When one cruises down the winding streets of Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, wanders among the vast mansions of Beverly Hills -- composed of bricks and pillars forged together by the money and fame that lingers behind their windows and fences, caged behind tall palm trees reaching for the sky as if the very sun was in their grasp, approaches the doors of Grauman's Chinese Theater and Dolby Theater -- fortified to withstand the relentless siege of eager tourists who drown the entirety of the Hollywood from the Highlands to Vine Street beneath the deluge of chattering voices amalgamated into a torrent of white noise combined with the ecstatic flashes of camera, that's the first thing that crosses between every crevasse of thought. Cameras. The film that rolls behind them, and the entrapping light that shines, blinds, and records. All with a push of a button. The flip of a switch. The clap of the clapper and the director barking, "Action!"
From car chases down Broadway, love scenes beneath the rain, the dragon being slain -- after being the one who slays -- Hollywood has seen it all, caught it all, and imagined it all. Even as all it continues to do is imagine. Yet, through all the conjuring up of tales, of stories, of fantasies that have caused audiences across theaters, cities, countries; across ages and time to perpetual the intoxicating light of its glamor within the awe of memory, there is little the city of rolling cameras and red carpets remember of itself.
Among the stories told, and the stories told about it, where did it begin? Hollywood's story? That's a tale now largely forgotten. Even within the highest, and oldest circles of Tinseltown. Few are the people who remain in these circles, and fewer are those that remain who are able to recount a history needed to surrogate for Hollywood's lack of a short-term memory.
As a blast from its much-faded past which fades all the more, here are five -- as a start -- individuals who introduced widely celebrated institutions and legacies for which Hollywood is glorified for to this day, for which little is known about. Of themselves, and what they left behind.
1. Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille (right) directs Claudette Colbert (centre) and Henry Wilcox (left) in "Cleopatra". Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/p/BkmfPFTlyE4/Arriving
In Los Angeles in 1915 a time where those with ties to the film industry were widely shunned in the City of Angels, Cecil B. DeMille had originally ventured to Flagstaff, Arizona to shoot a scene for one of his movies. However, disenchanted with the quality of light the town afforded him, the director hopped back onto the train, not stopping until he reached the end of the line -- Los Angeles.
Setting up shop in a barn owned by Jacob Stern, DeMille soon found that the City of Angels was capable of serving as a background for almost every film of every genre. From the desert, eighty miles outside of the city to the mountains situated fifteen minutes from where the director was stationed. Deciding to open a permanent studio in Hollywood. This began what was to become a gold rush of show business to the West Coast, as DeMille's discovery soon caused other studios to spring up from the ground. Setting the stage for films to be shot predominantly in a place with a more welcoming climate among many things. Acknowledged as a founding father of American Cinema along with the likes of D.W. Griffith, DeMille made 70 movies that spanned through the silent era and the sound era at the height of its influence. Crossing every major genre from comedy to western, while distinguishing themselves through the epic scale of their stories. For his efforts, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association dedicated the Cecile B. DeMille Award in his name, an accolade that recognizes actors, directors, writers, and producers on the count of "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment". Winners of this honor include names such as Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Audrey Hepburn, and Cecile B. DeMille himself -- the award's first recipient in 1952.
2. Irving Thalberg
Irving Thalberg Irving Thalberg with his wife and actress Norma ShearerInstagramhttps://www.instagram.com/p/BXqOOb5DlGA/
Partnering with Louis B. Mayer in April of 1924, Irving Thalberg helped found the iconic studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Although the famed studio is hardly a shadow of its former self-today, MGM, under Thalberg's leadership, sat stop the zenith of motion picture success, both critically and commercially, consistently out-dueling fierce arch-rivals in Warner Brothers, Paramount, and the now abolished RKO.
Producing four hundred films over his storied 12 year career, the Brooklyn native not only introduced the horror genre to the motion pictures (sorry Hitchcock), but is also responsible for authoring the "Production Code" -- a precursor to the modern rating system for movies based off maturity of creative content (R, PG-13, etc.,) which helped curb a string of scandals that broke out in Hollywood during the early 1920s and 30s that involved prominent cinema icons, and assuage nationwide calls to boycott the movies during this timeframe.
Widely credited for his ability to synthesize literary classics and stage drama with Hollywood films, Thalberg is also revered for discovering numerous stars that remain immortalized, even today. A list that includes Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, and Lionel Barrymore, the great uncle of Drew Barrymore. Upon his sudden death in 1937, the Academy dedicated an award in his name, The Irving Thalberg Award. An accolade given periodically, given rarely, to a producer whose body encompasses, and reflects the very highest quality Hollywood has to offer.
3. Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Douglas Fairbanks Douglas Fairbanks and his wife, actress Mary Pickford, test run a camera. Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj955RhFWBz/
Dubbed "The King of Hollywood", Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and his wife Mary Pickford ascended to Hollywood royalty during the Classical Era, where the former reigned as one of the film industry's biggest stars during the 1910s and 1920s. Known for his swashbuckling roles in silent films, his career faded rapidly with the onset of "talkies" making his final movie in 1934.
Nevertheless, aside from his onscreen exploits that remain largely forgotten today since very few silent films survive, as a founder of The Motion Picture Academy, Fairbanks is the primary reason why the celebration of the very best, and highest of cinematic endeavor remains an annual tradition. Hosting the first Oscars in 1929, the reputed actor and director is also the founder of United Artists -- a studio that allowed independent filmmakers to thrive during and after the collapses of the studio system in 1954. Along with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Irving Thalberg, and his wife Mary Pickford, Fairbanks also extended his arm into education, becoming apart of the founding faculty for what would become the USC School of Cinematic Arts -- arguably the greatest film school in the world rivaled only by that of the AFI, NYU, and our very own UCLA. Notable alumni of Fairbanks's pedagogical brainchild include George Lucas (Star Wars) and legendary actor John Wayne.
4. Margaret J. Anderson
Margaret J. Anderson Margaret J. Anderson and her son Stanley, Wikipedia
Hoping to drive up sales of land and mansions in early 1911, oil tycoon and real estate developer Burton Green tapped wealthy widow Margaret J. Anderson and his son Stanley to build what would become The Beverly Hills Hotel. With an eye for perfection and an unrivaled business acumen acquired from having previously managed the Hollywood Hotel, the California socialite secured the patronage of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, transforming The Beverly Hills Hotel into the premier Hollywood playhouse of choice. The hotel is known for not only the frequent indulgence of its elite clientele but its strict enforcement towards preserving the privacy of stars checking in as guests.
Closing in the midst of the Great Depression, the hotel reopened in 1932 with funding from Bank of America and its Vice President Hernando Courtright. Reinvigorated under the ownership of Irene Dunne, Loretta Young, and Harry Warner, the Beverly Hills Hotel returned to its former glory. Attracting guests as prominent as Howard Hughes, Grace Kelly, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Elizabeth Taylor, whose father ran an art gallery in the hotel. To this day, Margaret J. Anderson's grand innovation has become emblematic of the very best perceptions one has of Tinseltown.
5. Horace Wilcox
Horace Wilcox, who's settlement on the West Coast proved to be the beginning of what would become Hollywood.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Wilcox%2C_H.H..jpg
Before the Oscars, the movies, the actors, the cameras, the lights, Hollywood, or what would become Hollywood, was a modest, rural settlement populated by Methodists from the Midwest who saw the West Coast as a place where the temperance movement could flourish and reign, Additionally, and ironically, pre-Hollywood Hollywood was also established as a community where Jews and any individuals with ties to the film industry were prohibited from living.
Among the Methodist setters was real estate mogul Horace Wilcox, who built a Queen Anne style house near a dirt road which would become Wilcox street which remains today but it was his wife Daeida who decided to name the town after her friend's estate in Ohio -- Hollywood. The Temperance movement in Los Angeles failed miserably, but insignificantly. Today, Hollywood has become synonymous with the very thing it was built to oppose. But irony and contradiction are nothing new in America. Nor is it in short supply.
Though this is but a snapshot, hardly a scene, that captures what has since faded into an incomprehensible past, it is the memory of this past, that only serves to enrich, and add to the allure of the stories that have captivated audiences who have come and gone, like the change of reels. Even as the light behind the lens has shined and blinded for more than a century and a half. Even when one day, it will shine and blind with the first flicker of memory as it continues to record.
- Hollywood's Golden Age ›
- Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ›
- Classical Hollywood cinema - Wikipedia ›
- The Cecil B. deMille Award | Golden Globes ›
- Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) | American Experience | Official Site ... ›
- The Beverly Hills Hotel - Wikipedia ›
- The Beverly Hills Hotel - 5-Star Luxury Hotel | Dorchester Collection ›
- Harvey Henderson Wilcox - Wikipedia ›
- Margaret J. Anderson - Wikipedia ›
- Irving Thalberg - Wikipedia ›
- Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion ... ›
- Biography – Cecil B. DeMille ›