December 16, 2013

'Wizard of Oz' junkie follows yellow brick road to Camden

Willard Carroll, a Hollywood movie and TV producer, hopes to open a museum to house his collection.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAMDEN — If you need proof that Willard Carroll is the man who has everything, consider this:

click image to enlarge

Willard Carroll of Camden poses for a portrait among "The Wonderful World of Oz: Selections from the Willard Carroll/Tom Wilhite Collection" at the Farnsworth Art Museum.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Willard Carroll’s prize pieces of "Oz" memorabilia include the hourglass that the Wicked Witch of the West used to threaten Dorothy.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

He outbid Michael Jackson to buy the hourglass that the Wicked Witch of the West wraps her bony fingers around to threaten Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

Carroll, whose collection comprises the entirety of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” exhibition at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, paid $80,000 for the hourglass more than 20 years ago.

“Obviously, Michael Jackson could have outbid me,” said Carroll. But Jackson’s representative was authorized to bid only so high. Determined to acquire the hourglass that he coveted for years, Carroll kept upping the bid until the Jackson emissary angrily bowed out.

“That is the most I’ve ever paid for anything, still today,” said Carroll.

It’s all about perspective. Carroll, a Hollywood movie and TV producer who moved to Camden with his partner, Tom Wilhite, four years ago, holds the largest private collection of memorabilia inspired by the pop-culture phenomenon that is “The Wizard of Oz.” The Carroll/Wilhite Collection numbers about 100,000 pieces, a fraction of which are on view this winter at the Farnsworth.

The rest remain in boxes in storage. But perhaps not for long.

A NEW MUSEUM

The two plan to convert a 5,000-square-foot wood shop near their rural Camden property into the National Oz Museum. The private museum would join other quirky Maine museums with a single focus, and serve as the final resting place for the Carroll/Wilhite collection.

“I’d like to keep it close for as long as I can,” said Carroll, who makes his living as a writer and movie director.

He and Wilhite co-founded and still operate Hyperion Pictures, a film-production company. They now do it from Maine instead of Los Angeles.

“The movie business is all about waiting,” said Carroll. “I’d rather wait in Maine than wait in L.A.”

They bought a beautiful house with a big fireplace and 80 acres in Camden, and the property happened to include a former furniture-making shop at the head of the long driveway near the road. Carroll had always hoped to show off the collection, and the wood shop presented a ready-made opportunity, he said.

The shop is in good structural shape but the interior needs work. The men engaged members of an interior design class from the Rhode Island School of Design to reimagine the shop as a museum, and are considering final proposals.

When they settle on a design, they will put the project out to bid.

They hope to open the museum in 2016.

STILL CREATING FILMS

Carroll and Wilhite moved to Maine almost sight unseen. Maine was one of two states Carroll had never visited – the other was North Dakota – when in 2007 he came east to mark the 50th anniversary of the movie “Petyon Place.”

The movie, starring Lana Turner, was filmed mostly in Camden and the midcoast. Carroll is a fan, and assembled a collection of “Peyton Place” memorabilia.

“We came for the weekend, and I was here five minutes and said, ‘This is it.’ I knew right away I could happily live here. At a certain point in your life, you need a change,” said Carroll, 58. “Of the 35 years I was in L.A., I loved 33 of them. But it was time for a change.”

Wilhite, who had been vice president in charge of motion pictures and television for Walt Disney, founded Hyperion Pictures with Carroll. The company makes movies and TV series for adults and families. In 1998, Carroll directed Sean Connery, Angelina Jolie and Gillian Anderson in “Playing by Heart.” In 2007, Hyperion released the movie “Marigold,” a romantic comedy starring Ali Larter. The company won an Emmy in 2001 for its Showtime movie “My Louisiana Sky.”

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