Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles

By Vincent Brook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
What Price Hollywood?

“Nobody dreamed that a day was close at hand,” Anita Loos recalled from her days as a silent-era screenwriter, “when that one word Hollywood would express the epitome of glamour, sex, and sin in their most delectable forms.”1 This tantalizing image not only enhanced the marketability of Hollywood’s films, film stars, and physical location; it all but ordained that the movie capital itself become the object of cinematic scrutiny. A few comedy shorts depicting Los Angeles as a prelapsarian “land of cinematic make-believe,” such as Mabel Normand’s Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913) and Charlie Chaplin’s A Film Johnnie and The Masquerader (both 1914), cropped up alongside Hollywood’s rise to prominence as the nation’s new production center.2 The plots of these early self-reflexive films, much as the boomtown boosterism of the late 1800s, Leo Braudy observes, “emphasized the movies as the potential realization of dreams of psychic as much as physical health in the land of perpetual sun. The performers may have been stars, but they were also in some way normal and accessible, just as Hollywood presented itself as a heightened mirror of normal America.”3

In the wake of the movie-star scandals of the late 1910s and early 1920s a series of films, such as Souls for Sale (1923), Hollywood (1923), Merton of the Movies (1924), and Ella Cinders (1927), “balanced a celebration of Hollywood’s romance with recognition of the potential pitfalls of its vanity and material wealth.”4 Cameo appearances by actual stars added “realistic” embellishment to several of these films, such as Hollywood and Show People (1928), the former featuring “some eighty familiar and not-so-familiar movie faces.”5 The effects of the Depression, on Hollywood and the country at large, necessarily rubbed off on the self-reflexive films of the 1930s, some of whose plots began to dwell on the industry’s seamier side. A newly introduced character contributed substantially to the gloomier tone: the has-been or creatively frustrated actor or director, who, while not negating the Hollywood aspirant’s glamorous rise to the top, cast a pall on it nevertheless.6

-83-

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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Prologue 1
  • Introduction 5
  • Part One - Original Si(G)N 23
  • Chapter 1 - The Ramona Myth 25
  • Chapter 2 - Ramona Revisited 43
  • Part Two - Si(G)N City 65
  • Chapter 3 - "City with Two Heads" 67
  • Chapter 4 - What Price Hollywood? 83
  • Part Three - L.a. Noir 103
  • Chapter 5 - Bright and Guilty Place 105
  • Chapter 6 - Neo-Noir 126
  • Part Four - Multicultural L.a 151
  • Chapter 7 - Latinos 153
  • Chapter 8 - Blacks 170
  • Chapter 9 - Lasians 189
  • Chapter 10 - Langlos and Lagbts 209
  • Conclusion 233
  • Notes 243
  • Index 281
  • About the Author 303
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