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'Brokeback Mountain' shirts on display at the Autry

August 7, 2009 | 12:15 pm

ShirtA plaid button-down over a simple blue denim shirt evoked more emotion from the reticent Ennis Del Mar than any words Heath Ledger could have spoken in the Oscar-winning film “Brokeback Mountain."

Those two iconic shirts worn by Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal that played such a pivotal role in the film are currently on display in the Autry National Center museum’s Imagination Gallery.

Local collector Tom Gregory purchased the shirts three years ago in an EBay auction for charity for $101,000. He merely hung the shirts on the wall in his office until author Gregory Hinton called him last New Year’s Eve.

“I was doing researching on ‘Night Rodeo,’ my fifth novel about my dad Kip (former editor of the Cody Enterprise) and wondered what happened to the shirts that were such an important prop in the film,” Hinton said. He tracked down Gregory and pitched the idea to the Autry, along with the Gay Rodeo Legacy Project, which evolved into the symposium “Gay in the West: Reclaiming Our Country Heritage." The event will address the urban-rural bias, among other issues, and is planned for the fall.

 “The shirts hold deep meaning for so many, especially those 50 and older that could relate to the anguish and isolation of Ennis,” said Gregory, who feels that the display of the "Brokeback" shirts at the Autry underscores the need for gay men and women who leave their rural communities to reclaim their country heritage. 

The Autry is known for exploring all peoples of the American West, and he thought it was the perfect museum to display the shirts. Along the way Jeffrey Richardson, assistant curator for film and popular culture at the Autry, got involved and was instrumental in accelerating the project and pulling it together in six months. 

Gregory’s only request in loaning the shirts for display: that they always remain together, entwined.
“They have remained that way since the filmed wrapped and will always remain that way under my watch,” said Gregory, who is also a radio commentator and Broadway producer (“Guys and Dolls” at the Nederlander Theater).

The shirts are part of a re-installation of the Contemporary Westerns case that displays memorabilia and art from significant films since the 1970s, such as “Unforgiven” and “Tom Horn.”

Accompanying the "Brokeback" wardrobe pieces are mannequins of Clint Eastwood from “Unforgiven” and “Pale Rider,” Steve McQueen from “Tom Horn” and Jeff Bridges from “Wild Bill,” as well as gun belts and revolvers from the western comedy spoof “Three Amigos!” 

-- Liesl Bradner

Photo credit: Susannah Leam

UPDATE: An earlier version wrongly said the symposium was tentatively scheduled for August 14.

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