THE TRUTH ABOUT HOLLYWOOD
She is still seducing the naive and star-struck
I have heard a lot of people talk about Hollywood as if it were the city of golden opportunities - people that have never lived there themselves, or, if they have, have lived there for only a short time. Usually their statements are very defensive. It is time we got the real dope from those who know Tinsel Town best: the directors, actors, producers, writers and other movie people who have lived and worked there.
Here are some excerpts from an article from Leslie Halliwell's Filmgoers And Video Viewer's Companion under the listing "Hollywood." It contains quotes from some of the most famous names in movie history. Their comments, as well as Halliwell's own research, give great insight into the good, the bad and the ugly truth about Hollywood.
[Leslie Halliwell is probably the most distinguished name in film history. Alistair Cooke has called his Film Guide, "The one essential guide." He wrote a "Filmgoer's Companion," a "Film Guide," and a "Television Guide," among other things. There have been many updated editions of each of these. For those who would like to know more about Leslie Halliwell, go to his website:
Then check out all the listings of his books on Amazon.com (There are 92 entries just under "Halliwell Film" under "Books."):
His Wikipedia listing doesn't begin to cover his bibliography or career. Even his own web site lists only the UK editions of his guide. He is a phenomenal resource for anyone that loves film.
Italics have been added by me. - Waitsel]
The American film city, nominally a suburb of Los Angeles, was founded in 1912 when a number of independent producers headed west from New York to avoid the effects of a patents trust. The site was chosen because of its nearness to the Mexican border in case of trouble, and because the weather and location possibilities were excellent.
By 1913 Hollywood was established as the filmmaker's Mecca, and continued so for forty years. Several factors combined in the late forties to affect its unique concentration. Actors transformed themselves into independent producers and reduced the power of the 'front office'; stars now made the films they liked instead of the ones to which they were assigned. The consequent break-up of many big studios, which now simply sold production space to independent outfits, weakened continuity of product. Each production now had to start from scratch: there was no longer a training ground for new talent, nor was the old production gloss always in evidence.
The Communist witch hunt unfortunately drove many leading talents to Europe, and some found they preferred Shepperton or Cinecitta to California. The coming of CinemaScope, a device to halt the fall in box office returns which resulted from the beginning of commercial TV, meant that real locations were now necessary, as studio sets would show up on the screen. So began the world-wide trekking now evident in American production: generally speaking only routine product and TV episodes are made in the film city itself, but each distribution set-up will have up to a dozen films being made in variuos parts of the globe.
[At this point, Halliwell lists a host of books about Hollywood. - W]
The legendary film city - sometimes referred to as Sodom-by-the-Sea - seems far from glamorous to the casual visitor. Geographically, it is not a city at all but a mere suburban segment of a forty-mile-square jigsaw puzzle of dormitory areas which all run into each other. James Gleason, Dorothy Parker and several other people are credited with calling Los Angeles, "Seventy-two suburbs in search of a city." No matter who said it, it's still true.
L.A. also remains a supreme example of man's inhumanity to man, the promised land that only humans have polluted. Even before the glorious climate was filtered through several layers of smog, the values were all wrong. The residents were almost all on the run from somewhere else, and tended to idle their lives away under the sun, pursuing the buck when they could and taking the biggest for the best.
Ethel Barrymore's first impressions, in 1932, were vivid:
"The people are unreal. The flowers are unreal, they don't smell. The fruit is unreal, it doesn't taste of anything. The whole place is a glaring, gaudy, nightmarish set, built up in the desert."
The heat, the richness and the sweet smells are certainly enervating. Shirley Maclaine, hot from Broadway, saw the difference at once:
"The most important deals in the movie industry are finalized on the sun-drenched turf of golf courses or around turquoise swimming pools, where the smell of barbecue sauce is borne on gentle breezes and wafts over the stereo system of houses that people seldom leave."
Cedric Hardwicke felt the danger:
"God felt sorry for actors, so he gave them a place in the sun and a swimming pool. The price they had to pay was to surrender their talent."
There's always a price tag. Fred Allen knew it when he said:
"California is a great place... if you happen to be an orange."
Someone else called it 'Siberia with palms.' Raymond Chandler aptly summed up L.A as:
"A city with all the personality of a paper cup."
Joe Frisco thought of it as:
"The only town in the world where you can wake up in the morning and listen to the birds coughing in the trees."
Stephen Vincent Benet was even more picturesque:
"Of all the Christbitten places in the two hemispheres, this is the last curly kink in the pig's tail."
Hollywood is superior to other parts of L.A. only by virtue of the dusty hills into which it nestles on its northern side. The fact that most comments on it are cynical seems inevitable in an industrial area where the product is an intangible dream. Human beings must get injured in the process, their souls bruised by the struggle for fame, their bodies tossed onto the junk heap the minute they pass their prime.
