Houses of Worship
Alas, this is not the shrine she got—or, some would say, deserved. "Hello Gorgeous!!," the shrine she did get when it opened in May in San Francisco's Castro district, is an affectionately campy collection of minor Streisandiana—an entire gallery of tacky portraits, leftover souvenirs from the comeback tour and low-tech multimedia displays—assembled by 39-year-old Ken Joachim, a former antiques-costume dealer who fell in love with Streisand 23 years ago, when he was cleaning house to the sound of "People" on the stereo. "I remember hearing this woman with this voice," he says. "And I thought, 'Wow.' "
Streisand, 54, has absolutely nothing to do with the museum or its gift shop, which sells knockoff wigs in various Streisand styles and press-on nails bearing the brand name Like Buttah. However, she did send a note: "Dear Ken, A Jewish shrine? Thanks. "And her half sister, singer Roslyn Kind, had a brief but friendly conversation with the curator, who came backstage and met her not long ago when she was performing in San Francisco. "I hope it goes well for him," she says, "because he seems very sincere and excited."
"Hello Gorgeous!!" is but one of dozens of celebrity museums in the United States. They are mostly modest affairs, frequently off the beaten path, more often than not in the star's hometown or birthplace. They are monuments of love, communal pride and innocent silliness. You wouldn't make them your summer vacation destination, but they make for delightful detours. So spin the compass and point your RV to the stars.
THE ROY ROGERS-DALE EVANS MUSEUM, Victorville, Calif.
One of the biggest celebrity museums, this timber-fronted fort is a fitting testament to the singing-acting cowboy, now 84, and his costar cowgirl wife, 83. And to their values: God, country, family—and packrat-ism. "Dad just saved everything," says Roy "Dusty" Rogers Jr., 49, who runs the museum and will be in charge of RogersDale USA, an adjoining western theme park opening in 1998. Evans is recovering from a recent stroke, but Rogers drops in occasionally, exciting the tourists. "With some women," says Dusty, "we've almost had to get them oxygen." Artifacts: Everything from Roy's carpentry tools to his huge gun collection, photos of the Rogers progeny (the couple, whose family includes five adopted children, have 32 great-grandchildren) and a letter from Ronald Reagan thanking Roy and Dale for supporting school prayer. Must-see curio: Trigger, Roy's beloved palomino and costar in 188 shoot-'em-ups. Mounted since his death in 1965, Trigger shares display space with his stand-in, Trigger Jr., the Rogerses' German shepherd Bullet and Dale's horse Buttermilk, as well as a bobcat, a moose and a hyena that Roy bagged himself. (619) 243-4547.
THE DEBBIE REYNOLDS HOLLYWOOD MOVIE MUSEUM, in the back of the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
The museum isn't about the plucky singer-actress, exactly, but it serves as a glorious dumping ground for the $30 million collection of memorabilia she has accumulated since 1970, when she went to a back-lot auction of MGM costumes and props and bid like crazy. "I'm the person who wanted to save these items for the fans of Hollywood's golden era," says Reynolds. "I've always been thunderstruck that the Hollywood community wasn't able to get it together to do it." This is a mere fraction of Reynolds's trove, and since the casino doesn't have its gambling license yet, you might as well venture back and see what Reynolds has put on display. You've got your ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, one of Carmen Miranda's mixed-fruit hats, Elizabeth Taylor's headdress from Cleopatra and Marilyn Monroe's famous up-swooshing dress from The Seven Year Itch. Christine Cummings, a visitor from Palo Alto, Calif., pauses to observe Fred Astaire's ratty dance shoes. "He wore those suckers out," she says. "You look at something like this, and you can get the vibrations from the people who wore them." The collection spills over into the hotel lobby, which has two Baccarat chandeliers from 1938's The Great Waltz, silent comedian Harold Lloyd's player piano and Mary Pickford's authentic golden locks. Must-see curio: Reynolds, who was a trouper before she became a collector, performs five nights a week, 11 months a year, in a showroom across from the museum. (702) 733-2243.
THE LUCY-DESI MUSEUM, Jamestown, N.Y.
"We have some of the gowns she wore to award ceremonies, but basically what we have is what she wore to the bank," says director Michelle Buhite, 33, summing up this 2,100-square-foot, multimedia tribute to Jamestown's most famous citizen, Lucille Ball, who was born here in this city in Upstate New York in 1911. Buhite, who is still cataloging items—many donated by Ball's daughter Lucie Arnaz, 45—points to an electric-blue bowler hat trimmed with synthetic fur. "It was the great age of polyester," she notes. Must-see curio: The most popular exhibit is devoted to the actress's hair care. There are several canisters of henna, a comb laced with a few bright strands of red hair and a wig in curlers. Why curlers? "This is how it came," says museum employee John Schillner. As for Desi Arnaz, Ball's first husband and I Love Lacy costar, the city council declared him an honorary Jamestownian in May, which explains the presence of his attaché case. (716) 484-7070.
JIMMY STEWART MUSEUM, Indiana, Pa.
