are certain sort of places that are often referred to as a 'state of
mind.' They are both real and imaginary; they transcend. They exist on the
ground and in the head. And there is one that surpasses all: Hollywood. The word conjures images of
glamour and Sunset Strip, of nightclubs and all sorts of naughtiness, of movie
palaces and extraordinary people — stars of the gaudiest illumination.
there is an actual Hollywood, a segment of Los Angeles, California,
beginning a century ago, the American dream burst out bigger than life,
ultimately touching everyone, everywhere. Of course, movies were then, and
still are, made in locations other than Hollywood,
some quite nearby and some far-flung. But nowhere and nothing else frees our
fantasies and stirs our hopes and fears, our tears and our eternal romances, like
that single incomparable word — Hollywood.
is much too colossal to be contained within a section of the City of Angels. It is spread
across the nation and around the world. Hollywood
taught girls and boys, gangsters and decent folk, how to walk and talk and
dress. It rescued us from the rigors of the Depression and assured us that we
could topple our savage foes in battle. It gave us music and dancing, violence
and sex. Movies would later 'grow up,' but they would always be about
laughing and crying, about learning how to live and how to die.
Today, Hollywood remains the dream factory, a place
where every waiter and waitress is an aspiring actor, where every bartender, taxi
driver, hotel receptionist and hired helper has a screenplay tucked away in a
drawer at home. The reality of course is different. Hollywood is a town like any other, complete
with crime, poverty, and its fair share of sleaze. But Hollywood's real location is in the mind.
In the twenty-first century,
is a mixture of glamour, sleaze, and tourist trap. Most of the studios are part
of multinational media corporations. Hollywood
has become the world center for all kinds of media productions, from film to
the Internet, from television to pornography. The glory days of the studio
system are long gone, yet Hollywood
remains a potent symbol of the American Dream. Perhaps more than anywhere else,
exists as both physical place and glittering fantasy.
Hollywood is a district of the city of Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.,
situated northwest of Downtown. Today much of the movie industry has dispersed
into surrounding areas such as Burbank and the Westside, but significant
ancillary industries (such as editing, effects, props, post-production, and
lighting companies) remain in Hollywood.
Several historic Hollywood
theaters are used as venues to premiere major theatrical releases, and host the
Academy Awards. It is a popular destination for nightlife and tourism, and home
to the Walk of Fame.
is currently no official boundary of Hollywood (Los Angeles does not have
official districts), but the 2002 secession movement and the current
Neighborhood Council boundaries can serve as guides. There is a sign at the
northeast corner of Fairfax Avenue
and Melrose Avenue
indicating that one is entering Hollywood.
southern border follows Melrose
Avenue from Vermont Avenue west to Fairfax Avenue. From there, the boundary
continues north on Fairfax, wrapping east around the separate City of West
Hollywood along Willoughby Avenue then wrapping around on La Brea and heads
west along Fountain Avenue before turning north again on Laurel Canyon
Boulevard into the Hollywood Hills. The eastern boundary follows Vermont Avenue north
from Melrose past Hollywood
Boulevard to Franklin Avenue.
From there, the border travels west along Franklin
to Western Avenue,
and then north on Western into GriffithPark. Most of the hills
are part of Hollywood.
The commercial, cultural, and transportation center of Hollywood is the area
where La Brea Avenue, Highland Avenue, Cahuenga Boulevard, and Vine Street
intersect Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. The population of the
district is estimated to be about 300,000.
As a portion of the City of Los Angeles, Hollywood
does not have its own municipal government, but does have an appointed official
that serves as 'honorary mayor' for ceremonial purposes only.
Currently, the 'mayor' is Johnny Grant.
The Early Days
Imagine a time when the only stars
were found in the night skies, arching over quiet farms and adobes. Before Hollywood became an
entertainment mecca, it was home of pioneers, citrus groves and… stray camels.
first recorded human residents of 'Hollywood'
were the Gabrielino Indians. Writing in his diary of 1769, a Spanish priest
noted Indian villages with their brush huts scattered in the canyons. After the
first Spanish pueblo of Los Angeles
was established, the native Gabrielinos vanished with hardly a trace.
'Cahuenga', meaning 'little hills' in their language, is
one of the few reminders of their founding presence.
Mexico controlled California until the Mexican War of 1947.
After the war, Mexican landowners were replaced by farmers from the East,
including the new owners of Rancho La Brea (now Hollywood). In 1853,
one adobe hut stood on the site that became Hollywood. By 1870, an agricultural community
flourished in the area with thriving crops.
Until the mid-1800, the vast reaches and resources of California
belonged to Mexico.
When the United States
in the Mexican War of 1847, the original Mexican landowners, with the help of
some slippery laws, lost their sprawling estates to farmers from the East.
Adobes were replaced with wood frame houses with porches and windmills. Rancho La Brea, in the area now known as Hollywood, wound up in the
hands of a family who built a tar refinery. Workers of the tar beds unearthed
the bones and teeth of prehistoric saber-toothed cats, woolly mammoths and
dinosaurs. The family eventually gave the remarkable fossil beds, known as the
La Brea Tar Pits, to Los AngelesCounty.
During the 19th century, Hollywood was basically a
frontier town complete with Westward Ho! pioneers, cowboys and the occasional
bandit, straight out of central casting. It also had its share of flamboyant
settlers, including one dubbed “Greek George'. George arrived in the CahuengaValley
with a drove of camels imported from Turkey. When the Mexican War broke
out, George simply set the camels loose. Somehow it seems fitting that frontier
should evoke surreal images like this one: hundreds of camels roaming free in
the Hollywood Hills right through 1900.
call it “Hollywood”
'Hollywood' name made its way from an Easter summer home to a
CahuengaValley ranch. The name Hollywood
predated the arrival of movies.
