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carole lombard 05

Hooray for "The Story Of Hollywood"

Posted by vp19 on 2007.08.28 at 00:49
Current mood: nostalgicnostalgic
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The word "Hollywood" has come to connote the American entertainment industry as a whole, in particular those entities concentrated in the Los Angeles area (motion pictures, television and to a lesser extent the music/recording industry). All well and good, but let us also remember that Hollywood, Calif., is an actual geographic area. At one time, it was even an official city (albeit not for long).

If the latter Hollywood is what your mind often conjures up when you hear or read the word, there's a book you should be interested in. Appropriately, it's called "The Story Of Hollywood," but unlike some books by that name, it's not exclusively about the rise of the movie industry. (It also has a subtitle: "An Illustrated History," as it has several hundred photographs, many of them in a book for the first time.) Rather, it deals with the geographic area we know as Hollywood, from its development in the late 1800s, to its brief tenure as an independent city, to its decision to fold itself into the city of Los Angeles, to its sudden growth as headquarters of the U.S. film industry. The community's decline over the decades and uncertain redevelopment are also discussed.

The author, Gregory Paul Williams, knows of what he writes. He's a third-generation Hollywood resident whose grandfather arrived there in 1915, just as the film influx was entering full swing, to open up a market with two brothers-in-law from Greece. A veteran puppeteer, this is actually Williams' second book -- the first was "The Story Of Hollywoodland," about the area where he grew up (in the hills, near the "Hollywood" sign).

Hollywood, as a geographic entity, played an important part in Carole Lombard's life. Much of her career was spent at the studio most identified with the Hollywood district, Paramount; she also made several movies next door at RKO and up Gower Street at Columbia. Lombard also spent a lot of time at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, both at its famed Cinegrill nightclub (where Russ Columbo, with whom she had a passionate affair, often performed) to years later, when she and Clark Gable would discreetly share a room. Carole even lived for a few years in a house on Hollywood Boulevard, a bit west of the commercial district; the book includes several pictures of her residence, which had an interior decorated by former MGM star William Haines.

You'll learn a lot about Hollywood from this book; for example, did you know that in the early 1910s, author L. Frank Baum of "Oz" books fame built a house in Hollywood for himself and his wife, and later in the decade constructed a studio to adapt some of those books to film when stage presentations of "Oz" stories began to lose their popularity? (He later folded the company and offered movie rights to his works to Paramount, which refused; that's why the most famous film adaptation of an "Oz" book was made over in Culver City.) The book also discusses Hollywood's growth as a network radio hub, something that tends to be overlooked. Below is Columbia Square, which CBS built in the late 1930s as its West Coast headquarters. This landmark was home to KNX radio for decades until it moved out in 2005; KCBS-TV did likewise this past April.

Many of the photos in the book came from the collection of Cliff Wesselmann, a Los Angeles photographer for more than 30 years. Much of his career was spent at the Hollywood Citizen News (that's right -- for many years, Hollywood actually had its own daily newspaper).

Williams' book is no mere sugarcoating. It delves into Hollywood's decline in the seventies and eighties and how the region hopes that new projects, such as the Red Line of the Los Angeles subway (comparable to the streetcar line during Hollywood Boulevard's glory days) and the Kodak Theatre, where the Academy Awards are now held, will provide a renaissance effect similar to that of Times Square in New York.

"The Story Of Hollywood: An Illustrated History" is a coffee-table book; at $50 list price, it's admittedly not for everyone (although it can be found on amazon.com for as little as $33), but if the actual Hollywood area means anything to you, it's worth it.

For more about the book, check out http://www.storyofhollywood.com/

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