The Dream Factory.

A hundred years ago there were no movies and there was nothing in Hollywood. Today the film industry is worth billions of dollars and Hollywood is one of the most famous places on the planet. How did it happen?

In 1870, the governor of California and several friends were debating over drinks whether a galloping horse ever had all four feet off the ground. They asked a photographer to settle the argument by photographing a running horse. He positioned a number of cameras a short distance apart and attached a string to each, which a galloping horse would activate. The results showed that a horse indeed had all four feet off the ground at certain stages of his gallop and, perhaps more im-portantly, laid the foundations for the motion picture.

A century ago the area round what today is Hollywood was a farming region, it did not even become a town until 1903. In 1910, it gave up its municipal status and agreed to become part of Los Angeles so it could use that city's water-supply system. A year later, the first film studio was built there by the Nestor Company. The choice of that particular location was accidental, but as the studio's films became increasingly popular, other filmmakers began flocking to the area. Zukor, Selznick, Laemmle and Lasky as well as Warner (Warner Brothers), Goldwyn and Mayer (of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM fame) were among the early pioneers of the American film industry. In the decades that followed moviegoers the world over became familiar with such studios as Paramount, United Artists, RKO, Fox and Universal.

A national pastime is born

During the last decade of the nineteenth century, films were shown by peephole machines which only one person could watch at a time. By the early twentieth century, the film as we know it, shown in a cinema, had become a fact of life. The Great Train Robbery, filmed in 1903, was the first American picture that told a story. And it featured the same kind of chase that has been a Hollywood staple ever since.

The early films were rather primitive. Film directors would make the plot up as they went along, and the carpenters who built the sets often doubled as actors. The first films had no soundtrack, so actors relied on pantomime and brief written
dialogues were flashed on the screen at intervals. Background music reflecting the mood of what was happening on the screen was provided by a live pianist. But cinema-going had become a national pastime in many countries. Among the megastars of the day were British-born comedian Charlie Chaplin, Latin lover Rudolph Valentino and Polish-born vamp Pola Negri (Apolonia Chałupiec). Comedians Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle and the Keystone Cops kept cinema audiences in stitches. And youngsters in particular idolized William S. Hart, the first great cowboy star of the silent screen.

'Talkies' and Oscars

Sound films, popularly known as 'talkies', revolutionized the movie industry soon after they appeared in 1929. But few of the silent-film stars were able to make the transition to sound and a new generation of box-office attractions emerged. They included leading man Clark Gable, blond bombshell Jean Harlow, the perpetual villains Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson, the famous dancing couple Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the well-known comedy duo Laurel and Hardy and horror-film stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Our Gang comedies, showing the antics of a group of youngsters, were a favourite at Saturday matinées.

The advent of sound coincided with the tradition of presenting annual awards to outstanding film-industry personalities. The gold-plated statuettes, first awarded for the 1928-1929 season, got their name totally by accident. An office worker who saw the statuettes remarked that they looked 'like my Uncle Oscar'. The name stuck and has been used ever since.

A mecca for tourists and young hopefuls

Besides being the capital of the American movie and later television industry, Hollywood has long attracted throngs of tourists. Organized tours include visits to film studios and residential areas where the mansions of leading stars can be admired. Many visitors hope to get a glimpse of well-known stars along Sunset Boulevard, popularly known as The Strip, and for many seeing the footprints of famous celebrities outside Grohman's Chinese Theatre is an absolute 'must'.

Hollywood has also been a magnet for young people from all over the USA and places beyond, hoping to make it big in the world-famous 'dream factory'. Legends of past beauties discovered while sipping ice-cream sodas in a local drugstore have not lost their magic, but such rags-to-riches stories are very rare indeed. Although the vast majority of young hopefuls come away disappointed, Hollywood continues to attract huge numbers of people who believe that they have got what it takes to make it.

Rob Strybel