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A version of this story first appeared in the May 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Former film research librarian Lillian Michelson is, along with her late husband, Harold — a veteran storyboard artist on everything from West Side Story and The Birds to Star Trek and Spaceballs — literally Hollywood film royalty. In 2004, to her surprise, she learned from animators at DreamWorks, who were regular visitors to her library on their lot, that the couple had been coronated King Harold and Queen Lillian, parents of Fiona, in Shrek 2. “I was a proxy grandma because most of them had come from all over the United States and other countries and were without their anchored families,” says the 86-year-old MPTF Country House resident.
Queen Lillian and King Harold in ‘Shrek 2.’
“The director, Kelly Asbury, told me they wanted to make us immortal. I was touched. So that’s my claim to fame — mother-in-law of a monster! A lovable monster, though.” But industry insiders know Michelson’s real claim to fame: her legendary personal reference library (including 1.5 million clippings), which before its last stop at DreamWorks had resided at Paramount, at the American Film Institute and at Francis Ford Coppola‘s American Zoetrope studio (where Michelson and her library occupied the bungalow later utilized by the amoral movie executive Griffin Mill in the famous opening tracking shot in Robert Altman‘s The Player).
Michelson put her materials to use on more than 500 films, along with a dogged reportorial instinct to chase down authentic details: She schemed to get initial WarGames director Martin Brest past military brass and into NORAD’s top-secret Cheyenne Mountain Complex to take notes (she was eventually forgiven by her Pentagon contact after Brest was exposed: “I guess everyone’s a film buff,” she says) and she interviewed babushkas at a Fairfax Avenue bus stop to learn about the accurate patterns for bloomers in the early-1900s Imperial Russian Pale of Settlement for Fiddler on the Roof. “There’s always a way.”
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