A thorough history of Hollywood. That is quite a mouthful, no? Ambitious to say the least for a seven part mini-series to claim that it is going to give you an entire history of something that is that big. While there are some holes or deficiencies, overall the series does a good job going era by era through Hollywood (or filmmaking even before Hollywood), films and the men behind the major studios, right up until 1969. A fascinating watch for film buffs and those interested in history in general.
Episode 1: Peepshow Pioneers (1889-1907): The 1880s and 90s were time of economic growth and waves of immigration in the United States. In 1888 Thomas Edison announced he would do for the eye what the phonograph did for the ear. He worked with W.K.L. Dixon to try to capture motion in pictures. George Easton invented the sensitive photographic celluloid. The Black Pariah became the first film studio.
In 1897 projected movies became all the rage in the U.S. American film makers were struggling to keep up with foreign competition. In 1900 Edwin Porter became the U.S.’s first filmmaker. He made the first films to tell stories. Films like “Life of the American Firefighter” and “The Great Train Robbery”.
Motion picture theatres began to spread in 1905. It cost 5 cents to get in and were called nickelodeons. Many of the movie moguls were immigrants.
Hungarian Adolph Zukor became the first president of Paramount. Four Warner brothers came from Poland and were entrepreneurs. They opened a studio bearing their name. William Fox, from Hungary, and his family came to New York. He was a difficult man and in 1905 he bought his first nickelodeon then headed his own studio. Louis B. Mayer, from Russia, and his family emigrated to Nova Scotia. He worked in scrap metal. Most of the moguls came to entertainment almost by accident.
In the early 1900s the heart of the movie business was in the New York area. Fort Lee (New Jersey) was the first Hollywood. As early as 1902 filmmakers began to move west to Los Angeles and Hollywood.
Early movies were one reel long – 8-12 minutes. Filmmaking was not glamorous and definitely not seen as an art form. Early directors made many films.
Episode 2: The Birth of Hollywood (1907-1920): The business of making movies was expanding fast. Zukor formed a production company called Famous Players. He wanted to make six feature length films per year. Samuel Goldwyn, a glove maker, decided to get into the movies. Goldwyn, Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille became partners with the aim of making films. They moved to Los Angeles.
In 1907 filmmakers began shooting films in California. DeMille filmed “The Squaw Man”, the first feature film made in Hollywood. Hollywood went on to become the capital of filmmaking.
During this time actors like Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin became stars. Westerns were popular. Movie goers wanted to know about the lives of the stars. America is officially movie crazy. Lavish movie theatres started being built.
Episode 3: The Dream Merchants (1920-1928): By the 1920s making movies was the fifth biggest business in the U.S. and it was going to get bigger.
Filmmaking became a business. It was money over art. It was a sin for a production, like DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”, to go over budget.
In 1919, Chaplin along with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks founded United Artists. Goldwyn and Mayer joined forces to form MGM Studios. Only two years after its founding it became the most profitable studio. It was a time of consolidation in the film world. The studio system comes to the forefront.
Rudolph Valentino, Lon Chaney, Buster Keaton, Gloria Swanson, and Greta Garbo were the era’s big stars. Fox, Paramount and Loews had the biggest theatre chains.
In 1923, an enormous sign was erected in the hills over Los Angeles. It said Hollywood. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Science was formed to keep out unions.
In a bit over twenty years a mass entertainment product was created. Studio profits soared. Movies then changed as they began to talk.
Episode 4: Brother, Can You Spare a Dream? (1929-1941): Silent films became outdated. “The Jazz Singer” was a landmark. The power of technology was transforming films.
The stock market crash of 1929 affected the studios. Fox was the first to fall. Profits fell.
In the 1930s, the movie industry became big business once again. It became corporations with boards.
Bing Crosby, The Marx Brothers, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Fred Astaire, Mae West, Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, and Katherine Hepburn were the era’s big stars.
Walt Disney became the master of animated films. He grew up poor but had a drive. In the 1930s Disney embraced Technicolor in his animation then fought to bring first feature-length animated film to screen.
Film changed during the Depression. “Gone With the Wind” went on to great success during that time. It was turbulent decade for Hollywood.
Episode 5: Warriors and Peacemakers (1941-1950): 1939 was a financial highpoint for Hollywood. The 40s was a decade of uncertainty.
Orson Welles arrived in Hollywood in 1939. In 1940, he wrote, acted in and directed “Citizen Kane”. He wanted to break out from under studio control and try something new. The moguls wanted to halt the release of his film. They saw it as an attack as it was a thinly veiled biography of William Hearst. Welles became the patron saint of director cinema, independent cinema and artistic cinema. It was the beginning of Welle’s long, frustrating career.
Anti-Semitism was on rise and that meant it was conflict filled time for the Jewish leaders of Hollywood. After America entered the war Hollywood’s contribution was entertainment, patriotism and propaganda.
Post-war Hollywood needed a new vision and new stars. Film noir came into being. Joan Crawford reinvented herself as a film noir heroine.
John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Betty Grable, Gregory Peck, and Mickey Rooney became stars. Moguls became even more powerful during these times. Power struggles began between stars and moguls. Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland fought the studios. De Havilland won and the power of the moguls was tempered.
Unions began to hurt the studios and moguls. Labour strikes occurred even at Disney Studios. Many felt that communism was behind this and Hollywood was investigated. An anti-trust suit was filed by the government against the studios. Studios could no longer control theatres or film distribution.
By the end of the 1940s MCA, led by Lew Wasserman, became a central power in Hollywood.
In the early 1950s Hollywood was feeling another threat. This time from television.
Episode 6: The Attack of the Small Screens (1950-1960): The changes in the U.S. in the 1950s were not helping the movie industry. The moguls detested television. Lucille Ball, Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason became big television stars. Due to television, New York once again became an entertainment capital. In the late 50s the studios learned how to deal with television and engaged in a partnership with it.
New technological developments came about like wide screens, cinemascope colour, 3D, and stereo sound.
Gene Kelly, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe became stars of the big screen. British born Alfred Hitchcock became a leading horror director.
During the 1950s agents became important players in Hollywood and moguls Fox, Mayer and Lasky all died.
Episode 7: Fade Out, Fade In (1960-1969): The power in Hollywood underwent a major realignment. It was a time of uncertainty. The Vietnam War threatened to tear apart the U.S. Film critics became very powerful. Many studios had to sell off their lots to keep afloat. Lew Wasserman was the last of the moguls. Studios were bought by large companies.
Special Features: Panel Discussions