You can't think about Hollywood without thinking of the Hollywood sign, those iconic hillside letters overlooking L.A. like a sentinel of cinema, and film historian Leo Braudy explores the reasons why in his new book The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon (Yale University Press). The sign's past is as checkered as any paparazzi-worthy celebrity: After its construction as a promotion for a never-completed real estate development called Hollywoodland in 1923, the sign eventually started falling apart, right before the very eyes of the city's residents below. In 1932, 24-year-old actress Peg Entwistle threw herself to her death from atop the H. In 1939, the sole caretaker of the sign's 4,000 light bulbs was dismissed after he drunk-drove into the H and knocked it over. In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rebuilt the sign, despite repeated calls for its demolition, though as the decades wore on the sign again wore down. In 1978, when the sign reached its apex of dilapidation, rock star Alice Cooper led a restoration campaign, garnering donations from a consortium including Hugh Hefner, Andy Williams and Gene Autry, and the sign, originally wood and metal, was re-created in steel.
Sun., April 17, 5 p.m., 2011
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