Hooray For Hollywood!

 

Add It to Your Next Travel Itinerary.

STORY BY: DEAN BLAINE

The name is synonymous with glamour. Hollywood…land of movie stars and film premieres, flashbulbs and tabloid scandals. Home to sunshine and starlets, glitzy nightclubs and dreams come true.

Hopefuls flock here by the thousands. Universal Studios is down the street from the Hollywood Bowl is down the street from the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are held each year. There are stars on the sidewalk and sitcoms on the stages and a light atop the famous Capitol Records building that blinks “Hollywood” in morse code all night long. Here, Monkeys fly and ET phoned home and Superman leaps tall buildings at a single bound. Here’s the birthplace of Minions and Frozen and Shrek. The backyard of Bogart, Garland and Taylor. Johnny Carson held court here. Lassie lazed. Marilyn lounged by the pool. Hollywood’s the place to be discovered, to reinvent oneself, to see one’s name up in lights. It’s a town borne from imagination, a culmination of the American Dream.

More than 10 million people visit Hollywood annually. And for most of them, the first question they’re asked upon returning home is, “Did you see any movie stars?” Celebrity starspotting can be part of the Hollywood experience, but first let’s cover some history.

The area we know as Hollywood today was originally settled in 1853. At that time, it consisted of little more than one adobe hut. Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, it was an agricultural community of citrus groves and avocado trees. In 1887, a developer by the name of Harvey Wilcox purchased land in the area and christened the plot Hollywood, after the suburb of Chicago where his wife grew up. Later that year, the small community began to flourish. By 1900, Hollywood boasted a post office, a newspaper and two markets. A two-room schoolhouse opened in 1903. The school would later become Hollywood High School, and famous alumni of the school would later include Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney and Carol Burnett. The mascot of the high school became (and still is) The Sheik, taken from a 1921 Rudolph Valentino film of the same name.

But in the early 1900s, the thoroughfare of Hollywood Boulevard was little more than a dusty trail. Then the Hollywood Hotel opened at the corner of Hollywood & Highland (where the massive Dolby Theatre stands today). The 40-room hotel was immediately promoted as an idyllic country getaway from the boomtown of Los Angeles ten miles to the east. The idea caught on and soon after the hotel was expanded to include 104 additional guest rooms, a wide lobby, a chapel, a music room and a popular ballroom. As the filmmakers and early silent movie stars of central Los Angeles were wiled by the charms of rustic Hollywood, the hotel became home base for the who’s who of early Tinseltown. The popular restaurant of the hotel began painting stars on the ceiling above certain chairs at certain tables to help them remember where each celebrity liked to sit while frequenting the hotel. These stars were the precursor to the stars that now line the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard as part of the famous Walk of Fame.

The early American filmmakers didn’t find Los Angeles by accident. In the early 1900s, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the motion picture camera, held patents on the cameras and the novelty films produced on the devices. Edison’s company was based in New Jersey, so filmmakers began moving to the West Coast where Edison’s patents were difficult to enforce. When the filmmakers discovered Hollywood, they found a perfect location for shooting movies; a dry, sunny climate with an amazing variety of natural settings: desert, mountains, beaches and rugged cowboy country. In 1910, the first movie was produced in Hollywood. The film “In Old California,” by D.W. Griffith was shot three blocks east of the Hollywood Hotel. Funny enough, the film was never screened in Hollywood because movie theaters (and alcohol) were banned at the time by a conservative town council.

Hollywood wouldn’t be stymied; almost immediately, the world went crazy for films from Hollywood. The movie-going public couldn’t get enough. Film studios began popping up all over town. By the 1920s, Hollywood was the epicenter of the filmmaking universe. The movie business soared, soon becoming the fifth largest industry in the United States. Hollywood had arrived…and never looked back. When the ban on movie theaters was finally lifted, a bounty of Hollywood landmarks sprang from the dust. Many of these landmarks remain, and are surely included on any tour of Hollywood today.

