Iconic America | The Hollywood Sign | Episode 2

Paris has the Eiffel Tower.

New York has the Empire State Building.

What’s Los Angeles got?

The Hollywood sign.

Singer: ♪ Just do you ♪ ♪ Just do you… ♪ This is the West Coast version of the Statue of Liberty, right?

Singer: ♪ Yeah, they want something brand-new… ♪ Woman: That Hollywood sign is the most famous sign in the entire world.

Nothing can touch it.

Singer: ♪ Baby, just be yourself… ♪ And it’s magic.

There’s not that many cities in the world where magic really is created, and that sign is all of those things.

It’s kind of luring you in.

Woman 2: Wasn’t it “Day of the Locust” where she went off there?

Then, what was that, “Two Broke Girls”?

They’re on the sign, and then there’s a serial killer.

She meets a really hunky guy.

That always happens here.

Woman 3: The Hollywood sign, it’s a potent symbol of whatever Hollywood is.

Hollywood is not–I mean, anyone who goes to, like, actual Hollywood, that is not Hollywood.

Hollywood is not Hollywood, which just shows you how Hollywood is.

Man: Geography is destiny.

I’m from L.A.

I don’t recall the first time I saw it.

It was always there, seemingly always covered by haze.

Woman 3: I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years.

I still don’t know the story behind the sign.

Please tell me.

(Chuckles) Man 2: The larger history of the sign is completely intertwined with real estate subdivisions and real estate speculation.

Man 3: The Hollywood sign– the Hollywoodland sign, I should say–was supposed to be impermanent, just was an advertisement.

It’s like so many things in Los Angeles, giant things that will draw people in.

Man 4: Would we be as famous without Hollywood?

Well, of course not.

You know, we’d be San Diego.

OK, sorry.

Don’t put that in.

Woman 4: The Hollywood sign symbolizes the dream, the fantasy, the perception of so much glamor.

Yeah, I can say that, even though I know it’s a dog eat dog, scratch and claw, and… Guys, it’s too early to fight.

not very glamorous, but the life, it’s pretty spectacular.

Woman 2: It’s not who you are.

Who would you like to be?

Singer: ♪ Just do you ♪ ♪ ♪ David Rubenstein: The Hollywood sign symbolizes the American movie industry and mass entertainment.

It has represented an American dream on the big screen but also beckoning us west as the place to make it big in show business.

Man: Welcome to Hollywood!

Everybody comes to Hollywood got a dream.

Is there anybody in particular that influenced you, made you want to act?

Um, I think everybody.

It’s more just sort of a feeling.

I don’t know.

Rubenstein: Today, theaters are disappearing as global streaming dominates distribution.

Amidst this transforming industry, does the Hollywood dream maintain the potency it once did?

♪ Is the dream still tied to the place the sign represents?

♪ Man: You know, it’s hard to rank icons and symbols, and they’re important in their own different ways, but the Hollywood sign holds its own in the sense that it represents this dream factory.

Woman: Hollywood is, for me– I’ve always had a little map in my head.

You know, like, if I’m thinking about doing a story and I’m trying to take the temperature of the town, I would say, you know, “OK, I think there’s Sony and then there’s Paramount, and then if you go north, there’s Disney and Warners’, and then if you go a little bit west, it’s Universal, so I think of it as this cluster of companies.

I haven’t even factored in there’s Amazon, there’s Apple.

The business of entertainment is woven into L.A. Man: The Hollywood sign in many ways is the perfect emblem of Los Angeles, first as an advertisement for a subdivision and then later as an advertisement for Hollywood writ large.

Hawthorne: It really goes back to the rise of the automobile and car culture in Los Angeles.

If you look at photographs of Wilshire Boulevard in the 1920s, you will see often these double-sided billboards that are sort of wedge-shaped so that a driver coming either direction can see the billboard and what it’s advertising, and then you start to see buildings develop that are also designed to catch the eye of a motorist.

Most famous example probably is Randy’s Donuts, where you have a small donut shop that is topped by a huge donut, which is bigger than the building itself.

This is still a city that we understand through horizontal movement across space, whether in your car or on a bus.

That really begins to shape all kinds of symbols, architecturally and otherwise, of the city.

The Hollywood sign, of course, is probably the quintessential example of that.

Painter Ed Ruscha is probably the sharpest interpreter of what Los Angeles and its symbols mean, so it was only a matter of time before he would start to really turn his attention to the Hollywood sign and grapple with that particular symbol.

I mean, he painted it in all kinds of light.

He used it as a way to comment on the relationship between L.A. and Hollywood as in the place and Hollywood the film industry.

He uses it to comment on, there’s this relationship between beauty and pollution or damage or environmental disaster.

Those things are really two sides of the same coin, and it probably took an artist like Ruscha to see in the Hollywood sign, which we all think we understand, all of those other shades of meaning.

♪ OK, so where are we right now?

We are on Mount Lee, which is the site of the Hollywood sign.

I’d say the key doesn’t work.


Woman: I got it.

Walk through the foliage, but come on in.

OK, so here we are above the Hollywood sign.

Woman: And I’ve got the rope.

I can tie it off if you guys want to go all the way down.

Rubenstein: This doesn’t look safe to me to go down there.

Woman: It’s incredibly steep.

Unlike other landmarks that were built to be landmarks, this was, you know, an advertisement for a suburban real estate development.


It’s not necessarily safe to go right up to it.

Rubenstein: Now, in the United States, do you know of any other sign that is as iconic, just a sign, as opposed to a building or something else like that?

Leo Braudy: No.