When Indiana's citizens decided it was high time to honor Stewart, the most celebrated son of this former timber-and-coal town 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, they envisioned a sprawling complex. Presented with their proposal three years ago at his home in Los Angeles, Stewart, now 88, drawled, "If that's your idea, I'm not interested." He would agree only to something much more modest, which is why his year-old museum is housed on the third floor of the Indiana Free Library, just around the corner from his boyhood home and across the street from what was once his father's store, J.M. Stewart & Co. Hardware. "Gary Cooper was Gary Cooper, John Wayne was John Wayne. But Jimmy, people feel like they know him," says museum director Ellen von Karajan. "He never went Hollywood." Artifacts: The Stewart family's genealogy is traced in one display, and there are such movie mementos as little bells—like the ones that chime in It's a Wonderful Life, announcing the promotion of an angel—that he gave to a boyhood friend, Bill Moorehead. (Life is Stewart's personal favorite among his own films.) Must-see curio: The 6-foot, 3-inch-tall stuffed rabbit—Stewart's imaginary friend from 1950's Harvey. (800)-83-JIMMY.
ANDY GRIFFITH MUSEUM, Mount Airy, N.C.
To most tourists this town in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains is indistinguishable from Mayberry, the rustic setting for The Andy Griffith Show and its spinoff Mayberry RFD. Griffith, born here in 1926, left for the University of North Carolina in 1944; Emmett Forrest, 68, his classmate through high school—"We hung out together," he says, "goofing around"—stayed put, became a vice president of a power-line construction company and spent three decades collecting Griffith memorabilia. "I had it on the walls and in boxes," says Forrest. "Then we moved out of the house into a condo." The collection is now on display in its own nook at the Visitors Center. Artifacts: the suit he wore playing a lawyer for nine years on Matlock (Griffith donated this item himself) and the cover for his 1959 album Andy Griffith Shouts the Blues and Old Timey Songs. Must-see curio: the white-and-orange plastic wrapper that was once the casing for an Andy Griffith Whole Hog Sausage, part of a line of food products that the actor lent his name to back in the '60s. "I got that at a memorabilia auction," says Forrest, who talks to Griffith by phone every few months. "I paid $267." (800) 576-0231.
GRACELANDTOO, Holly Springs, Miss.
A sign in front of the wood-frame house on Gholson Avenue announces, "Home of the Universe's, Galaxy's, Planet's, World's Ultimate #1 Elvis Fans." If you're a Presley pilgrim, you must stop here and meet Paul MacLeod, 53, and his son Elvis Aaron Presley MacLeod, 23. Day or night, makes no difference. "We sleep on cushions in the front room," says Paul MacLeod. Artifacts: This strange lode of ephemera—from glossies to TV Guides that mention the King—was started by the elder MacLeod in 1955, when he got all shook up watching Presley on TV. (His mania ultimately shook his marriage as well. "We were together 22 years," he says of ex-wife Selena. "Three years ago she said, 'It's either me or the collection.' I said, 'Bye.' ") Five TVs run nonstop so that the younger MacLeod, who is awfully thorough, can tape any program dealing with Presley. Prize item: a rare ticket for Presley's Aug. 27, 1977, concert in Memphis, which he didn't live to perform. Must-see curio: Carpet remnants from Graceland's Jungle Room. (601) 252-7954.
THE HANK WILLIAMS SR. BOYHOOD HOME & MUSEUM, Georgiana, Ala.
Leona Simmons, 57, tour guide to this restored white clapboard house, knows all you need to know about the formative years the fast-living country-music giant (1923-1953) passed here between the ages of 6 and 11. (His first home, outside town, was knocked down long ago.) "Hank used to sit out on an old car seat by the porch and play his guitar," Simmons says. Artifacts: You'll find the bench Hank stood on when he sang publicly for the first time, at 6, in a Baptist church; and the shoeshine box he toted around town as a boy to earn spending money. Must-see curio: Not curios exactly, but crucial nonetheless, are the train tracks out front—the probable source of the lonesome whistle that haunted Williams's music. Trains still clatter by every day. "That's one reason nothin' hangs straight in here," says Simmons. (334) 376-2396.
THE BULLS HOUSE, Romeoville, Ill.
It's impossible to miss Rodney and Patty Spurlock's domestic shrine to Chicago's triumphant basketball team. A Bulls blanket hangs in the front window, and a wooden Bulls mascot is by the mailbox. Except for the bedrooms, virtually every inch of interior space has been surrendered to 4,000 black-and-red team mementos. "We just love our team," says Rodney Spurlock, 36, a concrete finisher who has been a Bulls collector since attending his first game 24 years ago. "We're not obsessed." (At this, Patty, 31, laughs.) Artifacts: Two bricks from the old Chicago Stadium, which the Bulls vacated in 1994 after 27 seasons; and six life-size cardboard cutouts of Michael Jordan. Must-see curio: The ceramic ducks in uniforms sewn by Patty. (815) 886-2373. But please call ahead—this is a house first, a museum second.
TOM GLIATTO, from bureau reports