Posts Tagged ‘Mack Sennett’

History of the Hollywood Sign

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

  

The Hollywood Sign, which was officially completed on December 8, 1923, celebrates its 95th anniversary today. It has had a remarkable and turbulent history and has endured its share of problems, including a suicide leap from the H, squabbles over who should maintain it, markings from mountain-climbing spray painters, hassles among community groups about its worth, battles with local residents to keep hikers from it, and threats over the years to tear it down.

The sign has been a part of the local scenery for 95 years, longer than many city landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese, City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium and UCLA. It even predates Mulholland Drive and is decades older than any freeway.

As many know, the Hollywood sign is the remnant of an advertisement for a 640-acre real-estate development. When it was erected in 1923, the sign spelled HOLLYWOODLAND, the name of the housing development on the slope below it. The sign, however, was an afterthought.

As with many Hollywood origins, the sign’s beginnings have more than one version. The one chosen for this article goes as follows:

In the spring of 1923, John Roche, a 26-year-old advertising and promotional man, was working on a brochure for the Hollywoodland subdivision. He had drawn in proposed home sites, streets and equestrian trails. Behind them, on the side of Mt. Lee, he had penciled in HOLLYWOODLAND.

Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was one of the project’s developers. When Roche arrived at his office with the drawing, Chandler liked the idea and wanted to know if a sign could be erected that could be seen all over Los Angeles.

For a good perspective, Roche drove to Wilshire Boulevard, then a little, partially asphalted road, to see if he could see the mountain from there. Roche took photographs and made drawings of the Hollywood hills. Roche calculated that each letter would have to be 50 feet high to be visible from that distance. When he reported to Chandler that such a sign would be seen, the project began.

“I made a sketch almost that big,” Roche explained in 1977. “I took it to Mr. Chandler’s office about 11 one night – he sat in his office until midnight every night and would talk to anybody – and he said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ We didn’t have engineers or anything. We just put it up.”

As Roche had determined, each individual letter was built 50-feet high and 30-feet wide. They were assembled on metal panels, each three-by-nine-feet, and painted white. The next step was attaching the panels to a framework that consisted of wires, scaffolding and telephone poles, which were brought up the steep hillside by mules.

Fifty to one-hundred laborers dug the holes with pick axes and shovels. An access road was completed so the enormous sheet metal letters could be brought in. The sign was completed in about 60 days at a cost of $21,000. Years later, Roche said: “I think we built it faster than you could today (1984).” Roche recalled the sign being lighted, but insisted there were no lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND. “That came sometime later,” he said.

At some point, the sign was illuminated at night by 4,000, 20-watt bulbs, evenly spaced around the outside edge of each letter. This required a caretaker (Albert Kothe, who lived in a cabin behind the first “L”), who maintained the sign and its lighting system. To replace burned out bulbs, Kothe would climb onto the framework behind each letter, the new light bulbs tucked in his shirt.

Since it was planned to promote real-estate, it was not designed to survive the sale of the last lot. Public sentiment, however, led to keeping the sign long after its commercial function was over.

During the sign’s heyday, many stars bought homes in Hollywoodland. The highest lot above the sign was sold to comedy producer Mack Sennett, but he never built there. Sennett did use the sign, though, to pose bathing beauties between the O’s for publicity stills.

There have been rumors of several suicides from the sign, especially during the Depression years, but the only acknowledged death occurred in 1932, when Peg Entwistle, a young actress who came to Hollywood from the Broadway stage, jumped to her death from the letter “H.”

In 1939, the lights were extinguished when the maintenance fund was discontinued by the realtors. It’s rumored that soon after, all 4,000 bulbs were stolen.

In 1945, the development company that owned it donated the sign and the land surrounding it to the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission as an adjunct parcel to Griffith Park. The sign, by this point, had been neglected and vandalized for several years.

In January 1949, the “H” blew down in a windstorm, and nearby residents complained that the sign was a hazard and an eyesore. On January 6, the Recreation and Parks Commission announced that the sign would be torn down. They denied a request of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to alter and repair the sign to read HOLLYWOOD.

Several days later, Councilman Lloyd G. Davies (who represented Hollywood) introduced a resolution before the City Council that the Chamber of Commerce would repair the sign, at an estimated cost of $5,000, furnish bond to guarantee its maintenance and provide the city with proper liability coverage, if the parks commission would consent. Davies said his district was sensitive about becoming known as “’OLLYWOOD.”

The parks commission later reversed its decision and allowed the first nine letters to be repaired, and removed the last four letters to read “HOLLYWOOD,” therefore transforming it from a commercial display into a community one.


