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,” amassed a $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 center 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.
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 and “were huge monster fans” who loved horror movies and were thrilled by visits to the studio’s makeup lab where monsters were created, Correll said.
“It was heaven on earth for little kids who loved horror movies,” he said.
The boy was shocked to see props and costumes that seemed precious to him get thrown away, such as a suit for the actor playing the monster in “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” 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” and start a lifelong obsession with collecting science fiction fantasy and horror films memorabilia.
“It was one of the heads of Hyde,” said the 73-year-old Correll, “and I still have it.”
His collection is now the largest of its kind in the world, he said, and includes props as small as Gremlins from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” and as large as full-size dinosaurs from “Jurassic Park” movies.
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 said.
The more permanent attraction upstairs at Hollywood & Highland will be called Icons of Darkness/The Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror Hall of Fame, he said.
“We’re planning to do everything that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does, only on a more frequent basis,” he said, such as induction ceremonies, celebrity appearances and other live-streamed events.
It will also have a store, he said, “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.
Parts of Hollywood & Highland are closed while the center undergoes a $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 center’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 said. “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.”
The museum’s location next to the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, where millions of annual visitors step into movie stars’ concrete footprints, puts it at the hot center 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%, according to a study by the Hollywood Partnership, a business improvement program for shops along the boulevard and other stakeholders. The hotel occupancy rate in the Hollywood/Beverly Hills area has climbed from 52% in April to 72% in July, according to STR, a global hospitality data and analytics company.
The occupancy rate at the upscale Dream Hollywood hotel has risen above 85% and revenue from food and beverage sales has started to exceed pre-pandemic numbers, general manager Vaughn Davis told The Times in August.
“It’s fair to say that tourists are coming back,” said Drew Planting, chairman of the Hollywood Partnership board of directors.
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 said. “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.”
The arrival of Correll’s high-profile partnership demonstrates Hollywood’s resilience, Planting said.
“Hollywood is about names, for better or for worse, so the backing of this museum carries a lot of sway,” he said of Correll. “He’s somebody who is in the industry, has succeeded in the industry, is well-known, well-capitalized — 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 favorite Immersive Van Gogh exhibit at Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards and the city’s formal art museums, said 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 L.A.’s spot as the city where one can get close to movie-making magic,” Skeoch said.