In the middle of a sun-drenched
nowhere, a sober, God-fearing man and woman settled in to create a like-minded
community. Harvey Henderson Wilcox of
Kansas, who made a fortune in real estate even
though he had lost the use of his legs due to typhoid fever, and his wife,
Daeida, moved to Los Angeles from Topeka in 1883. In 1886,
Wilcox bought 160 acres (0.6 km²) of land in the countryside to the west of the
city at the foothills, in the CahuengaValley at, what is now, Hollywood Blvd. and
He thought it would be a perfect site for a community that would reflect his
conservative beliefs, and he built his house smack in the middle of a fig
Accounts of the name, Hollywood, coming from
imported English holly then growing in the area are incorrect. The name in fact
was coined by Daeida Wilcox (1861–1914) who traveled by train to her old home
in the east. On the train, Mrs. Wilcox met a woman who described her summer
home in Ohio named after a settlement of Dutch
immigrants from Zwolle called 'Hollywood”. Daeida was so
enamored with the name that she 'borrowed' it for her ranch in the CahuengaValley;
when she returned home she prevailed on her husband to name their property Hollywood. With that
simple exchange, one of the most famous towns in the world got its name.
Wilcox soon drew up a grid map for a town, which he filed with the county
recorder's office on February
1, 1887, the first official appearance of the name Hollywood. With his wife
as a constant advisor, he carved out Prospect
Avenue (later Hollywood Boulevard) for the main street,
lining it and the other wide dirt avenues with pepper trees, and began selling
lots. Daeida raised money to build two churches, a school and a library. They
imported some English holly because of the name Hollywood, but the bushes did not last.
By 1900, Hollywood also had a post office, a newspaper,
a hotel and two markets, along with a population of 500 people. Los Angeles,
with a population of 100,000 people at the time, lay seven miles (11 km) east
through the citrus groves. A
single-track streetcar line ran down the middle of Prospect Avenue from Los Angeles, but service was infrequent and
the trip took two hours.
Shortly after the turn of the
century, the residents of the CahuengaValley were faced with
three pressing problems. The streets were not getting the attention in
proportion to the tax being levied by the county; a lack of school facilities
and a growing sentiment for prohibition.
In August, 1903, a petition was submitted to
the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors requesting the incorporation of the City
The election for city hood was held on November 14, 1903 with voting lasting until . After all the ballots were
counted, the vote was eighty-eight for incorporation and seventy-seven against.
Hollywood became a city of the sixth class with
geographic boundaries extending from Normandie on the east, to Fairfax
on the west, and from the top of the Santa
on the north to DeLongpre and Fountain avenues on the south.
Hollywood's first laws paint a telling
portrait of the culture in those early days. Liquor was prohibited except as a
medical prescription; bicycles and velocipedes were prohibited on sidewalks;
and horses, cattle and mules were no to be driven through Hollywood
streets in herds of more than 200. Herds of more than 2000 hogs or sheep were
banned if unattended by a 'competent man'. Hardly the live-it-up
tinsel town it would become in two short decades
In 1904, a new trolley car track
running from Los Angeles to Hollywood up Prospect Avenue was opened. The system
was called 'the Hollywood boulevard.'
It cut travel time to and from Los
City hood for Hollywood only lasted six years. Hollywood’s population had
grown too rapidly for the then existing water and municipal facilities.
Annexation to the City of Los Angeles
would assure the burgeoning community of adequate water, sewage and municipal
services. The election, held in 1910, was an overwhelming victory for
annexation. Hollywood became part of Los Angeles.
Real estate developers were tempting
Easterners to Hollywood
with promises of sun, wide boulevards and palatial homes. Elaborate rail lines
crisscrossed the CahuengaValley. Hotels, schools,
churches and extravagant residences popped up. But Hollywood remained basically a sleepy town,
with no inkling of what was so soon to come.
The first 'film people' arrived in Hollywood in 1907. Word of Hollywood's
film-friendly climate spread like wildfire. That and lawsuits brought by Thomas
Edison against film bootleggers spurred an almost-overnight exodus from New York. Hollywood, the film
capital, was born.
In the first decade of the 20th
century, 'movies' were like an irrepressible toddler. What may now
seem a rather rudimentary product created a sensation: viewers were mesmerized
by these pictures that moved.
short dramas and comedies came from a number of production companies. In 1908,
Thomas Edison, irate that others were horning in on 'his' movie
inventions but aware that compromise was his only option, united the 10 biggest
operations from New York
as 'the Trust.' These 10 would control distribution, exhibition,
pricing and everything else — in short, a monopoly. But in this wild and woolly
time, independent distributors and exhibitors formed their own organization to
fight back. Many of these freelancers migrated west to the Los Angeles area. For one thing, it was as
far as you could get from New York, and
although there were Trust members in California,
the muscle was back East. And also, L.A.,
as it happened, was perfect for filmmaking. A great majority of the early
flicks had been shot indoors, to satisfy lighting and temperature requirements.
Hollywood, with its ready labor market, mild climate and nonstop sunshine,
opened the way to outdoor shooting, while providing an unrivaled variety of
settings — mountains, deserts, beaches, villages and urban L.A.
All was quiet on the western front
when David Horsley from New Jersey arrived in Hollywood on a fateful
winter day in 1907. He purchased the
Blondeau Tavern on Sunset Boulevard. There, he hung out Hollywood’s first real studio, the Nestor
Film Company. Before the year was out, 15 other firms had set up shop nearby.
