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How California Became the Home of the Movie Industry

How California Became the Home of the Movie Industry

Hollywood is a name we associate with glamor, fame, A-list movie stardom, and a lot of other equally fabulous things. But then, do you know how it came to be?

Here’s a quick history of Hollywood that all SoCal home buyers should know.


Hurray for Hollywood

Hollywood was first established with a single hut, in 1853, on land just outside Los Angeles. By 1870, it had become a thriving community in its own right, with crops growing in abundance.

Hollywood was named for a ranch that stood in the original town and became a municipal city in 1903. The ranch was owned, and the town was named by Daeida Wilcox, the wife of the local property tycoon Harvey Henderson Wilcox. She chose the name after a Dutch settlement she had previously heard of, after striking up a conversation with a woman on a train whose own family home was named after it. The first official document that used the name was printed in 1887.


The movies came to town.

When filmmaking technology was new, most of the patents were owned by Thomas Edison, who invented moving pictures. He formed a company, the Motion Picture Patents Company, in 1908. The company included other patent holders such as Eastman Kodak, producer of the only legally available film stock. This allowed him to control who could make films, and prevent what they considered to be ‘unauthorized’ use of their equipment. If anyone infringed on these strict patents, the company could take legal action.

Because of these problems, many filmmakers decided to simply run away from the problem. They moved to the West Coast, specifically California, to put distance between themselves and Edison’s oppressive rules. California also has separate state laws that meant Edison’s patents didn’t apply.

One of the other reasons why Hollywood has become so central to the film industry is a little more straightforward – the weather! The year-round sunshine and warm temperatures mean filmmakers would never need to worry about shoots being rained off or snowed in!


Modern Hollywood

These days, Hollywood is absolutely the epicenter of the film business. The first company to make a move out West was Biograph, which arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1900s with a group of actors including Lillian Gish, Lionel Barrymore, and Mary Pickford. Biograph made the first official Hollywood movie, Old California, in 1910, and the first studio, The Nestor Company, was founded the following year by Al Christie, the manager of the filmmaker David Horsley. The Hollywood film industry was born!

Once the first studio had been built, they cropped up quickly all over the town. Cecil B De Mille’s studio was founded in 1913, and Charlie Chaplin’s was in 1917. By 1920, the four major film studios of the time (Paramount, Warner Bros, Columbia, and RKO) were all established. The booming film industry attracted other investments, too, and other huge buildings, hotels, and tourist attractions appeared within just a few years. By 1930, Hollywood was producing 600 films per year.

Of course, when films were first made, they had no sound. This era lasted until the late 1920s when ‘talkies’ became all the rage. After the advent of sound, the studio system seriously consolidated its power and created what was known as the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood, where major actors and actresses were contracted to only work with certain studios, or ‘loaned’ to competitors for huge sums of money. Stars who built their careers in this system included Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Mae West, Betty Grable, and John Wayne. The studios also owned movie theaters, giving them power over what was screened and when.

This era lasted until the late 1940s, but in 1948, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the studios could no longer own theaters and use those theaters to screen only their own movies. The restrictive contracts with actors and actresses ended soon after, and the ‘Golden Age’ was over. However, by the mid-1950s, the next big thing, television, had arrived, and the studios had another way to diversify their offer.

What about the famous sign? Erected in 1923 and originally spelling out the world ‘Hollywoodland,’ the sign was built as an advertisement for real estate but was abandoned, and its condition deteriorated. In 1943, the final four letters were removed, creating the ‘Hollywood’ we know today. Now, the sign is a protected landmark and can only be used in films with the express permission of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. You also aren’t allowed to climb it, although there’s a hiking route that goes pretty close if you’re feeling up for it.

After the sign came the stars. The first stars on what’s now the Walk of Fame were installed in 1956. Currently, there are well over 2000 stars, fixed permanently into the pavement, with an average of two more added every month.


Hollywood After the Golden Age

After the advent of television, TV studios, and music recording studios, like the movie studios before them, began springing up all over the place. The first TV movie was made in 1948, and the new TV studios expanded the geographic location of Hollywood.

In the half-century since, many TV and movie studios have relocated to other parts of Los Angeles, such as the aptly-named Studio City. The thirty-mile zone, or TMZ (also sometimes called the ‘studio zone’) is, as described, a thirty-mile area where most of America’s movie industry is now based. America has the biggest film industry in the world, and the industry brings in billions to the local economy every year. That’s why California is the fifth biggest economy in the entire world – bigger than whole countries!

In fact, the only major studio still located in Hollywood proper is Paramount. However, that doesn’t mean that Hollywood has lost its luster. It’s still the first name we think of when we think about movies, and it’s still synonymous with that industry. Some people even use the names ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘Hollywood’ interchangeably.



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