Hollywoodland and Hancock Park: Two Silent-Era Los Angeles Neighborhoods, Reunited in “The Artist”
December 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
Just over a year ago, I was drawn out of my house by the dreamlike appearance of vintage cars–and one 1920s bus–on Beachwood Drive. A PA informed me they were here for a French silent film about the advent of sound. Good luck with that, I thought. The sequence took about an hour to shoot, after which I wrote about it: https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/back-to-the-roaring-twenties-briefly-on-beachwood-drive/ Then, because I assumed I’d never see the finished film, I put the episode out of my mind.
The other night, however, I saw the film. Called “The Artist,” it premiered last spring at Cannes, where its lead actor, Jean Dujardin, deservedly won the Best Actor award. Harvey Weinstein is propelling it towards the Academy Awards. The concensus of the audience I was in was charming. As a friend of mine said, “Can a dog win an Oscar? Because that one should.”
But back to the Beachwood sequence: after an establishing shot of the Hollywoodland Sign, we see the cloche-hatted heroine, Peppy Miller, riding the bus down Beachwood Drive, north of the Gates. Although it’s unlikely that an undiscovered starlet would have lived in Hollywoodland, a neighborhood of single-family houses with no rental units, the bus is historically accurate, except that the real one was private. During the 1920s, Hollywoodland ran a jitney up and down Beachwood Drive that took residents as far as Franklin Avenue, where there was a trolley stop . The jitney provided essential transportation in those days of single-car households, not only for non-drivers but for women whose husbands took the car to work.
The use of Beachwood Drive also recalls some of the early films emulated by “The Artist.” During the Silent Era, Beachwood often was used for driving shots, while Larchmont Blvd., four miles to the south, was used for pedestrian shots.
Though Larchmont doesn’t appear in “The Artist,” its surrounding neighborhood frequently does. Hancock Park–more specifically, the deluxe subdistrict of Windsor Square–is the location of both George Valentin’s and (once she hits the big time) Peppy Miller’s houses. In the trailer, Windsor Square appears at the 2:10 mark:
Again, the location is apt, if slightly anachronistic. In the mid-teens, as Hollywood grew congested with traffic and movie studios, film stars began moving south to Hancock Park, then a brand new residential neighborhood. Among those who bought houses there were John Garfield, W.C. Fields and Harold Lloyd. But by the late twenties, when “The Artist” begins, most actors actually had migrated to Beverly Hills, a planned community created, unlike the snobby and patrician Hancock Park, for movie folk. Yet for Silent stars, Hancock Park was the original aspirational neighborhood, and its Mediterranean mansions and spacious front lawns inspired similar versions in Beverly Hills.
For me, a former resident of Hancock Park and current resident of Hollywoodland, “The Artist” stirred up feelings of recognition, nostalgia (both personal and cinematic) and delight. Along with “Hugo,” “The Artist” looks back to show not only what film was, but what it should be–and so often isn’t. More on that, and “Hugo,” in a future post.