I don’t think so.

I think the Hollywood sign is unique in that way.

I mean, most of the iconic places of the United States– Mount Rushmore, Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge– you know, are actually there for a particular purpose.

The Hollywood sign is a word, and I think that– it’s part of its magic that people can project onto it whatever meaning they want.

Rubenstein: In 1923, the Hollywood sign was put up.

Originally it didn’t say, “Hollywood.”

it said, “Hollywoodland.”

Why did it say that?

Who actually owned the land at that time?

Braudy: The owners of the land was the Hollywoodland Company, and that’s where the sign was going to be as a promotional billboard, essentially, and Harry Chandler said it should be seen from Wilshire Boulevard by somebody driving along in a car touring Los Angeles, as so many people were doing at the time, and saying, “Oh, look!

It says ‘Hollywoodland.’

“Maybe that’s interesting.

Let’s go drive up there.

“Maybe we can find a property.

“Maybe we can build a house there.

Maybe we can move to Los Angeles.”

I mean, that’s clearly what he wanted them to feel.

Rubenstein: And it said, “Hollywoodland.”

Braudy: It said, “Hollywoodland,” at that point.

That’s the name of the company.

Now, has there been a case where some people came in and tried to change the sign or use it for protests or anything like that?

Many times, many times over the years until more security was built up around the sign.

UCLA and USC would change it because of their crosstown rivalry.

It was changed twice for Ross Perot.

It said, “Perotwood,” when he was running for president.

There was a variety of ways.

Some people would come, actually, over the years, and modify the sign in a variety of ways.

The first person who did it was a young man named Danny Finegood.

He got two pieces of black material and two pieces of white material and changed Hollywood to “Hollyweed.”

High-school kids would come up and smoke dope or, you know, have sex or do whatever they’re doing there and write their names on the sign.

You think high-school kids are having sex?

I find that hard to believe.


It’s very hard to believe, but, you know, but maybe the sign encouraged them somehow.

OK, and Dolly Parton hasn’t come and tried to make it into “Dollywood”?

Ha ha!

Not yet.

Not yet.

But it’s interesting with Dollywood.

You know, the idea of Hollywood as a kind of metonymy, you know, for everything that happens in the movie business, it just gets co-opted.

Dolly Parton co-ops it.

India co-ops it for Bollywood.

Nigeria co-ops it for Nollywood.

So, you know, it just becomes this kind of instant signifier.

The sign was built on a very steep hill.

Atop of the hill is flat, which is a little odd, if you look at it, because all the rest of the hills around it are– you know, they look like hills.

They’re soft curves.

But what had happened there was that Mack Sennett, one of the great pioneers of film in Los Angeles, decided he wanted a house up there, but his mother was in charge of the construction of this house, which actually was never built, and so he leveled the ground so it was suitable for a house, but, unfortunately, it had a lot of snakes there… ♪ so he brought in a lot of feral pigs to kill the snakes.

Now, there don’t seem to be that many feral pigs left in Griffith Park in that area, so I don’t know what happened to them, but this is the story of it.

Newsreel reader: Glamour was in full flower at the world premiere of a new picture when people like Clark Gable were sure to be there.

Jack Oakie, still a favorite.

Carole Lombard and William Powell were Universal favorites.

Man: From the very beginning, Hollywood was in the business of creating dreams and telling stories, so it’s not too surprising that Hollywood also has a lot of anecdotes and myths about its own origins.

Cecil B. DeMille, who worked on the stage but turned himself into one of the first famous film directors, was working on his very first feature film, a Western called “The Squaw Man,” and he came out west.

The producer was Jesse Lasky, who stayed in New York City, and DeMille was looking around in Arizona and Flagstaff, didn’t find locations he liked.

By legend, DeMille sent a telegram back east to Jesse Lasky in New York City claiming that he couldn’t find the right spot at Arizona, and so how about this obscure barn in this obscure town called Hollywood?

Would that be acceptable, and could they afford to rent that facility?

Some people would say this is kind of an origin story of Hollywood, that they needed a barn to shoot a Western and Hollywood was the best-looking and, really, cheapest place where they could find that.

I don’t know if that’s true.

I didn’t think about that.


I’ve actually seen a picture of that telegram.

I wonder if it’s real.

What’s the truth?

What are we looking for?

Do we know anything that’s truthful about Hollywood?

Ha ha ha!

I mean, it’s kind of what you want it to be.

♪ Kuntz: “The Squaw Man,” the first feature film shot in Hollywood, was successful enough to bring more people out here.

Braudy: The first movie business to be anchored in Hollywood was Charlie Chaplin’s in 1918, and Charlie Chaplin had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get that done.

In the early days, the Hollywood City Council passed ordinances against bowling alleys and butcher shops and all sorts of places that were unrespectable.

♪ Braudy: If you go down on Le Brea Avenue to see the Chaplin Studios now, which are still there, they look like a little English village.

They’re not supposed to look like a movie place.

♪ Rubenstein: Hollywood embraced the movies for one main reason– economics.

Man: Eventually, with the rise of silent pictures in the 1920s and then the introduction of sound pictures during the 1930s, you saw the development of Hollywood as an industry with its own labor force, that kind of vertical integration that became synonymous with the big 8 motion picture studios that defined the studio system, as it became known by the 1930s.

Kuntz: These were the studios like Paramount and MGM, Fox, Columbia, Universal, Warner Brothers that had long lists of stars under long-term contracts, great directors and cinematographers and writers working for them, and they were really like assembly lines where 50 films a year were being put together.

