Manual City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s

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Of course, there is plenty of good gossip about the stars and shakers. Those who can never get enough of the vulgar, crass, vicious, larger-than-life people who too often made up the celluloid empire, who eat up scandal and outrageous idiocy, will have a field day. There's union organizing and union busting, gangsters and nearly illiterate moguls of immense clout, lackeys and press-agent madness in this engrossing survey.

Tinseltown, of course. Movie mavens will love this. Even the familiar stories delight on the retelling. Can there be someone who knows zilch about Hollywood's golden age? Well, here's the perfect remedy for such a lamentable deficiency. What's more, it's intelligent, superbly written and thoroughly enjoyable.

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CIty of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 's by Otto Friedrich, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Please try again. Be the first to discover new talent! No one in this book, save the European emigres who escaped Hitler and settled in Los Angeles and then were generally rebuffed by the film community, is granted a dram of humanity. Everyone is a buffoon or worse. Even the movies are treated with a kind of cool intellectual disdain; they are divertissements of a rather popular, trashy sort, but not art. M-G-M made ''rubbish.

It is surprising how thoroughly the literary imagination about Hollywood and moral condemnation of it merge, and more surprising still how these legislate our own feelings. We love the movies. It's just the idea of Hollywood we hate. Friedrich's Hollywood circus is gloriously sensationalistic and ridiculous. What it is not, I'm afraid, is gloriously complex - for which he, I imagine, would blame Hollywood itself. Though he sets as his objective ''a new effort to synthesize what has already been said, to combine, to interpret, to analyze, to understand,'' he doesn't seem to have the vision or the heart to shake the metaphor and see Hollywood anew.

A little revisionism might have even made this an extraordinary book, not only an extraordinarily readable one. But from Mr. Friedrich's lofty perch, Hollywood is still Tinseltown and Lotusland - which brings us back to where we started. Whatever the tragedy of Hollywood itself, the tragedy of Hollywood history, to paraphrase Fitzgerald, is that nothing in it bites very deep.

In ''City of Nets,'' Mr. Friedrich has written a terrifically entertaining farce. Better, at least more valuable, if he had written a tragedy. Hawks liked to take Faulkner on hunting expeditions, and when Clark Gable heard one day that the director was setting off for the Imperial Valley early the next morning, he asked to go along.

From the s, television became increasingly important. Hollywood a district of Los Angeles , the principal centre of the American film industry; the American film industry and the lifestyles of the people associated with it. In America, Hollywood is the promised land—a sun-kissed Mediterranean playground with the weather of a modern-day Eden.

For much of its history, Hollywood was the place where the old rules no longer applied. If one was beautiful enough, or talented enough, or simply talked a good game, one could cast off the Protestant work ethic like a ratty winter coat and join the gilded throngs of a new American aristocracy. Hollywood was enticement personified; anything and everything could be bought, nothing was out of reach. Money flowed like water from its jeweled grottoes, and sex was in all around, as palpable as the scent of eucalyptus wafting down through Benedict Canyon.

Through the twists and turns of its history, the California town named Hollywood has remained America's capital of glamour non pareil even after downtown Hollywood had become a sleazy mixture of tourist attractions and dilapidated office buildings, the legendary stars imbedded on Hollywood Boulevard covered in grime, and frequently, obscured by the bodies of the homeless.

CIty of Nets : A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's

In its Golden Age , Hollywood was a glamour factory, a metropolis of illusion. Enormous film studios lined its side streets, talent agencies occupied its office buildings, swank restaurants and nightclubs occupied its busy thoroughfares. It was the home of the stars, who built monuments to their image high above in the Hollywood hills, hard by the famous Hollywood sign, beckoning through the smog like a red dot on a map signifying, you are here. But where exactly was "here?

