Forgotten Florida: Stars Hall of Fame Part 2
Special Note: Part one of this special photo journal piece covered the motion picture portion of the museum. Part two picks up where our tour left off.
The final two sections of Stars Hall of Fame deviated slightly from the motion picture theme prevalent throughout the rest of the museum. First, the big screen became the small screen in an area dubbed The Stars of Television. This single section attempted to cover a medium that had already been around for over twenty years but it did succeed at hitting the highlights. Showcased in this area were stars like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball who were the elder statesmen of the television medium. There were also exhibits for shows like Bonanza, The Beverly Hillbillies, Laugh-In, and even a figure of comedian Flip Wilson which transformed into his drag persona of Geraldine. The coolest set though was a recreation of the bridge from the starship Enterprise staffed by her familiar crew from Star Trek. The futuristic equipment flashed and chirped with authentic sound effects from the series while the theme music played in the background. Even though Mr. Spock was seen standing at attention on the bridge with his crewmates, he could also be spotted nearby in a transporter bay where he would dematerialize for parts unknown when guests pressed a button.
The Sounds of the Stars was the last display area of the museum and paid tribute to a wide variety of recording artists. Liza Minnelli was shown decked out in her night club outfit from Cabaret while Louis Armstrong appeared to be blowing his signature trumpet nearby. Statues of country musicians Johnny Cash and Roy Clark were perched on stools playing a silent duet as patrons filed through. My favorite exhibit in this area was also one of the museum’s few real disappointments due mainly to an uncharacteristic lack of attention to detail. In an interesting attempt to combine the trappings of live action and animation, The Beatles were depicted in normal form springing out of the periscopes of the Yellow Submarine from their feature length cartoon film of the same name. The Fab Four were surrounded by images of Blue Meanies and the trappings of Pepperland rendered in what appeared to be some type of stained glass. This was an odd but appreciable concept that was glaringly marred by the boys being dressed in the wrong clothes. John was dressed like Paul, Paul was wearing George’s tunic, George was in Ringo’s suite and Ringo was decked out like John. Whether the heads were switched at the last minute by an ignorant employee or the designer just never looked too close at an album cover or movie poster for the film, this was not a great note to let guests exit on.
At the end of the museum, Stars Hall of Fame had a few final activities to part visitors with their hard earned cash. The first was a full size arcade that featured a shooting gallery, ski ball, and even a few primitive video games that were just starting to light up on the amusement horizon. After guests worked up an appetite shooting animatronic ducks or tossing wooden balls, they could grab a bite to eat in the on premises restaurant. Stage 44 was designed like a Hollywood sound stage with different themed movie sets. Visitors could enjoy their meals in backdrops from everything from a Japanese teahouse to a frontier saloon to a pirate ship. Last but by no means least was an expansive souvenir shop with a wide variety of branded items as well as memorabilia from the movies in general that made it difficult for anyone to leave the attraction empty handed.
Stars Hall of Fame opened to good reviews and admirable attendance but the museum quickly found itself on the crest of a wave of competition for tourist dollars. Most kids had little interest in seeing wax figures of celebrities with limited mobility when the wonders of Walt Disney World, Sea World, and the recently opened EPCOT were literally right around the corner. The museum tried to stay current and over time new exhibits were added from recent films like Superman: The Movie which showed Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel in his icy fortress of solitude. Stars from current television shows were also added like Lou Grant, the cast of All in the Family, and even The Fonz from Happy Days but business continued to decline.
After limping along for several years, Star Hall of Fame underwent a major overhaul in 1982 to make it more interactive with guests. A screen test was added so that visitors could feel like they were cast members on a current 20th Century Fox television production. Younger children who were easily bored by the wax figures could now be entertained by a movie themed puppet show. Unlucky museum employees were tapped to play live action versions of the Keystone Kops and harass even less fortunate patrons to supposedly keep things lively. The western area of the displays was separated by a newly constructed façade of a period town and renamed Gunfighter’s Gulch. A stunt show was also added to this section to educate guests on how saloon fights and quick draw gunfights were done in the movies. The most impressive change the museum made was grouping their horror exhibits together under the banner of Vincent Price’s Monster Manor. This castle setting included some creepy gargoyles and leering apparitions as well as an audio commentary by Mr. Price himself. As hard as they tried though nothing seemed to be able to win back the tourists that had been lost to the theme parks and in September of 1984 the spotlights at Stars Hall of Fame went dark for good.
As mentioned earlier, most kids back in the 70’s and 80’s were more interested in thrill rides than they were movies but thankfully I wasn’t like most kids! My first of several visits to Stars Hall of Fame was with my parents shortly after it opened. I can still recall being overwhelmed by all of the exhibits and how vast the place seemed. When we reached the end of the museum that lead into the arcade, I was absolutely certain that we must have missed some portions of it and surely there had to be a figure for King Kong. On subsequent trips I was able to better study the layout and found that we had covered everything but there were still new details to discover as my knowledge of motion picture history was expanding. At one point I even had the foresight to bring an instamatic camera with me and preserved a few blurry snapshots of some of the exhibits including The Beatles. My final visit was in the spring of 1984 as part of a field trip for a media class I was taking during my senior year of high school. Somehow our instructor had managed to piggyback our class along with another group going to EPCOT and even got us a guided tour of the museum. The multimedia show had been changed to the history of music instead of movies, which was fine by me, and a special area had been added with rock and roll memorabilia. Our guide gave us the inside scoop on the workings of the museum and plied us with trivia on the exhibits as we worked our way through. This was the only time I visited the museum after their revamping and I still remember being impressed by the new horror area. As we concluded our tour in the music portion of the museum I noticed that display for Yellow Submarine was conspicuously missing. After enduring several minutes of my prodding questions, our guide finally confessed that it had been removed due to complaints from visitors but she couldn’t tell me what had happened to it after that. Supposedly another Beatles themed exhibit was in the planning stages but it never saw the light of day since the museum was closed just a few months later.
Six Flags sold Stars Hall of Fame to an investment corporation that purchased many of the Orlando attractions in the mid 1980’s. While most of the others remained open, the wax museum was closed immediately and eventually became an even less successful educational attraction before the building was demolished to make way for restaurants and strip malls. The Movieland Wax Museum managed to hang on until 2005 but eventually it too fell victim to changing times and declining tourist dollars. As a movie buff that doesn’t require a constant bombardment of stimulation to hold my interests, I thoroughly enjoyed the Stars Hall of Fame during its not quite decade of existence and I would love to see another museum like it open up one day even if it still didn’t have a roller coaster!