By the early 1960s, weather again had taken a strong toll on the sign’s condition. At a cost of $4,500, it was restored by the Kiwanis. At irregular intervals, several civic groups had the metal facing repainted, but little structural maintenance was done.

In 1973, the city once again threatened to tear down the sign. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and local radio station KABC, began a “Save the Sign” campaign hoping to solicit $15,000 from the public to finance structural repairs, replace fallen facing panels, and give it a fresh coat of paint. That same year, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board designated it a monument, thus giving it dignity but no money.

One woman sent the repair fund a large check with a note: “My little girl in 1925 learned to spell from the sign.” Another recalled a proposal of marriage made to her in 1944 near the sign; she “foolishly” rejected it, but wondered how many accepted proposals were made there. A third woman calculated that if “All the couples who parked up there sent in $1, there would be more than enough.” Fortunately, the campaign was successful and the sign received a facelift and a reprieve–but it wouldn’t last for long.

On January 1, 1976, several young men, to mark the change in the marijuana law in California, masked the OOs with EEs made from white sheets. It read HOLLYWEED for a day.

A year later, the “D” became wobbly because of recent rainstorms and there was concern about how long it would stay in place. Up close, the sign creaked and rattled, even in a light wind. Its timbers were rotting. Sheet metal, rusted and corroded, fell from its face and loose securing cables dangled from some of the 50-foot high letters.

It was estimated that a replacement sign would go as high as $120,000. To generate interest in preserving the sign, a press conference was held at the base of the sign with invitations sent out accompanied by a snake bite kit.

CLICK HERE to watch the opening credits (3 minutes) of Savage Intruder (1970), the last film of actress Miriam Hopkins. It has creepy, close-up, footage of the deteriorating Hollywood Sign before it’s restoration. 

The chamber hoped to use money that was raised in 1975 by KIIS radio station to do cosmetic work on the landmark. “But the sign is in such bad shape, it will do us no good to raise small amounts of money,” said Michael Sims, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re either going to lose it or take care of it. That’s going to be up to Hollywood. What we really need now is a guardian angel.”

A few months later, in April 1977, the sign was altered to read HOLYWOOD for Easter Sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl.

The following winter, the final blow came as wind and heavy rainstorms once again took a toll on the sign. The top of the first O fell off, the Y buckled inward toward the hillside, and the last O collapsed completely.

A campaign was established once again to “Save the Sign.” Eventually, after several efforts to raise money was not sufficient, nine donors came forward; each chose a letter and contributed $27,777.

The donors who paid for each letter included: (H) newspaper publisher, Terrance Donnelly; (O) Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza; (L) Les Kelly (Kelly Blue Book); (L) Gene Autry; (Y) Hugh Heffner; (W) Andy Williams; (O) Warner Bros. Records; (O) Alice Cooper, in memory of Groucho Marx; (D) Dennis Lidtke.

The new letters, made of steel, were unveiled on Hollywood’s (so-called) 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.

Over the following years, unauthorized alterations have been made to the sign. In July 1987, it was changed to OLLYWOOD, (Ollie North) during the Iran-Contra hearings. During the Gulf War it read OIL WAR and in 1993, 20 members of UCLA’s Theta-Chi fraternity changed it to GO UCLA. The students were charged with trespassing, prompting the installation of a security system featuring video surveillance and motion detection. However, it didn’t prevent another institution of learning to alter it to CALTECH ten years later.

In any event, here’s hoping the Hollywood Sign will continue to look out over the Hollywood community for 95 more years and more.


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Keystone Centennial

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

FILM HISTORY

Fort Lee celebrates centennial of Keystone studio, where film comedy was born

 

 

 

By Jim Beckerman
Staff Writer
THE RECORD

 

It was 100 years ago that movie comedy made its grand entrance – slipping on a banana peel and dodging a pie as it came through the door.

 

This was due mainly to one studio: Keystone, Mack Sennett’s pioneering slapstick factory, where such talents as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin himself took their first pratfalls.

 

What most people don’t know is Keystone’s keystone. The first building block in Sennett’s media empire was an office or small studio – no one’s really sure which – in Fort Lee, which Sennett opened in the spring of 1912.

 

“It was around Kaufer Lane, at the intersection of Lower Main Street, but we really don’t know much about it,” says Tom Meyers, executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission, which honors cinema’s little-known pre-Hollywood roots in Bergen County.

 

This is a banner year for them: In addition to Keystone, Universal Studios and the long-defunct Solax USA (important because it was the home base of film’s first major female director, Alice Guy-Blache) got their start in Fort Lee in 1912.

