New Year, New Forum
January 21, 2021 § Leave a comment
Twelve years have passed since I began writing Under the Hollywood Sign. Conceived to promote my documentary of the same name and to further explore Hollywood history, UTHS soon grew to include my previous documentaries, magazine work and interviews. It also spawned two collections of essays. As time went on, my focus shifted to other people’s films, books and TV shows. I also wrote visual art, architecture and Japan, where I grew up, and its rich popular culture. All of this has been a labor of love, and hundreds of posts and pages later it’s time for me to try something new.
Beginning today, I’ll be writing on Substack. In addition to regular posts, subscribers will have access to my other writing–longer non-fiction and fiction–as well new projects, literary and cinematic. Subscriptions are $5 per month, and the link is below. I look forward to seeing you there.
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Give the Gift of Documentaries: Under The Hollywood Sign’s December Two-For-One Sale
December 6, 2020 § Leave a comment
Curious about the documentaries that inspired this blog? Here’s a good chance to see them at a bargain price, and to give them as holiday gifts. From now until January 1, 2021, each purchase of a full-length documentary on DVD will include a free companion documentary. Each order of “Under the Hollywood Sign” will come with “Peg Entwistle: The Life and Death of an Actress”, while each order of “Jim Thompson, Silk King, 2015 Edition” will come with “The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection.”
This offer does not apply to digital downloads. To order, please go to: http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com/dvds/
Revisiting Peg Entwistle’s Life and Death: Myth vs. Reality in Netflix’s “Hollywood”
May 21, 2020 § 2 Comments
Soon after Netflix released the new Ryan Murphy-Ian Brennan miniseries “Hollywood,” I heard from Chris Yogerst, a University of Wisconsin film professor who has corresponded with me off and on since 2010, that Peg Entwistle’s story was a major theme. Naturally, I got right on it.
Since releasing my short film “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk,” my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign” in 2009 and my book of essays (Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign) in 2013, a number of Peg-related projects have been announced, such as this one ://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/the-newly-announced-peg-entwistle-biopic/ , but “Hollywood” is the first major one to be completed. It’s also the most imaginative, using Peg’s story not as a grim cautionary tale but the departure point for a wildly revisionist Hollywood history.
At the outset of “Hollywood,” a script about Peg is greenlit by the Paramount-like Ace Studios. The screenwriter, Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) is predictably male but also black, and his struggle to make it in Hollywood gives him empathy for Peg’s tragic story. Fortunately for Archie, his champions at Ace Studios are self-professed outsiders: the director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), though passing for white, is half-Filipino, and the acting head of production Avis Amberg (Patti Lupone) is a former silent film star whose acting career was cut short by her apparent Jewishness.
Though the Peg Entwistle project begins as a straightforward biopic featuring a blonde, white starlet, Avis agrees to cast Claire Wood (Samira Weaving), a Dorothy Dandridge-like actress whose screen test blows away the competition, in the lead. Thus Peg becomes Meg, and the film changes from a tragedy to a triumph of interracial romance and career redemption. If that weren’t enough, a major subplot involves Archie’s romance with the young Rock Hudson, and the couple soon smash racial and sexual barriers by walking the red carpet hand-in-hand at the Oscars. When Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) becomes the first Asian to win an Academy Award, every studio-era wrong is righted, and it’s only 1948.
In short,”Hollywood” is a fantasia of racial and sexual justice. Though it’s based in fact–Rock Hudson, his manager Henry Willson (Jim Parsons) and the gas station/prostitution ring all existed–the series becomes increasingly fantastical as it careens toward a universal happy ending. This revisionism actually works for Peg Entwistle’s story, which–stripped of her Depression Era suicide–becomes a tale of movie stardom and true love.
Unfortunately, Ryan and Brennan can’t let go of the biggest myth about Peg: that the Hollywood Sign symbolized Hollywood The Industry. In fact, it didn’t even symbolize Hollywood The Place. As I’ve said many times, the Hollywoodland Sign (which is how it appeared even when “Hollywood,” is set) was a billboard for the neighborhood where it stood. What it symbolized was real estate, nothing more. If Peg Entwistle hadn’t been living in Beachwood Canyon in 1932, she would have chosen another spot from which to jump–or might not have jumped at all.
