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January 10, 2006

Stowaway at the Getty

The Hideaways + The Getty Center

The deliciously taboo notion that kids could stowaway in a museum for a week, without their parents, thrilled our children as much as it thrilled us a generation ago. In The Hideaways, a film based on our favorite childhood novel “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” Claudia and her younger brother Jamie pool their savings ($25.68), pack extra clothes in a violin case and take up residence in Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art. While hiding out, they become captivated with a statue of an angel created by an unknown artist. Eventually, the children discover the statue is an original Michelangelo and befriend Mrs. Frankweiler, the statue’s eccentric benefactress.

As mothers, we were captivated by E.L. Koenigsberg’s clever weaving of art appreciation into a subversive plot. Our first instinct, to fly east and tour the Met, got our creative juices flowing. Jazzed by our kids' newfound interest in museums, we decided to duplicate the idea locally. We headed to The Getty Center and gave our children a mission: to figure out the logistics of life without adults – where to eat, sleep, bathe and hide – just like the characters in the story. The kids searched for a place to sleep and quickly discovered antique canopied beds (blue for the boys and pink for the girls). Energized, they kept exploring and soon happened upon ornate silver bowls for their Cheerios, a plethora of fountains for bathing, and even scoped out an antique disco ball for a midnight party. Without once complaining that they were being dragged through a bunch of dusty rooms filled with boring stuff, our kids enjoyed the Getty’s collections and their own castle on the hill. We were amazed at how easily they connected the dots between the movie and the museum adventure. The afternoon has become magically inscribed in our families’ memories as the original Kids Off the Couch adventure.

Film Title: The Hideaways
Directed By: Fielder Cook
1973, Rated G, 105 minutes

  • Two out of five kernels because this was made for television in the seventies. The pace of this film is slow and gentle, but our children were riveted by Claudia and Jamie's daring adventure, in part because they loved the book. Fine for anyone over six.
  • Don't rent the 1995 adaptation which, despite a star turn by Lauren Bacall, is not as good as this oldie. As one Amazon reviewer noted of The Hideaways, "it's old, but cool." Netflix doesn't carry The Hideaways, but it's available for purchase on Amazon, and can be found in specialty video stores (Vidiots in Santa Monica 310-392-8508).
  • "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E.L. Koenigsberg, written in 1967, still tops most kids' book lists. You'll either remember it from your childhood or marvel that you missed this classic. We heartily recommend that you read it outloud to your family.

  • This story, about two children surviving on their own in New York City, sounds scary. Yet, this story isn’t frightening at all (other than some tense scenes in the museum at night). Ask the kids to guess who is telling the story.  For example, if the film had been from the parents’ perspective, we would have seen them worrying at home -- a lot less fun to watch!
    This film was made in the early seventies. Note the hair and clothing styles, the soundtrack and the period wallpaper. Have the kids shout out details that show when the story takes place. Then, have them guess which of their favorite things might still be around in thirty years.

The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles 90049
310-440-7300; or
Hours: Sunday, Tuesday - Thursday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Friday - Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Time Allotment: Half-day

  • Five out of five kernels because our kids kept begging for more time to explore The Getty Center (yes, we were shocked).
    The museum and tram are free, but parking costs $7. Parking reservations are a thing of the past at the Getty. Now, its first come, first served. If you arrive on a busy weekend, you may be diverted to a nearby parking lot at the Veterans Administration off Sepulveda

  • Claudia and Jamie’s adventure began on a commuter train from Connecticut, and ours began on the Getty’s white Tram from the parking lot. For the best view of The Getty up the hill, board the first car at the southern end of the platform.

  • An indelible image from the novel is the children hiding from the guards on the top of toilet seats. Some giggly experimentation perching atop toilets yielded the significant discovery that modern toilets are slippery, and the stall doors leave large gaps – not great for hiding!

  • Our choice of the Getty as a hideaway was fortuitous: J. Paul collected ornate French furniture.

  • Don’t forget to wander through artist Robert Irwin’s garden. Our kids visit the Getty frequently, and only duck into the galleries for a few moments at a time. There’s way too much to do outside.

  • Check out The Getty’s “Art Detective Pack,” playing cards that give kids unusual objects to hunt for throughout the musuem's galleries. Our kids searched for fossils in the marble buildings and discovered that larger pieces of marble, hung strategically in stairwells and other easy-to-view spots, contain the most fossils. Cards are available outside the Family Room and on the Family Cart.

  • The Getty’s gift shop is great for kids. Ask them to be Junior Collectors and decide what, on their budget, they can afford to "collect" that day.

  • The Getty has family restrooms – perfect for little boys who protest a trip to the Women’s Restrooms.

  • The Getty has become a must-see destination for Los Angeles visitors and is an important part of our city’s architectural and artistic legacy. Don’t be too cool to frequent our ‘castle on the hill’ with your family or visitors from out of town.

  • The Getty Villa, dedicated to Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquites, re-opened in January, 2006 after a complete refurbishing. Check the website for reservations, which are booking several months in advance. Free. (17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades).

  • Los Angeles boasts an excellent collection of museums, including The Los Angles County Museum of Art, The Norton Simon and The Museum of Contemporary Art. Having kids needn’t send your inner art lover on an eighteen- year hiatus. Bring your children along to exhibitions that you find compelling. Our kids quickly learned museum manners, although promising them a gift shop purchase for good behavior might have helped a bit. We believe in bribery for the sake of art!

  • The key to a successful museum adventure is to make the trips short and sweet – you don’t have to see everything. Go for one specific exhibit, or just pick one artist to investigate at a time. Try starting with a postcard from the gift shop and letting the kids search for the matching painting.

Your Secret Agenda is to let the kids plan their own hypothetical stowaway adventure (Hint: docents are pretty helpful in this quest).  Have them find:

  • A place to sleep
  • A place to hide their backpack during the day
  • A place to take a bath
  • A place to hide from the guards at closing time
  • A cereal bowl for breakfast
  • A desk from which to write a letter home
  • A piece of sculpture with which to fall in love
  • A smorgasbord of dining opportunities awaits you at the Getty. Picnicking is an option, but the cafeteria is our kids' favorite, which features the same spectacular view as the fancier restaurant above.  You'll be pleased with the selection, quality and price of a meal. It's nice to time your day to have dinner when the sun sinks into the Pacific. When done, a cool conveyor belt whisks plates away to where someone else washes them. Could this be our favorite part of the day?

  • Kids can access the Getty’s sculpture collection before their visit. Click on “Explore Art” and give them time to search by artist or type of sculpture. Once at the Museum, they can locate their favorite sculpture. (Or, like the kids in the novel, do the research after your visit).

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

Click here for further focus on Adaptations from Modern Literature.

Click here and find more titles at the Kids Off the Couch store at

  • The Getty's website is a great resource both before and after a visit to the actual museum. You can research specific artists in the collection, and connect to a cute kid site called Whyville, which features the Getty as a location.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art's state of the art web site is a vast resource of games and information which is useful whether or not you ever visit the museum! Mummies, knights, famous painters and a great online gift store.  Don't miss a special section for "Mixed-Up Files" lovers.
  • The National Gallery of Art has a Kids Art Zone where your young Matisse can make mobiles and collages online.