The Father of Hollywood

The Father of Hollywood

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by Gaelyn Whitley Keith

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The world has been fascinated by Hollywood, California, for years. The glamour, the sophistication, the scandal-the world can't help but follow the happenings of this incredible city. It is a city where stories are created, stories that come to life on a screen and allow viewers the chance to escape their everyday lives for a bit. But few people know the story of how…  See more details below


The world has been fascinated by Hollywood, California, for years. The glamour, the sophistication, the scandal-the world can't help but follow the happenings of this incredible city. It is a city where stories are created, stories that come to life on a screen and allow viewers the chance to escape their everyday lives for a bit. But few people know the story of how Hollywood came to be. In this beautifully written biography, author Gaelyn Whitley Keith introduces readers to her great-grandfather, HJ Whitley, The Father of Hollywood. Keith uses her research and her great-grandmother Gigi's journal and memoir to recreate the story of HJ's life, a story as captivating as any film. You'll travel to the Midwest, interacting with cowboys and Native Americans. You'll cruise around the world. But most importantly, you'll watch the development of an unforgettable community. You'll witness the creation of Whitley Heights. You'll learn how the famous Hollywood sign came to be. And you'll discover just what brought the movie industry to its home. One man was behind it all. It's time to meet The Father of Hollywood.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This biography of early Hollywood developer H.J. Whitley by his adoring great-granddaughter, Keith, paints a rosy, selective portrait of the man who named the Hollywood Hills. Told primarily through the imagined eyes of Whitley's second wife, Gigi Ross, we follow Whitley from his birth in 1847 Canada, through the death of his six siblings (from cholera) and his parents (a buggy accident), to the United States, where he worked his way west from Chicago to California. Honeymooning in L.A. with Ross—his first wife and infant died in a fire—Whitley resolved to develop the fertile farming area and surrounding Cahuenga and San Fernando valleys. The couple gradually galvanized interest in Hollywood, attracting railroads, street cars, electricity, and an all-important cultural life, epitomized by the first movie studios. As a civil engineer, Whitley created Sunset Boulevard, Ridge Route, the Whitley Heights, and other iconic locales. Keith drops scarcely a critical remark and includes much imagined dialogue; readers may want to consult a history of the era in the interests of objectivity.

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Tate Publishing
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The Father of Hollywood 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.