Let’s face it – Hollywood is a bit of a strange place. Sure, some celebrities are born and bred Angelenos who grew up in the Los Angeles area and now make their home somewhere nearby, driving in to the studios in Hollywood for their film or television roles. However, a large majority of people who live and work in Hollywood are from elsewhere, from the Midwest to Canada to nations halfway across the world. They come to Tinseltown because they want to make it in the film industry, and while many studios are opting to shoot on location in unique places, the majority of work is done in Hollywood. It’s where everything is. If you’re an aspiring actor or actress, chances are you’ll head to Hollywood at some point in your career.
It only makes sense that a town as unique as Hollywood has developed quite the history over the years. From famous landmarks to iconic hangouts to the rise and fall of certain celebrities, it’s definitely a unique town. However, while you may have heard a few tidbits over the years, you may never have truly peeked behind the mystery of glitz and glam that is Hollywood.
Here are 15 things you probably didn’t know about Hollywood. Lights, camera, action!
15. The famous sign was first designed to advertise a real estate area
Everyone knows the iconic Hollywood sign. It’s basically the epitome of what Hollywood embodies – it’s larger than life, it’s steeped in history, and it’s been featured in countless films and television roles. It’s as much a part of Hollywood as the talented actors and actresses within it. However, when the letters first went up, they had nothing to do with the entertainment industry. In 1923, an investor by the name of Harry Chandler had the letters ‘Hollywoodland’ constructed to advertise a new real estate development. It was initially supposed to be there for a little over a year, just long enough to get some individuals in the rising development. Instead, it lasted for decades. In 1949, the word ‘land’ was removed from the sign and it became an advertisement for the whole town rather than just one neighbourhood.
14. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was opened in 1927
At this point, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is basically a pop culture institution. Countless A-List events are held there, every tourist who passes through Los Angeles has to go and place their hands or feet in the molds around Grauman’s, and even architecture nerds can appreciate the unique structure. It is most definitely a landmark in Hollywood – and it was first opened all the way back in 1927! Nowadays, while you can still enjoy the Chinese cultural artifacts within the theatre, you’ll also be able to browse the hand and foot prints of film legends like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland.
13. One of the first stars committed suicide
Despite the glamour, Hollywood can be a tough place to live. Many celebrities are essentially under a microscope, always followed by the press and the paparazzi, and it’s been that way for years. While some celebrities manage to remain true to their roots throughout their careers and stay humble and level-headed, others spiral into addiction, or simply can’t handle all the stresses of fame – and that includes one of the first stars ever. In 1910, one of the biggest names in Hollywood was simply The Biograph Girl (real name Florence Lawrence), a starlet who worked with the Biograph company. While huge stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford followed in her footsteps, Lawrence didn’t achieve their level of success and in 1938 committed suicide by consuming a fatal amount of ant paste.
12. The sign was illuminated in 1939
In Hollywood, it’s all about the lights, the camera, the action! From the studio overheads to the bright California sunshine, it’s all about light, about glitz and glam. So, it only makes sense that the Hollywood sign would itself get the Hollywood treatment at some point. The giant letters are showy enough on their own, but in 1939, someone decided that 40+ feet letters just weren’t enough – they needed to light up as well. So, 4,000 twenty-watt bulbs were installed in order to illuminate the famous sign. You’d need a celebrity salary to pay for all that electricity!
11. Celebrities helped save the sign in 1978
Speaking of celebrities and the Hollywood sign, it only makes sense that celebrities develop an attachment to the attraction. Sure, many think of it as a bit of a tourist draw, something that’s featured in cheesy movies or television shows. However, many celebrities look at the letters as a bit of a symbol, something that they dream of when they first dreamt of making it big. So, when time wore the letters out and the sign began to fall and crumble, the celebs grouped together. An auction was started in 1978 and many celebrities contributed to help maintain the letters, putting about $250,000 into saving the iconic sign.
10. Hollywood was founded by private companies
We think of Hollywood as being the center of the film industry today, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1800s, Thomas Edison held a patent for the motion picture camera, and studios had to pay Edison for the right to make films using the technology – and he was located all the way in New Jersey. Some rebellious film-lovers got fed up with being tied to Edison and New Jersey, and decided to fill the public’s thirst for movies by moving as far away from Edison (across the country) in order to create movies. It also didn’t hurt that, unlike New Jersey, Hollywood had plenty of sunshine and warm weather, even during the winter months.
