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MOVIE LIBRARY IS AT END OF LINE

Times Staff Writer

Evicting a librarian is like booing a “Save the Seals” speech. You could get smacked over the head with a principle (or a placard) before you get a chance to tell your story.

Even then, if your defense is profit, you’d better duck.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 22, 1986 IMPERFECTIONS
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 22, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Page 123 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Ken Kenyon of Thousand Oaks differs with Jack Mathews’ statement in Film Clips June 11 that Universal is the only studio with an active, unmothballed library. Kenyon has worked in the research library at 20th Century Fox for 30 years.

For the last five years, movie research librarian Lillian Michelson and her 4,500 books, 6,000 magazines and 1 million clippings have had a home at the North Las Palmas complex that was once Hollywood General Studios. She was brought there by Francis Coppola when he took over the facility and tried to reprise the old studio system.

Coppola’s Zoetrope was to be like Louis B. Mayer’s MGM, with contract players, contract directors and contract craftsmen. While he was at it, why not a contract library?

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At one time, every studio in Hollywood had its own library, where researchers authenticated everything from ancient weapons to modern wigs. But with the end of the old studio system--when films became outside projects commissioned or picked up by studios--the libraries became expendable overhead items.

Today, the only studio with an active, well-budgeted research library is Universal. The others are either mothballed, or gone, and movie art directors have to depend on private collections for their research.

The Samuel Goldwyn Co. started its library in 1932. By 1969, the studio decided the space could be put to better use and sold the entire collection--on a cash and carry basis--for $20,000. The buyer: Goldwyn’s assistant librarian Lillian Michelson.

For 10 years, the Lillian Michelson Research Library operated out of a converted laundry room at the American Film Institute’s Greystone mansion. In exchange for rent, she did research for AFI students. But with increased enrollment, her space there also became too dear for books, so she was asked to move again.

On that occasion, with friends joining the hunt, she was saved by Philip Chamberlin, a former film archivist. Chamberlin, now a producer, offered Michelson free space in his offices above the Pantages Theater for as long as she needed it.

It was there that Coppola found the library and Michelson in early 1980 and talked her into hauling it down the street to the new Old Hollywood at Zoetrope.

The arrangement was perfect, Michelson says. She received a permanent rent-free home for her collection; Coppola received an instant library, and an experienced researcher to go with it.

For two intoxicating years, says Michelson, Zoetrope was Camelot.

“It was wonderful,” Michelson says. “Francis believed in that dream and he instilled that spirit in everyone there. We really believed we were doing something special.”

Cost overruns on Coppola’s overly ambitious romantic fantasy “One From the Heart” burst the Zoetrope bubble. On the verge of bankruptcy, Coppola was forced to put Zoetrope on a court-appointed auction block and sell it.

The new management, under owner Jack Singer, did allow Michelson to stay on, though she was quickly extricated from the comfortable bungalow Coppola had assigned her and moved to a dank storage room behind one of the studio’s hot-pink sound stages.

Then last week, she got the notice. It was written by a lawyer, so there were more words than necessary. But she quickly got the idea. “Please be advised, due to other commitments . . . “

Michelson was given until June 30, about three weeks away, to pack and move. She says that when she told the studio she had nowhere to move to, and that on such short notice, she couldn’t make the deadline, they told her the meter starts running July 1. After that she will becharged $1,500 for all or any part of a month.

Alan Singer, president of Hollywood Center Studios, says he has not ordered Michelson’s eviction. He says the studio needs the library space for dressing rooms, but he offered to let her move somewhere else on the lot, at going lease rates. Her library is of no particular use to the studio, he says.

“I think we have been pretty good to Lillian,” Singer says. “We have allowed her to stay rent-free for two years. I don’t know many places where you can get that. Even charities pay something.”

Singer says Michelson’s library was never mentioned during the takeover of the studio and that Coppola had no say in how the studio would be operated.

“There was no way for him to pass the library down to us,” Singer says. “We did not inherit any tenants, we bought an empty piece of property . . . I like Lillian, but she is not a person lacking means. If I’m going to allow someone to occupy space for free, I would rather give a scholarship to a student.”

Michelson is not lacking personal means. Her husband, Harold Michelson, is a successful art director (among his credits: “Star Trek,” “Fiddler on the Roof”). But she’s not getting rich from her library.

She charges $25 to $30 an hour for research, and isn’t real good about collecting. Last year, after paying for her magazine subscriptions, books, stationery and her phone bills, Michelson cleared $437.

There aren’t many bargains to be had in the film industry these days, but the Lillian Michelson Research Library, with Michelson thrown in, in exchange for operating space, has got to be one of the biggest.


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