 

But Keystone is the key – because it’s the fount from which flowed all modern movie comedy, from Jim Carrey to Zach Galifianakis. To celebrate the big year, the film commission is spearheading several events. A production of “Mack & Mabel,” Jerry Herman’s 1974 musical about the romance of Sennett and his leading lady, Normand, is being staged Friday and Saturday by students of Fort Lee High School, with $10,000 in funds raised by the commission. And the “Reel Jersey Girls” exhibit at Fort Lee Museum on Palisade Avenue, continuing through July 1, contains a whole section devoted to Normand and the Keystone comedy universe she helped to create.

 

“This was all new,” Meyers says. “Before this, there was no pie-throwing in movies. They were all very staid affairs, almost like a stage play. Mack Sennett’s only message was laughs. He reached out to the audience, grabbed them by the lapels and shook them. Not subtle. He was about as subtle as an atomic bomb.”

 

Although most people these days haven’t seen a Keystone film, many probably have a rough impression of what these frantic early comedies were like. There were chases, falls into mud puddles, kicks in the rear end. There were fat men, thin men, cross-eyed men, pop-eyed men, men with walrus mustaches and baggy pants. There were pies in the face, of course, usually blackberry pies, not custard ones (blackberry photographed better). There were pretty girls in bathing suits. All this, plus the famous, bumbling Keystone Kops.

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The movies arrive

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

The Movies get moving

 

 

Early filmmaking in Hollywood (LAPL)

  

By Jim Bishop
1979

 

Hollywood wasn’t always an open air asylum. It was founding in 1887 by retired bluenoses as a prohibition town. No drinks, no excitement.  A horse could not turn a corner at a speed greater than six miles per hour. It was a nice place if you were an orange.

 

Movies were unheard of in Hollywood, even in 1900. The flickering shadows were devised in a place called Fort Lee, N.J. It had forests, rocks, cliffs for cliff-hanging, and the Hudson River.

 

The movie industry had two problems. The weather was unpredictable, and Thomas Edison sued producers who used his invention. A romantic two-reeler could be made in three days for $1,000 if the rain stopped and if the process servers got lost on the Dyckman St. ferry.

 

The Selig Polyscope Co. heard from a director, Francis Boggs, that a tiny town called Hollywood, Calif., had everything. There was perpetual sunshine, palm trees, the Santa Monica Mountains for westerns, a beach for provocative mermaids, and an ocean for sea stories.

 

William Selig, the owner, went to see Edison. They organized the Motion Picture Patent Co. Selig was ready to go west. All he had to move were a couple of hand-cranked cameras, a director, a leading man and a leading lady, and a dozen unemployed actors.

 

 

 

 

In March 1909, Selig arrived in Los Angeles. He didn’t have to bring scenery. It was all in place. His two-reelers created envy in the East. In the autumn, Biograph and D.W. Griffith moved to Los Angeles. By spring, Pathé, Vitagraph, Lubin and Kalem had gone west.

 

Strangely, they not select the small town of Hollywood. The studios were in Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Santa Monica. It was not until 1911 that David Horsley moved his Nestor Co. west. The prohibition town, Hollywood, had an abandoned saloon at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.

 

The prohibitionists learned too late that, while it was desirable to have no booze, Hollywood also had no water. The little town was forced to incorporate itself with Los Angeles. Local ordinances became invalid.

 

At the same time, the suburban towns yanked the welcome mat from the movie people. William Fox moved to Hollywood. Carl Laemmle bought the Nestor studio. Essanay and Vitagraph made it unanimous.

 

Mack Sennett shot his comedies at the beach or in the middle of the street. His actors pushed their way into public parades and skidded automobiles over dusty roads to create excitement.

 

 

 

 

Millions of people were paying a nickel a head to see these epics. Charlie Chaplin arrived. So did Harold Lloyd. A teen-ager named Mary Pickford was seen in a nightie, yawning and holding an automobile tire with a credo: Time to Retire.

 

The brought her out. And Mabel Normand, Tom Mix and William Farnum could actually ride a horse. So could William S. Hart. Movie plots became longer, more intricate. High-ceilinged studios were built. The prohibitionists left Hollywood in dismay. To them, it became a place of sin.

 

Cecil B. DeMille heard that Griffith had spent $100,000 on The Birth of a Nation, featuring the Gish sisters. He decided to spend more on sophisticated movies like Why Change Your Wife? and Forbidden Fruit.

