April 28, 2010 § 1 Comment
Monday’s announcement from the Trust For Public Land–that Hugh Hefner had donated the final $900,000 needed to buy the Cahuenga Peak parcel–marks the publisher’s second time as savior of the Hollywood Sign. The first came in 1978, when he conceived the fundraising campaign to tear down and replace the original Hollywood Sign with the replica that stands today. Although a number of individuals and studios eventually contributed to the cause, the idea–as well as the initial donation–was entirely Hefner’s.
Two years ago, when I interviewed Hugh Hefner for my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign,” I asked whether any city officials had approached him about saving the Sign, which by the 1970s was in ruins. “No,” he said. “Nobody cared.” He went on to say, “Clearly the town had forgotten it, or it wouldn’t have been in such terrible disrepair.”
In June of 1978, a party at the Playboy Mansion kicked off the campaign. Within four months, Hefner had raised more than $200,000 for the new Sign. Unlike the original, it was anchored in bedrock and engineered to withstand wind and earthquakes. Work began on August 8th and was completed on October 30th, ahead of schedule and under budget. The new Hollywood Sign has held up beautifully, enduring the Northridge earthquake without damage and not budging in the three decades since its completion.
Our interview took place at the Playboy Mansion, a Holmby Hills estate that boasts no views beyond its own lush grounds. Given these surroundings, the fact that Hugh Hefner would care at all about the Hollywood Sign was striking to me. That he has continued to care in the 30 years since it was rebuilt seems proof of his remarkable generosity.
That day, Hugh Hefner spoke movingly of the Sign. “Hollywood is the city of dreams,” he said, “and the Hollywood Sign represents those dreams.”