“The Wiz,” “Hair” and “Orange is the New Black” have one thing in common: they were all filmed at a studio in Astoria.
As part of its newest exhibition, the Museum of the Moving Image is paying tribute to the legacy of filmmaking at the nearby studio, known today as Kaufman Astoria Studios.
While the museum has been directly across the street from the historic landmark for 25 years, MoMI has never had an exhibition on it.
Now with construction on Kaufman’s new back lot almost complete, museum curator Barbara Miller said it is the perfect time to honor MoMI’s historical neighbors.
“One of the amazing things to me is that we haven’t done this before,” Miller said. “I think it would have been appropriate for us to do this at any point; however, the fact that it’s the museum’s 25th anniversary and the fact that the Kaufman Astoria Studios is changing its face yet again with the back lot opening in a couple of weeks, it seemed like the perfect time to acknowledge our dual history and celebrate it.”
Divided into five sections, the exhibit, on view in the Amphitheater Gallery, features more than 100 objects from the museum’s collection, including film stills, behind-the-scenes photographs, scripts and marketing and design materials.
“The studio has a real sense of history,” said Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria Studios. “When we got there in 1980 there was nothing, and part of our role was not only bringing back the studio but also to invigorate the surrounding neighborhood.”
“What we’re hoping for is ‘Oh my God, we had no idea that was filmed here,’ that’s sort of a nice reaction to have coupled with understanding the larger history of what happened here,” Miller said. “It’s so unusual here; we’re in this residential community and this thriving motion picture facility that’s been around since 1920.”
To go along with the various photos and memorabilia, the museum has set up a 25-minute video that showcases some of the memorable films and television shows that were shot at the nearby studio.
The clips range from the silent films of the 1920s, when Paramount Pictures owned the space, to World War II when the Army purchased the lot to film military videos, to more recent projects including “The Cosby Show,” “Sesame Street” and “Nurse Jackie.”
“‘Lights, Camera, Astoria!’ is the most comprehensive telling of the history of the studio and one which the museum is uniquely positioned to present,” Miller said. “Our history is deeply entwined with that of the studio. During the Army years, the museum building — then known as Building No. 13 — was used for processing film and repairing cameras. The museum’s collection of artifacts includes material related to productions from the earliest years of the studio through the present day.”
Miller, Rosenbluth and others hope the exhibit, while small, will give Astoria residents something to be proud of and give film lovers an opportunity to see a side of show biz history that hasn’t been discussed as much as filmmaking in Hollywood.
“They used to say that you couldn’t do a multi-camera show anywhere but the West coast but then ‘The Cosby Show’ came here and was a huge success,” Rosenbluth said. “All of a sudden you had people saying ‘Wow, there’s something special happening in this studio in Queens.’
“We’re thrilled that this exhibit tells people that they are living near a piece of film history because it truly is a piece of history and the museum is offering people a great opportunity to get a true understanding of their neighborhood and what went on here.”