Tours for a huge fan of Golden Age Hollywood? - Los Angeles Forum

In part it had to do with the early economics of the film industry, in part with the weather. In , long before the film industry was a reality in Hollywood, let alone a going concern, a Kansas real estate tycoon named Horace Henderson Wilcox began mapping out the streets of a town built especially for stolid Midwesterners, sick of ice and snow. Being pious Midwesterners themselves, they banned saloons and offered land gratis to any church willing to locate there. The Wilcoxes' embryonic community was nestled at the foot of a ridge of gentle hills which sheltered the farms from the brutal desert winds, twelve miles from the Pacific Ocean.

It was an idyllic setting, and fittingly, Wilcox's homesick wife named the nascent settlement Hollywood after the country place of a family friend. Hollywood was not exactly an overnight success. In , future Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler and railroad tycoon General Moses Hazeltine Sherman formed a syndicate that managed to get the still vacant fields incorporated as an independent municipality—a prime example of the land speculation so typical of Los Angeles history up to the present day.

They built a trolley line from downtown the population at the time was a mere people and a thirty-three room Spanish-style hotel on as-yet-unpaved Hollywood Boulevard. To stimulate sales, Chandler and Co. In order to attract what they considered as solid citizens Midwestern farmers they continued in the pious tradition of the Wilcoxes: beside outlawing saloons, in the Hollywood Board of Trustees officially banned movie theaters, at which time there was not a one. The film industry came to Los Angeles in as the result of a fluke. Winter storms prompted William Selig of the Chicago-based Selig Studios to send his leading man west in search of an alternate location.

The filming of The Count of Monte Cristo , the first film shot in California, was completed in Laguna Beach not long after, and Selig was so taken by the area that he returned the following year, setting up shop in a converted Chinese laundry east of downtown. Soon film companies were flocking to Los Angeles.


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There were both financial and legal reasons for the move. Outdoor shoots could occur year round, and the Los Angeles basin afforded a wealth of natural scenery. The official histories explain this first flowering as a happy combination of sunshine, open spaces, and diverse settings: the Sahara, the Alps, and the South Seas could all be simulated within Los Angeles' city limits.

Independent film producers were then at war with the Edison syndicate, who, by enforcing patents on film and projection equipment, were set on milking the industry ad infinitum. In remote Los Angeles, collecting royalties would be no easy endeavor for the Edison bund. At first, the majority of studios settled in Edendale, a hilly and somewhat congested area just west of downtown. It wasn't until that the first film studio, the Nestor Film Company, established itself in Hollywood proper.

By a happy coincidence, the city of Los Angeles had subsumed Hollywood, rendering the prohibition against movie theaters null and void. By the s, film production was wholly centered in Hollywood, with a scattering of studios established to the north, in Burbank, or southwest in Culver City. The stars had also staked their claim to the geographic high-ground, moving from the downtown—the adjacent Silver Lake was the neighborhood of choice for the earliest silent stars—to the Hollywood Hills and just west to the lush canyons of Beverly Hills.

By some accounts most notably, Kenneth Anger 's lurid, sensationalistic bio-dissection, Hollywood Babylon , the silent era was a never-ending party of dope, booze, and aggressive promiscuity. In this innocent time, drugs were an acceptable subject for pictures. In , for instance, Douglas Fairbanks starred in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, appearing as Coke Ennyday, a somewhat besotted detective who availed himself liberally of "joy powder.

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And push they did, with tragic results. In , popular starlet Olive Thomas committed suicide in Paris, occasioned by her failure to procure heroin; in , comedian Fatty Arbuckle was arrested for the death of aspiring starlet Virginia Rappe during "rough sex. But the hemorrhaging had gone too far. In the wake of public outrage, the Hollywood production heads reluctantly appointed William H. Hays, a Republican functionary, to act as arbiter of the public morality.

Into the s, the notorious Hays Commission would pass judgment on all Hollywood product. Hays declared that the movies needed purifying, both in content and cast.


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To aid in the latter, he released a notorious black-list, the kiss of death for many a screen idol. Wallace Reid, one of Paramount's biggest stars, made the list he died in a sanitarium the following year , as did Juanita Hansen and Alma Rubens, both popular leading ladies, and both soon to be deceased. At the time, the s were considered a Golden Age in Hollywood, but in fact they were merely a holding pattern, killing time until the next big thing—sound—came along.