Every week, a new film would go into production, just about, and they were being cranked out for not just a nationwide audience, but a worldwide audience.

Newsreel reader: The foreground of this aerial shot discloses the Hollywood studio of 20th Century Fox, better known as the Western Avenue Lot.

In addition to the regular production equipment, this lot houses the important 20th Century Fox laboratory, the finest in the industry.

Over a million feet of film are handled here each week.

Stories, sets, and costumes must be authentic, and that is where the finest research department in motion pictures comes in.

The writer’s building.

A beautiful structure of Norman design, which houses the scenario head and his department.

Braudy: And already by the teens and the twenties, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was sending out publicity around the country saying, “Don’t come to Hollywood to be a movie star.”

So many people came, it was just being inundated.

The most beautiful woman and the most handsome man from every small town in America was coming out here to make it in the movies.

Director: OK, cut.


Woman: As the movies get bigger and bigger, the people who live in this town and are making their fortunes here are starting to get a little worried.

“There’s all of these young girls coming to town.

I think a lot of them are going to start getting into trouble.”

You know, “trouble!”

“And when young girls come to Hollywood and get in trouble “because they have believed in our dreams, our whole business is going to get shut down,” so what happens is, a group of people in Hollywood put their money in creating something called the Hollywood Studio Club, and this will be a dormitory for aspiring young actresses.

It’ll give young girls who don’t have anywhere to turn a safe place to live, a chaperone to keep an eye on them to make sure they’re not staying out too late, a place to get, you know, their footing while they’re trying to find their career as an actress.

10,000 women live in the Hollywood Studio Club from the time that it opens in the silent era and it closes in the seventies.

I mean, huge women.

The most famous, of course, has got to be Marilyn Monroe, but we’re talking Kim Novak, Rita Moreno.

Perhaps the weirdest person who lives at the Hollywood Studio Club is the writer Ayn Rand, who shows up as a Russian immigrant 6 months from escaping St. Petersburg, pitched the same ideals that she will later pitch in books like “Atlas Shrugged.”

Rubenstein: The same year that Rand sold her first screenplay to Universal Studios, the Hollywood sign made headlines.

Martino: And then there’s the Peg Entwistle story.

She was a young Hollywood star who went up to the “H” at the Hollywoodland sign and threw herself off.

Man: It’s 1932, right, when Peg Entwistle tossed herself off the Hollywood sign.

Nicholson: You’re probably picturing, young actress moves to Hollywood, doesn’t have any talent, and, in despair, jumps off the Hollywood sign.

This is actually not the true story of Peg Entwistle at all.

You know, she’s a great actress.

In fact, Peg Entwistle is so talented that no less than David O. Selznick, the great star creator, says “This is the next star.”

So Peg gets signed by RKO, and they cast her in a movie called “Thirteen Women.”

In this film “Thirteen Women,” Peg is cast as this woman who’s married to a man but secretly in love with her best friend Martha, and the film is very explicit about this.

1932 is a really pivotal time in Hollywood because this is right when the censors are starting to clamp down on this idea of, “Hollywood films are not moral enough.

“We need to really have the Hays Code here “to establish that we’re making good quality product that all Americans can stand behind,” so William Hays and Joseph Breen watch an early cut of “Thirteen Women,” and they say, “Absolutely not,” and so they force the film to cut Peg Entwistle’s role down from 16 minutes of screen time to 4 minutes of screen time, gutting her whole character, gutting her whole performance, and it plunges her into this real depression, and this is the moment when she decides on a Friday afternoon to take her life.

Martino: You’re throwing yourself off the Hollywood sign.

You’re not throwing yourself off of a building, committing suicide in a different way.

That sign, it represents a lot of things, like, “Yeah!

I made it in Hollywood,” and it also says when you haven’t made it.

It’s something artificial, something that’s fake, but something that’s tangible, something that you want.

Endless number of people– not just filmmakers, also composers, editors, producers– they would have a home here.

The movie business was defining itself.

It didn’t know who it was, and so it welcomed anyone who wanted to make a movie, and for many, you know, around World War II, it wasn’t a hard decision to leave Europe, so Hollywood was a godsend.

It was this–it was a haven for a lot of European artists and filmmakers.

♪ Woman: If we take Hollywood as a glamorized version of the American Dream, it does attract, I think, a lot of people from other parts of the world.

Woman: We lived behind the Charlie Chaplin Studios that became A&M Records.

As a girl growing up and speaking complete, you know, fluent Russian in the house, it was kind of this immigrant, first-generation land of dreams.

I was surrounded by either music or actors or people wanting to be in the business.

Hollywood is a state of mind, and I think that state of mind is why so many people come here and why my father and mother chose here and not Boston, like his brother, or San Francisco.

He wanted the dream.

He wanted to be part of it in any way he could.

♪ Singer: ♪ Space, ’cause I’m groovin’… ♪ Rubenstein: As Hollywood the industry grew, Beverly Hills was established as its own city far away from the Walk of Fame, studios, and film premieres– a refuge for Hollywood’s elite to live lavishly and create their own rules out of the public eye.

Singer: ♪ …like you mean it, keep it up ♪ ♪ Make them believe it… ♪ All right, David.

So here we go.

OK, so what neighborhood is this?

This is Beverly Hills.

Flagg: So we are in the flats of Beverly Hills.

You recognize the palm trees.

So right here, we have Al Pacino.

He’s been there for a hundred years.

About every famous person on Earth’s lived on this block.

This was Mel Blanc’s house.

Remember Mel Blanc?

Mel Blanc.

Of course.

Bugs Bunny.

