a collection of photographs by Yousuf Karsh entitled Karsh Goes Hollywood. This exhibition was in one of the lobbies near the information desk and food court. Not ideal but it gave the photographs much more exposure to museum guests than one tucked away would have.

Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) was a renowned photographer who captured the portraits of many important figures including authors, musicians, dignitaries and actors among others. The MFA's exhibition focused on Karsh's photographs of classic Hollywood figures. These notable members of the Hollywood elite included: Judy Garland, Walt Disney, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Caron, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Princess Grace, Alfred Hitchcock, Joan Crawford, Audrey Hepburn, Clark Gable, Anita Ekberg, Gregory Peck, Sydney Greenstreet, Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff.

The 20 figures were presented in a "who's who" kind of fashion. A visitor would walk through the exhibit, examining each portrait and trying to guess the person. The pieces were not labeled but each came with a hint, usually a line of dialogue from a notable film the person was associated with. There was a key with the list of all the names for people to reference once they were done guessing.

Joan Crawford, 1948 - Yousuf Karsh

Lauren Bacall, 1966 and Elizabeth Taylor, 1946 - Yousuf Karsh

Yousuf Karsh exhibit at the MFA, Boston

Carlos checking out the Yousuf Karsh exhibit at the MFA, Boston

Anita Ekberg, 1956 and Clark Gable, 1948 - Yousuf Karsh 
Sydney Greenstreet, 1946 and Gregory Peck, 1946 - Yousuf Karsh

After the Yousuf Karsh exhibit, we made our way through the museum and found ourselves in the Contemporary Art section. Last time I was here, I saw this amazing Hollywood Stars Paper Dress. It wasn't there this time but I came across another piece that was equally dazzling.

Double Blue Barbra (The Jewish Jackie Series), 1992 - Deborah Kass

My good friend Frank had told me about the next exhibit and I'm glad he did because I would have missed it otherwise. Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen showcases the costumes (evening gowns, dresses, evening jackets, etc.) and accessories from a very elegant time in film history. The pieces ranged from the late 1920s to the early 1940s with a primary focus on the 1930s. None of the pieces were, by themselves, notable but presented together it was showcase of glamour that would appeal to classic film fans and fashion devotees alike.

The exhibit was very crowded and considering the tight quarters it was difficult to maneuver around all the people to view each piece. It took a while but I managed to take in every single one. On a screen in the back, they looped film clips of the actresses wearing the pieces on display. It was quite exciting to stand next to a costume worn by Norma Shearer or Gloria Swanson. I nearly fainted when I saw Jean Harlow's dress from Bombshell.

Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen Exhibit - MFA, Boston

Sign for the Hollywood Glamour exhibit 

Hollywood Glamour Exhibit

Joan Craword photo and Gloria Swanson, 1927 by Edward Steichen

Marlene Dietrich's hostess gown for Desire (1936), designed by Travis Banton

Mary Ellis' evening gown for Paris in Spring (1935), designed by Travis Banton 

Carole Lombard's evening dress for No Man of Her Own (1932), designed by Travis Banton

Betty Grable's evening gown in This Way Please (1937), designed by Edith Head

Betty Hutton's jacket and pants for The Perils of Pauline (1947), designed by Edith Head

Greer Garson's blouse and skirt for Julia Misbehaves (1948), designed by Irene

Norma Shearer's evening jacket for Her Cardboard Lover (1942), designed by Robert Kalloch

Mae West's dress for Every Day's a Holiday (1938), designed by Elsa Schiaparelli

Jean Harlow's evening gown for Bombshell (1933), designed by Gilbert Adrian

Joan Crawford's dress for This Modern Age (1931), designed by Gilbert Adrian

Gloria Swanson's evening dress for What a Widow! (1930), designed by Rene Hubert

Line-up of costumes

Jewelry display including pieces owned by Ginger Rogers, Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford

Fashion illustration

Letters and other art

Film clip being screened of Carole Lombard in No Man of Her Own (1932)
This is not the best exhibit I've ever encountered. The costumes on display were chosen more for their overall look together (many pieces were gold lamé) rather than their importance or significance. And the crowd of museum goers inside the exhibit were rather rude. Even with the experience's shortcomings, it was still a delight to see a splendid showcase of glamour from a bygone era.

The Karsh Goes Hollywood  and Hollywood Glamour exhibitions can be seen at the MFA in Boston until March 8th, 2015. 


  1. Very interesting post. Thanks for taking us along and sharing your observations, and some great shots.

    1. Thanks Jacqueline. I hope you make it out to the MFA to see the exhibits!

  2. Both sound like amazing exhibits, but I think I'd especially like to see the dresses. I haven't seen many costumes from the 1930s in person, but the ones I have have always been beautiful.

    1. KC - The 1930s costumes were in wonderful condition. The detail was amazing! A lot of the visitors noted how small the ladies must have been who worn them. Lots of petite frames! Their reactions reminded me of mine when I went to the Grauman's Chinese theater courtyard and saw all those tiny foot prints in cement.

  3. Oh my goodness! Two very awesome exhibits if you ask me, jeez! Bravo to you and Carlos for catching both of them xx

    1. Thanks Vanessa! The MFA has wonderful exhibits. My favorite one was devoted to Art Deco. I was in HEAVEN!


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