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Hollywood's Margaret Herrick Library: Background information when reading Be Frank With Me

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Be Frank With Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson X
Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 304 pages
    Sep 2016, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Hollywood's Margaret Herrick Library

This article relates to Be Frank With Me

Print Review

If you live in or near Los Angeles, you're guaranteed to have at least one Hollywood experience, be it a TV show taping, a star sighting, tickets to a premiere, or some crazy confluence of circumstances that gives you something you never expected.

Up until late summer 2012, I lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, 30 minutes north of Los Angeles. In that time, I went to tapings of Jeopardy!, an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and a screening of a new Paul Reiser sitcom that never made it to TV; met the phenomenal Michael Weatherly and Sasha Alexander when NCIS was filming part of an episode at College of the Canyons in Valencia during its second season; and went to the 20th Century Fox lot one evening with an independent filmmaker friend who was shooting interviews. With his car windows down on the approach to the lot in Century City, you could smell the desperation of so many people wanting to be famous first, and rich immediately after, in Hollywood.

Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture StudiesBut none of those experiences compared to what became my Holy Grail: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills – essentially Hollywood's library and, to me, an American icon. It's one of the few libraries I would live in if I could, and it's not entirely open to the general public. When you're there, you've got to have a good reason for being there, as it was for me, doing research for an eventually aborted project that was tentatively titled Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies. Frank Banning in Julia Claiborne Johnson's Be Frank With Me would love all that it has inside.

Collections in the Margaret Herrick Library include Cary Grant's glasses and cufflinks, the papers of Ethel Barrymore, David Niven, Donna Reed, and so many others, along with production design drawings, and costume design drawings. So much of Hollywood's history is there, in one place. But it's the experience of being in the library that's most awe-inspiring.

Open one of the two big nearly all-glass doors and you find total silence. At the top of the stairs there is a desk where you give your driver's license in exchange for a temporary library card. You are in. Sort of.

Katherine Hepburn RoomThen there are forms to fill. If you're planning to use the library's Special Collections, as I was, you have to call two days in advance so the staff can gather what you want. They pulled a large number of files for me, related to all four Airport movies. Arriving at the Special Collections reading room, (which is known as the Katharine Hepburn Reading Room and has a large photo of the actress in one corner) I found that all my requested files were in one box. But before getting to it, you have to fill out a form describing why you're there, what you're researching, what you're looking to do with the research, and what credentials you have. And then you are given one file. You do this for each file, going back up to the desk each time, handing back one, filling out a form, and getting the next. If you need photocopies made, which I did, there's yet another form that you fill out. A few days later you receive your photocopies in the mail.

Now, when you find something in research that's incredible to you, there are no "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!" trumpets that ring out from the shelves in the Special Collections reading room. Your research is your research, it's deathly quiet in that library, and no one else cares. But the personal passion is immeasurable. For me, this was when I found Charlton Heston's personal copy of the Airport 1975 script. I couldn't believe I was holding this script. Heston used it. He thumbed through it. He crossed out lines that weren't being used and replaced them with new ones. There were two huge coffee stains on pages 13 and 14. Heston's coffee. This was my treasure. It was just me and Heston's script.

Airport 1975After reading a few more scripts, I went to explore the rest of the library. It's paradise for any movie buff. Any book you can imagine about a movie actor, a certain film genre, movies from another country, the making of certain movies – anything you could want to know related to film – they have it.

Libraries still matter. It's impossible to recreate an experience like this on a computer. This is where reverence for the past resides. Technology moves ever faster, but only in this setting can we think deeply about what came before and how it led to where and what we are today. It may surprise you, but Hollywood understands that too.

Katherine Hepburn Room, courtesy of
Airport 1975, courtesy of

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Be Frank With Me. It originally ran in April 2016 and has been updated for the September 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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