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Time of the sign: Hollywood landmark hits 100

Time of the sign: Hollywood landmark hits 100
December 9, 2023 Web Desk

HOLLYWOOD, United States (AFP) - The landmark word has loomed over Tinseltown since before movies started talking, becoming a symbol of the entire film industry.

For the first time in decades, the Hollywood sign -- at least a little bit of it -- was illuminated on Friday to celebrate its 100th birthday. The nine-letter sign is officially a centenarian but, as with many an aging grande dame in Hollywood, looks as fresh as ever.

Like the actors and actresses it looks down on, the sign has been in its fair share of films. Directors who want to let their audience know a movie is set in Los Angeles have an easy establishing shot, while a filmmaker who wants to signify the destruction of America can set their special effects team loose on the sign.

It has also seen real life tragedy: British-born actress Peg Entwistle took her own life by plunging from the top of the letter H in 1932.

Hooray for... realtors?

The sign, a must-see for any film buff or tourist visiting Los Angeles, initially read "HOLLYWOODLAND", having been constructed in 1923 as an advertisement for an upscale real estate development. During its first decade, it was routinely lit by thousands of bulbs, with "HOLLY", "WOOD" and "LAND" illuminated in turn as a beacon of the desireable homes on offer below.

By the 1940s, the letters were looking a little ragged. The Los Angeles Times reported vandals or windstorms had damaged the H, before locals decided they had had enough and asked the city to tear it down.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, recognising that they had a blockbuster trademark on their hands, stepped in and offered to fix it up. But the last four letters had to go -- the sign was to represent the whole town, not just a fashionable property patch, and by 1949, the newly restored sign simply read "HOLLYWOOD".

Mr Nice Guy 

Three decades of baking sun and occasional storms took their toll on the 50-foot (15-meter)-high wooden letters. Eventually, the first O reduced to a lower case "u" and the final O toppled down completely. Enter one Alice Cooper -- the chicken-bothering father of shock rock -- who led a campaign to restore the sign to its former glory, donating $28,000.

Eight others, including actor Gene Autry, Playboy founder Hugh Heffner and singer Andy Williams, kicked in the same, each sponsoring a letter. (Cooper is the first O, Autry has the second L, Heffner got the Y and Williams snagged the W). The replacement letters are a tad more compact, just 44 feet high, but made of steel, although they remain characteristically off-kilter.

The Hollywood Sign Trust said last year the repainting it carried out in time for the 100th anniversary used almost 400 gallons (1,500 liters) of paint and primer. Friday night's lighting was purely symbolic, Hollywood Sign Trust chairman Jeff Zarrinnam said, with just a little stretch of the second L cutting through the gloom.

Unlike most global landmarks, the Hollywood sign is not usually lit up at night, partially because of objections from people who live nearby. But, said Zarrinnam, it might start shining again. "What we are working on is a plan to hopefully light the sign on very special occasions," he said.

"We have some very important sporting events that are coming to Los Angeles like the FIFA World Cup, we have the Olympics coming (in 2028) so those are the types of events that we would probably want to light the Hollywood sign in the future."