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Ben Mankiewicz at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, with Hollywood Backdrop (photo by Lynn Becerra)

TCM’s Prime-time Host Ben Mankiewicz Dazzles Hundreds of Fans at the Spectacular “Art of the Hollywood Backdrop”

Kicks Off Holiday Events at the Boca Raton Museum of Art

Blockbuster Museum Show Breaks Attendance Records . . .

Ben Mankiewicz, the prime-time host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), greeted hundreds of fans and kicked off a series of Holiday events at the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s nationally acclaimed exhibition “Art of the Hollywood Backdrop,” now in its final five weeks of a spectacular run (on view through Jan. 22).

“I am honored to have been invited by the Boca Raton Museum of Art to be part of the Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, before this stellar museum experience concludes its successful debut,” said Ben Mankiewicz.

“There are so many avid film lovers and TCM fans in South Florida who loved seeing this exhibition, a testament to the power of classic Hollywood films,” adds Ben Mankiewicz.

Installation photo at the Boca Raton Museum of Art (photo by Jacek Gancarz)

Joining Ben Mankiewicz at the Museum event was one of the exhibition’s co-curators, Thomas A. Walsh, the Emmy Award-winning Art Director from Hollywood who served as President of the Art Directors Guild of America for three consecutive terms (the union representing Hollywood’s art directors, set designers and illustrators).

The Boca Raton Museum of Art presents the world premiere of this larger-than-life show, the first dedicated museum exhibition of its kind honoring the unsung heroes of Hollywood’s artistic DNA, going back through time almost 100 years.

“Through this singular exhibition, art lovers and film fans of all ages are embracing this collection of Hollywood backdrops almost lost forever,” said Irvin Lippman, the Museum’s Executive Director.

“The world premiere of Art of the Hollywood Backdrop has shined the global spotlight on South Florida,” adds Lippman. “We have seen a significant increase in visitors from throughout the U.S. and abroad.”

Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: Cinema’s Creative Legacy is on view through January 22, 2023 and honors the unsung heroes who created these monumental canvases for the camera, going back almost 100 years.

These are literally some of the largest paintings ever created in the world, similar to cyclorama paintings. Aside from the original cast and crew working in the sound stages when these Hollywood classics were made, no one else has set eyes upon this collection.

This is the first time the public can see this collection in person.

The exhibition was originated by the Boca Raton Museum of Art and is co-curated by Thomas A. Walsh and Karen L. Maness, who played pivotal roles among a group of passionate Hollywood insiders to salvage these American treasures.

The result in the Museum’s galleries is a magical portal that takes the terms “large-scale,” “immersive,” and “virtual reality” to a whole new level.

Left-to-Right: Jody Harrison Grass (Chair of the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees), Scott Singer (Mayor of Boca Raton), Ben Mankiewicz, and Irvin Lippman (Director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art). Photo by Lynn Becerra.

Ben Mankiewicz is an award-winning television personality, film critic, writer and producer. When he made his TCM debut in 2003, he became only the second host hired in the network’s history.

Ben Mankiewicz greets fans at the Boca Raton Museum of Art (photo by Lynn Becerra)

During his career at TCM, Mankiewicz has introduced thousands of movies on the air and has become one of the most renowned interviewers in the business, leading thoughtful and entertaining conversations with more than two hundred of the movie industry’s top talents, including . . .

Mel Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Sophia Loren, Martin Scorsese, Warren Beatty, Ava DuVernay, Annette Bening, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarantino, Jodie Foster, Brad Bird, Faye Dunaway, Lou Gossett, Jr., and Michael Douglas.

Ben Mankiewicz greets fans at the Boca Raton Museum of Art (photo by Lynn Becerra)

More About the “Art of the Hollywood Backdrop”

A film still from “The Sound of Music,” showing the actual location which was recreated with one of the iconic backdrops seen by the public for the first time in this exhibition (1965), 20th Century Fox.

The Museum has created a series of events for film lovers throughout December and January, more details at bocamuseum.org/visit/events. This exhibition of 22 scenic backdrops, made for the movies between 1938 and 1968, celebrates an art form nearly forgotten.

This is a well-deserved moment in the spotlight for the dozens of unidentified studio artists. Their uncredited craftsmanship made scenes of Mount Rushmore, Ben Hur’s Rome, the Von Trapp Family’s Austrian Alps, and Gene Kelly’s Paris street dance possible.

Twenty of these backdrops, including the famous Mount Rushmore, are being loaned by the Texas Performing Arts Hollywood Backdrop Collection at the University of Texas.

In addition, a 1952 backdrop for Singin’ in the Rain and the tapestry backdrop for Marie Antoinette (1938) are on loan from the Motion Picture Academy in Los Angeles.

These creations were painted for the camera lens itself, not for the human eye. It is a very impressionistic style of painting ― not really photo-realism, but it snaps together as photo-realistic when viewed from a distance.

Up close they look totally different. When visitors to the Museum take selfies with their phone cameras, the resulting image will look very different from what they see in person in the gallery.

This unique concept of “photo-realism for the camera” was spearheaded by George Gibson, he took scenic art to an entirely new level of artistry. In the hey-day of MGM, they had three shifts of scenic artists working day and night, non-stop.

Historic photo of some of the original artists who created these Hollywood backdrops (1950), John H. Coakley (photo courtesy of J.C. Backings)

Some of these artists who created the Hollywood Backdrops came from a family tradition of the craft, with lineages spanning three generations of painters through several decades. The craft stayed within the family.

Most were trained as professional artists, yet they remained uncredited, sometimes because of union agreements, and mainly because the studios wanted to keep a firm grip on the secret techniques that were handed down from master to apprentice on the backlots.

Historic photos of some of the original artists who created these Hollywood backdrops.

The show’s immersive components include interactive video reels created in Hollywood specifically for this exhibition, telling the stories behind each backdrop.

Soundscapes have been engineered to surround visitors in the museum, including atmospheric sound effects related to the original movies, and to the scenic vistas.