In short order talkies separated the wheat from the chaff.

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Actors who had succeeded on their looks, but were not trained in elocution or who had unfortunate speaking voices, or thick regional accents became also-rans, as irrelevant as yesterday's newspaper. Clara Bow, born and raised in Brooklyn, found her career effectively ended when she blew out the microphones on her first sound scene. One of Hollywood's most successful leading men, John Gilbert, found his career ruined after sound technicians neutered his tenor voice, and Marie Prevost's career was ruined by her thick Bronx accent; each had succumbed to alcoholism by the mids.

With the advent of sound, the movies—and Hollywood itself—entered into maturity. No longer a curiosity, movies, and moviemakers, were the unwitting producers of dreams, miners of the American unconscious. Apart from a few fallow periods—the early s, for instance—what the astute student of film lore observes is the complex inter-relationship between entertainment and the values of a people. And like the compartmentalized functions of the brain itself, the different studios each specialized in a particular sub-myth; Warner Brothers specialized in gangster films, the reptilian rear-brain ; Universal made its living off of horror films the unconscious ; MGM, rigorously wholesome light-hearted fare shades of the superego ; Columbia, wise-cracking screwball comedies the ego and Frank Capra pictures another example of the socializing super-ego.

Moviegoers could take their pick from a smorgasbord of the unconscious, and the relationship was reciprocal only insofar as a film that failed to tap into deep-seated archetypes was apt to sink from view in a matter of weeks. As the instrument of our unconscious desires, film stars took on a preternatural significance. They were demi-gods and goddesses, archetypes, and by the same token, repositories of innately American virtues and vices. And Hollywood itself was their charmed playland, the center of a galaxy of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs like a neon-lit Mount Olympus come to life in fact, a Hollywood housing development of the s was named Mount Olympus.

For a time, the places where film people staged their debauches became as well known as the stars that patronized them. Celebritydom was enjoyed in public, movie stars less cloistered than they are today. At lunch time, crowds would gather around Hollywood eateries in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a Cary Grant or a Marlene Dietrich. While the rest of the country struggled through the Depression, Hollywood wallowed in abundance, and far from taking umbrage with their antics, the public took their high-living as a reassuring sign that better times lay ahead.

Similarly, the nation's movie palaces acted as an extension of this mythology. If the studios were in the business of selling dreams, then the theaters with their slavish attention to detail augmented that feeling. The gilded, air-conditioned temples were calculated to awe, and for many, the very act of going to the movies was a panacea, where for thirty cents one could temporarily shut out the overwhelming tide of misery around them.

Although Hollywood was not alone in its luxurious theaters, those that lined Hollywood Boulevard became world famous, especially for the red-carpeted premieres they so frequently hosted. Graumann's Chinese Theater became something of a national landmark, for its premieres as well as the foot and hand prints embedded in fresh concrete around the box office. Even as Hollywood wallowed in its good fortune, its destruction was at hand. Within a decade, this illusion of omnipotence would prove to be just that, illusory. After two decades of staving off Justice Department anti-trust lawsuits, the moguls had relented and divested themselves of their theater holdings and ended their unreasonable, but lucrative, booking practices in effect, theater owners were forced to buy films in blocks, accepting many duds in order to book the one film they wanted.

In addition, the star-system the moguls had pinned their fortunes on had backfired with disastrous results. Enormous salaries were one thing, but when the stars began packaging their own deals, in effect usurping the role of the studios, the moguls could only watch in horror as the power they had so carefully nurtured slipped through their fingers. Now it was the actors, agents, and managers who called the shots. Television was a contributing factor to the demise of the studio system. The big studios ignored the threat, and only marginal companies like RKO realized a profit, hiring their facilities out to the upstart medium.

Through the s and early s, the studios watched their profits evaporate as they grew further out of touch with the post-war audience.