Hollywood has always sought, and then misused, the services of great talent. In the early thirties so many New York actors and writer made the four-day train journey and shortly returned in dejection that a saying sprang up on Broadway:
"Never buy anything in Hollywood that you can't put on the Chief." [the name of a train - W]
Billie Burke, a longtime resident, declared that:
"To survive there, you need the ambition of a Latin-American revolutionary, the ego of a grand opera tenor, and the physical stamina of a cow pony."
Moss Hart called Beverly Hills:
"The most beautiful slave quarters in the world."
Nelson Algren had a brief but unhappy experience:
"I went out there for a thousand a week, and I worked Monday and got fired Wednesday. The fellow who hired me was out of town Tuesday."
Walter Pidgeon liked the system:
"It was like an expensive, beautifully-run fan club. You didn't need to carry money. Your face was your credit card - all over the world."
But Dorothy Parker saw its dangers:
"Hollywood money isn't money. It's congealed snow." [meaning, it doesn't last - W]
Hedda Hpper put it another way:
"Our town worships success, the bitch goddess whose smile hides a taste for blood."
John Huston saw through the illusion:
"Hollywood has always been a cage... a cage to catch our dreams."
George Jean Nathan gave the most all-embracing description:
"Ten million dollars worth of intricate and ingenious machinery functioning elaborately to put skin on baloney."
Oscar Levant was bitter:
"Strip the phony tinsel off Hollywood and you'll find the real tinsel underneath."
Wilson Mizner thought it:
"A trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat."
and varied this thought as:
"A sewer with service from the Ritz Carlton."
Dudley Field Malone found it:
A town where inferior people have a way of making superior people feel inferior."
Elinor Glyn in 1927 wondered:
"Where else in the world will you find a coloured cook bursting into the dining room to say, 'You folks better hustle to dinner if you don't want the stuff to get cold'?
H.L. Mencken marvelled at its reputation:
"Immorality? Oh, my God, Hollywood seemed to me to be one of the most respectable towns in America. Even Baltimore can't beat it."
Leo Rosten saw its lotus-land attraction:
"Fortunes were made overnight, and along with the speculators, the oil men and the real estate promoters, another group came to the promised land - the old, the sick and the middle-aged, who came not to woo Mammon but to sit out their savings in the sun and die in the shadow of an annuity and an orange tree."
Herman Weinber saw the danger:
"Whatever goes into the Hollywood grist mill, it comes out the same way. It is a meat-grinder that will take beef and suet, pheasant and turnips, attar of roses and limburger and turn it all into the same kind of hash that has served so many so well for so long."
To Ginger Rogers:
"Hollywood is like an empty wastebasket."
To John Schlessinger:
"An extraordinary kind of temporary place."
To Carrie Fisher:
"You can't find true affection in Hollywood because everyone does the fake affection so well."
To Sylvester Stallone:
"The only way to be a success in Hollywood is to be as obnoxious as the next guy."
To Rod Steiger:
"A community of lonely people searching for even the most basic kind of stimulation in their otherwise mundane lives."
To Groucho Marx:
"It provided the kind of luxury that exists today only for the sons of Latin-American dictators."
To Marilyn Monroe:
"A place where they pay you 50,000 dollars for a kiss and 50 cents for your soul."
To Rex Reed:
"A place where, if you don't have happiness, you send out for it."
Elinor Glyn was waspish about it:
"When I arrived, spittoons were still being placed in rows down the centre of a set which was supposed to be the baronial hall of an old English castle."
Lana Turner survived the dream:
"It was all beauty and it was all talent, and if you had it they protected you."
Josef Von Sternberg was downright cynical:
"You can seduce a man's wife there, rape his daughter and wipe your hands on his canary, but if you don't like his movie, you're dead."
[etc. - He continues to list quotes for several pages - W]
Can God use Hollywood? Can He turn her around? Of course. The question is, will He? And, why should He? I think Hollywood is serving its purpose as the platform for the World to sell its snake oils and empty dreams. God's Enemy has to have a stage, and I believe Hollywood is it. The tragedy to me is, all the Christians who are seduced by her. What seems painfully obvious to most of us is hidden to others. Annually, Christians make the trek out, believing they are embarking on the career of their dreams. Annually, those who went before them disappear and are never heard of again - professionally speaking. Oh, occasionally someone does "make it" if they're willing to sell their souls for 50 cents, as Marilyn so aptly put it.
But why? Why, when God has promised us the Universe, are Christians seduced by the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood - especially when they are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have gone before and have willingly told them that it is nothing but a pipe dream? Why? Is the golden carrot Hollywood dangles before us really that inviting? Ever bitten into a golden carrot? It breaks your teeth - and your heart.
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