November 29, 2011
Edward Ruscha, The Back of Hollywood, 1977
Hollywood is a district within the city of Los Angeles, California, U.S., whose name is synonymous with the American film industry. Lying northwest of downtown Los Angeles, it is bounded by Hyperion Avenue and Riverside Drive (east), Beverly Boulevard (south), the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains (north), and Beverly Hills (west). Since the early 1900s, when moviemaking pioneers found in southern California an ideal blend of mild climate, much sunshine, varied terrain, and a large labour market, the image of Hollywood as the fabricator of tinseled cinematic dreams has been etched worldwide. The first house in Hollywood was an adobe building (1853) on a site near Los Angeles, then a small city in the new state of California. Hollywood was laid out as a real-estate subdivision in 1887 by Harvey Wilcox, a prohibitionist from Kansas who envisioned a community based on his sober religious principles. Real-estate magnate H.J. Whitley, known as the “Father of Hollywood,” subsequently transformed Hollywood into a wealthy and popular residential area. At the turn of the 20th century, Whitley was responsible for bringing telephone, electric, and gas lines into the new suburb. In 1910, because of an inadequate water supply, Hollywood residents voted to consolidate with Los Angeles.
In 1908 one of the first storytelling movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, was completed in Hollywood after its filming had begun in Chicago. In 1911 a site on Sunset Boulevard was turned into Hollywood's first studio, and soon about 20 companies were producing films in the area. In 1913 Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Arthur Freed, and Samuel Goldwyn formed Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company (later Paramount Pictures). DeMille produced The Squaw Man in a barn one block from present-day Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, and more box-office successes soon followed. Hollywood had become the centre of the American film industry by 1915 as more independent filmmakers relocated there from the East Coast. For more than three decades, from early silent films through the advent of “talkies,” figures such as D.W. Griffith, Goldwyn, Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Darryl F. Zanuck, and Harry Cohn served as overlords of the great film studios—Twentieth Century-Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, and others. Among the writers who were fascinated by Hollywood in its “golden age” were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and Nathanael West.
After World War II, film studios began to move outside Hollywood, and the practice of filming “on location” emptied many of the famous lots and sound stages or turned them over to television show producers. With the growth of the television industry, Hollywood began to change, and by the early 1960s it had become the home of much of American network television entertainment.
Among the features of Hollywood, aside from its working studios, are the Hollywood Bowl (1919; a natural amphitheatre used since 1922 for summertime concerts under the stars), the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park (also a concert venue), Mann's (formerly Grauman's) Chinese Theatre (with footprints and handprints of many stars in its concrete forecourt), and the Hollywood Wax Museum (with more than 350 wax figures of celebrities). The Hollywood Walk of Fame pays tribute to many celebrities of the entertainment industry. The most visible symbol of the district is the Hollywood sign that overlooks the area. First built in 1923 (a new sign was erected in 1978), the sign originally said “Hollywoodland” (to advertise new homes being developed in the area), but the sign fell into disrepair, and the “land” section was removed in the 1940s when the sign was refurbished.
Many stars, past and present, live in neighbouring communities such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery contains the crypts of such performers as Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Tyrone Power. Hollywood Boulevard, long a chic thoroughfare, became rather tawdry with the demise of old studio Hollywood, but it underwent regeneration beginning in the late 20th century; the Egyptian Theatre (built in 1922), for example, was fully restored in the 1990s and became the home of the American Cinematheque, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the presentation of the motion picture.