In 1922, Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre opened. King Tut’s Tomb had recently been unearthed and the world was crazy for all things Egyptian. The theatre was designed to resemble an Egyptian ruin. This was the site of Hollywood’s first movie premiere, Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Next came the erection of the famous Hollywood Sign in 1923. The first sign read “Hollywoodland,” and was placed on a hill overlooking Hollywood as an advertisement for a real estate development. The sign was made of wood and studded with 4,000 light bulbs. The original sign lit up at night. It flashed in segments, “Holly,” “Wood,” and “Land.” It cost $21,000 to erect and was only intended to remain for 18 months. But after the boom of Hollywood, the sign grew to become a major icon and was left in place. Over the following decades, the old wood sign fell into disrepair. It was restored in 1949 and the letters “land” were removed from the end of the sign so that it now read “Hollywood.” The light bulbs were also removed as a fire hazard. By the 1970s, the sign was falling apart again. The first “O” had partially collapsed, leaving what looked like a lowercase “u”. The final “O” fell down completely so that for a number of years the sign read “Hullywod”. In 1978, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner started a campaign to restore the sign with a more permanent structure. He put each owner of the letters up for adoption at a cost of $28,000 each. Gene Autry paid for the second “L,” Hugh Hefner paid for the “Y,” singer Andy Williams paid for the letter “W,” and rocker Alice Cooper paid for the second “O”. Today the sign is constructed of steel. Each letter is 45 feet tall and the entire sign is 350 feet long. It takes approximately 275 gallons of white paint to paint the sign.

The famous El Capitan Theatre opened in 1926, and features a giant Wurlitzer organ that was played during performances. The Orson Wells classic Citizen Kane was premiered here in 1941, when no other theater dared screen the controversial film.

Hollywood boomed again in 1927. Sid Grauman opened his famous Chinese Theatre, designed to resemble a massive, red Chinese pagoda. As theatre construction was being completed, a young actress by the name of Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped in some wet cement in the theatre portico. As a joke, she added her signature to the footprint and a Hollywood tradition was born. Today the theatre boasts the handprints and footprints of more than 200 celebrities, and is a must on any tour of Hollywood.

That same year the famous Hollywood Roosevelt hotel (named for Teddy Roosevelt) opened; the hotel was financed, in part, by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Two years later, the first Academy Awards ceremony was held at the hotel and was hosted by Fairbanks. Tickets for the event were $5 and 270 people attended the ceremony and private dinner. The entire ceremony lasted less than 15 minutes and a film called “Wings,” one the first Oscar for Best Picture. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard once lived in the hotel’s penthouse at the rate of $5 per night. Today the Gable & Lombard Penthouse starts at $6,000 per night. Marilyn Monroe also once called the hotel home and she had her first photo shoot on the diving board of the swimming pool. Today the Marilyn Monroe Suite overlooking the swimming pool goes for $1,300 per night. Some guests have reported seeing the ghost of Marilyn in the room’s mirror.

Jump ahead now to 1960 when Hollywood’s ubiquitous Walk of Fame was born. Roughly 1,500 stars were part of that first installation, terrazzo and brass stars (each featuring the name of a celebrity) installed on the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Today, the Walk of Fame has more than 2,500 stars extending along both sides of the boulevard for 15 blocks. There are five different categories for which one may receive a star (movies, television, music, radio and live performance). The only celebrity to have five stars, one in each of the five categories, is Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy.” In order to receive a star on the Walk of Fame, the recipient must be nominated. Those nominations go to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The selection process is kept secret. The Chamber of Commerce receives about 200 nominations per year and the committee approves approximately 20. Kim Kardashian has been nominated but she does not have a star. Some movie stars have no interest in having a star on the Walk of Fame. This list includes Hollywood heavy-hitters Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna.

Finally, no trip to Hollywood is complete without some serious star spotting. It’s easy enough to see A-list homes. Tour companies like LA City Tours provide bus tours into the Hollywood Hills to see homes of the rich and famous. A drive along the famous Mulholland Drive offers views of homes owned by Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Jack Nicholson. A drive through the quiet, tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills provides glimpses of homes formerly owned by Lucille Ball, Elvis, Michael Jackson and more. It’s extremely rare, however, to see the stars around their homes. Out and about around Hollywood (the restaurants, nightclubs and shopping malls) are a better bet to rub elbows with the rich and famous. For a sure thing, check out the website www.seeing-stars.com for a list of all movie premieres, star award ceremonies and celebrities scheduled to immortalize their handprints and footprints in cement at the Chinese Theatre. Then simply show up at the appointed time for a front row seat to Hollywood royalty. Don’t forget to ask for an autograph or photo. The folks back home might demand proof of your quarry.

 

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