Two Hollywood Signs, Old and New

November 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Hollywood Sign As It Looked on August 7, 1978/Both Photos Courtesy Raiden Peterson

The Hollywood Sign As It Looked on August 7, 1978/Both Photos Courtesy Raiden Peterson

The New Hollywood Sign, Circa November 1978

The New Hollywood Sign, Circa November 1978

I’ve been immersed in a weeks-long repainting of my house’s interior, an ordeal I wouldn’t recommend if it weren’t necessary. Tomorrow the final phase begins: the repainting of the woodwork in my living room/office, so today I began the arduous process of clearing out all the cabinets. That’s when I found these two photos which were sent to me by Raiden Peterson, who I interviewed in 2007 my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign . (The documentary is available for sale on DVD at and as a download for sale or rent from

Raiden Peterson supervised the tear-down and reconstruction of the Hollywood Sign for Pacific Outdoor Electric, and documented his work throughout the process. The first photo was taken on August 7, 1978, the day before demolition began. The second was taken soon after the new Sign was completed on October 30, 1978. Thirty-six years later, many–perhaps the majority–of the visitors to the Hollywood Sign have no idea that the current Sign is not the original. These photos tell the story.

The Hollywood Sign’s Renovation, Week Six: Painting the Y

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Hollywood Sign at Midday, 11/9/12/Hope Anderson Productions

Yesterday it rained; today, along with sunshine, there is a beautiful bank of clouds behind the Hollywood Sign instead of the usual cloudless blue sky. The painters have reached the Y which, some will remember, is the letter Hugh Hefner chose to pay for when Sign was rebuilt in 1978.

Without Hugh Hefner’s fundraising efforts, the Hollywood Sign would not exist today. In 1978, the original 1923 Sign was in ruins, and no one else seemed particularly concerned about its fate. It took someone of Hefner’s stature to draw attention to the eyesore on Mt. Lee and do something about it.

In the decades since, the Hollywood Sign has become a huge tourist draw, creating headaches for those of us who live near it. Nevertheless, it would be hard to find anyone here who doesn’t enjoy looking at the Sign. Whether we regard it as a historical monument, a mascot and or a navigational device, Hollywoodlanders love the Hollywood Sign as much as tourists do, and–because it began as our neighborhood’s billboard–perhaps a little more.

Remembering the Original Hollywood Sign at Its 1970s Worst, in “Argo” and Reality

November 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Original Hollywood Sign in the 1970s/Collection of Bruce Torrence

There’s a great moment in “Argo” that shows the Hollywood Sign as it looked just before it was demolished and rebuilt: various letters have collapsed, and those that are still standing look as if they might crumble away at any moment. When I saw the film last week, audience members laughed at the shot, though I don’t know whether in shock or recognition.

It wasn’t until days later that it occurred to me that the director, Ben Affleck, took significant liberties with the timeline. At the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis, which began on November 4, 1979, the Hollywood Sign–the same one being repainted today–was not only rebuilt but had stood for over a year. The old 1923 Sign began to be dismantled on August 8th, 1978. The new Sign was completed on October 30th, 1978.

What makes the discrepancy odd is that Affleck has taken enormous pains to match, in shot after shot, his film with archival footage of the Iranian Revolution and the Hostage Crisis. In the end credits, stills from the movie appear alongside archival pictures of the hostages, the American Embassy and Tehran street scenes. The resemblances are astonishing.

Naturally, a shot of the brand-new 1979 Hollywood Sign wouldn’t have had the visual impact of its pre-1978 decrepitude. But it seems strange that Affleck’s talent for cinematic verisimilitude didn’t extend to the Sign in this otherwise perfect time capsule.

Postscript: After this piece was posted, a new Awards season trailer for “Argo” turned up on TV. It opens with a helicopter shot of the Hollywood Sign as it actually was in ’79–newly built and freshly painted. Coincidence?

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