When 12-year-old Jane Alice Peters, the future Carole Lombard, went before motion picture cameras for the first time in the summer of 1921 to make "A Perfect Crime," the industry of movies -- which she would come to know and cherish for the rest of her brief life, beginning about 1924 -- was undergoing amazing growth in her new hometown of Los Angeles, specifically the section of the city known as Hollywood.
While the movies had settled in southern California about a decade earlier, it wasn't until World War I scuttled Europe's dominance of the craft that American movies -- headquartered in Los Angeles/Hollywood by war's end -- assumed global leadership. U.S. filmmaking became the envy of the world, led by personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith, the quartet whom would found United Artists.
But what was Hollywood like for those who came west and got off the train (and nearly all of them arrived in that fashion)? A new book tells their stories, through one of film's best historians and authors.
In "My First Time in Hollywood," Cari Beauchamp collects and annotates stories of these pioneers' first trip to Tinseltown before there was tinsel. Actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, all tell their tales of their initial visits to this strange new work. Arrival times range from 1909 to 1929, the close of the silent era.
Beauchamp spoke at the fabled Book Soup bookstore in West Hollywood Wednesday to discuss (and sign) her book, noting that she had accumulated so many stories, from a variety of sources, that a second volume -- focusing on the talkie era -- is likely.
Beauchamp was joined at the event by director and film history buff John Landis, who did a reading from the book. Both noted that when movie industry people began their influx to Hollywood, it was difficult to find housing because many landlords wanted nothing to do with them ("No Jews, actors or dogs allowed"). That changed once it became apparent motion pictures were a legitimate growth industry and weren't going away anytime soon.
As the back cover notes, Beauchamp collected her recollections "from letters, speeches, oral histories, memoirs and autobiographies." Together, they comprise a fascinating portrait of a community largely born and developed through motion pictures. (Photos of early-day Hollywood also are included.) I'm having a ball reading stories from the likes of Pickford, Harold Lloyd, Lillian Gish, King Vidor, Gloria Swanson, Ben Hecht and so many others. I highly recommend this volume.