L.A.’s Best-Kept Secret for Film Buffs: The Margaret Herrick Library

With hordes of rabid classic film aficionados converging on Southern California this week to attend the monumental third edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival, I, as a Los Angeles native (though now relocated to Arizona and unable to attend the festival myself, EXCUSE ME WHILE I CRY A MILLION TEARS), thought I’d let all you starry-eyed movie nerds in on a little secret. I want to tell you about my absolute favorite classic film-related place to visit while in my hometown. Sure, if you’re attending the Fest you’ll be seeing plenty of Grauman’s Chinese, The Egyptian, the Walk of Fame, and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — all very important historical landmarks in their own right, if you can bear the crowds. If you’ve got the time and the means to get there, maybe you’ll want to head on up to the Griffith Observatory to bow down to their bust of James Dean and celebrate Rebel Without a Cause, or cruise on by the Baby Jane house in Hancock Park (though it’s a private residence, so please don’t bother them). But the location I’m talking about is little-known, little-visited, and more than worth your time. It’s the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, the non-circulating reference and research collection of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Now, I know what you may be thinking — you want me to spend my whirlwind vacation to sunny Southern California in a library? Yes. Yes I certainly do. Because the MHL is not just any library. Do you want to hold in your hands the unpublished shooting script for Gone with the Wind or North by Northwest? You can. Ever dreamed of casually thumbing through Golden Age editions of Photoplay or Modern Screen? Go right ahead. Looking for unpublished wardrobe test shots of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Norma Shearer, or Rita Hayworth? I am telling you, the MHL can make it happen. What’s more, entrance to the library is FREE, as is parking for the first two hours.

Let me give you a small example from my own experience with the MHL to highlight just how jaw-droppingly utterly amazing this place is for anyone interested in researching the history of film. When I first became aware of the Herrick, my obsession was Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). In one visit to the MHL, I was able to see an early draft of the script, the original pressbook, casting submissions (which, for a movie like Freaks, were pretty darn amazing), and production stills of deleted scenes and the cast on set. Everything I found there was stuff I had never seen published before, and this was after months of doing extensive research of all published material relating to the film. This may not be a big deal to you if you’re not a Freaks fan, but imagine the possible gems hidden within the MHL’s archives that you, yes YOU, could possibly have free access to.

Now there are a few rules at the Herrick which must be strictly observed: no cameras, no cell phones, no pens, and you can’t make photocopies of any unpublished written documents. You’ll need a valid photo I.D. to get in. All you can have on your person are things relevant to your research — a pencil and notepad, a laptop, index cards, and a small wallet to pay for photo copies — but the library conveniently provides lockers for anything else if you don’t want to leave it in your car or hotel room. All of these things just add to the experience and make you feel like a legitimate film historian. It’s one of the coolest experiences you can have as a classic film buff in L.A.

Go to this place. You will not regret it and you could even make the discovery of a lifetime.

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8 Comments

  1. What an great post — the Margaret Herrick Library is one of my favorite places in all the world. If this library were a man, I would marry it. Or at least engage in a lengthy affair. I sure hope some of your readers who are at the film fest will find time to stop in. You are so right — they won’t be sorry. (Until they have to leave, that is.)

  2. Great information! This year I’m crying a million tears that I won’t bet attending TCMFF3, but next year -TCMFF4 and Margaret Herrick Library, here I come…

  3. You’re so right! Once, I wanted to read some of Louella Parsons columns to get a sense of what she wrote about a particular incident. So I contacted the MHL and could scarcely believe it a week later when I was leafing oh-so-carefully though Louella’s *personal* scrapbook of all her columns!

  4. This sounds like a great place! This is one “starry-eyed movie nerd” who would love to see it. :)

  5. Thanks so much for this. I’ve been reading about this library for years in the notes of film books. I knew it was a big deal. Now I know why!

  6. One of these days, probably after I retire, I will move to Los Angeles, use the Herrick library as my home away from home, and research, research, research to my heart’s delight.

  7. I was just there a few months ago- the material they have is STAGGERING. Love love love it.

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