Marie Tussaud’s waxwork museum has given rise to a billion dollar global franchise. What’s the secret of its success?by Hephzibah Anderson / December 14, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Alfred Hitchcock (Madame Tussauds London)
© Artur Andrzej
Madame Tussauds is like a safari, only it’s celebrity you’re stalking, and about halfway through you begin to feel more hunted than hunter. You are, after all, the only thing moving, unless you count the eyes that flick mechanically back and forth on the French revolutionary waxwork. And the revolutionary is hidden many, many famous faces away—past Brangelina, past Harry and Wills, past JFK and MLK—in a far-off “zone” devoted to the place’s own history.
But it is precisely the institution’s history that has brought me here. On 1st December, to little fanfare, Madame Tussauds passed a milestone: the 250th birthday of its founder and namesake. Born Marie Grosholtz in 1761, she learned the art of waxworks from Philippe Curtius, a Swiss doctor, and went on to found an institution that has become a museum empire, its outposts strung across the world from Amsterdam to Washington DC and Shanghai to (of course) Las Vegas.