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.
December 7, 2017 § 2 Comments
Waking to the news that the Sepulveda Pass was burning yesterday, I immediately thought of the last major wildfire to hit the area. On November 5th, 1961, the Bel Air Fire raced through the Hollywood Hills, burning 16,000 acres and destroying 484 houses. Though there were no fatalities, it was the largest fire to strike the City of Los Angeles, unrivaled until the current one began late Tuesday night.
The Bel Air and Skirball Fires began in similar conditions: fires from ignited brush were spread by Santa Ana winds at the end of an unusually long dry season. Without measurable precipitation or humidity, both catastrophes progressed quickly, flames racing from canyon to canyon along the ridge line of the Santa Monica mountains.
In Beachwood Canyon, the 1961 fire claimed 17 houses, including that of the writer Aldous Huxley and his wife Laura. When I interviewed Laura Archera Huxley in 2007, she vividly remembered being mesmerized by the flames near their house on Deronda Drive. Unable to grasp the urgency of the situation, she and Aldous waited too long to evacuate and lost nearly all their possessions as well as their home.
The Skirball Fire is being blown west instead of east, so Beachwood Canyon isn’t in danger from it. But bone dry conditions combined with tourists who smoke with impunity near the Hollywood Sign puts those of us who live here in constant jeopardy. When I learned that firefighters from our area were being deployed to fight the Skirball Fire, I started packing my bags.
Twenty-four hours later, the situation seems to be improving. But until this winter’s rains begin, fire danger remains, as does our fear. Visitors who ignore Beachwood Canyon’s No Smoking signs should know that all it takes is a single flick of a cigarette to destroy homes and lives. For those who don’t care, there’s a hefty fine for smoking. Let’s hope the City enforces it.
September 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
In the years since our interview, Hargobind married, closed his business and moved with his wife Dalveer to New York. Soon afterwards, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The last time I saw him was in 2015, during a visit to Los Angeles while he was in remission. More surgeries followed, and today he came to the end of his life after a brave two-and-a-half year battle.
Though he became a New Yorker, I will always think of Hargobind in Hollywoodland, a place he loved. In addition to local history, he learned about the wildlife and was able to identify birds by their calls. He led so many people up the Hollywoodland stairs that he grew noticeably thinner and more muscular, yet he was always respectful of us residents. I was lucky to be among his and Dalveer’s friends, a group that spans the world and today remembers him fondly.
January 3, 2017 § 1 Comment
Because I was out of town on New Year’s Day, I missed seeing the Hollywood Sign transformed to read “Hollyweed.” Nevertheless, I heard about it from neighbors as soon as I woke up, and shortly afterwards from every imaginable news outlet . While I was surprised that the prankster got away with it, the prank itself wasn’t new, as I knew from making my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign.”* On New Year’s Day, 1976, less than two years before the completion of the current Sign, a prankster named Daniel Finegood did exactly the same thing to the orignal Hollywood Sign. Here’s a photo:
At the time of the first prank, the Sign was a crumbling, unguarded relic that anyone willing to climb to could access. Today, the rebuilt Sign is fenced, alarmed and off-limits to visitors without official permits. (Disclosure: I have filmed there twice, both times with permission.) Because the Sign stands below a militarized emergency communications center, trespassers are subject to arrest–or so the City claims. That whoever who transformed the Sign was able to escape notice, let alone arrest, is proof that the Sign’s alarm system failed or went unheeded. One wonders whether terrorists have taken note.
The Hollyweed incident capped off a particularly frenetic holiday week, when thousands of tourists walking in the street (itself a crime) on the sidewalk-less part of Beachwood Drive endangered themselves and trapped residents in and out of their homes. Beyond the gridlock, there’s everything that comes with uncontrolled crowds: trash, public urination, defecation and sex, trespassing, illegal parking, drinking and drug use. The Hollyweed prank was the last straw–and also the event that exposed the lies and double-dealing of Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman David Ryu, who have long promised to enforce the law in Hollywoodland. They haven’t and they don’t, and now it’s indisputable.
*”Under the Hollywood Sign” is available on DVD and as a digital download from http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com
January 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
Of course I don’t speak for them; I never said I did. My intent in starting Under the Hollywood Sign was to promote my writing and documentaries and to write about what interested me–namely film–and I was happy to return to it.
Although I plan to keep my vow, today I’m making an exception for the Hollywood Reporter’s article. Senior writer Gary Baum has done a masterful job in exploring the Hollywoodland’s predicament as an accidental, out-of-control tourist destination, presenting its history and present-day circumstances in a thoughtful and balanced way. As one of the many residents he interviewed, I can attest to his thoroughness and hard work. Here’s the link: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/war-hollywood-sign-pits-wealthy-761385
August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
On Friday night, I looked north and to my surprise saw an unusual amount of cloud cover at the Hollywood Sign. It seemed to be a harbinger of better days to come, so I got my camera and took this photo.
June 10, 2014 § 2 Comments
As soon as I moved into my house in Hollywoodland in 2005, I started planting fruit trees. Over the years, I’ve planted Meyer lemons, a Bearss lime, a Valencia orange, two peaches (one of which died a sudden fungal death, and a recently planted O’Henry), a Green Gage plum and a Royal Blenheim apricot. Most of my trees have struggled in the rocky, arid soil, but the apricot–now in its fourth year–has produced superb fruit in exponential quantities. The photo above represents less than a third of the 2014 harvest, all of it picked today.