By 1912, rumors of Hollywood's
ideal climate and varied locations had spread, and 20 different film companies
were shooting all around Hollywood.
The reliable weather was great because although electric lights existed at that
time, none were powerful enough to adequately expose film; the best source of
illumination for movie production was natural sunlight. But it wasn't just sunny skies that spurred a mass film
migration from New York to Hollywood. In 1897, Thomas Edison had begun
suing independent producers who had illegally adopted his film technology. At
the time, Edison owned almost all of the patents relevant to motion picture
production and, in the East, movie producers acting independently of Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued
or enjoined by Edison and his agents. If Edison sent agents to California, word would usually reach Hollywood
before the agents' arrival and the movie makers could simply escape to nearby Mexico.
ultimately lost the long, bloody battle against the film bootleggers. But the
cinema pirates had already fled to Hollywood.
Nestor's budget in 1912 was $1,200 a
week for three complete pictures -- one western, one eastern and a comedy.
Actors rehearsed painstakingly by stopwatch, because the scene had to be
perfectly timed to the number of feet of film available.
Two years later, Cecil B. DeMille,
Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn took a giant cinematic step with the release of
the first feature-length film, The Squaw Man. Made in a barn a block away from
what became the corner of Hollywood
and Vine, it was a box office hit and created a demand for longer movies.
Therefore in the 1910s, plots of
silent films soon developed into very complex ones, and its length gradually
increased. Charlie Chaplin's silent films are produced in this era.
From “Cow Town” to “TinselTown”
By 1913, Hollywood
was in the midst of what has been justly labeled an overnight transformation.
Film replaced farm and frontier. Movie studios were literally sharing space in Hollywood barns with bemused livestock. Titans like Cecil
B. DeMille and D.W.Griffith were busy establishing the Big Studios that would
for decades. The film business turned Hollywood
on its ear. The population boomed, Real banks and business were booked on
weekends for film hold-ups, and the streets were roped off for car crashes.
Movie studios literally operated out of barns, with directors conveniently
recasting the horses and cows in their many westerns.
D.W. Griffith raised the bar
immeasurably in 1915 with The Birth of a Nation, which was the first motion
picture piece of art. Weighing in at 190 minutes, it signaled the enormous
possibilities of the feature film. Indeed, its very length was important: Birth
of a Nation made movies acceptable to a middle class that felt more at ease
with a new medium that now provided the familiarity of theater-length shows.
And these new devotees had higher standards, which meant more money would be
sunk into the making of motion pictures. Movies, said Griffith at the time, will change the world.
'The human race will think more rapidly, more intelligently, more
comprehensively than it ever did . . . We don't 'talk' about things happening,
or describe how a thing 'looks'; we actually show it — vividly, completely,
convincingly. It is the ever-present, realistic, actual now that 'gets' the
great American public, and nothing ever devised by the mind of man can show it
like moving pictures.'
needs of this thriving new industry created radical changes in the
communitycausing a clash between older and newer residents. Acres of agricultural
land south of what-is-now Hollywood
Boulevard were subdivided and developed as housing
for the enormous numbers of workers that movie-making required.
High-rise commercial buildings began
to spring up along Hollywood Boulevardthree competing real-estate interests
caused concentrations of development at Highland,
Cahuenga, and at Vine. It wasn't long before nearly all the homes along the Boulevard were replaced by commercial
buildings linking the three corners. Banks, restaurants, clubs and movie
palaces sprang up, catering to the demands of the burgeoning film industry.
landscape changed dramatically as the town struggled to keep up with the
demands of a swelling population and booming industry. Hollywood's familiar skyline of multi-storied
hotels and apartments appeared. The ornamental Spanish Colonial Revival style
self-conscious extravagance while the new Art Deco and Moderne styles fit the
community's aspirations for glamour and sophistication.
Hollywood also boasted of the most
extraordinary 'movie palaces' in the country. Grauman's Egyptian
Theater celebrated the rage of all things Egyptian that had begun with the
recent unearthing of King's Tut's tomb. A mélange of sphinxes, temples, columns
and murals, Grauman's was unveiled in 1922 on Hollywood Boulevard. Just a few years
later, Grauman out did his exotic extravaganza with his new Chinese Theater.
The imported pagodas and authentic rare Chinese artifacts wowed the public and
guaranteed him a place in Hollywood history.
Calling All Stars
By 1916, Hollywood
was luring hopeful stars and starlets from all over the globe. Hundreds of
young girls seeking stardom gathered at the Public Library to read plays. The
librarian got concerned and orchestrated to take-over of a hall on Hollywood Boulevard,
adding living quarters for the displaced girls. 'The Hollywood Studio
Club' provided refuge for would-be starlets for decades. Marilyn Monroe,
Barbara Eden, Kim Novak and Donna Reed passed through its doors on their way to
Until 1920, in one short decade, the
film industry had created a new 'gold rush' town. Would-be stars and
would-be studios crashed and burned while a new breed of super-stars and
all-powerful studios emerged. Movies places, glamorous addresses, infamous
clubs, and high-rise skyline sprung up like wild flowers changing the landscape
Nation was made during World War I,
which, while derailing the European cinema, left American moviemaking as the
leader of the pack. Hollywood
boasted famous names like Mary Pickford and Charles Chaplin, and, as much as
anything, the star system defined the American movie. Certainly the great dream
factories like MGM, Warners and Fox were the disseminators of the celluloid
champagne, but then, as now, people usually chose what they would pay to see by
whose name was on the marquee.
After the First World War, Hollywood's population
grew at breakneck pace: from 5000 in 1910 to 36000 by 1920. Rumors of stars
making $3000 a week in Hollywood
lured the average Joe and Josephine, who was earning $15 elsewhere. With a
frenzy gold rush on Hollywood, the Chamber of
Commerce felt obliged to take out newspaper ads warning: 'Don't try to
break intro the movies in Hollywood.
