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The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon

Leo Braudy
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Hollywood Sign
    Book Description:

    Hollywood's famous sign, constructed of massive white block letters set into a steep hillside, is an emblem of the movie capital it looms over and an international symbol of glamour and star power. To so many who see its image, the sign represents the earthly home of that otherwise ethereal world of fame, stardom, and celebrity--the goal of American and worldwide aspiration to be in the limelight, to be, like the Hollywood sign itself, instantly recognizable.

    How an advertisement erected in 1923, touting the real estate development Hollywoodland, took on a life of its own is a story worthy of the entertainment world that is its focus. Leo Braudy traces the remarkable history of this distinctly American landmark, which has been saved over the years by a disparate group of fans and supporters, among them Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner, who spearheaded its reconstruction in the 1970s. He also uses the sign's history to offer an intriguing look at the rise of the movie business from its earliest, silent days through the development of the studio system that helped define modern Hollywood. Mixing social history, urban studies, literature, and film, along with forays into such topics as the lure of Hollywood for utopian communities and the development of domestic architecture in Los Angeles,The Hollywood Signis a fascinating account of how a temporary structure has become a permanent icon of American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15878-6
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-10)

    The Hollywood sign may be unique among American icons. It is a landmark whose white block letters are familiar around the world as the prime symbol of the movies. Day after day tourists with cameras wander into surrounding Griffith Park or troll up and down the streets of the Hollywood Hills, looking to position themselves for the best possible angle on the sign. More than any other sight in Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign in the background of your photo proves you were really there. To moviegoers and so many others, the sign represents the earthly home of that otherwise...

  4. ONE Hollywood Before “Hollywood”
    (pp. 11-42)

    Before there was a sign that represented Hollywood, there had to be a Hollywood that it referred to. Few of the movie people who would later be so identified with Hollywood were very impressed with the Los Angeles suburb when they first saw it. Charlie Chaplin in his autobiography comments that the road from Los Angeles to Hollywood was “almost impassable,” and when an early member of the Automobile Club of Southern California predicted that the trip from Los Angeles to Hollywood would only take a few hours by car, he was greeted with incredulous laughter. The Hollywood Hotel at...

  5. TWO Hollywood Becomes “Hollywood”
    (pp. 43-86)

    Chaplin’s swift rise, from a contract player at Keystone making $150 a week in 1913, then to the “lone star” at Mutual in 1916 at $10,000 a week (plus a $150,000 signing bonus), and finally on to owning his own studio little more than a year after that is only one of the most extreme examples of the tremendous leap made by the American movie business in the same years. Films like Griffith’sThe Birth of a Nation(1915) were showing that the movies had other, grander, aspirations than the one- and two-reelers of the nickelodeon days. Studios were expanding....

  6. THREE Hooray for Hollywood
    (pp. 87-117)

    With the establishment of Hollywoodland, the many Hollywoods start to find a focus and a generally accepted meaning. First, there was Hollywood, the former village turned suburb turned part of Los Angeles—a specific place with geographic boundaries, constantly changing and contested. Then there was Hollywood as a generally accepted name for the homeland of the American movie industry, like Fleet Street in London for newspapers or Wall Street in New York for finance, a shorthand for the stars and the films. Then, allied to that sense of physical place was yet another Hollywood, a more or less intangible place...

  7. FOUR Shadows on the Sign
    (pp. 118-144)

    Chaplin’s chronology in this introduction to the 1930s version of his account of the building of his first studio is a little off. Oil was discovered in Los Angeles in 1902, and perhaps he could have added cattle and real estate to the other transformers of the southern California landscape. But his sense of the changes in Hollywood and Los Angeles was right on target. Despite our contemporary nostalgia for 1939 as the year of great movies, along with the official dubbing of the Academy Award as the “Oscar,” the 1930s were not ending well for Los Angeles, Hollywood, or...

  8. FIVE From Eyesore to Icon
    (pp. 145-192)

    There are icons by accident and icons on purpose. Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty were built to be iconic, the focus of attention and meaning. But Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, like the Hollywood sign, accrued meaning over the years. Before World War II, for example, the significance of Big Ben was more local. But with the war its proud tower rising over the smoke and bombs of the Battle of Britain became a symbol of British fortitude generally and of London specifically. As we’ve seen, wars and the aftermath of wars particularly are a fertile field...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 193-196)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-200)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 201-202)
  12. Index
    (pp. 203-215)