Friday, August 27, 2010

For the Weekend: Hollywoodland

There are a lot of times when I get wrapped into the day-to-day grime of life and forget that I live in one of the most iconic cities in the world.  Everyone knows Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood and the dream makers.  And I do love this town, as much as I hate it sometimes too.  The history's like a drug to me.  So today, I thought it would be fun to discuss one of the city's most iconic images, and its role in the movies.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Hollywood Sign!

Originally constructed in 1923, the Hollywood Sign actually read "Hollywoodland" and was an advertisement for the housing district on the south side of Mount Lee, part of the Santa Monica Mountains.  It was thought up after the success of a similar sign advertising nearby Whitley Heights.  The original letters were 50 feet high, 30 feet wide, and studded with thousands of light bulbs.  It was only supposed to remain up for about a year or so, but by that time, it had already begun its iconic ride to fame. 

By 1949, though, the sign was in need of some help.  The "H" had recently fallen over and money was running short for repair.  So, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce reached an agreement with the City of Los Angeles Parks Department to continue and maintain the upkeep of the sign.  However, the contract only covered the first nine letters, so "land" was removed, and the view we know today was born.  Also, the LA Parks Dept. pushed the cost of the lights' electric bill on to the Chamber, so the bulbs were removed as well (thus you can no longer see the sign at night, even though many people still think you can).

Even though the sign was under more care, the years took their toll on the famous letters.  By the 70s, vandalism and weather had reduced the sight to spell out "HuLLYWO D" as the exposed metal and wood frames began to collapse.  In 1978, though, the stars stepped in to save the sign.  Run by Hugh Hefner at the Playboy mansion, an auction was held were they "auctioned off" each letter for $27,700 a pop.  Some of the sign's saviors - rocker Alice Cooper (in memory of Groucho Marx), Gene Autry, even Les Kelley (originator of the Kelley Blue Book).  The new letters, only 45 feet high this time, were made of steel to last and unveiled on Hollywood's 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.

Since then, the Hollywood Sign has remained strong and protected.  In the 90s, the city even installed motion sensors and closed-circuit cameras to protect it from vandals and pranks.  Earlier this year, the sign had its most recent scare though.  138 acres behind the sign went up for sale and threats of building mansions that would destroy the famous skyline caused a fundraising effort to be made to save the peak.  Finally, saved by Hugh Hefner again with the final donation of $900,000, the $12.5 million needed to save the area was achieved and the sign remains safe again.

Now, of course, the Hollywood Sign hasn't just been a something on a hill.  It's also made several media appearances.  You can't have a disaster movie set in LA without the sign being destroyed, like in "Earthquake" (1974) and "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004).  There are also other things out to destroy it, like the angry gorilla in the 1998 remake of "Mighty Joe Young" (who hurls an "O" at his enemies), or "The Rocketeer" (1991) (where the sign loses its "land" because the villain accidently crashes into it).  Be sure to check out "Chaplin" (1992) again.  There is a great scene between Chaplin (Robert Downey Jr.) and Douglas Fairbanks (Kevin Kline) as they ride up - on horseback, no less - to chill by the sign.  Most recently in the biopic "The Runaways" (2010), Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart stop by the dilapidated sign of the 70s to...well, get drunk.  And don't forget "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lighting Thief" (2009) too!  The sign plays an important role, but you'll have to wait to see what.

So, this weekend, have a little scavenger hunt and see how many movies you can find the Hollywood Sign in.  And if you're an Angeleno, take a break and enjoy the view with a hike (but bring your hat, sunscreen, and water, cause it's hot outside).  Until Monday, everyone.  Have a wonderful weekend!

(Post-tidbit:  The sign has only been missing from the hill once since its debut in 1923, when they were replacing the letters in 1978.  From August to November, no sign was visible.  So (interesting maybe only to me), I was born during that time!  How cool is that?!  hahaha)

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