All right.

So you don’t mind if I put my sunglasses on… Go ahead.

now that I’m in Hollywood.

OK. What’d you pay, $10?

About $10 for this… OK, good.

but it’s good enough.

It’s good enough.

Very good.

Rubenstein: That’s the Beverly Hills Hotel?

This is where I live right now.

Rubenstein: And stars still go to the Polo Lounge all the time?

Flagg: The Polo Lounge, the pool.

You name it.

It’s the place.

And do people go to the pool thinking they’re going to be discovered by somebody?

Flagg: Well, that’s how Robert Evans was discovered.

He jumped in the pool, he came out with a laminated business card, and he became a star.

This was actually the most expensive house sold in the flats.

I sold it last year for 40 million.

And then, of course, we have Lucy and Desi.

Rubenstein: In the early days of the 20th century, many people who were Jewish came to what’s now called Hollywood to make movies.

Why did they come here?

Was it because of the weather?

Initially, because of the weather.

Initially, probably it was more economical to film things here because there was not much going on here at the time.

I see.

Did the Hollywood studios want their stars to have homes that were well-known and fancy so that they would get good publicity for the stars?

And so did they help them ever buy these homes, you think?

I don’t know about that, but I would say that today, the stars live–you don’t see where they live.

They’re always behind gates, it’s very private, but it was different back then.

I mean, at the time, the nice communities were Hancock Park and Los Feliz and Bel Air, but none of them allowed Jews.

Some of the covenants and restrictions, such as in Hancock Park, said there was no Jews allowed and no Blacks allowed.

It’s just the way– it was what it was.

That’s what it was at the time, and, by the way, I think Hancock Park, they didn’t lift those covenants until many years later.

I think Nat King Cole actually bought a house there while there still were on the covenants that no Black people were allowed to buy houses in Hancock Park.

Rubenstein: Today in the Los Angeles area, in Beverly Hills, anybody that has the money can buy a house.

Sure, as long as the check clears.

You’re familiar with the concept of the Great American Dream…


which is that people come from humble beginnings and work their way up.

Do people in Hollywood have that same feeling?

They’re going to come here and they’re going to be discovered as a movie star at some point?

Do people come here from all over the world and want to be a movie star still?

That partly exists still, sure, I mean, especially if you’re in that– in the–in the movie business, that that’s what you want to do.

Where are you going to go?

There’s one place to go, is Hollywood.

Woman: I actually do remember the first time I saw the Hollywood sign.

I had graduated college from Northwestern University, and I wanted to be an actress, so I got in a car with my then-husband, and we drove across country, and when we approached Los Angeles, we were on Sunset Boulevard, and we saw the Hollywood sign, and I remember how thrilled I was.

It meant that I was actually in Hollywood, and it looked exactly like I thought it would look.

In the beginning, I got cast in several things as, quote, “a model,” and the first one was “Laugh-In,” and I was cast as a “Sock it to me” girl.

You know, you go, “Sock it to me, sock it to me,” and then they freeze.

So I could pay my rent, but I was so uncomfortable as an actress.

I felt inauthentic.

I constantly felt uncomfortable being somebody other than myself.

Fortunately, I was able to look around the movie set and say, “Wow.

There’s all these people “making the movies.

I can find a path.”

♪ Man: I grew up in Louisiana, and so I didn’t move to Los Angeles until I was 18.

When I arrived, I went to see the Hollywood sign, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre like most tourists.

♪ Very close friend gave me a “New Yorker” article that was a profile on a man named Sam Cohn, who was the owner and biggest agent at ICM, and it changed my life because it described a very diversified week in the life of this iconic showbiz personality, and I drove to the William Morris mailroom, uh, to the reception desk and walked up and got an application and applied, and it took me 9 months to get the job, and then I got in and started there.

Interviewer: Can you remember the time in your own childhood or adolescence when you formulated the desire to be an actor?

Was there a point, someone you saw or someone who influenced you?

Well, no.

I would say it was a gradual thing, as it probably is with most people.

It’s an unusual choice of occupation for a sort of centrally placed male American.

You know, when you’re out there in New Jersey, you don’t suddenly pop up in the middle of your football practice and say, “Yes.

I’m going to be an actor.”

I probably really started thinking about doing it after I was doing it and vaguely when I was working at MGM in the cartoon department, a job which I got really mainly to observe movie making because I was sort of starstruck at that time.

Still am.

♪ Woman: The Hollywood dream, I think, is different for everyone.

I don’t know that there is a standard definition of it.

Photographer: Everybody, straight ahead.

Mayo: Growing up, my mother and I would watch the Academy Awards every year.

I read “People” magazine, and I had this real connection to celebrity culture, which was really defined by movie stars.

I was growing up in the blockbuster age.

Tom Cruise was a big deal, still is a big deal.

Hollywood has bottled this idea of this intangible magic that’s inaccessible to most people.

(Fans speaking excitedly) Avila: I really can’t think of any other form of mass cultural production that has had the tremendous influence and power that Hollywood has had, and like all histories of power, power is not afforded equally to all segments of society.

You know, people like Harry Warner became very, very wealthy through the mass production of motion pictures, and it was people like the Warner Brothers who perfected the image of American whiteness.

The big stars– Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable– embodied this ideal, and the Hollywood style was about the makeup, the costume, and especially the lighting.

For example, the daughter of Spanish immigrants, Margarita Cansino– very dark brown hair, darker skin, dark eyebrows– through her participation in the Hollywood studio system, she became Rita Hayworth.

