Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hollywood Sign by Leo Braudy

   Before Hollywood became a place of red carpets, glitz, glamour, and celebrity sightings, it was a quiet little suburban town on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  It was marketed to home buyers as a "miniature Eden" and  "Utopian community" - a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life.  It's hard to imagine a quiet, serene version of Hollywood, California - a place that is now a cultural icon and landmark - but Leo Braudy's book takes us back in time to a forgotten era of the city's history.

   Once upon a time, around the turn of the 20th century, Hollywood was an anonymous dot on a California map without a movie star in sight.  In fact, Leo Braudy says "there was no premeditated effort to make Hollywood the center of the west coast film business, let alone the American film business generally" (p. 26).  But in 1911, the first movie production companies began opening in Hollywood and, well, the rest is history - a very fascinating and little known aspect of American history.

   An entire book about the history of a sign might sound excruciatingly boring, but I assure you, The Hollywood Sign is entertaining and very readable, because it's not just a book about a sign - it's about the origins of America's romance with fame, fortune, scandal, celebrity, and iconicism.  As Braudy says, "Hollywood is a complicated place," and it always has been.  From the early, quiet days of the "Hollywoodland" housing development to the modern American monument that it is today, Braudy's book charts the tumultuous and intense history of one of the most famous cities in the world.

Overall Rating: