Stars Hall of Fame
In a way, Stars Hall of Fame was born of too many sleepless nights.
Insomniac Allen Parkinson was a sleepless salesman back in 1948 when he developed the Sleep-Eze sleeping pill that made his fortune. He sold that company in 1959 and used the profits to develop Movieland Wax Museum, just a few miles away from Disneyland and near Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, which he opened in 1962. Movieland pulled more than a million visitors a year in the 1960's and, once again, Parkinson decided to get out while he was ahead: he sold it to Six Flags in 1970 and used the cash for his next venture.
For a while in the 1970's, Six Flags tried getting into the smaller tourist attraction business with Movieland as well as the Six Flags Atlantis waterpark in Florida, Autoworld in Michigan, and the Six Flags Power Plant indoor entertainment center in Maryland. How successful they were at it can be seen in the fact that none of these properties are still in operation.
But in the Seventies they were still trying to expand their small attractions business and it was decided that a Movieland Wax Museum clone might just work near that other Disney property in Florida. So, in May of 1975, Six Flags Stars Hall of Fame Wax Museum opened its doors in Orlando near the intersection of the Bee-Line Expressway and I-4, close to Sea World and just North of Walt Disney World.
Stars Hall of Fame was an elaborate affair built at a cost of $6,000,000 and boasting more than two hundred wax figures in more than one hundred scenes, some with minimal motion or some other special effects gimmick, most at least featuring somewhat detailed sets. Starting with the silent era and working its way up through time, all of the Hollywood greats were represented, as well as stars from music and television. Laurel and Hardy sat on a full sized vintage car. Shirley Temple's Good Ship Lollypop rocked in the waves. Mr. Spock "beamed in" (via mirrors) to Star Trek's Enterprise bridge set. Nancy Sinatra straddled a gleaming chrome motorcycle. Charlton Heston raced his chariot. And visitors could have their picture taken with Frankenstein's monster in one of the many gift shops scattered through the attraction.
At first visitors were treated to a multi-media presentation of cinematic history at the beginning of their tour. That gave way in the early eighties to the 20th Century Fox Screen Test, in which a few visitors were chosen to act out a scene from a 20th Century Fox TV show, like M*A*S*H* or 9 to 5, with the promise that a guest would win a trip to Hollywood to be in a 20th Century Fox production. One woman was eventually chosen who got to be an extra in an episode of Trapper John: M.D..
After the show visitors would walk through a "time tunnel" of illuminated movie stills and on to the displays.
Attendance had been fair in its first few years but started dropping off rapidly by 1979. Then came added competition for tourist dollars when Epcot opened in 1982, and attendance continued to fall, with 1983 the worst year ever. Six Flags started looking for a buyer.
Fortunately for Six Flags, publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich was on a buying spree in the area, picking up Sea World, Circus World, and Cypress Gardens while it moved its corporate headquarters to Orlando. They weren't interested in a wax museum, but they did want the building and surrounding land. So, in September, 1984, the building was sold to HBJ and the museum shut its doors at the end of the month.
HBJ cleared out the candles and turned the place into HBJ World of Learning -- essentially a glorified showroom and store for the company's educational materials. Tourist interest was low, however, and that too closed. The building was repurposed for offices and storage. In the late 1980's HBJ found itself over extended and was forced to sell off its theme parks to Busch Entertainment, which inherited the former Hall of Fame property with Sea World. Eventually that area would be redeveloped with resort property surrounding the old building.
The original Movieland Wax Museum, on the other hand, survived under various owners until finally closing its doors on October 31st, 2005.
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Postcard images from the author's collection.
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