 

The movie-goers admired certain actors. This led to the star system. In 1909, a star was paid $5 a day. Five years later, Mary Pickford was earning $1,000 a week. An English comic, Charlie Chaplin was paid $150 a week in 1913 by Mack Sennett. Two years later, he was getting $10,000 a week.

 

What had started as nickel theater became a gigantic industry. Some studios built their own theaters across the nation. Movies seduced the emotions of America two hours at a time—laughter and tears.

 

Where there is big money there are fights, consolidations and codes. The independent producer was squeezed out or bought out. Movie magazines, which pretend to purvey the private lives of the stars, flourished.

 

Pretty girls in Iowa and Maine were told “you ought to be in pictures.” They went out west and, with few exceptions, became hash slingers or worse. Hollywood became the magic Mecca of make-believe.

 

It was, in those days, a sparkling city of fame and light. Today (1979) it is smog and freeways, freaks and drugs, cults and sexual religions, front money and mortgages, stupendous hits and duds, economic knifings and gossip columnists, movie agents and press agents.

 

Baby, you’ve come a long, long way.

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Hobart Bosworth remembers early filmmaking

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

FILM HISTORY

The early days of filmmaking as remembered by Hobart Bosworth

 

  

On October 27, 1911 producer David Horsley came from New York and converted a deserted tavern on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower into Hollywood’s first movie studio. On Thursday we will celebrate one-hundred years of filmmaking in Hollywood. Films were already being made in Los Angeles in the Edendale section where actor Hobart Bosworth was making films since 1909. The following is taken from a 1936 letter that Bosworth wrote a Los Angeles Times columnist reminiscing about those early days in Los Angeles and Hollywood.

 

“The Fanchon-Royer studio was the original permanent studio established by Francis Boggs, director for the Selig Polyscope Company. The buildings which have just been torn down were built by him from plans approved by Col. Selig. That was the triumph of Bogg’s life, which was ended by a bullet fired by a crazed Japanese gardener when Boggs was on the threshold of great things. Another bullet dangerously wounded Col. Selig.

 

“The Selig Polyscope party, on a location tour from the plant in Chicago, stopped in Los Angeles in May, 1909, and made two pictures, The Heart of a Race Track Tout, mostly at the old Santa Anita track, and Power of the Sultan, in which Stella Adams and I were the leads. The ‘studio’ for these two was a Chinese laundry on Olive near Eighth. Then the Selig part went north as far as the Columbia River, but was driven back by fogs and hired a little wooden hall on Alessandro Avenue (now Glendale Blvd.), built a little stage and, I think, made one picture there. In the meantime, Boggs had written me at Ramona, where I was battling a gangrenous lung. In September 1909, I started playing the Roman in the old Virginius story with a happy ending.

 

“Boggs asked if I would write a plot he could produce, which would enable us to use the same scenery and costumes for another picture. I did it by stealing from The Rape of Lucrece, Cymbeline, Quo Vadis and Arius the Epicurean, setting a fashion for acquiring stories which has been considerably followed ever since. So I wrote and acted my second picture, and wrote, directed and acted my third, Courtship of Miles Standish. I have the records to prove all this.

 

“In November, 1909, a little independent company called Imp started on the other side of the street and a little further down. A year later Mack Sennett occupied that studio. It expanded across the street and had a big growth. But before that, I think in 1910, Jimmie Young Deer began making Westerns for Pathé. He hired a lot nearer us and on the same side of the street which became the Norbig studios. It is there yet, just as it was when I moved to it in 1914 to make the interiors for Jack London snow pictures.

 

Tom Mix, after he became a Fox star, moved a long way farther out on the Glendale road to what was called Mixville. He had his stables there. Curly Eagles ran them. He was a member, with the Stanley boys, Art Accord, Hoot Gibson and Bosco, of a little stranded rodeo troupe. They came to Boggs in 1910 to work in westerns, but began with Mazeppa, in which I was the gent who was bound to the fiery, untamed steed. It was Kathlyn Williams’ first picture.

 

“The next studio was established by Al Christie and Dave Horsley at Sunset and Gower. Vicky Ford with her mother and father were there. It later became Universal. Griffith brought the Biograph to Georgia Street in January 1910 and it rained for a month. He was about to go back when he learned that Vitagraph, Lubin, etc., were starting out here because our pictures had such fine scenery and light. Selig had scored a scoop. Griffith brought Mary Pickford, Jack Bennett, Henry Walthall and a lot more.”

 

—Hobart Bosworth

May 1936

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Happy Birthday Mack Sennett

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Mack Sennett

 

 

Born January 17, 1880, Richmond, Quebec, Canada

 

 Click below for a clip of “This is Your Life – Mack Sennett”

 

 

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