It may save disappointments. Out of 100,000 people who started at the screen's
ladder of fame -- ONLY FIVE REACHED THE TOP!' Dozens of small studios were
engaged in a cutthroat battle for survival. Many went bust as quickly as they
surfaced. Small studios set up shop near Sunset and Gower, and their high
mortality rate led to the nickname, 'Poverty Row. Hundreds of 'movie
cowboys' and assorted extras would linger on that corner, feverish for a
casting call. That spot was thereby nicknamed 'Gower Gulch', and is
still referred to that nickname by Los Angelinos today.
1920, 40 million Americans were going to the movies each week, and 20 major Hollywood studios were churning out fare for their
Actors lived in fantasy homes in Hollywood (and later Beverly
Hills). People were thrilled simply to drive by these
castles, hoping beyond hope they might catch sight of a Theda Bara or a Tom
Mix. The stars held gala bashes to die for — Harvey Wilcox's dream of a nice
temperate village in the fig grove had given way to a pretty good replica of
Gomorrah — and wore clothes that were more swell than a bee's knees. There were
magazines and books devoted to them, photos of them to cut out and kiss. They
Addresses like the Garden Court or The
Chateau Elysee took on the glamour of stars like Gable and Lombard who resided
there. The most infamous address in this infamous town was the Garden of Allah at 8150 Sunset. Opening night in
1921 kicked off with a decadent 18-hour party that had troubadours playing
madrigals from the middle of the pool. The party raged for 32 years. If those
walls could talk, they would tell of robberies, murders, orgies, divorces,
fights, suicides and drunken revelries. John O'hara, Tallulah Bankhead and
Clara Bow called it home.
Stars were not free to seek their
own contracts during these years and very often stars would be
'loaned' by one studio to another. Films produced were of mediocre
standard, but the fame that came with being an actor was the driving force that
kept the stars working. Soon Americans had heard of the 'Hollywood mythology' -
'You can move to Hollywood
and change your life.' Many people believed this and moved from their hometown
hoping that they would be picked by directors on Hollywood Boulevard and earn big bucks.
Of course, many went home disappointed and broke.
A Sign is born
Brash movie promoters met their match in Hollywood
real estate developers when it came to high-profile stunts and 'thinking
In 1923, The Hollywoodland Real
Estate Group unleashed one of history's brashest and longest-lived promotions.
In the course of that event, a Sign was born. To promote a prime piece of property
in the wooded hills over downtown the company spent $21,000 to erect the
Granddaddy of all signs right on the side of Mt.Cahuenga.
The sign was massive. Each of the 13 letters was 30 feet wide and 50 feet tall.
Each letter was made of 3x9 metal squares, all rigged up by an intricate frace
of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles, Few realize that a giant
white dot ( 35 feet in diameter, with 20-watt lights on the perimeter) was
constructed below the Sign to catch the eye.
whole construction screamed 'Hollywoodland. Period!' At first, the
Sign featured 4,000 20-wat bulbs, spaced 8 inches apart, At night the sign
blinked eternally into the Hollywood night.
First 'Holly' then 'wood' and finally 'land' with
the dot below having it's own sparkling moment in the display. In this
pre-Vegas era it created quite an impression, visible from 25 miles away. And
it was marketing scheme that gave Hollywood
its most recognized landmark. Originally intended to last just a year and a
half, the Sign has survived eight decades - and is still going strong.
The sign, located near the top of MountLee,
is now a registered trademark and cannot be used without the permission of the
Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which also manages the venerable Walk of Fame.
Very early on, the Hollywood Sign
began to symbolize the hopes and dreams of actors the world over. As thousands
of would-be stars began to flock to Hollywood
in hopes of making it big, so did Lillian Millicent 'Peg' Entwistle.
Peg Entwistle had already made a
name for herself on Broadway, and decided to further her career here in Hollywood, which at the
time symbolized everything Peg longed for—money, glamour and, most of all,
fame. She did some auditions, but spent most of the brutally hot summer of '32
just hanging around her uncle's house, waiting for a phone call that never
came. The magical world of movies did not embrace this graduate of the
world-famous Thater Guild.
on the evening of September 18, Peg made the arduous hike up the canyon hill to
the Hollywood Sign, her one-time beacon of hope, but now a symbol of failure
and rejection. She climbed 50 feet up a workman's ladder to the top of the
'H' and plunged five stories into the dark night below. Peg
Entwistle—named by tabloids as the 'The Hollywood Sign Girl'—was only
24 years old. In a cruel twist of irony, a letter to Peg arrived the day after
her death from the Beverly Hills Playhouse. She was offered the lead role in a
play about a woman driven to suicide. To the rest of the movie-making community, Peg's suicide was a reminder
that not everything glittering in TinselTown is gold.
The developers who created the sign
went bankrupt during the Depression. After that, the Sign suffered from tragedy
and serious neglect By 1939, all maintenance of the Sign had stopped as Hollywood grappled with
World War II. All 4,000 bulbs were stolen, and gaping holes appeared in the
letters because of vandalism and the elements. The once-luminous letters began
to disappear into the chaparral. Area residents complained that 'Loose
SignsSink Neighborhoods', and lobbied for its removal.
In 1944, the bankrupt developer
unloaded the last 450 acred of land, along with the sign, to the City. The
post-war Sign was in good hands, but still waiting salvation.
1922 marked the beginning of a new era in Hollywood. Only two years earlier, the film
capital of California had moved from Santa Barbara to Hollywood.
the Dream Factory.
