los angeles

sbe True Hollywood Story: The Hollywood Sign

March 14, 2014
Written by: Foujan Volk
Editorial Director

Ahh, the glorious Hollywood sign – A Tinsel Town icon from Hollywood’s Golden Age that you’ll see in everything from blockbuster movies to the background of tourists’ photographs. Much like the starlets that reside at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, the sign has experienced a multitude of identity crises, facelifts, and changes throughout the years Read on to brush up on your LA trivia.

1) In the 1920s, the Hollywood sign was built to advertise real estate by local developers who were pioneering development in the area. The neighborhood that was once a hard sell would soon become the home to glitz, glamour, and scandal of the infamous movie biz.

2) The area was originally called “Hollywoodland” and the sign had those four extra letters until 1949. After dropping the last syllable, the sign would simply read, “Hollywood,” a name that has become synonymous with the entertainment industry and a neighborhood that we know and love so much.

3) Over 4,000 light bulbs powered the original sign that read “Hollywoodland” at the time. The bulbs were timed to blink so that the words “HOLLY”, “WOOD”, and “LAND” each lit up individually and then simultaneously. A feature that might be considered gaudy today was incredibly impressive and modern for the time. During the Great Depression, the sign which was once a beacon of light went dark, symbolic of the country’s descent into despair.

4) In January of 1976, an LA prankster celebrated the passing  of a more lax marijuana law in California by hanging curtains over the last two O’s in the sign, making it read “HOLLYWEED.” Puff, puff, pass.

5) The original Hollywood sign has shrunk over the years. Erected at fifty feet tall, it now stands at a slightly shorter 45 feet.

6) In a dark twist, the sign propelled a young starlet, Peg Entwistle, to fame and notoriety after she climbed atop the H and jumped to her death in 1983. Her suicide was tabloid fodder heard round the world.

7) A drunk driver crashed his car into the sign, destroying the letter H. A few years later, the sign was restored without the bulbs and without the “LAND”. Decades later the California weather got the best of the sign with one O falling off completely and another splintering off to resemble a lowercase U. A shadow of itself, the once brightly lit sign read “Hullywo_d” for the next 8 years.

8) The drunk driver that destroyed the letter H? None other than the sign’s official caretaker at the time, Albert Kothe. Destroying the sign that you’re paid to look after? Definitely grounds for termination.

9) Leave it to another Hollywood icon to save the LA landmark in its time of need. None other than playboy Hugh Hefner funded the preservation of the sign, saving it not once, but twice. The first time was in 1978 when Hefner was one of several generous celebrities (along with Gene Autry and Alice Cooper) to donate a sizable chunk of change to help restore it. In 2010, Hefner was at it again, donating the final $900,000 needed to preserve the land that the sign stands on, preventing the icon from being sold.

10) Security is notoriously tight around the Hollywood sign – but we bet you didn’t know the Department of Homeland Security was involved. That’s right, this Los Angeles icon has nearly as much security as Fort Knox, complete with razor wire, infrared technology, 24-hour monitoring, motion sensors, alarms and helicopter patrols to prevent vandalism and trespassing. And though it may be on our bucket list to sit inside of the ‘O’ (think Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in “Friends with Benefits”), we’ll just admire from afar for now.