Local Attractions: Star Museum

Star Museum, Abingdon, Va.’s treasure trove of original celebrity memorabilia, is currently featuring its spring installation, ‘Cult of the Love Goddess,’ effectively capturing the restless season.

The museum’s east window showcases items from the estate of Jean Harlow, the Great Depression’s Gwen Stefani, who created the standard for Hollywood platinum blondes. A master at tart comedy, Harlow skyrocketed to fame under the eccentric auspices of billionaire Howard Hughes, before dying from kidney failure in 1937, at age 26. She was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite actress.

A Harlow tribute was especially requested by Abingdon’s Pat Phillips, owner of Jade Tree Florist, one of three co-hosts who recently booked Star Museum for its first evening cocktail party.

The museum is also showing cocktail apparel worn by Marlene Dietrich, the German star who wore out American citizenship as Hitler invaded Europe, reinventing her career in front of Allied WWII troops while going closer to enemy lines than any other performer. Dietrich’s brocade dress ensemble features a specially engineered skirt creating a bell curve, reflecting the voluptuous physical ideal of the 1950’s.

One of Hollywood’s timeless beauties, Rita Hayworth, is in evidence with a black crepe and organdy gown capturing her dual sweetheart and femme fatale image. Hayworth, a forerunner of JLo and Carmen Electra, was Fred Astaire’s favorite partner. She was the first star for whom a New York Times critic coined ‘superstar,’ and the first public figure promoted as ‘The Love Goddess.’ Had beauty been all, Austrian film star Hedy Lamarr would have eclipsed all competition. Unfortunately, she turned down a series of scripts, including ‘Casablanca,’ which made Ingrid Bergman a star. Yet when The Weisfeld Collection visited Hendersonville, N.C., Lamarr’s was the face most requested for display.

“All you have to do to be glamorous,” Lamarr once opined, “is stand still and look stupid.”

Weisfeld is displaying her full-length cream-colored Edith Head evening gown ensemble, studded in silver bugle beads, originally designed for ‘My Favorite Spy,’ a Bob Hope caper. “It’s an honest-to-gosh great example of ‘Made in America,’ when studios were giant factories, hiring women who did nothing but sew beads daily, executing work which would today be time-cost prohibitive, “ points out Weisfeld.

Famous faces are on parade in Star Museum’s retrospective of Blackglama, arguably the most effective celebrity fashion advertising campaign ever conceived, evolving from legendary pop culture goddesses, to supermodels, to today’s anonymous faces.

But it’s not just the great dames on display at Star Museum for spring. Amidst JFK and Elvis, Gable and Eastwood, Weisfeld has added an extra shot of testosterone, pulling out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s jacquard boxers from ‘True Lies.’ He’s also displaying an original 8x10 of B-western star Lash LaRue, once distributed downtown---before LaRue was arrested in Abingdon.

‘Cult of the Love Goddess’ is in residence until late May, when Weisfeld begins easing in his next installation, ‘All About Oz,’ dovetailing into Abingdon’s Oz-mania when Barter Theatre opens its main stage production of ‘Wizard of Oz,’ on May 29. For further info, or to schedule guided day or evening tours, call to 276-608-7452; or e-mail star(at)eva.org.