HOLLYWOOD HIGH MAY SOUND like the most glamorous place in America to flunk trigonometry in. But when Jeanne Hon became principal in 1992, the building, then 89 years old, was hardly the showplace of the L.A. public school system or its bedraggled neighborhood. "There was steam rising where broken pipes were," she recalls. "There was graffiti everywhere. The restrooms were unbelievable—the health department had closed them down." Today Hon, 64, is busily restoring not just the structure but the spirit of Hollywood High. Aided by $100,000 in alumni donations, she has fixed up the property—and created an elaborate version of the dusty trophy case found in so many school vestibules. Behold, behind the library: the Hollywood High Alumni Museum.
Want to see Lana Turner as a shy sophomore? Interested in an autographed book from Secretary of State Warren Christopher ('42)? Few schools could ever be this awash in alumni artifacts. Partly because of its location—one block south of Hollywood Boulevard—and partly because it has been around so long, Hollywood High boasts a dazzling array of alumni. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland went there in the '30s, James Garner in the '40s, Ricky Nelson in the '50s. Linda Evans and Stefanie Powers both graduated in 1960, followed by Rita Wilson in 1972. Hon has pulled together pictures of the stars, as well as memorabilia from such non-showbiz alums as world-renowned potter Beatrice Woods (who donated several pieces of work to the museum), and put them on display for students and visitors (the latter must call first for an appointment). Hon, who got the idea when she cleaned out the school basement and needed a place to store the moldering mementos, is trying to inspire hope in her polyglot student population of 3,000. "We want to show the connection," she says, "between past and present."
Most famous alums think that's a fine idea. John Ritter ('66), who donated a key chain from his series Three's Company, says, "It's important for kids to know that people who are successful once looked at a physiology chapter and didn't have a clue." Carol Burnett ('51) came back in 1994 to talk about the days when she lived in a one-room apartment with her grandmother and the shower-curtain rod was her closet, Hon recalls. The kids seemed interested—and pleased to know that Brandy, the pop singer and Moesha sitcom star, attended Hollywood High in 1993. "I want my picture in the museum someday," says Jacqueline Puumala, a 17-year-old junior. "It makes me feel honored to go to a school that has so much history."
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