As for Peg’s drinking beforehand, it didn’t happen, not only because there were no legal alcohol or bars during the Depression but because no inebriate could have climbed Mt. Lee, let alone the ladder to the top of the H. In “Meg” this fiction does, however, give Rock Hudson something to do: in the role of bartender, he not only serves Meg a drink but tells her how to get to the Sign. The directions, it should be noted, are accurate.
For Peg Entwistle’s actual story, as well as photos and artifacts, here are links to my film, documentaries and book:
COVID19 Two-For-One Sale on DVDs
April 21, 2020 § Leave a comment
Curious about the documentaries that inspired this blog? Here’s a good chance to see them at a bargain price. Beginning today, each purchase of a full-length documentary on DVD will include a free companion documentary. Each order of “Under the Hollywood Sign” will come with “Peg Entwistle: The Life and Death of an Actress”, while each order of “Jim Thompson, Silk King, 2015 Edition” will come with “The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection.”
This offer does not apply to digital downloads and will end as soon as the lockdown ends in Los Angeles. To order, please go to: http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com/dvds/
Remembering Kate Johnson, Visual Artist, Teacher and Editor of All My Films
April 13, 2020 § Leave a comment
I first met Kate Johnson in 1999, shortly after I returned from Thailand with the raw footage for my first two documentaries–a suitcase full of BetaSP tapes that logged in at more than seventy hours. Documentaries are made in the editing room, and the time spent editing far exceeds the time spent shooting, writing and researching. Thus over the next sixteen years we spent countless days working side by side, and the resulting films were a collaborative effort. Weaving together interviews, footage, archival film and stills, music, sound effects and graphics is like making a giant tapestry, and Kate always kept track of the thousands of strands.
Kate edited both “Jim Thompson, Silk King” and its companion piece, “The Jim Thompson House and Art Collection.” Then came “Under the Hollywood Sign,” and its short feature, “Peg Entwistle’s Last Walk,” which I later spun off into a separate film. Our last project was the reissue of of “Jim Thompson, Silk King,” which by 2014 had to be remastered because the original software was obsolete. For the new version, I filled the gaps in the score with new music that Kate composed and performed; it complemented the Thai classical music seamlessly. I also made two new shorts as DVD extras: one on Jim Thompson’s pre-Thailand architectural career and the other on developments on his disappearance since the release of the original documentary in 2002.
Throughout our time together, Kate was an invaluable source of ideas and guidance, providing the critical eye I needed. The fact that she was the only editor I’ve worked with says a great deal about her immense talent and range. Since she did it all, I never needed a sound editor, graphic artist or visual effects person, and only once did I use an outside composer.
In addition to editing my work and that of others, Kate was a filmmaker in her own right, and in 2015 won an Emmy for “Mia: A Dancer’s Journey.” Somehow she also found time to be a professor of Digital Media at Otis College of Art and Design, passing on her skills to a new generation of visual artists.
Because most of what I do is solitary, I found in Kate Johnson the longest and most significant working relationship of my career. My struggle to accept her passing includes the stark realization that I will never have a comparable collaboration, either in importance or duration. Brilliant and unique, she was also, for me, irreplaceable.
Justice For the Bronson Canyon Murder Victim, Nearly Four Years Later
November 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
The victim was Hervey Coronado Medellin, 66, a retired airline worker who lived in Hollywood. Although the prime suspect was Medellin’s boyfriend, Gabriel Campos-Martinez, he wasn’t arrested until March of 2014, the same month human remains were found buried at the mouth of the Bronson Canyon Caves. Federal DNA tests, which were not returned until September of this year, showed the remains were Medellin’s.
On October 1st, Campos-Martinez was found guilty of first-degree murder. He faces a 25-year-life prison sentence and will be sentenced on November 16th.
Postscript: Gabriel Campos-Martinez received a sentence of 25 years to life.
https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/searching-for-body-parts-in-bronson-canyon-day-two/ https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/as-the-plot-thickens-hikers-return-to-bronson-canyon/ https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/authorities-identify-bronson-canyon-murder-victim/ https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/bronson-canyon-murder-victim-identified-by-police/
My Documentary Feature, “Under the Hollywood Sign,” Is Now Available On Demand
April 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
The documentary that inspired this blog is now available as a download, either for purchase ($18) or rent ($5). Under the Hollywood Sign explores the history and present-day life of Beachwood Canyon in historical pictures, new footage and interviews. Here’s the link:
To purchase a DVD, please go to: http://www.underthehollywoodsign.com
LaBonge Rides Again: His Plan to Run Vans Up Beachwood Drive to the Hollyridge Trail
August 27, 2013 § 2 Comments
The August 14 meeting with Councilman Tom LaBonge, in which Beachwood Canyon residents asked the City to temporarily close the trailhead at the end of Beachwood Drive, has yielded the opposite response:
Motion (LaBonge – O’Farrell) instructing the LADOT to report relative to the feasibility of implementing a transportation pilot program that ferries tourists and hikers in a vehicle (no larger than a 10 passenger van) to the Hollyridge trailhead at the end of Beachwood Drive or the Hollywood Sign in a safe and organized manner.
