Hollywood loves Wisconsin actors — just not their home state

A temporary exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Museum combines Hollywood trivia with a greater understanding of how Hollywood portrays the Badger State.

The “Wisconsin Goes Hollywood” exhibit focuses on Wisconsinites who have made contributions to television and movies and how Hollywood depicts Wisconsin. Leslie Bellais, curator of social history at the museum, created and structured the exhibit around these two aspects.

A “wall of fame” and artifacts celebrate the enormous impact of Wisconsin-born actors in Hollywood and aims to increase awareness of actors from Wisconsin, according to Bellais. These include the ranks of Mark Ruffalo, Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray, Gene Wilder, Willem Dafoe and Orson Welles, as well as University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Fredric March, a Racine native born in 1897 and famous for his Oscar-winning role in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

The state, however, has not received the same level of respect in Hollywood, and Ballais’ second aim of the project was to consider how “our identity has been managed by Hollywood.”

The exhibit includes movie clips and script excerpts that reference Wisconsin, and a map of Wisconsin also pinpoints the places where movies or scenes from movies have taken place.

Bellais found that Wisconsin is commonly used for “stereotypes, caricatures or jokes,” rather than as a home of nuanced and realistic characters.

Bellais found two main stereotypes. The first depicts Wisconsinites as “country bumpkins.”

A script excerpt from “NewsRadio” on display at the exhibit says: “You’re not in Wisconsin, Dave. The big story isn’t about a cow wandering into the town square.”

This “country bumpkin” image also is seen in the representation of Wisconsinites as beer-swigging, cheese-obsessed, overweight Packers fans. The exhibit showed a clip from the movie “Dogma” where almost every extra in the background appeared to be holding a cheese-related object.

The second stereotype is usually focused on Milwaukee, which is often portrayed, in Bellais’ words, as “worse than hell.”

In “Dogma,” Wisconsin serves as a type of purgatory for two fallen angels, and in “Night Court,” Russian character Yakov Smirnoff compares Russia to a giant, inescapable Milwaukee when responding to the question, “Why is it so bad living in Russia?”

Until February 13, visitors can go to the exhibit and discover how Betty Boop, Harrison Ford and “The Wizard of Oz,” are connected to Wisconsin. And if they want to think deeper, they can ponder how the nation, through the lens of Hollywood, views Wisconsin.