Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vintage Views: Hollywood in the 1920s

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The peaceful reaches of Barcelona, Spain, our previous stop on Limbo’s video excursion through history, seem a world away--instead of merely half a world away--from bustling, bumptious Prohibition-era Hollywood, this week’s focus.

Over blues singer Victoria Spivey’s rendition of “Hollywood Stomp,” a popular tune of the early 20th century, we’re offered a mix of black-and-white newsreel footage introducing some of the largest studios and most sumptuous movie theaters, as well as other popular sites around Los Angeles, including the Hollywood Bowl, the Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard, and hectic Sunset Boulevard. Although the first motion picture made in the L.A. area was not actually shot in the formerly tranquil agricultural suburb of Hollywood, it certainly didn’t take long for that now-renowned neighborhood northwest of downtown to corner the film-production market. By the 1920s, it was awash in swank cars, spotlight-enhanced movie premieres, and celebrities made to believe that they could outshine the stars in the night sky.

I am a bit surprised not to see in these clips the Hollywood Sign (which at the time read “Hollywoodland”). But maybe in those days, not long after the sign had been erected as a real-estate promotion in 1923, it wasn’t considered the landmark that it is today.

From here, we head next to the ambitious and fast-expanding Cuban capital, Havana, in the 1930s.

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