American Icons: Hollywood

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Hollywood and the Golden Age of Movies


Hollywood is much more than a location in California; it is an idea, a dream to many and an incredibly profitable organization to still others. It is one of the most enduring icons in the American culture, one that has never been recreated by any other country.

Moviemaking began with inventions by a variety people during the Industrial Revolution. The first motion picture camera is credited to Louis Lumiere of France in 1895, although many other inventors were working on the same technology at about the same time. Some of the earliest inventions associated with the movie industry were patented by Thomas Edison, realizing the need for the protection of his developments. In 1891 he made the Kinetograph, a motion picture viewer. It was a movie viewer with a peephole through which people could view short films. These were placed in penny arcades at first. Next came the Vitascope, a motion picture projector. This was used for movie screenings Edison held in New York City. These movies were accompanied by music and voices recorded on cylinders.

Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1908. It was comprised of nine of the largest film studios at the time and was referred to as the Edison Trust, resulting in a monopoly on moviemaking. To get away from the control of this trust, and in search of a more pleasant climate, some moviemakers headed westward. They went as far west as they could: they went to Hollywood.

The town of Hollywood, incorporated in 1903, began as a small town filled with farms and orchards. Originally called Cahuenga, it was a conservative community. According to a town ordinance, liquor could be sold only by a pharmacist. Cattle were driven down the streets of the town (but only in herds that were not to exceed 200 cattle).  A trolley was added in 1904, extending from Hollywood to Los Angeles, named the Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood was annexed to Los Angeles in 1910 in order for the two towns to share a common water supply and sewer system.

Filmmaking in California started with the New York-based Biograph Company. They travelled to Los Angeles in 1910 to film a movie titled “In Old California” with Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Blanche Sweet and Lillian Gish. While exploring for sites in the area, they discovered the Hollywood area and decided to shoot their film there. They continued to make several more movies before they went back to New York.

Word spread about Hollywood, and a New Jersey movie company by the name of Centaur Co. decided to set up a studio on Sunset Boulevard in 1911. They named it the Nestor Studio. Their first film was a western directed by Cecile B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel, titled “The Squaw Man” released in 1914. Within a year, most American movies were being made either in Hollywood or within the Los Angeles area. Major movie studios to set up in the area were Paramount (in 1912), Warner Brothers (in 1918), Columbia Pictures (in 1924) and RKO (in 1929).

The “Hollywood” sign is a very famous landmark that has come to symbolize the moviemaking industry. Consisting of 50-foot high letters, it was constructed in 1923 and read “Hollywoodland”. It was never meant to be a permanent fixture, but rather, to advertise a housing development in the hills overlooking the city.

Through the 1920’s movies were silent films accompanied by a gramophone, piano, organ or by a group of musicians. The first “talkie” movie (with sound-on-film) was released in 1927. It was “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson. The Golden Age of cinema is considered to have extended from the beginning of the talkie era through to the late 1950’s. During this time, Hollywood studios released thousands of movies starring some of its greatest movie stars.

Another first for Hollywood was to be the location of the first television studio west of the Mississippi River. It was KTLA that began broadcasting in 1947. Their network television series, The Public Prosecutor, was the first to be filmed in Hollywood. CBS Television City was built and began taping shows in 1952. Capital Records was added in 1956.

In 1958 the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, was created to pay tribute to great performers in entertainment. The very first star was dedicated to Joanne Woodward in 1960.  The Kodak Theater was opened in 2001 and has been the location of the annual Academy Awards since 2002.

Today, many of Hollywood’s big box-office draws are actors from the U.K., aware that they can achieve greater movie (and monetary) success here. Bollywood, as the Indian film industry is called, has been making films since 1913, and were given the nickname due to their prolific filmmaking capabilities. Their films imitate many characteristics of the Hollywood movies, but are still very faithful to their own culture.

Despite the influx of foreign actors and outside competition, Hollywood will always be a great American icon, largely due to the great actors and movies of its past. It remains an entertainment dynamo that is sure to continue to entertain us for a very long time to come.

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Last updated: Jul 13, 2009
Filed under: American Icons Tagged with: Hollywood, Hollywood CA