Oddly, LaBonge never mentioned this plan during the meeting, though surely it was on his mind. If implemented, Hollyridge Trail will not only remain open but receive even greater traffic than it does now. The vans are apparently slated to run every ten minutes, completing the transformation of Hollywoodland from a residential neighborhood to a tourist zone. For those who think it’s no big deal, the dead-end of Beachwood is a bottleneck with no place to turn around. Those who live there report constant problems from a steady stream of visitors, who vandalize property and smoke in a fire-prone area. A recent medical emergency involving two hikers on the trail had a delayed response because emergency vehicles couldn’t get through the crowds.
For those who wish to attend tomorrow’s meeting, here are the details:
Wednesday August 28, 2013
at 2 p.m.
TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE MEETING
City Hall Room 1010
Built on Granite: Hollywoodland’s Unshakable Foundations
November 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
–Did you feel the earthquake?
Just to the east, Bronson Canyon has a similar geologic makeup, with a dramatic difference: until 1929, the north end of the Canyon was a productive quarry called the Union Rock Company. Now popularly known as the Bat Cave because of its appearance in the old “Batman” TV show, the quarry supplied all the granite for Hollywoodland’s public retaining walls, stone gates and stairs, as well as the walls, chimneys and walkways of its houses.
My first inkling of my new home’s underpinnings came during escrow, when I met the engineer who supplied the requisite site report. “Because of where you are, you really don’t have to worry about movement,” he said. He wasn’t kidding. I later learned that in 1994, a post-Northridge Earthquake survey of Beachwood Canyon houses–which number in the hundreds–turned up no damage at all.
At the time of the Northridge Earthquake, I lived in Hancock Park, which lies on the floodplain of the Los Angeles River. Hancock Park stands on clay, and the neighborhood shook violently that night. Power lines, brick walls and chimneys fell. Although the extent of the structural damage to my house there wasn’t apparent at first, a low crack in my chimney called for it to be replaced; when it came down, the house started to collapse. Long-term termite damage was exacerbated by the quake, and the house had to be completely reframed. None of the work was covered by FEMA.
After that nightmare, I was happy to move to a neighborhood that is the geologic opposite of Hancock Park, a place so solid you can feel it underfoot. The photo–of a newly excavated hillside on Westshire Drive–shows the thick granite foundations on which Hollywoodland was built nearly ninety years ago.
No Laughing Matter: Heatstroke Fells Young Hikers Near the Hollywood Sign Today
August 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
When I heard sirens coming up Beachwood Drive this afternoon, I wondered if another fire had started near the Hollywood Sign. As it turns out, a busload of New Jersey teenagers–who for some reason were “dropped off” by their leader–had started hiking toward the Sign carrying little or no water, and probably no hats. When several collapsed from heat exposure, emergency vehicles were called to the scene. I’d love to know how much this wrong-headed experiment cost us taxpayers, and whether the supervisor of these kids can be prosecuted for endangering their safety.
Every time I think of heatstroke, I remember the September 2010 death of the film editor Sally Menke in Bronson Canyon. She collapsed while hiking with her dog in 113 degree heat; her body was found hours later, in a ravine below the trail to the Hollywood Sign. Being cinematically inclined, I also think of the wedding scene in “Out of Africa,” where Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) first encounters Felicity (Suzanna Hamilton), a Kenya-born tomboy modeled after the aviator Beryl Markham:
Felicity: I do like your dress. Not much of a hat, though.
Karen: It’s meant to be stunning.
Felicity: We die of heatstroke here.
We die of heatstroke here, too. As it happens, the climate of East Africa is very much like that of Southern California, with similarly strong sunlight. But while people in Africa are aware of the dangers of heat and know how to protect themselves, most Americans are woefully unprepared. No one should hike in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, or go without a hat and adequate water supply even in lower temperatures. With another month or more of hot weather to go, it’s up to all of us to use our heads.
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