In Search of Madonna's Bra


April 4 2006 — -- If you think Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt is something you'd find on eBay, you'd better check the Smithsonian Institution, where it's found a place alongside such treasures as Mr. Rogers' sweater, Fonzie's leather jacket, Indiana Jones' fedora and Oscar the Grouch's garbage can.

Chances are, nearly any significant TV or movie prop you can name is on display somewhere, along with celebrity keepsakes that range from the mundane to the bizarre.

The park bench where Forrest Gump postulated that "life is like a box of chocolates" is on display at Georgia's Savannah History Museum. The Hollywood Museum has Marilyn Monroe's old refrigerator, and it's not far from the jail cell that housed Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs."

"For me, it's a treasure hunt. You think of something from a TV show or movie and you can find it," says Chris Epting, author of "The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einstein's Brain," a guide to some of America's strangest attractions.

For some museums, the Smithsonian decades ago legitimized the practice of turning TV props into museum exhibits, making room for Archie Bunker's chair and the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz."

Nowadays, "Austin Powers" fans will find Dr. Evil's ring at Washington, D.C.'s, International Spy Museum, which is also home to Maxwell Smart's shoe phone.

At smaller museums and roadside attractions, you'll find the Lone Ranger's mask (Maine's Fawcett Toy and Art Museum) and Arnold Schwarzenegger's M47 tank (Ohio's Motts Military Museum). Many years after serving in the Austrian army, Schwarzenegger purchased the tank that he drove. He brought it to Ohio in 1999 as an attraction at a Planet Hollywood. When that venture failed, he lent it to the museum.

And, of course, you'll also find these pop cultural curiosities:

Madonna's Conical Bra -- One of Madonna's most famous undergarments, the black-and-gold bustier from her "Who's That Girl" tour is a highlight at Frederick's of Hollywood's Lingerie Museum, which has a collection that includes Ethel Merman's girdle from "There's No Business Like Show Business" and Tom Hank's "Forrest Gump" boxers.

Historians will note Tony Curtis' female undergarments from "Some Like It Hot," the fur-trimmed negligee that Cybill Shepherd used in "Moonlighting," and something that purports to be Phyllis Diller's training bra (marked "This Side Up!").

Elton John's Platform Shoes -- How honored Sir Elton must be to have his monogrammed, rhinestone-studded, silver-and-black platform boots enshrined toe-to-toe alongside the late Princess Diana's fuchsia pumps. At Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum you'll also find Queen Victoria's ballroom slippers, John Lennon's Beatle boots and a pair of Elvis Presley's loafers.

Sir Elton wore those 5-inch platforms in concert in 1974, but later they became "too dull for stage wear," according to a curator. The Bata is hailed as the world's largest footwear collection, with 12,000 artifacts going back to 4,500-year-old Egyptian sandals, and other things Elton wouldn't be caught dead wearing.

Elvis Presley's Guns -- There's a side of Elvis Presley's past you won't find at Graceland, which was declared a National Historic Landmark just last month. At Sierra Sid's, a casino in Sparks, Nev., you'll find the 45-caliber handgun that Elvis supposedly used to shoot up a TV, along with two firearms he brought back from Germany after his stint in the Army.

Sierra Sid's purchased these items from the estate of Presley's dad, Vernon. It's now on display among the slot machines. And if you're looking for a bunch of middle-aged guys with an uncanny resemblance to the King, you're sure to hit the jackpot.

Cooter's General Lee -- "Dukes of Hazzard" star Ben Jones held onto that souped-up orange Dodge known as the General Lee, and he's gassed it up several times over the years when he's run for Congress, once describing himself as "a NASCAR Democrat."

Jones is the founder of Tennessee's Couter's Place Museum in Gatlinburg, where the General Lee is now a featured attraction, still sporting its trademark Confederate flag.

Burt Reynolds Canoe -- Burt Reynolds' hellish vacation in "Deliverance" never ends in Jupiter, Fla., where his canoe, destroyed in the movie, has been patched together and put on display. It's at the Burt Reynolds Museum, of course, where you'll also find Burt's Trans Am from "Smokey and the Bandit" and his football helmet from "The Longest Yard."

Burt's career might've hit some rough spots, but in the mid-1970s, he was the No. 1 box office draw for five years, and his legions of fans have sustained the attraction since 1989. At one point, Burt even founded an acting school there -- the Burt Reynolds Institute of Theater Training -- perhaps in hopes of discovering the next "Stroker Ace."

Roy Rogers' Horse -- The Burt Reynolds Museum happens to own Roy Rogers' $2,500 bill of sale for Trigger. But if you want to see what's left of "the smartest horse in the West," go to Brandon, Mo., home of the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum, where Rogers' golden palomino is stuffed and on display. Other cowboy curiosities can be found in the museum's popular "family attic."

Humphrey Bogart's African Queen -- The riverboat that Bogey sails through the jungle while bickering with Katherine Hepburn found a home in south Florida that's also the namesake of another Bogey classic -- Key Largo. The boat, built in 1912, was used mainly off the coast of Uganda until Hollywood borrowed it in 1950. Then, it went back into service for another 17 years.

In 1968, the steamship was auctioned off and brought to San Francisco. Bogey fans wanted it to be brought to Key Largo, but federal maritime law under the Jones Act made it illegal to move the outdated vessel. Finally, congressional lawmakers had to make a special exception, and now the boat is docked near a Holiday Inn.

Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams -- "If you build it, they will come," an unseen voice tells Kevin Costner in 1989's "Field of Dreams," and 17 years after he cut a baseball diamond in a cornfield fathers and sons are still coming to Dyersville, Iowa, to play catch.

Owner Don Lansing has resisted temptation to commercialize the field where 20,000 people visit each year and sign the guest registry, making it one of the state's top tourist attractions.

Admission is free, and a few token souvenirs are for sale. The field is mowed, manicured and irrigated thanks to voluntary donations.

Is this heaven? As they say in the movie, "No, it's Iowa."

Missing: The Partridge Family's Bus -- Of course, some movie props are forever lost. "The Partridge Family" bus, with its patchwork coloring and "Careful, Nervous Mother Driving" sign, has vanished.

Epting notes that it was parked for many years outside a Mexican restaurant in East Los Angeles. But in 1987 -- 13 years after the show's cancellation -- the restaurant's parking lot was repaved, and the bus shipped to a junkyard, its patchwork coloring long having faded beyond recognition.

"At least, we'll always have the music," Epting says. "And the reruns."

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.

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