A shakeout created the Mega-Studios
that would eventually control the industry. In 1922, for instance, four of the
most creative big-wigs, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and
D.W.Griffith created United Artists to put film making in the hands of the
The Fox facility began as a frame
cottage nestled among lemon trees at Western and Sunset, and grew to
accommodate 20 productions shooting simultaneously. The Warner Brothers'
meteoric rise can be attributed to a stable of creative talent that included John
Barrymore, Al Jolson, Busby Berkeley and Rin-Tin-Tin.
Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary
Pickford, on top of the
world in 1921. And why not?
One years earlier they and
top director D.W. Griffith
had formed their own studio, United Artists,
thing because no one else could afford to pay
By the mid-20s,
mega-studios resembled corporate kingdoms, ruled by and all-powerful monarch,
with serfs busily building sets and cutting footage.
Hollywood itself has been anything but static
and after a few decades as the capital of film glamour, the neighborhood
changed again. Although much of the studio work remained in Hollywood,
many stars moved to Beverly Hills,
and the elegant shops and restaurants left with them.
Stars soon made Beverly
Hills and SilverLake into America's most glamorous postal
addresses. The stars themselves were the nearest thing in America to royalty. Temptingly,
here was an aristocracy anyone could join.
became known as the place in America
where anything was possible. Screen stars built strange and elaborate mansions
along Sunset Boulevard. They drove around in expensive, imported cars, took
drugs, and were openly promiscuous (casual about having many sexual partners).
Eventually, public opinion turned against them.
Warner Brothers synchronized sound in motion pictures - in Al Jolson's
'The Jazz Singer' -- the new 'talkies' jolted the industry
like an earthquake. Hollywood's silent stars,
many of whom had come to Hollywood
from abroad, suddenly found their accents a liability. Talkies also ruined the
film careers of heroes like Vilmy Banky, Norma Talmadge or like John Gilbert,
whose high, tremulous voice was laughable in a leading man. Many ‘silent stars’
sank into alcoholism and suicide. There were tragic casualties of technical
innovation, but there were also stellar new careers made overnight. Stage
actors and vocal coaches became outright stars by 1930.
Most of the early talkies were
successful at the box-office, but many of them were of poor quality -
dialogue-dominated play adaptations, with stilted acting (from inexperienced
performers) and an unmoving camera or microphone. Screenwriters were required
to place more emphasis on characters in their scripts, and title-card writers
became unemployed. The first musicals were only literal transcriptions of
Broadway shows taken to the screen. Nonetheless, a tremendous variety of films
were produced with a wit, style, skill, and elegance that has never been
equaled - before or since.
The 1930s decade has been
nostalgically labeled 'The Golden Age of Hollywood' (although most of
the output of the decade was black-and-white). The 30s was also the decade of
the sound and color revolutions and the advance of the 'talkies', and the
further development of film genres (gangster films, musicals,
newspaper-reporting films, historical biopics, social-realism films,
lighthearted screwball comedies, westerns and horror to name a few). Under the so-called 'studio system,'
the major studios controlled every aspect of filmmaking from preproduction to
actors, directors, and technicians arrived from Europe
to work for the studios. Famous writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940),
Dorothy Parker (1893–1967), and William Faulkner (1897–1962) made the journey
west to work in pictures. Hollywood
became a playground for celebrities eager to get themselves noticed. Private
lives became public property, and there was a sense that anything could be
bought. As ever, people outdid one another with brash displays of wealth. As
crime-writer Raymond Chandler (1888–1959) put it: 'In L.A. to be conspicuous you would have to
drive a flesh-pink Mercedes-Benz with a sun porch on the roof and three pretty
Meanwhile, a new 'sound' was on the
rise. By 1930 radio programming had evolved from its primitive crystal set
beginnings. In 1932 Hollywood's
first three station, KNX, KHJ and KFI hit the waves. Although it wasn't the
broadcasting capital, Hollywood's
radio pioneers were relentless in their promotional zeal. The founder of KNX
once managed to broadcast a murder trial after his reporters were thrown out of
the courtroom. The Coconut Grove on Wilshire
Boulevard, playground to the glitterati, was one
of the first rooms on the West Coast to broadcast a live orchestra via radio.
Hollywood during War
Hollywood was doing a clipping business when
the stock market crashed, unleashing the lean years of the Depression. While Hollywood's film business
survived, the Hollywood Sign suffered from tragedy and serious neglect. While
the Dream Factory was shaken by the financial crisis of the Depression, it was
hardly destroyed. Film did better than any other industry in the dark days of
the Depression because, now more than ever, people were looking for an escape.
What little discretionary money people had, they seemed to spend on movies.
In the Hollywood of the 1930's, actors could expect
little more than $15 a day working under the harshest conditions. Even so, in
1933, during the darkest days of the Depression, actors were ordered to take a
50% pay cut because of falling profits at the box office. It was then that a
small group of actors decided to organize. They formed a self-governing guild
that today we know as Screen Actors Guild. Vying for recognition, the guild
finally received its first union-shop contract in 1937. It included wage
increases, pension and health plans, residuals, regulation of talent agents,
and safety standards on the set as major provisions.
the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December
7th the entertainment industry became a full-time war industry. Studio trucks
transported troops instead of movie sets. Stars like Clarck Gable, Jimmy
Steewart and Victor Mature quickly enlisted, while wartime restrictions and
shortages dramatically changed the way movies were made.
World War II impacted every aspect
of film production in Hollywood.
