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Posted October 6, 2010
Hobart Johnstone Whitley was a young man who had faced tragedy time and time again. Four of his six siblings perished during a cholera epidemic when he was a boy and his parents died in a tragic accident when he was barely eighteen years of age. The unwieldly hand of fate touched once again to take his young wife and infant daughter. Anyone of lesser character would have fallen into an abyss of depression or lost their way in life, but somehow misfortune made him stronger and more determined than ever to forge through life leaving only good in his wake. He was a true gentleman and "refused to move, read, or speak unless he considered the impact it would have on others. In the true spirit of the era [Victorian], he learned to respect men of superior social standing. He felt that thoughtless laughter and stories that relayed idle gossip were unacceptable." (pg. 22) HJ was not one to let tears conquer him. There was much to be done in life and he had little time for self pity. This fascinating look into the life of HJ Whitley, the "Father of Hollywood," is an astounding look at a hithertofore unknown facet of American history. I was quite mesmerized by this biographical history of how the actual town of Hollywood started. The author made it very clear that this was "...a book of stories about the family that influenced the founding of Hollywood. It is not a formal discourse of Hollywood life." If the reader approaches it as if he or she were going to have a movie marathon of stars marching through its pages, they will be sorely disappointed. I loved the American pioneering spirit that burst through these pages as I read about HJ and how he envisioned and created not only Hollywood, but other towns across the U.S. What I especially liked was that the material for this book was essentially drawn in its entirety from primary source materials available to Gaelyn Whitley Keith through the family archives. Liberty was taken in the creation of certain verbal exchanges, but because much of it was taken from her great-grandmother's diary and own memoir it had a lovely nostalgic "flavor" that I particularly enjoyed. For example, there were delightfully intricate details mentioned in such lines as, "At her advice, HJ picked out and had planted over ten thousand trees and shrubs to beautify the young town of Hollywood." History uncovered in this manner can't get much better than that. We do learn such tidbits as to how Grauman's began, but until the end there is not a great deal about the star-studded Hollywood we think about when we hear the name. There are numerous interesting photographs, including one from the early 1900s overlooking the valley where Hollywood would eventually be built. Quill says: If you are a stargazer you'll be sorely disappointed, but if you want an exceedingly interesting slice of Americana this book will amaze you!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2008
A very unique book. I have never given a lot of thought to how Hollywood got its name or how it began. I assumed, like everyone else, it all started with movie moguls, big lots, and glamorous movie stars but it really began long before that. HJ Whitley, about whom the book is written, was a workaholic who had one thing on his mind: to create something from nothing. And that he did, from the east coast to the west. Whitley Heights, as it was known then, is the Hollywood Hills of today. HJ Whitely was one of those entrepreneur spirited men with a Midas touch. Even before Hollywood, his track record began in places like Oklahoma. Over the years, HJ suffered from bouts of exhaustion but that never stopped him from making his dreams into realties. And, at his side, was his faithful and devoted wife, Gigi. She and HJ met on a train during one of his many cross-country business trips and it was love at first sight. Because of past losses it took him several years to admit his fondness for her and finally ask her to be his wife. As soon as they were married, he took her on a honeymoon, by streetcar, to a business meeting. Thus began the history of a driven and complicated relationship. During the Victorian period in which they lived, it was important that a wife be a dependent servant to her husband. Gigi had a mind of her own, with dreams and aspirations to go along with it. She struggled throughout their marriage with trying to be the devoted wife and also follow her own spirit. At first, she was distraught over her husband¿s inattentiveness, but over the years, Gigi learned a way to accomplish her silent desires and become a successful social self-starter on her own. Between the two of them, they created, from Hollywood to Van Nuys, a vast empire that became the most sought after place to live in the United States. Whitley¿s skills at 'putting together the deal' attracted the rich and famous and made Hollywood the notable area in the world that it is today. In his career he put over 141 towns on the map. This is a most interesting story, which delves into the mind of a master developer at work. As I read the story, I was swept up in the pleasure of the Victorian period in which HJ And Gigi lived. Although their great granddaughter wrote the book, HJ¿s wife, Gigi, tells the story in first person. Keith has remarkably put together her great grandmother's own writings to formulate the entire story. This gives the reader the illusion of listening as Gigi weaves the story of their illustrious life together while sitting in her parlor over tea. I would not be surprised to see this in theaters in the near future. It is quite a story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.