Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.
This is episode number 45: Hollywood
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Language note: As you may know, Hollywood, California, is considered the film-making capital of the world. But ‘Hollywood’ can refer to the movie business in general, not just the town. Furthermore, films are also called ‘movies’ or ‘motion pictures’.
In 1886, H. J. Whitley founded Hollywood. It was about 12 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and very near the city of Los Angeles, often called L.A. Hollywood became part of L.A. in 1910.
Early in the 1900s, Thomas Edison held most of the patents for making motion pictures. His company was in New Jersey, on the East Coast. His company often stopped others from making movies. To escape this, filmmakers began moving west. Eventually, L.A. became the capital of the film industry.
Good weather, low land prices and nearby settings such as mountains and plains were also reasons Hollywood became the place where film companies, called studios, appeared. Nestor Studio, established in 1912, was the first one. Nestor produced the first Hollywood film using H. J. Whitley’s home as the set.
Early movies had no sound and are now called silent movies. They were shown in theaters with a live piano or organ player who provided a musical background to the film. By the 1930s all movies had sound and were called talking pictures, or talkies.
By the 1930s, there were only a few big film studios, such as MGM, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, RKO and 20th Century Fox. They had their own stages, costume departments and all the staff and equipment necessary to produce a movie. They even owned the theaters across the nation where their movies were shown. They employed actors who had contracts to work only for their studios, too.
However, a federal lawsuit in the 1930s forced the studios to break apart. Because of this and the growing popularity of television, many parts of the big film studios became separate companies. Today, most film production involves many independent companies that supply costumes, sets, etc., and actors are independent, too.
In 1927 film industry leaders formed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition to providing many benefits to filmmakers, each spring they present the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars. There is a story that one of the Academy staff said the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar, and that’s why the trophies are known as Oscars.
The area just north of Hollywood is called the Hollywood Hills. In 1923, a housing developer built large letters in the Hollywood Hills that spelled HOLLYWOODLAND to advertise a housing development. In 1949, the city of Hollywood made an agreement with L.A. to repair the aging sign. Part of the agreement said the sign would then spell HOLLYWOOD and refer to the city, not the housing development. Today, it’s a famous landmark in Hollywood.
Another famous Hollywood landmark is the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Built in 1927, it’s still a working movie theater, and many movie premieres are shown there. The Oscars were held here from 1944 – 1946.
Just outside the front door of the Chinese Theatre is another famous landmark, the Forecourt of the Stars. There you can see over 200 concrete slabs with imprints of movie stars’ hands, feet and signatures. There are also imprints of other things, such as Harry Potter’s wand and Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger’s hoofprint.
Just beyond the concrete slabs is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There, over 2,600 star shapes containing names of important Hollywood people are embedded in the sidewalk. The Walk of Fame spans 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. It’s a big honor to have a star there.
Next to the Chinese Theatre is the Dolby Theater, built in 2001. Live performances are presented here, not movies. It has one of the largest stages in the US and is designed for television shows. The Oscars have been presented here since it was built.
Of course these are just a few of the many famous landmarks in Hollywood and L.A. I personally have never been there. But I hope we all get a chance to visit and see some of them.
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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.