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TCM's Ben Mankiewicz at Boca Raton Museum's "Art of the Hollywood Backdrop"
Thomas A. Walsh (Co-Curator), Jody Harrison Grass (Chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees), Ben Mankiewicz, and Irvin Lippman (Museum Director) (photo by Lynn Becerra)

BOCA RATON, FLA.- Blockbuster Museum Show Breaks Attendance Records . . . Ben Mankiewicz, the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), greeted hundreds of fans at the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s nationally acclaimed exhibition “Art of the Hollywood Backdrop,” now in its final six weeks of a spectacular run. “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 love seeing this museum exhibition, a testament to the power of classic Hollywood films.” Watch the video at “Through this singular exhibition, art lovers and film fans of all ages are embracing this collection of Hollywood backdrops that were 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.”

TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz with Thomas A. Walsh, one of the co-curators of the exhibition (photo by World Red Eye)

Joining Mankiewicz at the Museum event was one of the exhibition’s co-curators, Thomas A. Walsh ‒ the Emmy Award-winning Art Director from Hollywood. Mankiewicz and Walsh were also the guests of honor at a sold-out, private fundraising event later that evening at the historic resort The Boca Raton, benefitting the Museum. Walsh helped to preserve these historic backdrops from America’s Golden Age of Cinema, along with co-curator Karen L. Maness.

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 artists were the backbone of the film industry. These are literally some of the largest paintings ever created in the world, similar to cyclorama paintings. Aside from the technicians working in the soundstages, no one else has set eyes upon this collection. This is the first time the public can see this collection in person.

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. During his career at TCM, he 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.

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

The Museum has created a series of events for film lovers throughout December and January, more details at 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Rave Reviews for Art of the Hollywood Backdrop

From The Wall Street Journal:
“A terrific exhibition” . . . “Artworks in their own right, sometimes even upstaging the films themselves” . . . “These spaces are dizzying, we seem suspended in space” . . . “The mastery of these backings now seems mysterious and confounding, and their wizardry more compelling than many of the figures who once appeared before them” . . . “The backings’ raw power is so palpable”

From The Times of London:
“Forgotten Hollywood backdrops become star attraction” . . . “Transporting audiences to dramatic landscapes and grand settings through the art of illusion”

From The Hollywood Reporter:
“Walking through the Museum’s galleries feels like taking a tour through Hollywood soundstages” . . . “It’s fun to watch people enjoy those memories of their favorite films in this way”

From Metropolis Magazine:
“Immersive visuals on large-scale canvases . . . It’s a welcome kind of virtual reality” . . . “These monumental paintings were essential to moviemaking for almost a century and were never meant to be seen by the public with the naked eye” . . . “The rare opportunity for movie buffs to wander among the actual larger-than-life backdrops from their favorite films is as irresistible as it is dreamlike”

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

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