Hollywood, the city of glitz and glamor, was started in a one-room adobe shack, according to Jacque Walker, who along with Kitty Rubenstein presented “The History of Hollywood,” the first in a series of programs for the Mathontes Club’s yearlong study of “Hollywood.” The meeting was held at the Pine Bluff Country Club.
As a result of the westward movement that began in the latter part of the 19th Century, a couple named Wilcox settled there, and soon began to draw a grid map for a town, Walker said. Some say it was named for the many holly trees that grew there. Within 15 years, it had a Post Office, hotels, churches, schools, markets and 500 people. By 1910, the growing needs of the town led to the annexation of Hollywood to the nearby City of Los Angeles.
In 1888, Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera, and by 1891, the first motion picture film was shown in New York. This proved to be so popular that soon establishments to show them, called Nickelodeons, began springing up overnight. By 1908, there were entrepreneurs who began putting together motion picture production companies. One of the first to capitalize on this new form of entertainment was Louis B. Mayer. He opened an elegant and sophisticated theatre in Massachusetts.
The man credited with inventing Hollywood was D.W. Griffith. In 1910 he came to the West Coast with this acting troop consisting of Lillian Gist, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore and others. He was the first film-maker to realize that motion pictures could exercise enormous power oven an audience or even a nation. He chose to make his first film, entitled “In Old California,” in the friendly little village called Hollywood, rather than Los Angeles.
Cecil B. DeMille opened a studio there and began production of “The Squaw Man” in 1914. Charlie Chaplin Studios and others soon followed. News spread to New York about the beautiful weather, wide open spaces and the gorgeous variety of natural scenery. It was soon realized that the beautiful flat land, hilly areas and deserted-looking mountain ranges could portray any background scene needed from the Wild West to foreign countries. By 1915 the motion picture industry employed 15,000 workers and exceeded $500 million in business.
Within a few years, 40 million Americans were going to the movies weekly. Stars were paid $250 per week and had six-month contracts.
In 1920, the landscape was totally transformed into an urban center. An advertisement in the hills above read “Hollywood Land.” Many years later the sign had to be repaired and the word “Land” was eliminated. But at that time, Hollywood and the land around it was booming. Soon the studios of B. Mayer, Sam Goldwin, William Fox and Warner Brothers had gone West.
Despite Prohibition, Hollywood roared drunkenly through the 1920s. The numerous speakeasies and night clubs were all-night stages where film stars showed off their wealth, glamor and power. By 1924 stars were making $1,000 a week, rising to $5,000 over the next five years. This was the era of Gish, Norma Shearer, Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lon Chaney Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Ramon Navarro and Clark Gable. The time of extravagant entertainment, fantastic mansions and glamorous clothing was in full swing.
By 1925 musical scores and sound effects were being perfected. In 1927 Warner Brothers released the “Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson, which was a partially sounded feature film. It soon became obvious that actors who looked good would now have to sound good, as well. No more over-acting was required or desired, and the true art of being an actor or actress soon became part of the requirement of being a star, Walker said.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was formed in 1927, Rubenstein said. The first Academy Awards luncheon was held at the Hotel Roosevelt with a total of 270 people, each paying $5 for admission. There were no surprises as the winners had been announced three months in advance. Douglas Fairbanks, the Academy president, spoke at length, but handed out the Oscars in about five minutes time.
Some say, Rubenstein said, that Oscar was named by Bette Davis, who said it reminded her of her second husband, especially from the backside.
A noted child star, Margaret O’Brien, was awarded a juvenile Oscar in 1944. It was stolen 10 years later during her mother’s funeral. The Academy replaced the award, but she never stopped looking for the original. Two collectors found the missing Oscar 50 years later in a junk shop and returned it to her.
Another talented, beloved and inspirational child actress was Shirley Temple. Many a mother and many a young girl, shared dream of the daughter becoming a child star.
In the Golden Age of Hollywood, there were five major studios — Paramount, RKO, 20th Century Fox, MGM and Warner Bros. What has been termed “The Greatest Year,” 1939, had 10 nominees for best picture — “Gone With the Wind,” “Stagecoach,” starring John Wayne, “Wuthuring Heights,” “Dark Victory,” “Love Affair” (later remade as “An Affair to Remember”), “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” “Ninotchka” with Garbo, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
The hostesses for the meeting were Marjo Dill, Karen Johnson, Jane Starling and Ann White. Guests were seated at tables imaginatively set to resemble the era. Each contained a bag of questions to be drawn to see how many of them could be answered.