By Michael Collins
The famous Hollywood sign has been a symbol of the glitz and glamour of the California movie industry for close to 100 years. Consisting of 45-foot high metal letters spelling out the town’s name, the simple, yet effective, landmark engenders imagery of instant fame and spectacular stardom in the minds of every person in America. But how much do you really know about this film icon’s history?
Did you know…
The Hollywood sign was originally an advertisement for real estate: in 1923, businessman Harry Chandler wanted to advertise his new housing development in Hollywood Hills, “Hollywoodland.” Originally intended as a temporary installation, the sign formerly included over 4000 light-bulbs. Much like the Eiffel tower before it, the sign became a permanent fixture of the landscape after the burgeoning move business made it a landmark to people all over America. It remained in its original incarnation as the “Hollywoodland Sign” until 1949, when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles Parks Department teamed up to refurbish the sign after it’s caretaker had driven into it while drunk, obliterating one of the letter “o’s.” They chose to remove the “land” portion so that the sign could more accurately represent its home town.
The Hollywood sign has its own state-of-the-art security system: after numerous acts of vandalism, the Hollywood Sign Trust (a group formed in 1992 to maintain and promote the sign) installed cameras and other safety devices in 2000. Unfortunate incidents involving the sign, like the 1932 suicide of struggling actress Peg Entwhistle, the infamous 1973 altering of the sign to read “Hollyweed” to advocate marijuana usage, or the arson of the letter”L” in the 1970’s, are now prevented by a crew of eagle-eyed watchers over the internet.
The current sign is not the original one: in 1978, Playboy-founder Hugh Hefner become concerned over the plight of the Hollywood sign, which by then had been neglected for so long that it was not only corroding away in the elements, but had also missing a few of its letters. The magazine mogul organized an auction at his infamous mansion, and raised the money to buy brand new letters from other millionaires like rock star Alice Cooper and country music legend Gene Autry. The new letters, standing at around 45-feet high, are actually 5 feet shorter than the originals.
While the original sign was put up for sale on eBay, and subsequently bought by sculptor Bill Mack, the current sign enjoys a period of careful attention and pride. It continues to undergo restorations every few years, and will, with any luck, be the pride of the film industry for many years to come.