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Arts

Minnesota Artist Bill Mack Has Original Hollywood Sign, Plans to Take the 'H' on Tour

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Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 10:15 AM

click to enlarge Our long-lost "H" is coming home.
  • Our long-lost "H" is coming home.
Thank god for nostalgic Hollywood fanboys in the Upper Midwest! As the Associated Press revealed last Wednesday, if it weren't for Minnesota artist and memorabilia hoarder Bill Mack, the original "Hollywoodland" sign, erected in 1923 and replaced in 1978, might have ended up a pile of scrap metal in a junkyard somewhere.

Mack tells LA Weekly that he purchased the 45-foot by 33-foot sign from a mysterious collector...

... about five years back. (He guesses that its previous owner contacted him after hearing that Mack had auctioned off the original Wizard of Oz cowardly lion suit on eBay for $700,000.)

But the sign, as any Hollywood historian can attest, was in a nasty state of disrepair.

The old telephone poles that had once propped it up were long gone, says Mack, leaving only a delicate patchwork of dinged-up sheet metal. Its pieces were riddled in holes, barely held together by "wire and screws and whatever else they could find," says Mack.

So he set about restoring what he sees as a highly symbolic gateway to half a century of Hollywood dreams.

click to enlarge Don't freak out: Not the original "H." - BILLMACK.COM
  • billmack.com
  • Don't freak out: Not the original "H."
And one day soon, he hopes to see it re-erected at the Academy Awards, so that a new generation of movie stars can "walk through it and touch it for that sparkle of good luck that it gave to Marilyn."

Here's how Mack revived the old junker: The artist says he built a "metal superstructure" beneath the antique metal facade, so it can be transported and will "last forever." He also constructed a metal and wooden base that can be filled with concrete, in order to ground the "H."

The other letters, being somewhat less iconic, will serve as a metal canvas for Mack's signature movie-star portraits. The process is almost a circle of life, he explains on his website:

"It is this metal that was reveared by all the young actors and actresses that climbed Mount Lee to touch it and have pictures taken with it for luck, and as a right of passage into their new professions. And, it is this metal that will bring life to the legendary images that Bill Mack paints on it."

But the "H," he assures us, will stay intact -- down to the "Linda I only have eyes for you" graffiti spray-painted onto the top corner.

Mack says it's the same "H" that Broadway actress Peg Entwistle allegedly jumped off when she couldn't get a role on the West Coast, and the same "H" that sign caretaker Albert Kothe mangled with his Ford Model A on a drunken drive back to his caretaker's shack, which was situated neatly behind the first "L."

History! (And here all the post-1978 sign has to show for notoriety is a severed head discovered by Maya Rudolph's friend's dog.)

Mack's masterpiece in restoration made its debut last Thursday at his studio in Bloomington. But in two to four weeks, the artist says he plans to pack up the sign and take it on a world tour.

"In a perfect world, I'd like everyone to see it," he says. "Essentially we want to create a Yellow Brick Road back to L.A."

Once it makes its big homecoming, the Minnesota resident hopes that a major Hollywood institution like Disneyland or Universal Studios or the Kodak Theatre (turned Dolby Theatre) might be interested in hosting the sign more permanently. Any takers?

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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