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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Star Museum Opens in Abingdon

Ron Kron celebrity dolls are among the items in Abingdon's newest attraction, the Star Museum. Photo by Fresh Air Photographics.
Ron Kron celebrity dolls are among the items in Abingdon's newest attraction, the Star Museum. Photo by Fresh Air Photographics.
Additional photos below »

Robert Weisfeld Collection

August 01, 2007

ABINGDON, va. — Abingdon's newest Historic District attraction, the Star Museum, opened for public viewing on Thursday, July 26, in conjunction with the 59th Virginia Highlands Festival. The collector, Robert Weisfeld, did the curating himself, and is calling the first installment "Summer Under the Stars."

The museum offers intimate glimpses into celebrity — from a Life magazine autographed by Joe DiMaggio, to cosmetic items which once readied stars for the red carpet, to hats, dresses, and costumes worn by Hollywood glitterati and music legends. The rotating exhibits will be housed in the former Abingdon Virginian offices in an 1895 building across from the Washington County Chamber of Commerce on East Main Street.

One of the East Coast's great memorabilia collections, Weisfeld's archive has taken decades to amass — from purchases at the Virginia Highlands Festival to estate auctions in Manhattan. Autographs, posters, stills, scrapbooks, vintage magazines, handbills, wires and newspapers capture the nature of household notoriety — whether in showbiz or public life. But the strength of the collection hinges on personal belongings of the famous, allowing intimate glimpses into celebrity.

Instead of doing a museum pertaining to things local, Weisfeld decided to do something with broader tourism appeal. The last time Weisfeld's collection was seen locally was in a June 2003 exhibit at William King Regional Arts Center. "That was only about Hollywood," explains Weisfeld, who says he has broadened the collection to include popular culture. Visitors are as likely to see a cotton cowboy shirt worn by Roy Rogers or a yellow gingham performance dress of Loretta Lynn's as they are to see things that belonged to Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley.

? In one display are human hair swatches belonging to Ava Gardner, and cosmetic items associated with Mae West, Fanny Brice, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Susan Hayward, Jayne Mansfield, and Brigitte Bardot.

? Peering inside another glass display, one gets a sense of the life of Marilyn Monroe. A monogrammed faux leopard purse with Bakelite handles seems to have spilled its contents — Monroe's scarf, an Italian eyeglass case, handkerchief, wallet, desk set piece, and chandelier earrings. Completing the effect are unused matches from the Kennedy White House, Frank Sinatra's cufflinks, a vintage Las Vegas Sands cocktail swizzle stick, and a small Brooklyn Bridge photo of Monroe and Arthur Miller, autographed by Miller.

? In a grouping Weisfeld calls "The Lonely Ladies" are three dresses: a sleeveless gold mini-dress worn by Judy Garland when she married Mickey Dean, a nightclub owner in London; a plum-colored raw silk dress of Janis Joplin's; and the centerpiece — a full-length evening gown of Monroe's in pale yellow silk with spaghetti straps and an embroidered chiffon overlay.

? Wardrobe pieces include Clint Eastwood's autographed helmet from Kelly's Heroes, Laurence Olivier's suede jacket with plaid wool sleeves from Wuthering Heights, and the one-piece polka-dot swimsuit of the principal dancer in Beach Blanket Bingo. Also look for Charlie Chaplin's sterling cigarette case, a chair from the sun room at Graceland, a German portrait of Alfred Hitchcock from the movie director's estate. Sunglasses include those worn by Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Betty Davis, and Jayne Mansfield's eyewear from Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

? A variety of head coverings include a black Italian straw hat from the estate of Marilyn Monroe; Mae West's picture hat from Paramount Pictures; a silk hat made for Vivien Leigh; a Fifth Avenue top hat belonging to Fred Astaire; and a pink turban and matching gloves from the personal wardrobe of Joan Crawford, worn during her years as ambassador for Pepsi-Cola.

? Weisfeld's collection includes work done by the late Ron Kron, a Minnesota puppeteer who evolved into celebrity dollmaker — many famous people commissioned dolls of themselves. Kron's work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of the City of New York and the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. During his heyday, Kron designed the front Christmas windows of Bloomingdale's on an annual basis.

Admission is $10. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. 276-628-2962.

Topics: Exhibits

Another celebrity doll by the late Ron Kron depicts Joan Crawford. (Photo by Mark Luague)

Personal items belonging to Marilyn Monore can be seen in the Star Museum. (Photo by Mark Luague)

Photo by Fresh Air Photographics.

Celebrity headwear is also displayed. (Photo by Mark Luague)

Cosmetics items of Mae West's and human hair swatches belonging to Ava Gardner are featured in another display. (Photo Mark Luague)

A tag in an item of clothing marked "L. (Laurence) Olivier." (Photo by Mark Luague)

(Photo by Mark Laugue)