You see a really dramatic physical transformation in her hair color, her skin color, her makeup that Hollywood perfected through its army of makeup artists, cinematographers, lighting technicians, and clothing designers.

♪ Announcer: Not everyone knows that clothes are screen tested as carefully as performers.

These are wardrobe tests.

Edith Head: Here’s Lana Turner, the beautiful star of “Love Has Many Faces,” the spoiled, beautiful woman with all the money in the world, the woman who makes her own rules, a woman who lives for love and glamor.

This, incidentally, is a look we used right through the picture, the toga, the rather loose, Greek look of clothes.

Man: To think about what the Hollywood sign means in culture, you have to unpack which culture you’re talking about.

Yuen: So when I look at the Hollywood sign, I definitely also have the awe and the kind of nostalgia, which is strange because I don’t know what nostalgia I’m thinking about.

It’s an imagined nostalgia of an institution, right, that’s supposed to mean glitz and glamor.

Everyone loves the escapism of Hollywood that it provides, but there are so many classic movies when I watch them, I cringe when there is a person of color because you can’t escape the racism and sexism of classic Hollywood– for example, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Mr. Yunioshi: Miss Gorightry, I protest!

Oh, darling, I am sorry, but I lost my key.

But that was two weeks ago!

I was a huge Audrey Hepburn fan as a young woman.

I mean, what young woman isn’t, right?

She’s so glamorous, she’s so classic, but at the same time, then you have Mickey Rooney coming on as Mr. Yunioshi, who is a complete buffoon, speaks with a terrible accent, and that entire movie is colored by that.

That’s not the representation of reality, and also it’s a representation that makes people think bad things about us.

If we look at the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” I’ve actually never seen the full movie, but I have experienced the aftermath of a stereotype of one Vietnamese prostitute, who propositions some of the G.I.s and says, “Me so horny.

Me love you long time.”

Me so horny.

Yuen, voice-over: That line has been said to me in an Atlanta airport.

I just went to an academic conference, and then someone yelled “Me so horny,” to me in the airport, and I looked around, and I knew it was directed at me because I was the only Asian woman in sight, and so many Asian women have heard that line compounded through “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Andy: She’d be like, “Oh, me so horny.

Me love you long time.”

Yuen: It’s said in rap songs.

♪ Me so horny ♪ It’s something that is now part of U.S. society, so when people ask me, “Does Hollywood matter?”


Mayo: Hollywood has been portraying a very narrow perspective of the world, and that does not take away from the fact that, you know, even in my own kind of list of revered films and filmmakers, that those movies are incredible.

A lot of these directors defined these eras of incredible filmmaking, and also, when I was young, I didn’t often see myself represented in films, so much so, that I took for granted that I just wasn’t supposed to be there.

I internalized the status quo, and so part of why I love Spike Lee so much is that I was literally seeing people that looked like me inside of his films.

There are so many of Spike Lee’s films that I would watch and have watched a hundred times, but I think, for me, the one that actually shifted my understanding of what film could do and could be was actually “Bamboozled” because it was a commentary on Hollywood, and it’s about navigating the choice between doing something that could bring you money and that could be acceptable and palatable as a nonwhite person inside of Hollywood and doing something that could actually be dangerous to yourself and the community.

It was aesthetically bold and unique and incredibly provocative and, some might argue, offensive, and I didn’t know that you could do that.

Rubenstein: While the sign appears to be an invitation to all, the reality is, Hollywood is a tough place to break into, yet it is outsiders who push the industry forward, keeping it relevant to a new audience and new generation.

Narrator: It’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Recorded in slabs of cement in the forecourt are the signatures plus imprints of the feet and hands of leading motion picture stars.

Woman: So we are at the TCL Chinese Theatre, very famous theater, and the thing it’s most famous for is for the celebrity hand and footprints that are in the cement.

And it’s more famous than the stars having their stars here?

It’s much more exclusive.

There’s a lot less real estate.

Right here, you see Mary Pickford.


Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas.


Here’s Michael Jackson.

He had already passed away on the date here, Oh, really?

so they have a Michael Jackson star, but his children are actually the ones who put their hand and footprints in.

I see, and–let’s see– who else do we have here?

There I am– Sylvester Stallone, and I’m in his shoes, OK?


All ready?

Man: Yes.

We’re all ready.


OK. Ready?


Man: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

The Library of Congress in 2006 said that “Rocky” was a national treasure and put it in our national cultural heritage list of films.

Was that a surprise to you that of all the films, this was one of the most important films ever made?


That was a stunning revelation because I was basically a classical nobody.

So you wrote the movie and the script, but before that, you were an actor– is that right?



But not exactly a very successful actor.



So how did you support yourself in those early days?

Well, I cleaned lions’ cages.

I cut fish heads.

I was really good with sturgeon in the deli.

I was kind of a night watchman in this building.

I just did a multitude of things– delivery boy– you name it.

And I could not get a job in Hollywood, so I had to design it for myself.

So you wrote it for yourself… Yeah.

And how long did it take to actually write “Rocky”?

3 1/2 days.

When the Academy Award nominations come out, you get 10 Academy Award nominations.

You’re nominated for Best Scriptwriter and Best Actor… Mm-hmm.


and also, you know, the movie is nominated for Best Picture, so you go there, and you win the Academy Award.


Did you expect to win the Academy Award?

No, not at all because actually, every film back then was kind of a statement film.

I mean, “All the President’s Men,” “Network”–keep going– and “Bound for Glory,” and then there’s “Rocky,” which is no statement, really.

It’s just about a man wanting to have a little bit of respect and love.