Distant or exotic locations were no longer and option. Sea shots were
prohibited from Seattle to San Diego. The government seized the nation's
supply of rolling stock, and train shots were nixed, air raid blackouts
eliminated all night filming. Lavish sets were a casualty of materials
shortages. Nails were counted at each studio, and sets were made so that a post
office could be quickly turned into an airport. Studios hoarded their precious
two punds of hairpins a month.
During WWII, there were no lavish
historical epics and no expensive car chases or crashes. Out of necessity,
space psychodramas and the Age of Film Noir replaced the grand and costly
extravaganzas of years past.
the downsizing of the movie industry, music became the craze to the ears of the
nation. Like never before, Hollywood
could shape the world through radio and the record industry.
In 1940, to profit form this
upcoming trend, Glenn Wallichs built his famous Wallichs' Music. The record
store became so popular with students from both Hollywood
and Fairfax high schools, that it sold more
records than any store west of Chicago,
Illinois. Wallich's popularity
with his record store spurred him to partner with Johnny Mercer two years later
to form Capitol Records. By pioneering marketing strategies coupled with album
design, the company went on to become one of the top three in the industry.
War drew Hollywood together as a close-knit family,
erasing the distinction between stars and regular people. Returning soldiers
swelled the city's population, and Hollywood
pulled together to feed, shelter and entertain them. Hollywood's most famous names volunteered
their time and services in the name of the war effort.
soldiers outnumbered civilians in downtown Hollywood
ten to one. They slept in parks and theater lobbies, until 'Mom'
Lehr's Hollywood Guild and Canteen began offering them a bed and three meals a
day. On average, 800 stayed with Mom on a week night 1,200 on weekends. The
similar-sounding Hollywood Canteen catered to 2000 servicemen who would jam the
club each night for free food, drink and top Big Bands. All 6000 radio and
screen entertainers volunteered. Marlene Dietrich cut take, washed dished and
sang. Betty Grable, Olivia de Havilland and Greer Garson played hostess. The
busyboys: Fred MacMurray, Basil Rarhbone, John Loder and John Garfield. 100,000
soldiers a month devoured 4,000 loaves of bread, 1,500 pounds of coffee, and
150,000 pieces of cake.
In 1948, box office receipts were down 45%
from wartime heights. The culprit: television.
From '46 to '51, the number of TV
sets in American homes went from 10,000 to more than 12 million. Studios cut
payrolls, back lots sprouted weeds, and sound stages went back. Film scrambled
for a rash of new gimmicks: wide screens, 3D, Technicolor, stereo sound and
free dishes for moviegoers.
In 1949, the Chamber of Commerce
came to the ailing Sign's rescue, removing the letters that spelled
'LAND' and repairing the rest.
Hollywood, with characteristic resilience,
made the transition to TV. On January
22, 1947, the first commercial TV station west of the Mississippi
River, KTLA, began operating in Hollywood.
In December of that year, the first Hollywood
movie production was made for TV, The Public Prosecutor. And in the 1950s,
music recording studios and offices began moving into Hollywood. Other businesses, however,
continued to migrate to different parts of the Los Angeles
area, primarily to Burbank.
Much of the movie industry remained in Hollywood,
although the district's outward appearance changed.
Television companies snatched up old
studios and back lots. Symbolically, the emcee for Hollywood's first TV show was film star Bob
Hope, with Cecil B. DeMille opening the program. When TV started filming
was there to corner the market. By the end of the 50s, more sound stages were
producing television than movies.
Hollywood was the victim
of a mass exodus of residents to suburbs in the Valley. They were opting for
malls and multiplex cinemas over Mann's and the Boulevard. The mid-60s
celebrated free speech, and a series of rulings on obscenity changed what could
be shown at a movie theater. Hollywood
became overrun with 'adult' theaters, and sex on the screen brought other
'adult' culture with it: massage parlors, 'adult' bookstores, and porn shows.
In 1952, CBS built CBSTelevisionCity on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard
on the former site of Gilmore Stadium. CBS's expansion into the Fairfax
District pushed the unofficial boundary of Hollywood
further south than it had been. CBS's slogan for the shows taped there was
'From Television City in Hollywood'
The famous Capitol
Records building on Vine Street
just north of Hollywood Boulevard
was built in 1956. It is a recording studio not open to the public, but its
unique circular design looks like a stack of old 45rpm vinyl records.
Blacklists and Bankruptcy
The Hollywood movie industry’s high
profile made it vulnerable in the cold post-war climate of anti-liberal
After 1939, things began to change.
Antitrust lawsuits broke up the studios' control of film distribution. Many
people felt the stars had too much power. To make matters worse, the Hays
Commission, a self-regulatory body of the film industry, was set up in the late
1940s to control the moral content of Hollywood
movies. Many stars found themselves blacklisted (put on a list of people not to
be hired) on moral grounds.
Communist witch hunts led by Senator
Joseph McCarthy tore Hollywood
apart. McCarthy and his henchmen rounded up 19 prominent Hollywood writers,
directors and actors, claiming that 'Commies' had infiltrated Hollywood and were
producing subversive films. Ten of these victims were sent to jail. By the
early 50s, 400 Hollywood writers, actors and
directors were blacklisted. One star survived by selling flowers, another by
waiting tables in Arizona.
Paranoia and persecution prevailed. Paranoia and betrayal was a common image
seen in fifties America.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame was
created in 1958 and the first star was placed in 1960 as a tribute to artists
working in the entertainment industry. Honorees receive a star based on career
and lifetime achievements in motion pictures, live theatre, radio, television,
and/or music, as well as their charitable and civic contributions.
Hollywood experienced the flight of film
power centers in the turbulent 60s. By 1970, Paramount was the only major studio left in
town. Many other studios went bankrupt after the difficult years of
blacklisting and television dominance. But movies weren't the only game around.
