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Hollywood says goodbye to Spoony Singh
Prem Panicker | October 23, 2006 15:35 IST
If you must pay tribute, the family said, do so through donations to the American Heart Association or to the Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Stem Cell Project.
Very apt, for Spoony Singh, founder of the famed Hollywood Wax Museum, was all heart -- and his heart was of the people, as is evident not just from the story of why the museum was conceived, but also of how it operated.
Singh, 83, has talked often of how he came to Hollywood from Vancouver, Canada, as a wide-eyed tourist, in 1964 and wandered the roads looking for real-live celebrities. The closest he ever came to stardust was the footprints in the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
Not enough, he thought -- people come to Hollywood for the stars. And from that thought, emerged the idea of a museum that would, in his words, 'allow people to get close and look into the eyes of their favourite entertainers.'
The museum, located on Hollywood Boulevard, near Grumman's, opened its doors on February 26, 1965 -- and the line to get in, at $1.50 a pop, was a couple of blocks long.
The museum was the antithesis of the dignified, almost funereal atmosphere favoured by Madame Tussaud's and similar establishments -- Singh kept his place boisterous, rowdy, even at risk of denting its reputation because, he insisted, this was no cathedral but a place for people to have fun.
He was fond of saying that young men brought their girlfriends to the museum because they were sure of being hugged in the chamber of horrors -- and to help such romantic notions, he also conceived of the ploy of placing real actors among the waxworks, to scare people with sudden movement and voice.
That practice came to an end somewhere in the late 1980s, as the museum fell in line with America's increasingly litigious mindset -- but other 'cheesy' elements remained.
Thus, unlike other museums that boast full scale wax figures, Singh came up with the idea of making the heads and hands alone in wax, while the bodies were made of fibreglass.
Once a star faded into oblivion, his or her head was removed and put in storage (to be resurrected if public interest revived); the body was used to host some other, more current, head.
Again unlike other museums that keep their figures behind velvet ropes and plaster the walls with 'do not touch' signs, Singh made sure his exhibits were accessible, that people had avenues to display their love for the celebrity. A case in point is the glass cabinet that houses the Beatles, covered floor to wall with lipstick imprints from passionate women fans.
'Look,' he told The Los Angeles Times in an interview, 'I know other museums are more stately and artistic. But on Hollywood Boulevard, dignity kind of gets lost in the shuffle.'
He was never prone to letting grass grow beneath his feet. Thus, the entrepreneur who had within a couple of days of conceiving of the museum plan leased land and put his project in place, handed over the running of his flagship to his family (son Raubi Sunder is now the museum's president) and went on to add other attractions to his portfolio.
In 1991, thus, he opened the Hollywood Guinness World Records Museum -- and had a 7'7 �" tall woman, reportedly then the tallest in the world, cut the ribbon at the inaugural.
Again, when he opened a branch of the wax museum in Branson, Mo, he created a 150-foot replica of Mount Rushmore, featuring -- instead of American Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt -- the faces of John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin.
His restless mind was constantly hopping from project to project; none knew what he was likely to do next. And that was a lifelong trait -- Singh, who was born October 20, 1922 in Punjab and moved to Victoria, Canada at age three with his family, went into the sawmill business, added an amusement part to his repertoire and once, appeared on the popular What's My Line? game show on television, in which the panel failed to guess his line of work.
Legendary for his bonhomie and casual hospitality, Singh took his celebrity status in stride. A favourite story he liked telling involved legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper asking him how he liked America.
'My family left India because we couldn't get enough to eat,' was Singh's pithy response. 'Now, I'm paying a doctor to lose weight.'
Singh died last week, October 18 -- two days before he was due to turn 84. In addition to son Raubi and grandson Tej, who handles the museum's marketting, Singh is survived by his wife of 63 years, Chanchil; five other children -- Meva, Janik, Indie, Jehlam and Kabir, who is the wax museum's general manager; and 10 other grandchildren.