A look at Beachwood Canyon’s history proves my apricot tree is no anomaly. Before 1911, Beachwood Drive ended at what is now Graciosa Street. Beyond the paved road lay orchards that grew apricots. And beyond the apricot orchards was a single ranch, the future Hollywoodland.
May 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
Before anyone writes, “You knew the Sign was there when you moved here!,” or in the case of LA Curbed, “NIMBY,” let me say that before GPS became standard on cell phones, such emergencies rarely occurred. Moreover, this is the third incident in the same area during the past five days. And it’s only May 30th.
Here’s a recap:
1. Sunday, May 25th, 10:30pm: A woman walking her dog in the dark along the high wall at the dead-end of Mulholland Highway falls off, breaking her arm. She is rescued by the LAFD after a lengthy spate of sirens and helicopters. The dog is OK.
2. Monday, May 26th, 6:30pm: A car–apparently belonging to the owner of one of the tour bus companies–hits the fire hydrant near the same end of Mulholland Highway, sending a plume of water down Ledgewood. Fire trucks are called to stop the flooding. (This has happened several times before, yet no barrier has been erected to protect the hydrant.)
3. Friday, May 30th, 3pm: See above.
To those planning to visit Beachwood Canyon, those signs that say “no smoking” and “no trespassing” are there for good reason: your safety. And it’s really best to stay away from that hydrant.
May 19, 2014 § 1 Comment
After I posted about Saturday’s manure truck accident, my neighbor Christine Kent wrote, “what your photo doesn’t show is that if someone was in that car they would be seriously injured or dead…the driver side is completely crushed.” From her photo, it’s easy to see what would have happened if the parked vehicle hadn’t been empty.
She also suggested I go up to see the marks left behind from the car’s dragging, so late this afternoon I walked up and took these pictures. Not only did I find long drag marks but actual gouges from the impact of the overturned rig.
Walking north on Beachwood Drive is always a bit scary. The sidewalk ends soon after the intersection of Beachwood and Westshire, leaving no alternative to walking in the street. This is what throngs of hikers do, almost always several abreast, but even single file isn’t safe on such a narrow street. After I took my pictures, I walked south along the west side of the street, hugging the edge of the road as cars whizzed by. I was glad to get home uneventfully. Half an hour later I heard a loud bang, followed by sirens. I went out to find this scene:
Apparently only the driver of one of the cars was hurt, something of a miracle at a time when dog walkers and bicyclists are always on the street. If the Hollyridge Trailhead weren’t temporarily closed, there probably would have been a group of tourists walking where the accident took place. There’s no doubt there will be future accidents on Beachwood Drive–the road will always be narrow and winding, with too much vehicular traffic. But if the City reopens the Hollyridge Trailhead as planned, the next accident might have much graver consequences.
May 17, 2014 § 4 Comments
This morning a rig carrying a load of manure from Sunset Ranch overturned on North Beachwood Drive; fortunately, no one was buried by it. But on a normal Saturday, this might have been the outcome, as the street is always crowded with pedestrians headed toward the Hollyridge Trail.
The only reason pedestrians weren’t out in force today is that the Trail is closed due to the construction of a fence and gate. When completed, the gate will keep out cars (except for those going to the Ranch), but not pedestrians, despite the fact that they walk up in large groups, several abreast, on a street that lacks sidewalks, blocking cars and emergency vehicles.
In the interest of public safety, Hollywoodland residents have united in petitioning the City to close the Hollyridge Trailhead permanently, and the LAPD, LADOT and LAFD have concurred. Nevertheless, Rec and Parks Interim General Manager Mike Schull has ignored all recommendations and plans to reopen pedestrian access the Hollyridge Trail via Beachwood Drive as soon as the gate is completed. Councilman Tom LaBonge, after promising a 180-day closure of the trailhead for further study, has reneged on his promise and now agrees with Schull.
For those who believe the Hollyridge Trail has always open to hikers and their vehicles, a bit of history. The land where the Hollyridge Trail is located was originally part of the Hollywoodland Tract–private land. In 1944, Hollywoodland’s developers deeded the parcel, which includes the Hollywood Sign, to the City of Los Angeles, which annexed it to Griffith Park. Access to the parcel was supposed to be via Canyon Drive, not Beachwood Drive. The Hollyridge Trailhead and unpaved parking lot are a much more recent development, having been put in illegally by the City a dozen years ago.
Although Hollywood residents like to hike the Trail as much as visitors do, we are willing to forgo our own access in the interest of safety–not only our own but that of visitors, whose treatment for injuries and heat stroke has been needlessly delayed by the gridlock on Beachwood Drive. Another pressing concern is the increased fire risk brought into the Canyon by thousands of visitors a day, many of whom smoke with impunity. As we face the driest summer in Los Angeles’ history, the chances of Hollywoodland going up in flames increase with each new day. On a gridlocked street with no alternate access, all it would take is a single spark.
Update, April 13, 2017: The Beachwood Drive gate is now closed to pedestrian access