On the town with the TCM Backlot

Last month I was in New York City for Thanksgiving weekend but it took a detour on a TCM adventure. I’m a charter member of the TCM Backlot and I was one of a group of members who won the TCM Backlot Weekend in New York contest.  The TCM Backlot is TCM’s official online fan club. The website includes exclusive behind the scenes content from TCM such as podcasts, videos both past and present, contests, and a digital subscription for the Now Playing guide.

Every month there are exclusive contests members can enter and some include specially curated backlot events. The one I won was the TCM Backlot Weekend in New York. It included the TCM Movie Locations tour of New York on Saturday morning, a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Sunday afternoon, and then a ticket to the VIP preview party of the latest Bonham’s auction.

I’ve always wanted to take the TCM Movie Locations tour but in the past I’ve never been in New York City long enough to squeeze it in so I was tickled to win this contest. Also, Audrey Hepburn is my favorite and we got the chance to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the big screen! This contest combined so many of my favorite things.

The TCM Movie Locations tour is three hours but it goes by quickly and I can attribute a lot of that to our fantastic tour guide Jason. Jason has a love of movies and infectious enthusiasm that made you feel like you were getting a more one-on-one experience which is difficult to do on a full bus that had probably 50 or so people on board. He was friendly, funny, and engaging. It never felt like Jason was phoning it in, he really cares about film and wants to make sure everyone on the bus is having a great time. That may seem to go without saying but having been on tours where that wasn’t the case, it makes a big difference.

The tour was a great mixture of old and “new” classics. It kicks off with the most classic movie New York thing: Frank Sinatra, Jules Munsen, and Gene Kelly singing “New York, New York” from On the Town to get the tour going and it was perfect. It really kicked things off and transported you back to the 1940s. There were stops to locations for films like The Apartment, How to Marry a Millionaire, My Man Godfrey, North by Northwest, and the new classics of Manhattan, Ghostbusters, The Out of Towners, You’ve Got Mail, and Sleepless in Seattle. My favorite part of the tour was the stop at Holly Golightly’s brownstone in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This was a bucket list item for me. I have always loved how beautiful New York looks through the 1961 lens of Blake Edwards’ classic. Seeing the brownstone and realizing you are standing somewhere Audrey Hepburn once did felt surreal and extraordinary. So much of Hollywood’s history feels like it’s under threat of erasure. There were so many stops on the tour that are now retail spaces but were once a critical piece to a film’s narrative. It’s a bummer but it makes the TCM tour a powerful force. The fact that the tour was packed is a testament to just how timeless these classic films are.

On the second day of the weekend there were two items on the schedule a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a preview part of the TCM-Bonhams auction. This was my first time seeing Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the big screen and it was a thrill. I believe it was a digital print but I don’t care because there was quite the crowd in the audience and that is always exciting. Tiffany Vazquez introduced the film on the big screen through a pre-recorded introduction and I appreciate the fact that she did not gloss over Mickey Rooney’s yellowface performance as Mr. Yunioshi. This is something that TCM has always done so well and I know the crowd appreciated. It’s important to highlight this travesty and give it context. As the saying goes, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” It was after the screening that us contest winners were able to meet TCM staff.

Yacov Freedman, the TCM staffer who runs the backlot, has done an exceptional job at creating this unique and friendly space for backlot members to connect online. It was great to meet him during this event. He’s just as enthusiastic and warm in person as he is on Twitter. I had such a great time meeting him and the other contest winners. Everyone was so friendly and we were all able to share our love of classic film.

After the screening was the Bonhams auction that featured items from personal classic film collections and the estate of Maureen O’Hara. Some of the coolest items we saw were one of the giant American flags used in the opening of Patton, Kim Novak’s grey suit from Vertigo, the golden gun used by Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun, a carriage used in Gone with the Wind and countless other film posters, autographed photos, and other costumes from both classic and contemporary films.

The estate of Maureen O’Hara was particularly cool. People who roamed through the rooms were able to get a glimpse of the impressive life this woman led. One of my favorite things I saw were a collection of mugs given to her by John Wayne after production of the films they made together completed.

 

Previews to Bonhams auctions are open to the public. If you live in New York City, I’d encourage you to go. There is something about seeing pieces of film history in person that is truly spectacular. You really feel a deeper appreciation for the people involved and the process. Also, if you haven’t joined the TCM Backlot, you must! It is a great community to be a part of.

 

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