9. The idea for the Walk of Fame first came about in 1953
At this point, the Walk of Fame is an iconic part of Hollywood that seems like it’s been there forever. However, in comparison with some other landmarks, it’s a relatively new addition to Hollywood. In 1953, the volunteer president for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had the idea of creating a walk of fame as a marketing tactic, to excite tourists and bring some glamour to Hollywood. However, it was about seven years since the initial brainstorming before the Walk of Fame was constructed. Now, new stars get their spot on a regular basis.
8. The first motion picture in Hollywood was made in 1910
It may seem like films have been produced in Hollywood for years and years, but the first motion picture made in Hollywood was filmed just a little over 100 years ago, in 1910. The film in question was titled In Old California, by director D.W. Griffith and filmed for the Biograph Company. This wasn’t a 2 hour action-packed film, though – it was just a 17 minute short.
7. There were originally four inductee categories on the Walk of Fame
While Hollywood got its reputation for the film industry, movie stars aren’t the only ones who earn spots on the Walk of Fame. In the early days of the Walk of Fame, there were four categories that celebrities could earn a star in: motion pictures, television, radio, and recording/music. Since then, there has been an addition – the fifth category, added in 1984, is for live performance and theatre. So, while it may seem like only A-List actors and actresses can earn their spot on the iconic walk, celebrities who have excelled in any of their fields can snag a space next to some icons.
6. You have to pay for your spot on the Walk of Fame
Okay, it’s not possible to just buy your way onto the Walk of Fame – you need to have achieved something in the entertainment industry in order to earn a spot. However, even if you’re a superstar A-List actor or actress, that small space on the Walk doesn’t come cheap. Every star who snags a spot on the Walk of Fame with their name on it must be nominated by a sponsor, and that sponsor has to agree to pay to create, install, and maintain the celebrity’s star. Just how much do they have to pay? A whopping $30,000. Sure, it may not seem like much in comparison to some celebrities’ pay checks, but nonetheless – that’s a big chunk of change!
5. Celebrities are allowed multiple stars
If you’ve ever taken a close look at a star on the Walk of Fame, you’ll know that underneath each star is a small metal symbol – a movie camera, a television screen, etc. That symbol indicates the category that the star in question has earned their star in. However, you may be asking how the organization picks categories for stars who are involved in multiple mediums within the entertainment industry – and the answer is, they don’t. A few talented celebrities actually have several stars with their name on it on the Walk of Fame, for their various successes. The most admirable, however, is Gene Autry – the Hollywood legend is the only individual to have stars in all five categories available. That’s taking triple threat to the next level!
4. In 1992, a trust was set up to ensure the sign remained well maintained forever
If you’re thinking that the next celebrity-led fundraiser to restore and maintain the sign should be coming any time now, seeing as it’s been nearly 40 years since 1978, think again. In the mid-1990s, someone wised up and realized that the Hollywood sign was as iconic a part of the Tinseltown landscape as the film studios and celebrities who made their homes in the hills. So, a trust was established, known simply as the Hollywood Sign Trust. The purpose of the trust is simple – maintain the iconic Hollywood sign and make sure it remains a beacon for anyone dreaming of making it big for decades to come.
3. Morality clauses used to be a thing
Nowadays, it can be tough for stars to escape scandal. After all, the paparazzi are constantly following them, trying to dig up any juicy details they can. However, while the public might form opinions based on the scandals a celebrity is involved with, their personal behavior generally isn’t a grounds for firing them (unless it gets very, very bad). However, back in the early days in Hollywood, many stars had morality clauses in their contracts. That meant that if the public found out about an affair or immoral relation, they could be immediately released. They had to get approval for any relationships from the studio, and the clause even extended to children – studios used to discourage stars from having children, as they thought it was unpopular with the public, so pregnancies were one of the strikes against you according to the morality clause.
2. The Hollwood/Hollywoodland sign was maintained by someone who lived near the sign
The Hollywood sign has letters that are approximately 30 feet wide and 50 feet high – that’s a ton of space to maintain. The sign was also covered with lights at some point in its history, meaning that in addition to the letters’ structure, you had to swap out burned bulbs. That’s quite a commitment – so Hollywoodland Realty initially hired a dedicated employee whose job was tending the sign, and the employee in question actually lived in a cabin near the sign. Must have been a pretty short commute!
1. The blinking light on the Capital Records Tower spells out Hollywood in Morse code
Everyone who has seen any television show or movie set in Hollywood has likely seen the Capital Records Tower, with its rounded shape. However, here’s a fun fact you may not have known – the blinking light that graces the building isn’t just a random light. The blinks actually spell out the word Hollywood in Morse code, and have done so since 1956. The idea was brewed up by Alan Livingston, the president of Capital Records at the time, and the switch itself was first activated by Leila Morse, Samuel Morse’s granddaughter.