I had a feeling that I was not gonna get it because I was the new guy in town and I wasn’t connected to anyone.

Hollywood is very political, as you probably have guessed, and when you’re the kind of outcast, or outlier, it’s very rare.

It’s very, very rare.

Man: Come on, come on.

Act like you two know each other.

Melissa Rivers, voice-over: How Hollywood presents itself in the media has nothing to do with the reality of the business.

It’s a rough, tough business.

I had a family that lived through it.

My dad kills himself, and everybody knows.

You know, my mother dies tragically, everybody knows.

You know, my mother’s career was up and down and up and down and up and down.

We were always the outsider insider.

Hollywood is endless rejection, endless.

Everything in this town is based on your level of success, from being able to get a good table or a reservation.

You know, if you call your agent and they wait a day to return your call, I mean, you are DOA.

I get phone calls, return calls from my agent all the time when he’s on his way home.

I’m not delusional.

It’s so transparent, but it’s how the town works.

James Ellroy, voice-over: I don’t believe in the concept of a Hollywood dream.

It’s the deadest dog cliché on earth.

When it comes to L.A., I’m from there, so that’s the fount of my curiosity.

In the wake of my mother’s unsolved murder, ’58 into ’59, I was 10, 11 years old, and I am very naive, a church-raised boy.

What I recall about that time was my sense of, “Something is going on here.”

It has to do with sex, and I don’t know what it is specifically that they’re talking about, so, to me, L.A. means huge police investigations, 211 guys, armed robbers, kidnappers, crime, crime, crime, crime, crime juxtaposed against what I think is my big theme, which is bad men in love with strong women.

I love a good blackmail.

I love a good shakedown.




Ellroy, voice-over: Stuff like the bravura scene in “L.A.

Confidential,” where a couple of the fuzz dangle the district attorney out of the 8-story window, stuff like that happened.

These are staples of my books of film noir.

You got yourself into this thing.

You should be grateful I’m not turning you in.

Braudy, voice-over: There’s always been this Hollywood light and dark, and it goes back even to the 1920s, when all the scandals of Hollywood have to be faced by the respectability that Hollywood is trying to assert for itself.

Wasson, voice-over: All of the film noir set in L.A. have this attitude about L.A., which is a place of, you know, corruption and moral decay.


That’s right, Kate– good old Dave… Wasson, voice-over: In terms of an L.A. look, most of these noir films were shot in studio settings with very dramatic lighting, and they weren’t going for realism, so they’re more about a state of mind, an internal L.A. of the soul, L.A. as a spiritual state of emptiness.

Braudy, voice-over: The Jekyll and Hyde part of Hollywood, the dark and the light part of Hollywood and of Los Angeles, as well, is really an essential dialectic of its history.

Kuntz, voice-over: “Chinatown,” in 1974, is set 40 years in the past, and so the L.A. of the 1930s has to be recreated, but that’s done beautifully in “Chinatown.”

Go home, Jake.

I’m doing you a favor.

Kuntz, voice-over: “Chinatown” shows us the kind of underside of how a city develops and how the various forces at play in the creation of a city are in some ways almost at war with one another.

Man: Hold it there, kitty cat.

You obviously don’t get the look of the city or the light of the city in film noir, and you don’t get that in “Chinatown”… which, for all the love that is due to that movie, doesn’t look like Los Angeles.

I don’t know why no one says this.

You know what happens to nosy fellas?

Wasson, voice-over: It’s Roman Polanski’s Los Angeles, and Roman Polanski had a lot of baggage to bring to the city.

Wasson, voice-over: We don’t see a lot of iconic location in “Chinatown,” so it’s hard to place it as Los Angeles.

It talks ab– We talk about L.A. all the time in this movie, but Dick Sylbert, the production designer of “Chinatown,” very conscientiously eliminated blue and green from this movie to make it parched because that’s what the movie’s about.

It feels like the desert, which is what L.A. is underneath.

The movie that, to me, looks like L.A. is “Shampoo,” which is one of the only movies that I think actually has a relatively fair, integrated view of what it means to live in the city.





George is great.


George is Great.

Wasson, voice-over: I love “Shampoo” for the reasons everyone else loves “Shampoo,” but I also think that it’s a movie that’s fair to my city… Just don’t let the steam out.


the good and the bad.

Hey, Dennis, Felicia looks great here, right?



Wasson, voice-over: “Shampoo” is about a guy with girl problems, and his girl problems is that he likes girls too much… What, do you get your kicks sneaking around behind people’s backs, taking advantage of them?

Is that your idea of being anti-establishment?

I’m not anti-establishment.

Wasson, voice-over: and, because he’s Warren Beatty, he gets them.

In that sense, it’s kind of like a farce– how do you balance all of these women?– but it’s a slow farce.

It’s a farce played at the pace of Los Angeles.

“Shampoo” makes the city look fun…

Yes, sir?

We’ll have a white Dubonnet on the rocks, please, and for you… Just a little white wine.

Wasson, voice-over: which it is.

Fun is not a favorite American pastime.

We are the Puritan country.

We have to work, and, you may have noticed, we’re not so good on sex, which is a part of fun.

You know, we’re enjoying ourselves over here.

You get that in “Shampoo.”

You’re my mother’s hairdresser.

I do hair.


Chopped liver?

Martino, voice-over: I mean, who’s gonna know more than a hairdresser, you know, about Hollywood and then trust him?

(Snap snap snap snap) (Sighs) “Shampoo” was a difficult subject for me because it had a lot to do with, I think, change in sexual attitude in the sixties, and maybe it was a little embarrassing to me.

