The Day Before Hollywood


And yet the movies brought the benefit the Chamber of Commerce had always striven for: tourism. To cope with the influx, the Chamber prepared a booklet that assured tourists that motion-picture studios were only a part of Hollywood—“lower Hollywood”—and were “more or less lost in the far-spreading bungalowed landscape.” The only other evidence of movie business might be the presence on the sidewalk of a group of people, “a man turning the crank of a camera … while another man makes a girl do something foolish over and over again. Scenes like this attract little attention. The real Hollywood is engaged in its own affairs, which are those of ordinary everyday humanity, working and trading and living, and well satisfied to live in a beautiful place.” The fan magazines attacked this attitude, calling its authors “Hollywood’s Shameber of Commerce,” but actually most studios were anxious to avoid visitors. Although Universal welcomed tourists at its vast studio ranch in the San Fernando Valley, the other studios were considerably less hospitable. Lacking the space of Universal, they had also suffered from a plague of souvenir hunters on the occasions they had admitted visitors. Objects vital to continuity vanished, and pictures were held up while identical articles were tracked down in town. Anything portable was automatically pillaged by eager star worshipers, and it proved safer to close the studio gates. The wonderful sets tourists had seen in pictures were denied them, and the exteriors of most studios were uniformly dull. In later years visitors were offered special tours of the stars’ homes. But in the early days these were all too ordinary. “The trouble with Hollywood,” said one disgruntled visitor, “is that it’s so damn unimpressive.”


Some of the movie people felt the same way, despite the astonishing climate and the breathtaking scenery. When shots of New York appeared on the screen, you could identify members of the movie colony by their applause.“The heat gets on your nerves,”said one.“It’s so dusty you have to change your clothes three times a day and you’re never clean.”

How quickly they came to change their minds! After the real estate explosions of the 1920s and 1930s, the quietness and simplicity of the early years were greatly missed.

Katherine Albert wrote, in the 1930s, that Hollywood had been like a child, charming and naive. “Now it is a woman of the world, sparkling, bizarre, hard and bitter, with a painted face and narrow eyes.” The description is a period piece in itself, proving the dangers of uncritical nostalgia.

But even today anyone who wanders around the old residential streets of Hollywood at sunrise can scent in their quiet atmosphere something of the paradise that existed just a lifetime ago.