The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon

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Overview

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 Sign is a fascinating account of how a temporary structure has become a permanent icon of American culture.
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Editorial Reviews

T. Rees Shapiro
Braudy's biographical account of the nine-letter mountainside monument is deeply researched…[he] weaves an entertaining tale of the Hollywood sign's various lives and incarnations.
—The Washington Post
Jewish Journal

“An artful, illuminating and absorbing meditation on a place, an era, an industry, a cast of unlikely characters and a zeitgeist. . . . An instant classic.”—Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

— Jonathan Kirsch

Los Angeles Times
“A short, lively book . . . artfully distilled.”—Paul Brownfield, Los Angeles Times

— Paul Brownfield

San Francisco Chronicle

"Braudy, in this terrific book, is at home with the history of Hollywood."—San Francisco Chronicle
Washington Post

"Braudy weaves an entertaining tale of the Hollywood sign’s various lives and incarnations."—T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post

— T. Rees Shapiro

Bleeding Cool

“An excellent guidebook”—Greg Baldino, Bleeding Cool

— Greg Baldino

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Deliciously quirky and intelligent . . . In his irresistible take on the famous sign, Braudy spins a larger metaphor for the culture and history of California itself.”—Joy Horowitz, Los Angeles Review of Books

— Joy Horowitz

Los Angeles magazine

"Explores the remarkable story of the hillside icon that began as a 1923 advertisement."—Wendy Witherspoon, Los Angeles magazine

— Wendy Witherspoon

Los Angeles Review of Books - Joy Horowitz

“Deliciously quirky and intelligent . . . In his irresistible take on the famous sign, Braudy spins a larger metaphor for the culture and history of California itself.”—Joy Horowitz, Los Angeles Review of Books
Times Literary Supplement - Edward White
“Braudy offers a stimulating exploration of Hollywood’s significance in Western culture.”—Edward White, Times Literary Supplement
Washington Post - T. Rees Shapiro

"Braudy weaves an entertaining tale of the Hollywood sign’s various lives and incarnations."—T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post
New Republic - David Thomson
“This is a magically brief book, written with wit and elegance, on the whole history of Los Angeles and the movies.”—David Thomson, New Republic
Los Angeles Times - Paul Brownfield
“A short, lively book . . . artfully distilled.”—Paul Brownfield, Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Chronicle - Geoff Nicholson
“Terrific . . . As I read the book, I marked passages that I thought were particularly interesting, surprising or well-written. Before long I realized I was marking just about everything.”—Geoff Nicholson, San Francisco Chronicle
Dana Polan

“A rich, far-reaching, gripping history . . . a pithy and sharp little study that is more than just an analysis of this one icon but a larger reflection on the movies in Los Angeles and the implications of that for the place of the movies in our lives.” —Dana Polan, New York University
Linda Williams

“Braudy pulls off the difficult feat of writing a substantive book about an elusive American icon. By unearthing the history of the sign--which turns out to be a rich history of real estate, roads, advertising, starlets and, of course, the movies themselves, The Hollywood Sign ends up exploring the enigma of an entirely mythic place.”—Linda Williams, University of California Berkeley
Kevin Starr

"What Carly Simon claims for James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is equally true of Leo Braudy. Nobody does it better, as this polymathic enquiry so clearly demonstrates in its fusion of erudition, insight, and panache."—Kevin Starr, author of the Americans and the California Dream series
Molly Haskell

“The story of Hollywood as a place and its evolution into the hub of the movie business is as fascinating as anything in the movies it produced. Using the sign as both protagonist and reflecting mirror, Leo Braudy provides a mesmerizing account of the shifting fortunes of Hollywood, from the early struggle between Puritans and pleasure-seekers to the emergence of the sign as a pop icon symbolizing the dreams and fantasies of millions. This is movie history from an utterly fresh and kaleidoscopic view.”—Molly Haskell, author of Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited
Richard Schickel

“A deftly told and delightfully detailed account of how a humble real estate promotional tool was transformed over the years into an American icon. Leo Braudy's book is not just the story of a bold bit of signage, but of the community and the industry it came to symbolize. It's a must read for anyone interested in the history of a place and a dream. Hooray for The Hollywood Sign."—Richard Schickel, Author of Clint and Conversations with Scorsese
Tom Lutz

“Leo Braudy, one of our most astute cultural critics and film historians, has produced a wonderful history of this pregnant icon, an analysis of its “metaphysical life,” and an examination of its dissemination as the triumphant yet decadent symbol of America and its dream factory. In doing so he has given us what is perhaps the best single essay ever written on not just on the sign, but on Hollywood itself.”—Tom Lutz, author of Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers and Bums in America
Richard Meyer