I don’t know.

I wanted to do a movie about a Don Juan, you know, a hypersexual character who didn’t operate out of the old Freudian, Victorian assumption that a person who was very active in that area was necessarily a misogynist, a person who hated women, or a latent homosexual.

I always thought that that was a negative, old, Victorian impatience with promiscuity and nonmonogamic life that was a lot of bologna.

Martino, voice-over: I grew up in an era of a little bit of older Hollywood.

It was an era of Hollywood that does not exist today.

My dad was a showbiz singer, and he worked in Hollywood, and he was in show business.

His name was Al Martino, and he was Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather.”

And so I kind of grew up around– I can’t say he was on movie sets all the time, but we were in a show business sort of environment in L.A. at that time.

I mean, I had very progressive parents, so there was a lot of dinner parties, and I was never the kid that was told to go upstairs and go to bed, and they entertained a lot in our house.

I was so enamored with all of them that I used to have a tape recorder.

I would tape their conversations.

Judi Martino: Yeah.

They gave– Alison Martino: Wait a minute.

I’m taping you.

Judi: Kirk Douglas lives down the street.

And now Kirk Douglas lives down the street, you know.

Al Martino: Edward G. Robinson.

I never thought I’d be face to face with him.

Our neighbors were Fred Astaire, and, you know, Kirk Douglas lived just a block down.

Edward G. Robinson lived across the street from us.

Lucille Ball lived around the corner.

You know, Robert Evans lived a block away from us.

You kind of left your front door open, your back door open, and everyone would kind of hang out, but 1969 changed everything.

Friday night in Los Angeles, a movie actress and 4 of her friends were murdered.

The circumstances were lurid.

The movie actress was Sharon Tate, 26.

The others were a male hairdresser, the heiress to a coffee fortune, a writer, and a boy just out of high school.

This was at the home of movie director Roman Polanski, and it was his wife, Sharon Tate, who was one of the victims.

She, too, had been stabbed, repeated stab wounds.

Alison Martino: My parents, I remember them telling me that one summer in 1969, they opened up the newspaper, and, you know, it was a bloodbath up on El Cielo Drive, not too far away from where my parents grew up.

It affected everything because it had a Hollywood connection.

You know, it’s an actress– very beautiful, very known, up-and-coming– and her husband, Roman Polanski, being probably the most renowned director of that time.

You know, she was 8 months’ pregnant, and then you find out it was Charlie Manson, and Charlie Manson wanted a record deal, and was this payback?

So, and then you dig deeper into that story, and there’s a connection to the Beach Boys.

It shifted the city.

It shifted Hollywood, and it ended the sixties.

Man: Beautiful, Charlie.

Are you all happy with your courts?



Ellroy, voice-over: People talked about it a great deal.

The Manson family killings were as senseless, as brutal, as vile as anything that had been imagined during that entire imaginative decade of the 1960s.

As the decade wound down, it felt like a capper that served as the deus ex machina for the whole damn decade.

Rubenstein: At the time of the Manson murders, America was changing.

The Vietnam War prompted mass protests, and a psychedelic revolution took hold.

Many of Hollywood’s elite fled the city, feeling the fantasy of Tinseltown tainted forever.

The studio system that thrived during Hollywood’s golden age was dying.

Narrator: There was a time when Hollywood might have dared to duplicate this scene on a painted backdrop or on the back lot of a studio.

The more sophisticated eye of the modern moviegoer demands authenticity of scene, so today when the script of a major movie production says, “Acapulco,” presto, tons of equipment, an army of experts, and a galaxy of stars are immediately whisked off to this international playground.

Once a background of such exotic luxury has been chosen, every other aspect of the production must match this high standard.

Different narrator: Actor Charlton Heston would say…

I hope to see a resurgence or renaissance in Hollywood.

Hollywood is turning into a ghost town, and the production outlook at the moment is very bleak.

Wasson, voice-over: Hollywood all throughout the sixties, really, was losing its financial infrastructure and losing its audience.

It was undergoing a major identity crisis.

There was no sense in this transitional period where the audience was, why sometimes they would go see movie “X” and they wouldn’t go see the movie that looked like “X.”

Narrator: The cost of epic making is ruinous.

Armies of carpenters, scene designers, stagehands, and technicians and a monumental complexity of equipment are required.

Columbia Pictures has, nevertheless, survived by making big-budget musicals.

Here, Barbra Streisand prepares to film a scene for “Funny Girl.”

Kuntz, voice-over: Well, in the 1960s, Hollywood, much to everyone’s surprise, discovered that blockbuster musicals could be successful once again, and in the early sixties, we had these huge hits– “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady.”

And “Funny Girl” is a good example of this with Barbra Streisand recreating her great Broadway role… Fanny: ♪ Get ready for me, love, ’cause I’m a ‘comer… ♪ Kuntz, voice-over: and so “Funny Girl” was a huge success, but, of course, it would be one of the last of those.

Very soon thereafter in the next few years, we’d have some complete disasters.

I mean, you reach “Paint Your Wagon” in 1969, where Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood are singing the songs.

I love them both, but that was not going to be a huge hit, and they spent way too much money on it.

I think those musicals were kind of a last gasp in many ways, and they would break the backs of some studios.

Narrator: So hard has been the squeeze that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, perhaps the greatest glamor factory of them all, earlier this year auctioned off a large slice of their property department.

Hawthorne, voice-over: There were a lot of analyses at the time that that kind of crisis of confidence in Hollywood is reflected in the Hollywood sign.

