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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Hollywood Casino's Movie Memorabilia a Good Bet

25 August 1999

When you first set foot in the building, you're not quite prepared for what you're about to see. Over there is a display case with mannequins wearing the very same Blues Brothers black suits that John Belushi and Dan Akroyd wore in the movie. Turn the corner and you step up to one of the lifeboats used in the box office smash Titanic.

No, you haven't entered a museum showcasing the history of the cinema and the stars of the silver screen. You've just entered the pavilion of the Hollywood Casino in Aurora, Ill., a most unlikely venue for such captivating displays, yet a must-see attraction for anyone who's ever been star struck. And who among us hasn't?

The collection of more than 1,800 pieces of memorabilia from the history of motion pictures is something that has distinguished the Hollywood Casino Aurora from its riverboat casino competition in the Chicago-area ever since it first began operations in the summer of 1993.

Walk down a hall and marvel at memorabilia from the career of Elvis Presley. Peer into a display case and see a machine gun used in the movie The FBI Story and autographed by the Hollywood legend who used it, Jimmy Stewart. Check out the baseball glove and other items used by Robert Redford in the haunting film The Natural.

Pieces from Hollywood Casino Aurora's extensive memorabilia collection may be found anywhere you look on the property, from the walkways leading out of the elevators in the parking garage, to the halls and concourse areas of the pavilion, the restaurants, lounges, and banquet facilities, even the riverboat casinos themselves, the City of Lights I and the City of Lights II.

A majority of folks may go to the Hollywood for a session of gaming, but the distinctive bonus of what amounts to museum-quality sights and attractions is guaranteed to make a visit there extra special. As a matter of fact, taking the time to tour the entire facility just to check out the memorabilia is well worth it.

Walk up the stairs and you're greeted by a motorcycle ridden by Steve McQueen. Up ahead is a chair and costume used by "Uncle Fester" in the movie adaptation of the popular TV series from the 60's, The Addams Family. Or how about a display case with props used by James Caan and Kathy Bates in the thriller Misery?

The person responsible for assembling the collection of memorabilia is David Cranmer, senior vice-president of design for HWCC Corp., parent company of the Hollywood Casino Aurora. He began his search for items soon after development of the newly licensed property began.

"The 'Hollywood' theme of the property made a collection of movie memorabilia a natural," Cranmer said, speaking from his Dallas, Texas office. "In addition to Aurora, Ill., we also have memorabilia on display at our Tunica, Miss., location. There's also a development in the works in Shreveport, La.

"Our collection ranges from the movie careers of Rudolf Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks, to John Travolta and Brad Pitt. Our displays are constantly being updated as we acquire new items. Inventory not currently on display is stored in a warehouse located in the Chicago area."

Cranmer's never ending quest for new items to add to the Hollywood's collection takes him all around the country and sometimes around the world.

"When I first set out to accumulate memorabilia for display at our new riverboat casino properties, I went to auction houses," Cranmer revealed. "We participate in the bidding in person at times, but for obvious reasons we prefer to bid by phone. Among our competitors for items is the Hard Rock Café. In addition to auction houses we also purchase through brokers, private collections, and directly from the movie studios themselves."

While Cranmer would not divulge the value of the Hollywood's collection, he acknowledged that it is in fact a major investment that appreciates in value.

"We have an archivist on staff whose sole responsibility is to keep track of our inventory, maintain records and files, and to protect letters of authenticity that go along with the items," Cranmer observed. "Also, we go to great measures to preserve and maintain the memorabilia. Some of the items that go back to the silent film era can deteriorate if they are not cared for properly."

While dining in the Hollywood Casino's exclusive steakhouse, The Fairbanks Room, you can see the cape, boots, and sword used by the famed swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks. Walk down the hall to the lounge and view items of clothing worn by the blonde bombshell Jean Harlow, or catch a glimpse of shoes worn by Carmen Miranda.

"Once I knew Douglas Fairbanks and Jean Harlow would be our restaurant themes, I targeted memorabilia associated with them," Cranmer said. "Harlow memorabilia is extremely rare, so I'm very proud of our collection and what I was able to procure as far as her career is concerned."

Cranmer and his staff attempt to change the displays once a year. Some will go to their Tunica, Miss., property and vice-versa. Some items will go into storage in the warehouse for a period of time.

"I purchased lifeboats used in the movie Titanic and other items connected with that motion picture directly from the studio," Cranmer noted. "Just recently I bought several items used in the movie Armageddon. We're already in the process of bringing in those and other new displays.

"Our conceptual artist is Sam Bocchicchio. He's the person responsible for coming up with all those great displays, setting up scenes, and placing mannequins. He does a tremendous job bringing light and life into the collection."

Of all the pieces in the Hollywood's collection of movie memorabilia, is there any one item or items that hold special significance for Cranmer?

"From a perspective of the most significant pieces from recent vintage, I would have to say our collection of Elvis Presley items," he responded. "At first I wasn't a real Elvis fan, but after I met people who had known him, or saw him perform, and heard their stories, I came to know him as quite a spectacular guy and a fantastic entertainer.

"One of our most valuable pieces is one of Elvis' red electric guitars that he used in his 1969 comeback special. That guitar is currently on loan to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio."

Even if you're not a gaming fan, do yourself a favor and check out the outstanding collection of movie memorabilia on display at the Hollywood Casino Aurora. It's free and is an entertainment alternative that's unique in the Chicago-area gaming market.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp