The Hollywood Sign: the original starlet, the most popular permanent resident of Los Angeles since 1923, one of the most recognized logos worldwide and a beacon of industry hope for all those the she looks down on. Being the Hollywood history fan that I am, on a recent Griffith Park hike I realized I actually didn’t know a whole lot about this icon, other than some vague historic reference to Hef. So with a little Googling and a bit of HollywoodSign.org stalking, I’ve put together a short history and some fun and interesting facts on this original star.
Firstly the sign as we know it today is actually missing four letters from it’s original unveiling. Created as an illuminated advertisement (costing $21,000) for luxury real estate in HOLLYWOODLAND, the 50 foot high letters shone bright over the city, with over four thousand light bulbs to boot. Expected to last just a year, the sign garnered enough attention that it remained in place until 1949 when in a state of disrepair, the City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation was forced to rebuild the sign, leaving off the last four letters, creating the recognizable HOLLYWOOD as we see it today.
By the time 1978 rolled around, the sign had again deteriorated due to termites, arsonists and a tumbled down “O”. In a bid to preserve the town’s namesake, Hugh Hefner stepped in and hosted a large fundraiser to help raise the $250,000 to completely refurbish the sign. The event contributed $45,000 to the bill and the rest was collected through individual sponsorship of each letter at $27,500 a piece:
H Terrence Donnelly: Publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper
O Giovanni Mazza: Italian movie producer
L Les Kelley: Creator of the Kelley Blue Book
L Gene Autry: “Singing Cowboy”Actor and owner of TV station KTLA
Y Hugh Hefner: Playboy owner
W Andy Williams: Singer
O Alice Cooper: Rock Singer – in honor of Groucho Marx
O Warner Brothers Records
D Dennis Lidtke: Hollywood businessman
Once the funds were raised, the old sign was completely demolished leaving Los Angeles without their biggest icon for three months, a first for the city since 1923. Unveiled live on Hollywood’s 75th Anniversary to a 60 million wide television audience, the sign now stands 45ft high and 450 ft long and is the sight we see on the hills above Hollywood today.
Whilst putting together this piece I came across a bevy of fun articles, all giving snippets and insights into the sign’s more interesting past. Here are some of the more fun facts I found:
– Out of everything that could happen to the Sign you wouldn’t think being hit by a car would be one of them. In 1928 the Sign’s caretaker Albert Kothe had had a bit too much to drink and drove his Ford Station Wagon of the side of the cliff just above the sign, rolling down and crashing into the “H”. Luckily Albert was not hurt however both the Ford and the “H” were destroyed.
– In 1932, having not achieved the fame she desired since moving to Hollywood, distraught young actress Peg Entwhistle, climbed to the top of the “H” and flung herself off, falling to her death.
– The Sign was designed by an English artist named Thomas Fisk Goff who had relocated to Los Angeles and opened the Crescent Sign Company.
– Over the years, the sign has had many pranksters wreak havoc with the letters. In 1976, prankster Danny Finegood hung black and white curtains over the last two “O’s”, changing it to read “HOLLYWEED” in commemoration of the relaxed marijuana law in California.
– The Hollywood sign has more security than any of it’s Hollywood celebrity counterparts. Having taken it’s fair share of hits over the years, the Sign has a specially-designed security system that even the Department of Homeland Security was involved in. Security involves razor wire, infrared technology, 24 hour monitoring, motion sensors, alarms and helicopter patrols.
– For those that aren’t able to experience the Sign close up, webcams have been put in place to allow Internet visitors to see the sign 24/7.
– In 1940, Howard Hughes bought 138 acres west of the Hollywood Sign with the intention of building a mansion for himself and then girlfriend Ginger Rogers. The plans were abandoned after Hughes and Rogers split leaving the land untouched until it was sold to a Chicago-based investment firm. In a bid to preserve the area, a number of studios, foundations and actors raised the $12.5 million asking price to insure it is kept as protected parkland.
On that last note, if Mr Hughes had gone ahead with his original plans, we may have seen development popping up along the lines of this:
Thank goodness for that Hughes/Rogers breakup or we may not have had the continued chance to hike the Sign’s spectacular views, as we do today!
For a more complete rundown, best Sign viewpoints or even to donate to the Hollywood Sign Trust which ensures the upkeep, head over to hollywoodsign.org.
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