Hooray for Hollywoodland
It’s premiere week in Hollywoodland, can you feel the magic?
Do you know what Hollywoodland is? I mean, other than that movie with Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck, that is? Hollywoodland was the name given in the 1920s by a real estate developer to the area now known as Beachwood Canyon. The Hollywoodland sign was originally erected as a means of promoting the real estate development in a big studio picture kind of way. Since the sign was visible throughout the city–although it wasn’t much of a city back then–it cultivated interest in the growing LA population as to what was going on up there. Even if it only made people wonder what the heck kind of newfangled community it must be, to have a sign built for it straight out of the side of a mountain?
The original Hollywoodland real estate developers went bust in the Great Depression. And after years of neglect and fire, the “land” portion of the sign fell off, along with some of the other letters. Pranksters with too much time on their hands would go up there and move the letters (and pieces of letters) around to make it spell “Ollywood.” Or “Holywood.” Or “Hollyweed.” Finally, a bunch of people–including Hugh Hefner–got together and decided to make the sign a historical landmark for Hollywood itself. They started a foundation in charge of the maintenance and historical preservation of the sign, and since then it has remained in pristine condition, even when the rest of LA is shot to hell.
Now, people come from around the world to see the sign. They drive up my old street in rental cars, and stand in the middle of the street, racing to get a picture of themselves in front of it–if only from afar–before the next car speeds up or down Beachwood Canyon. Sometimes when I was out walking Sidney, they would ask me how to get up by the letters, like they did in that old episode of 90210, after the gang’s graduation from West Beverly. And I would tell them that I don’t know. But that from what I understood, it involves going through Griffith Park, and you can’t get there from here.
And so, if you’re following at home, you can see that history in Los Angeles tends to be constructed in the following way:
This process is true for everything. Stars, writers, directors, studios, signs, buildings, neighborhoods, genres. Well, not so much producers. Producers have a way of floating above this cycle. But you know, everyone else. When I lived in Hollywood and premiere week would roll around, I used to feel like I was a part of it myself. Even though I was about as far away from being a part of it as would be possible. But it pulled me in, and it makes believe these larger-than-life signs still have a magical power over people.
Most big cities have their own way to handle grand-scale advertising. New York has Times Square, with giant billboards advertising Broadway shows, fashion brands, mass market products, and electronics giants. Leicester Square in London is similar. I have never been to Tokyo, but from what I can discern based on the movie Lost in Translation, their advertising is much like Times Square’s except for the persistent use of A-List American celebrities in ads for products ranging from automobiles to whisky.
Los Angeles is no different in its need to advertise mass products to a mass audience. But here we have a movieland magic to the practice of advertising that makes you feel–even if just for the few minutes[singlepic=205,560,440,,right] (or hours, depending upon the time of day) that you spend winding down Highland and through the heart of Hollywood proper–like you are part of that magic. That you are big. And important And have somewhere to be. So give me my advertising straight up, on the side of the road. And no twist.
Hollywood proper used to be a shithole. Many parts of it still are. But they are definitely taking stabs at gentrification, with the Hollywood and Highland project that was finished many years ago, and the soon-to-be completed W Hotel. Hollywood Proper is home to most of the clubs at which you can catch celebutantes working their magic–even when you read of a club with a new name, it is usually an old club with updated decor and a new name. What was Concorde four years ago is now Shag, and Club LAX, once it loses its coolness, will be turned into something else very close to the original, but somehow different. Whatever it becomes will be repackaged, dropped into dialogue on Entourage, claiming it (and constructing it, at the same time) as the Place to Be. For a while.
Even things from so far away take on a different sheen in Hollywood. In spite of yourself, you must look at them differently. Are they a little more polished? But a lot less innocent. Perhaps they are richer, but they also seem sadder. And they are definitely more glamorous.
Maybe it’s the proximity of major landmarks, made far more famous by The Industry than they ever would be otherwise. Maybe there is pixie dust in the masonry of buildings like Capitol Records. Maybe someday you’ll walk into that building like the Beatles did way back when. Maybe one day you’ll be a star! Lots gets written about Hollywood, but most of it just talks about how bad it is for the rest of the world. How unrealistic it sets our expectations. Maybe that’s true.
But maybe there is something to it. Maybe there is something magical in a dream.