PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Debbie Reynolds couldn't get her dream to take root in Tinseltown, so she's going to bring her vast collection of movie memorabilia "somewhere where America can enjoy it."
Reynolds plans to open the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum in the Belle Island Village resort in the center of Pigeon Forge, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in spring 2005.
The museum is the first anchor in the entertainment/retail/lodging resort, which broke ground in November on an island in the Little Pigeon River.
Surrounded by posters and costumes celebrating such classic films as "Singin' in the Rain," "How the West Was Won" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" — all of which starred the actress — and "Ben-Hur," "Show Boat," "Sergeant York," "The Sound of Music" and "Star Wars" (which starred her daughter, Carrie Fisher), Reynolds shared the story of her quest to keep Hollywood's history from disappearing.
She began collecting costumes when MGM decided to jumpstart its cash flow by auctioning items from its warehouses in 1970.
"The studios had always said they were never selling; they were going to keep it," Reynolds, 71, said. "And then the industry kept saying, 'Well, we're going to do a museum,' and then they never have."
Reynolds exhibited some of her possessions at her casino in Las Vegas during the 1990s, but financial problems put a stop to that. Plans to include the museum in the Hollywood & Highland development — home to the Oscars' Kodak Theatre — ran aground when arts money dried up after the United States went to war in Iraq.
"I really think that with this . . . (development) that they have going here, this is the best opportunity for us," said Reynolds, who is chairman of the museum while her son, Todd Fisher, is chief executive officer.
Reynolds has nearly 4,000 costumes — including Marilyn Monroe's famous white dress from "The Seven Year Itch" — and tens of thousands of props and other movie-related items.
The collection "will rotate in and out," said Reynolds, whose recent films include "In & Out" and "Mother."
Even through periods of personal financial upheaval, she has never been tempted to part with her memorabilia.
"I sold a lot of things," she said. "I sold my paintings. I had a lot of art. . . . I had a Renoir, a Monet. I had a lot of jewelry, and I sold all that in order to get through some rough business times, mostly because of bad marriages and bad management. But I never sold any of my memorabilia because it meant a great deal to me."
The unsinkable Reynolds joked about being short — just like Pigeon Forge-attraction neighbor Dolly Parton, whom she met at a benefit.
"She's adorable," said Reynolds, who performs a live show 42 weeks a year. "I can't wait to know her better. I don't know how much time she's here, but I'll be here (frequently), so I'll have her over for some of my black-eyed peas and cornbread."