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.
January 18, 2012 § 1 Comment
Investigators and search dogs combed Bronson Canyon today, finding a pair of hands and a pair of feet near the site of yesterday’s discovery of a severed head. According to a friend who tried to walk his dogs there this morning, Bronson Canyon Park–which includes the former quarry (aka “Bat Cave”) and trails leading to the Hollywood Sign–was closed to the public.
Police believe the murder was committed elsewhere and will use dental records to identify the victim. According to LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith, “There’s no other evidence that this is anything besides a single, individual isolated occurrence.”
It would be sad if Bronson Canyon became known for this macabre event. A a regular visitor, I intend to return for a hike as soon as I can. I hope others will do the same.
November 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
On Monday, I took a first-time visitor to Los Angeles from Hollywood to the Pacific, via Sunset Blvd. We wound up at a restaurant overlooking Santa Monica Beach, which was empty of people. “Where is everyone?” he asked. “Well, it’s winter,” I said. “But it feels like summer,” he said. No matter: despite its relatively balmy climate, Los Angeles does have a low season, and this is it.
That’s why November thru February is my favorite time of year. It’s not just that there are fewer tourists; there are fewer Angelenos, as hordes leave for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Some manage to stay away during the weeks between the holidays, while others clear out from mid-December until after Sundance.) For those of us who stay behind, there’s less traffic, more parking and more quiet. And in Hollywoodland, tourism that intermittently reaches manageable levels.
These photos were taken in the western part of Beachwood Canyon around 4pm yesterday. The recently cleared picture-posing area, which in summer held crowds of a hundred or more, was empty.
Across the road, the Lake Hollywood lookout had fewer than a dozen tourists.
On the blind curves of Mulholland Highway, there were no illegally stopped cars, only a couple of walkers and a dog. If not for the ubiquitous trash cans (the same ones that took out my passenger’s side mirror last spring as I dodged an oncoming car), my view of the Hollywood Sign would have been perfect.
October 25, 2011 § 3 Comments
The monument that is mentioned most frequently in conversations about the Hollywood Sign is the Eiffel Tower, and for good reason. Both became icons by accident, having been conceived as temporary structures, and grew to represent the cities in which they are located. Both were built during the Machine Age and project the dynamism of that era. Finally, both monuments are abstract symbols, allowing their admirers to imbue them with a variety of meanings. Just as the Hollywood Sign can symbolize the movie industry, fame, or its physical location, the Eiffel Tower can embody the Belle Epoque, the City of Paris or a triumph of engineering.
There are, however, important differences. While Gustave Eiffel’s iron masterpiece wasn’t supposed to be permanent, it certainly looks as if it were built for the ages. An engineering marvel, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world upon its completion in 1889. Its base, particularly the curved spans that support its legs, somehow manages to be both massive and delicate. To stand under it, as I did during a recent visit, is to see a breathtaking array of lacy patterns whose beauty belies their strength. As charming as the Tower is from a distance, it provides an even greater visual thrill a close range.
By contrast, in its original incarnation (1923-1978) the Hollywood Sign wasn’t engineered at all. The letters were anchored from behind by telephone poles, rather than bolted to a foundation. Unsurprisingly, over the years assorted letters were knocked down by windstorms and, in the case of the H, by an out-of-control car driven by the Sign’s caretaker, Albert Kothe. After the old Sign was torn down in 1978, its replacement–the present-day version–was skillfully engineered. Caissons were sunk into the bedrock, and the new corrugated steel letters were bolted to a heavy steel scaffolding. In its 33-year history, the current Sign has never moved, whether during earthquakes or windstorms, or required any repairs.
Perhaps because both my grandfathers were engineers, I have a great fondness for the back of the Hollywood Sign, where its support structure can be seen. The helicopter pilot on my aerial shoot told me that, to his knowledge, I was the only person who ever shot the back of the Sign. I also shot the back from the ground at close range, both on video and in still photos.
The front of the Sign is another story. At close range, its corrugated steel resembles nothing more than an industrial fence, and projects the same appeal. The Hollywood Sign can only be appreciated at a distance, where its 45-foot letters can be read.
Which brings me to another difference. The fact that the Hollywood Sign is composed of letters that make up a word sets it apart symbolically from the Eiffel Tower. Though both monuments represent modernity, the Sign’s “wordness” (to quote Leo Braudy) gives it an abstraction that goes beyond any meaning attributed to the Eiffel Tower. By virtue of its height, the Eiffel Tower projects a common message that the Hollywood Sign does not. Which, of course, explains the Sign’s appeal to tourists in search of a photo opportunity. Standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, you’re an ant–albeit one that has traveled to Paris. But in front of the blank white letters of the Hollywood Sign, it’s all about you, the potential Hollywood star.
September 6, 2011 § 3 Comments
For a monument popularly known as “our Eiffel Tower,” the Hollywood Sign is the object of a surprising amount of misinformation, as well as outright lies. The Internet, of course, has been a great transmitter of these untruths. I’m not just talking about random erroneous posts, such as some of those by viewers of my YouTube channel, but official sources. For example, Chris Baumgart, Chairman of the Hollywood Sign Trust, told me in our 2006 interview that the current Hollywood Sign was a replica of the old one in every aspect but one–the height of the letters, which he said were five feet shorter than the originals. Though it sounded logical, it wasn’t true. My later interview with Raiden Peterson, who supervised the Sign’s reconstruction for Pacific Outdoor Electric, confirmed that the new letters were exact replicas of the old, standing 45 feet. “I measured every piece,” Peterson said.
