Written by: Gabrielle S. Bates
Special Libraries arise from passion. A passion to preserve, contribute to history, or share and bond with others. The Michelson Cinema Research Library was born from one couple’s passion. Harold Michelson was a storyboard artist and production designer. His wife, Lillian, was a film researcher. Together they created a love story for Hollywood.
You might not recognize their names but have seen films that they have helped create. Harold worked on several classics including Westside Story, Full Metal Jacket, Rosemary’s Baby, The Birds, and Fiddler on the Roof. Lillian was not afraid to go the extra step to find answers. Once she interviewed elderly Jewish women about undergarments. This information was used by the costume department for Fiddler on the Roof. Lillian took her research seriously. For the film Scarface, she interviewed members of drug cartels and DEA agents.
Lillian Michelson with her research.
In 1969, Lillian decided to risk her husband’s life insurance and buy the cinema archives for $20,000. This library was the culmination of Lillian’s research. It includes over 5,000 books (some dating back to 1890), periodicals, news clippings, film memorabilia, interviews, and photographs. Many declined to house the collection due to its size. The collection fits in 1600 boxes or 45 pallets and two 18-wheel trailers.
In 2014, the Art Directors Guild Archives conducted a collection inventory. They inspected it and decontaminated it. It was then reboxed and appraised. The Michelson Cinema Research Library was donated to the Internet Archive, in 2020. Internet Archive has promised to preserve the Michelson’s legacy. Last year they managed to digitize over 1,300 books and photos.
Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive Founder & Digital Librarian, with the 1600 box collection.
Lillian and Harold are the first non-actors to receive achievement awards from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Hollywood has honored them in other ways, as well. In Shrek 2, the King and Queen characters are named after them. Harold passed in 2007. Lillian currently lives in a retirement community in Los Angeles. If you would like to help Internet Archive keep the collection alive, please consider donating.