“Though we’ve all seen the Hollywood sign, no one has ever looked at it more beautifully or to better effect than Leo Braudy. With Braudy as expert guide, ‘a word on the side of a steep hill’ opens onto a dazzling social history of Los Angeles in the 20th century. Like the landmark on which it focuses, The Hollywood Sign is irresistible.”—Richard Meyer, author of Outlaw Representation
Jewish Journal - Jonathan Kirsch

“An artful, illuminating and absorbing meditation on a place, an era, an industry, a cast of unlikely characters and a zeitgeist. . . . An instant classic.”—Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
Commercial Dispatch - Rob Hardy
“Amusing, astute and informative . . . not just about the sign but about Hollywood itself.”—Rob Hardy, Commercial Dispatch (Columbus, Mississippi)
The Times
“Braudy’s short, sharp-shooting social history of modern movie culture says ‘hooray’ for the Hollywood sign and the American Dream.”—The Times
Bleeding Cool - Greg Baldino

“An excellent guidebook”—Greg Baldino, Bleeding Cool
Los Angeles magazine - Wendy Witherspoon

"Explores the remarkable story of the hillside icon that began as a 1923 advertisement."—Wendy Witherspoon, Los Angeles magazine
The Independent
“… [A] dazzlingly enjoyable exposition.”—The Independent
The Guardian - PD Smith
“…[an] entertaining history.”—PD Smith, The Guardian
The Observer - Philip French
"A witty, lucid, far-reaching contribution to Yale's Icons of America series."—Philip French, The Observer
Sight and Sound - Philip Kemp
"Braudy's witty, allusive study… uses the famous sign… as a framework on which to string the history of Hollywood itself."—Philip Kemp, Sight and Sound
The Barnes & Noble Review

On September 18, 1932, a 24-year-old actress named Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the "H" in the Hollywood sign. At the time, film critic and historian Leo Braudy explains in his brief, entertaining new book The Hollywood Sign, the sign had not yet evolved into what it is today -- a universally recognized symbol for the movie industry, eminently deserving of a place in Yale University Press's "Icons of America" series. Looking at movies about the movie business from the 1930s, Braudy finds that the sign was almost never used as a signifier for Hollywood. When they wanted to evoke the glamour of movieland, filmmakers preferred to show Grauman's Chinese Theater, with its cement handprints of the stars and its world premieres lit by swaying searchlights. Even the street signs at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine said "Hollywood" more clearly than the Hollywood sign, although tourists who made their way to the actual street corner would find nothing much to look at there.

Even in the most literal sense, the Hollywood sign was not the Hollywood sign in 1932. It still read "Hollywoodland," as it had since it was built in 1923 as an advertisement for a housing development in the hills. Not until 1949, when the sign was taken over by the local Chamber of Commerce and the last four letters were knocked down, would it take on the appearance we know today -- the block white letters, canted and staggered on the hillside, with the radio towers on nearby Mount Lee looming overhead as if to suggest the way Hollywood's influence is broadcast around the globe.

But it was Entwistle's death, Braudy suggests, that marked the spiritual transformation of the sign into an icon -- the failed actress placing a curse on Hollywood by blighting its trademark. The story is only made more perfect, perhaps, by the fact that it is very possibly false. Entwistle was an aspiring actress, Braudy explains, but not a failed one; it's quite possible that she was actually murdered, and her body dumped in the hills. Yet why shouldn't the capital of make-believe have a made-up legend at its heart? After all, The Hollywood Sign is an essay about just this kind of self-invention. Once the history of the physical sign is told -- and there's not much to tell, really -- Braudy is able to move on to what really interests him: the evolution of the stories Hollywood told about itself.

He briskly summarizes the growth of the city, from a teetotalling WASP resort at the beginning of the 20th century to the slummy emblem of urban decay at century's end. What Hollywood never was, Braudy emphasizes, was a major center of movie production. Though Chaplin built a studio there in 1918, the real moviemaking happened in the San Fernando Valley to the north and Culver City to the south. (In 1937, Culver City even threatened to change its name to Hollywood City, in order to get its fair share of the credit.) Nor, surprisingly, did the movie studios seem to care much about the sign that advertised them to the world. Whenever the sign needed repair -- as it did regularly from the 1970s on -- the funds were donated by car dealers and other local businessmen, with a big assist from Hugh Hefner. Maybe, Braudy suggests, only those who don't belong to Hollywood can feel its magic: "the Hollywood sign, and all it signifies, remains approachable but almost impossible to attain."

--Adam Kirsch




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300158786
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Series: Icons of America
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,275,569
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Leo Braudy is among America's leading cultural historians and film critics. He currently is University Professor and Leo S. Bing Chair in English and American Literature at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Hollywood Before "Hollywood" 11

2 Hollywood Becomes "Hollywood" 43

3 Hooray for Hollywood 87

4 Shadows on the Sign 118

5 From Eyesore to Icon 145

Notes 193

Bibliography 197

Acknowledgments 201

Index 203

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