The Sign -- well, it didn't take a Weatherman to show what the elements had
done. In 1973, the Cultural Heritage Board gave the Sign landmark status, but
it was still in need of tender loving care.
For years, Hollywood was a major
disappointment, a case study in urban decay and neglect - a seedy, run-down
area populated by a virtual freak-show of young runaways, homeless transients,
wannabe heavy-metal rockers, frenzied traffic, and harried crowds of bewildered
tourists wandering the dirty sidewalks while trying to find some hint of former
glamour left in the famous city.
True glamour has always awaited tourists
a few miles in Beverly Hills, but the actual Hollywood area - the downtown shopping district centered
around Hollywood Boulevard
- had degenerated from a cozy small town into a bad dream of urban blight.
The Hollywood Sign was declared Los AngelesCultural-HistoricalMonument #111 by the Cultural Heritage Board of the
City of Los Angeles.
The milestone was celebrated during a 1973 gala hosted by silent star Gloria
Swanson. Unfortunately, a thick fog blanketed the event, undermining what
should have been a picturesque affair. Despite this inauspicious commemoration,
the Sign’s official monument status signaled a new era of restoration,
preservation and global respect.
To raise money for
the Sign’s reconstruction, the newly established Hollywood Sign Trust enlisted
the help of Hollywood's
biggest names. A star-studded fund raising party was hosted by Hugh Heffner at
the PlayboyMansion, where individual Sign letter
letters were ceremonially 'auctioned off' at a price tag of $28,000
per letter. The effort to preserve the Sign made for some strange celebrity
bedfellows: Glam-rocker Alice Cooper 'bought' an 'O', while singing cowboy Gene
Autry sponsored an 'L' and singer/songwriter Paul William funded the 'W'. With
the help of these and other extremely generous sponsors, the Trust unveiled a
pristine new Hollywood Sign in 1978.
The 1978 restoration of the Sign was
more than a matter of new sheet metal and steel pipe. It symbolically ignited a
renewal throughout Hollywood
that continues to gain momentum to this very day. In 1980, a $90 million grant
from the federal government enabled Hollywood
to launch a slew of re-development projects.
In 1985, the Hollywood Boulevard commercial and
entertainment district was officially listed in the National Register of
Historic Places protecting important buildings and ensuring that the
significance of Hollywood's
past would always be a part of its future.
In 1984, The Olympic Games came to Los Angeles. Fourteen
countries of the Soviet bloc boycotted the event. The Hollywood Sign was
illuminated for two weeks in honor of the Olympics, which drew visitors and
television viewers from around the globe.
In the 80s, the film industry was
also 'going global'. The Australian multimedia titan, Rupert Murdoch,
took over 20th Century Fox in 1985. Japanese companies bought Columbia in 1989 and Universal the following
As the costs of movie production
soared and mega-industry fixed its eye on the bottom line, the film business
became increasingly dependent on ancillary profits from foreign sales,
television, video and product spin-offs. By
the end of the 80s, video revenue was almost twice as much as ticket revenue.
In this highly competitive world market, more and more films were being made
overseas and on location elsewhere in the United States. Hollywood, for the time being, was the center
of the film industry in name only.
1985, the Hollywood Boulevard
commercial and entertainment district was officially listed in the National
Register of Historic Places protecting the neighborhood's important buildings
and seeing to it that the significance of Hollywood's
past would always be a part of its future.
In 1989, Walt Disney Studios began a
two-year, museum-grade rehabilitation of the historic El Capitan Theater,
resurrecting what was once the most lavish legitimate theater in Southern California to its former grandeur. The historic
Egyptian Theater was restored to its original 1922 glory ten years later and
restaurant, Roosevelt Hotel, and the Pantages Theater all received
well-deserved makeovers during the last decades of the millennium. Hollywood was moving forward,
in part, by wisely reinvesting in the monuments of its glamorous past.
The old town finally got its act
together and appeared to be revitalized. The long-awaited rebirth of Hollywood was well under
A new maturity came to Hollywood in the last decade of the century.
In 1992, California Attorney General
Dan Lungren laid out a road map for the Sign's future, identifying three
official parties responsible for its ongoing stewardship. Under the ruling, the
Hollywood Sign Trust was empowered with the protection, preservation and
promotion of the Hollywood Sign as the global icon of the entertainment
industry. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, was charged with
protecting the image of the Sign, specifically by ensuring that any likenesses
of the Sign are approved and appropriately licensed. The City of Los Angels, finally, received a mandate to maintain and
protect the restricted GriffithPark space that's home to
the Sign, allocating Park Rangers and other resources to ensure the Sign's
final days of 1995 also saw the formation and private funding of the Hollywood
Business District by Hollywood
Boulevard property owners. Through
intensive security street cleaning and marketing efforts, the District reduced
crime by 50 percent during its first 180 days of operation. Its success laid
the groundwork for the ongoing development of posh hotels, theaters, eateries
and shopping. The re-birth of Hollywood,entertainment
capital of the world, was in full swing!
In the 1990s, the digital revolution
captivated filmmakers, allowing ever more spectacular special effects. In 1999,
Toy Story became the first film to go from production to presentation in
digital form. Some think this process may signal the beginning of the end for
In 1997, Hollywood
marked its coming of age with the opening of the new HollywoodEntertainmentMuseum, which celebrates
the turbulent, fascinating story of this unique city and its ever-changing
1995, the Sign got a new paint job courtesy of Dutch Boy Paints. Its new coat
was unveiled at a ceremony MC'd by the queen of face-lifts, Phyllis Diller.