For the rest of this article, please see my new eBook, “Peg Entwistle and The Hollywood Sign,” which will be available from online booksellers in September 2013.
July 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
May 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
The Big Parade, a 2-day walking tour that begins downtown at Angels Flight and ends at the Hollywood Sign, will be held next weekend. For details and registration, go to http://www.bigparadela.com/route-tt-howto/route-tt-howto-2011-main.html
March 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
A few Sundays ago, my visiting sister–after countless cars roared by the house on their way towards the Sign–remarked, “I couldn’t care less about seeing the Hollywood Sign.” If only more people felt the same way.
Since the “Hollywood Sign Scenic View” signs came down, GPS-enabled gridlock has returned to a certain Hollywoodland street. For those who haven’t seen the YouTube video from last weekend, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC6tSAZTh1k
A couple of warm days have given us a taste of the chaos to come in tourist traffic. Yesterday at about 4:30pm, I was driving up Beachwood by the Glens when a woman in pink not only ran into traffic but zig-zagged through moving cars in both lanes, shrieking and laughing as she was photographed. I hit the horn and then the brakes, but she was still running around in the street as I passed. I can only assume this is a Sign-induced variation on Stendahl Syndrome, and I pray it’s not catching.
Later, after finishing a hike, I came upon the following shoots wrapping up on Mulholland Highway: a music video featuring a French male singer and two female back-ups, and one featuring a guy in what appeared to be a bear suit. Except perhaps for the bear suit, none of this was unusual. Earlier in the week, as I dodged tourists at the Lake Hollywood Lookout, I nearly ran over a photographer who was in the street shooting a model in a vintage convertible. The convertible blocked Mulholland Highway at the intersection of Canyon Lake Drive, creating a very dangerous situation for cars moving in both directions. Naturally, there was no one directing traffic. As none of these people pay fees of any kind–film crews of six or fewer people are exempt from permits, and still photography doesn’t require them–shoots like these go on every day.
Last but not least, someone is giving the Hollywood Sign the scholarly treatment–and explaining its magical powers of attraction. As three people, including one in Wisconsin, have emailed me about this lecture by Leo Braudy at the Architecture + Design Museum this afternoon, I feel compelled to attend:
The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon
Hollywood’s famous sign, constructed of massive white block letters set into a steep hillside, is an emblem of the movie capital it looms over and an international symbol of glamour and star power. To so many who see its image, the sign represents the earthly home of that otherwise ethereal world of fame, stardom and celebrity–the goal of American and worldwide aspiration to be in the limelight, to be, like the Hollywood sign itself, instantly recognizable. Leo Braudy is currently University Professor and Leo S. Bing Chair in English and American Literature at the University of Southern California and was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Saturday, March 12, 2011 – 5:00pm to 8:00pm
March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
From late 2006 until early 2009, I conducted interviews and shot footage for “Under the Hollywood Sign,” my documentary on the history and culture of Beachwood Canyon. Some of that footage showed the Hollywood Sign, whose history I traced from its beginnings as a billboard in 1923 to its rebuilding in 1978 and beyond. I also filmed, with the permission of the Hollywood Sign Trust, at the Sign itself. During the 2 1/2 years I worked on this project, I worried that my neighbors would object to the attention my work might bring to the area. But no one ever did–until last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association.
As the meeting ended, a woman approached me and said, “Hope, I’ve heard your video encourages people to climb to the Sign.” “That’s absolutely untrue,” I said, explaining that while I had documented people climbing to the Sign, I was a bystander who had nothing to do with their decision. (On one occasion, I showed up at a legal spot to shoot b-roll and was amazed to see three people at the base of the Sign, and a couple on their way up.) But what I was thinking was, if I had made a documentary about Afghanistan, would she accuse me of promoting warfare? And shouldn’t she have watched it before insinuating this?
I might have pointed out that “Under the Hollywood Sign,” which to date has not been broadcast, has been seen mostly by people who live in the neighborhood, and that it clearly states that climbing to the Sign is illegal. While additional viewers have seen my YouTube channel, my clips show up alongside many other people’s videos of the Hollywood Sign, including some that promote climbing to it.
Nevertheless, it’s true that in the 5 years I’ve lived in Hollywoodland, tourist traffic has increased noticeably. My opinion–shared by many–is that the ubiquity of GPS and the recent advent of small, open tour vans are the main causes. Previously, tourists without cars would take the Starlines trolley bus as far as Beachwood Village. Now they can take a van up the residential streets near the Sign where they stop for pictures–and create gridlock.
On Saturday, I recounted the incident to Jim Hollander, a Beachwood resident and journalist. He said, “”That happens to reporters all the time. They write about someone or something small and unknown, and then suddenly it’s a big deal, and people feel as though they have been put at a loss. These people must think documentaries are the devil’s work!” Coincidentally, that very day the Times ran an article about the problems of tourist traffic. Because it focuses on Beachwood Canyon, I’m hoping the Times will share in the blame. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-0305-tourbus-noise-20110305,0,6673141.story
December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
As I was frantically writing Christmas cards during today’s torrential rains, I suddenly realized the sun was out. Looking out the window, I was amazed to see a double rainbow over Mt. Lee, and went for my camera. It was only afterwards that I noticed the saucer-shaped object to the left. Although there have been many reports of UFOs by the Sign, I can attest that this one was a splotch on the glass.