Even this most famous symbol of Los Angeles has had its moments where we have really neglected it, and there are many Angelenos, I think, who are not aware that there was a moment when the Hollywood sign was in ruin.

There had to be a major campaign to raise money to restore it.

John Marshall, voice-over: It seemed doomed to decay, like a forgotten movie star.

Vandals and the elements had taken their toll.

Rebuilding the world’s largest sign wasn’t cheap, but the Chamber raised every penny from private contributions.

This morning, the Hollywood sign was put to one of the toughest tests ever.

It’s only a hundred feet over there, but after all the trouble and all the expense, you can’t even see it.


Rubenstein, voice-over: A number of years ago, the Hollywood sign was falling apart, and at least two individuals helped dramatically to save it.

One was Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the other was Hugh Hefner.

Lourd: Yeah.

Does it surprise you that Hugh Hefner would be interested in saving the Hollywood sign?

He did live in the area, but he had never been in the motion picture business, I think.

I remember at the time thinking, like, “Good for him.”

Today, it would be perceived as some cynical move, that there was an adjacency in terms of marketing a brand, but I think it came from a super pure place.

The Hollywood, in my mind, in my heart is this community, dreamers that want to tell stories.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Hollywood sign is recognized by everyone around the world.

There’s no two ways about it.

It is a symbol of dreams and a symbol of opportunity and hope.

The Hollywood sign will welcome dreamers and artists and Austrian bodybuilders from around the world to continue coming over here for generations to come.

Rubenstein, voice-over: But is the sign’s physical permanence enough to assure its place in history for another 100 years?

So you’re trained as an architect, so if you were given the assignment of designing a Hollywood sign that would be better than the one that’s there, could you come up with one?

There was a report that the city council put together a few years ago about how to deal with this crush of visitors, particularly with the rise of social media and GPS, who are actually trying to make their way on foot or by car to the Hollywood sign to take selfies or just to get as close as they could, and there were a number of solutions proposed in that report.

I thought the most fascinating tidbit in that report was the proposal that Los Angeles consider building a second Hollywood sign, a replica, on the San Fernando Valley side of the hill, which would be purpose-built for tourism and selfies and could be easily accessed and designed almost like a stage set, like a Hollywood stage set, designed for that kind of access and perfect camera angle, and something about that– I don’t think it’s likely to happen, but something about that idea of a simulacrum, a double of the Hollywood sign, seems to fit very much into the history of Hollywood and the way that we’ve thought about this distinction between real and fake in Los Angeles.

Kuntz, voice-over: Well, the Hollywood sign represents to us all those great movies and all those folks in the dark sitting in theaters, having a great time… (Laughter and applause) but Hollywood must confront now the possible death of the theatrical feature.

It’s not only that every movie theater basically closed during COVID.

I mean, the streamers are coming in, and they’re making a lot of movies and television.

They’re giving a lot of new people opportunities, but, of course, just like the old days, the people that are paying out the money have a lot of say in what’s going to be made, and they’re going to be interested in getting things that are going to be commercial.

There’s a saying of, like, “No one in Hollywood wants to be first.

Everyone wants to be second,” and so when you defy the norm, people don’t always know what to do with that.

Based on its very existence and the fact that it’s still standing a hundred years later, the Hollywood sign is still a beacon, but ideally, the people that feel called to that beacon and feel like that beacon speaks to them has expanded exponentially, but you have to be optimistic doing this job.

You know, we invent worlds and tell stories, and, you know, we play make-believe.

I don’t know that you can do that if you’re a cynical person.

I think it’s exciting right now to live in a world where “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” this movie by the Daniels, came out, a movie that is so gigantic in its ambition and its energy.

We’re getting a movie that, I think, reboots everybody’s sense of what a film can do.

(Gasps) Michelle Yeoh, voice-over: When I read the script, I thought, “This is something–” Oh, dear.


“This is something I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”

Yuen: “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the beauty of seeing that onscreen is almost like, “In your face, Hollywood.

“You have not taken advantage of the talent “that Asian-American actors and actors of color have, “and you’ve limited us to the stereotype, “but look at how much more we can be and how fully human we are.”

What do you want from me, to scream and cry like you?

Lansing, voice-over: The great news about increasing diversity is, we’ll be able to tell more authentic stories from more points of view.

Masters: Will Hollywood remain as iconic as it has been?

You know, we just saw not that long ago “Squid Game” come out of South Korea, a global phenomenon, so hits don’t have to come from Hollywood.

Sanders: The Hollywood sign is not an advertisement for just an industry.

Lourd: It represents a space in America, that sort of “go west” thing, and when you get west, that sign’s there, and things are possible.

You know, I’m a perfect example.

You know, we honor Mount Rushmore.

We honor the Statue of Liberty.

We marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge, but I think only the Hollywood sign engages our feelings about aspiration, engages our feelings about fame, engages our feelings about all the fantasy worlds, engages our emotions.

Alison Martino, voice-over: A lot of people who move here are moving here for the industry.

Let’s face it.

Most of them are, and that sign says it all.

Rivers, voice-over: Everyone’s getting off the bus with a ticket, 25 bucks, and a whole lot of hope.

Rubenstein, voice-over: Is Hollywood still the cultural beacon it once was?

Why come to Los Angeles to make movies when it’s cheaper to film elsewhere?

If Hollywood is less of a destination, will the sign survive another transformation?

♪ Announcer: Explore more about “Iconic America” at pbs.org/iconicamerica.

Join the conversation with #IconicAmericaPBS and stream more episodes of “Iconic America” on the PBS app.

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