Unfortunately, as had happened on some other important nights in the Sign's
history, a thick fog set it, and many press cameras couldn't even see the
drapes being pulled off the Sing.
During its lore-filled history the Hollywood sign was just about seen it all. So when a bolt
of lightning tore through the landmark's surveillance booth in 1999, wiping out
the entire security system with one fell blow, it seemed like just another
dubious chapter in an often ill-cursed saga. The destruction, however, turned
out to be a blessing in disguise when Hollywood-based Panasonic Corporate
Systems Company (PCSC) replaced the fallen (and woefully out of date) booth
with a new state of the art surveillance system.
with protecting arguably the most famous nine letters on earth, PCSC engineers
designed, engineered and installed a cutting-edge security network comprised of
a vas closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance network, external alarms,
microwave-triggered motion detectors and a bilingual audio warning feature.
Streaming video images are fed from a suite of remote cameras through fiber
optic lines to the City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Security
Headquarters, where rangers can monitor all of the cameras simultaneously.
1999 also saw the return of trains
when Metro Rail's Red Line opened its gleaming doors to the public. The 4.6
mile underground Hollywood line, which links into the citywide Metro Rail
system, boasts five immaculate, beautifully designed stations - at Vermont and Beverly, Santa Monica and Sunset, and on Hollywood Boulevard at Vine, Western and Highland - providing visitors with convenient
transportation to Hollywood most sought after
destinations. The Red Line represents the first Hollywood rail service since L.A.'s fabled 'Red Cars'
were scrapped in the late 50s.
In a spellbinding display of lights and megawatt special effects, the
nine 45-foot letters of the Hollywood Sign were lit, one by one, as Los Angeles
counted down to the New Millennium. Standing beside event host Jay Leno,
then-Mayor Richard Riordan 'flipped the switch' at the 15 seconds
illuminating the 450-foot-long Sign in a dance of swirling hues and cinematic
lightning effects that was visible throughout Hollywood and beyond.
Powered by more than two million
watts of electricity, the lighting of the Sign was the culmination of a
citywide 'Celebrate L.A. 2000' event. 'New
York has Time Square, Paris has the
Cairo has the
Pyramids,' said Mayor Riordan. 'Los Angeles'
world symbol is our Hollywood Sign, which is appropriate, since Hollywood is the global
entertainment capitol of the world.' ABC Network aired the event on live
television, enabling millions of viewers to witness the historic lighting. (The
Sign had been lit only two times: for the 1974 inauguration of the rebuilt
Sing, and for two weeks during the 1984 Olympic Games.)
finally returned to home to Hollywood
for the 2001 Academy Awards, ending a 52-year absence and capping the city's
resurrection as the spiritual-and now, once again, physical - heart of the
entertainment industry. On March
24th, 2002, the Awards inaugurated their new permanent at the 3,300
seat Kodak Theater - just across the street from the Roosevelt Hotel, site of
the original Awards in 1929. The Kodak Theater is part of the new Hollywood & Highland
center, the crowning jewel of Hollywood's
ongoing urban revitalization. Home to 60 shops and a 640-room hotel, the venue
is oriented around a pavilion featuring a 7/8th-scale replica of a set from
D.W.Griffith's Intolerance (1916), a seminal Hollywood epic. The 'set' is a
fantastic recreation of ancient Babylonia
(striking a signature early-Hollywood motif), replete with bejeweled 20-foot
elephants, opulent columns and other exotic, proto-deco touches. Deftly framed
by the pavilion's majestic ceremonial arch, the distant Hollywood Sign becomes
the visual and symbolic crux of the composition - a perfect public homage that can be enjoyed
by passersby near and far.
Panasonic Corporate Systems Company,
which designed the Sign's new security network in 1999, upgraded the
already-world-class system with a suite of new digital surveillance cameras.
Complementing a gauntlet of external alarms, motion detectors and audio warning
systems, ten streaming, full-color surveillance cameras now cover the entire
restricted Sign area. 2002 had also seen the debut of the Sign's redesigned official
site, now featuring new content and photos, a range of new cameras and
features, and an overall enhanced user experience.
On October 31st the Sign celebrated
its 80th birthday at a gala celebration hosted by movie musical legend Esther
Williams (another remarkably preserved octogenarian). The Signs 'birthday
party' was held during the opening ceremonies for the AFIFest, where Williams
led fans, festival attendees, and members of the press in a spirited rendition
of the Happy Birthday Song and cut pieces of a massive cake designed to look
like the Sign sprawled across MT. Lee. In 1923, the brand new Sign was
constructed as publicity stunt promoting a Hollywood
real estate development. During the ensuing of 8 decades, it had become one of
the worlds most recognizable landmarksTalk about your 'Hollywood endings'.
In November 2005, the Hollywood Sign
Trust teamed up with BayCal Painting and Red Diamond Coating to provide the
Sign with its first end-to-end refurbishment in a decade. In a city where
facelifts are run of the the mill, this one was anything but, entailing 300
gallons of Ceryllium advanced coating and weeks of climbing, scraping, priming
and painting each of the Sign's nine 45-foot lettersa particularly
challenging task give the Signs steep, rugged setting. Los Angeles Mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa personally completed the restoration, rappelling down the
hillside and applying the final strokes of coating a fitting tribute from Los Angeles new political
star, to its oldest and most important 'ambassador'. When the press had cleared
away, and all was said and done, the Sign was looking better than ever as
polished, smooth, and dazzling-white as any movie stars smile
Today Hollywood has established itself as the
single center of film and television industry, a vibrant, progressive urban
area that looks forward to a new era of pride and glory among stars.
Everything that lies under the famous
Sign is about entertainment that makes money. That is a fact that will never disappear.