Not Just For Tourists: Madame Tussauds Offers Glimpse Of Famous Locals

From: Hoodline - Written by Geri Koeppel November 23, 2015, 2:19pm

Whether you'll have visitors in town this holiday season or are just looking for something fun to do during your time off, it's worth considering a visit to Madame Tussauds wax museum in Fisherman's Wharf. At its 20 worldwide locations, the wax museum spotlights a variety of famous figures, but the SF outpost specifically showcases some celebrities unique to Bay Area culture.

"San Francisco is a very different city than, say, Hollywood," said Kari Martin, marketing manager for Madame Tussauds. "People here love their sports, love their technology, and love their events. What we’ve done with this location is try to capture what’s made this city great.”

The museum's Spirit of San Francisco room features influential Bay Area entertainers like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Francis Ford Coppola and Robin Williams. "All of these people had an influence in shaping the San Francisco of today,” Martin said. Harvey Milk is in the house, as is Mayor Ed Lee.

Though Madame Tussauds has been open since June 2014, many locals may not be aware of its changeover from the Fisherman's Wharf Wax Museum, a family-run operation that ran from 1963–2013. Merlin Entertainment, Madame Tussauds' owner, has significantly upgraded the wax figures, which look much more realistic.

The SF museum houses 65–70 figures at any given time, rotating with other museums in the company. The idea is to give visitors something new to see each time they go. "We really like being a place where families like being together," Martin said. 

When a celebrity gets a figure in the museum, they often appear in person: Sam Smith, Laverne Cox and Zendaya have all recently stopped in. Stephen Curry recently had his figure commissioned (here's a video of his sitting session), and will visit to launch it in February.

Grumpy Cat, the first feline ever to get her own figure, will make a stop at the museum at 11:30am on December 8th, as a cross-promotion with the Berkeley Humane Society. People are already excited about that, Martin said.

It's a common perception that a wax museum is all about celebrity-spotting, but Madame Tussauds tries to draw in "a richer history of culture and influence," Martin said. While visitors can check out Audrey Hepburn in her Breakfast at Tiffany's garb or John Travolta circa Pulp Fiction, they can also get up close with Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln. The tech world gets a lot of play, too: Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are on display, and a Steve Wozniak figure will be unveiled this spring.

Selfie enthusiasts will be particularly pleased to learn that there are no ropes or barricades, and touching is welcome. A team of two to three on-site artists clean up the figures after visiting hours. "You can hug them and kiss them; that's happened a lot with One Direction," Martin said. “George Clooney—he needs a lot of maintenance.”

Martin said that it takes about two and a half to three months to create a figure. They're made in the United Kingdom, then shipped directly to each location.

To make their figure, the subject sits for about three hours as Madame Tussauds does a 3-D rendering. Using computers, the museum matches skin color, teeth, skin, gums, eye color, even the shade of the whites of a person's eyes. Hairs are placed on their head one by one. (For historical figures, artists do their best based on contemporary accounts.) 

Height and body size are also made as accurate as possible; visitors are often surprised by how small celebrities are in real life. 

Madame Tussaud's is open Monday-Thursday, 10am-6pm; Friday-Saturday, 10am-8pm; and Sunday, 10am-6pm. For the holidays, the museum is offering extended hours on some nights; see their online calendar for more information.

Bay Area locals get a discount on tickets purchased online ($16 adults, $10 kids). If you're looking for an extra activity, cheaper combo tickets are offered with the museum's sister attraction, the San Francisco Dungeon.