Aug. 26, 1923: “Hollywood” plays at Grauman’s Rialto.
More than a decade before the release of HOLLYWOOD BLVD., Paramount Pictures also released a film looking at the behind-the- scenes industry that was also populated with stars. The 1923 film HOLLYWOOD told a fictional story, but featured real locations like the Hollywood Bowl as well as a couple of studios. It also featured appearances by 87 stars.
Director James Cruze searched for an unknown, or as he told the Los Angeles Times in February 1923, “the luckiest girl in the world,” to play the young, naive girl from the Midwest freshly come to Hollywood. “It is a story of her fight to get in pictures. If I used a recognized star to play that part the public would not accept it as a point of realism as quickly as if I used a girl who was new to them.”
A reproduction poster for “Hollywood” for sale on EBay for $3.99.
There was a race between Paramount and Goldwyn to see who could release the first film to really focus on the motion picture industry, Paramount’s HOLLYWOOD or Goldwyn’s SOULS FOR SALE. As the Los Angeles Times stated in a March 27, 1923, story, “The race is due to the fact that both pictures are set in the motion-picture colony of Hollywood.” Both were racing because the first to the finish line would probably rake in greater box office profits, particularly since they featured the novelty of many stars appearing as themselves to provide atmosphere. The two studios kept quiet as to the status of films and possible release dates, in order not to tip off the other studio.
In an April 17, 1923, story in the Los Angeles Times, Paramount announced many of the cast, such as Agnes Ayres, Betty Compson, Thomas Meighan, Jack Holt, Nita Naldi, J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson, Mary Astor, Will Rogers, Ben Turpin, James Finlayson, as well as director Cruze and Cecil B. DeMille, who the Times claimed would be making his screen acting debut. Other stars who appeared included Baby Peggy, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, William S. Hart, Pola Negri, Lloyd Hamilton, and even Roscoe Arbuckle.
Motion Pictures News, in a July 14 review, called it outstanding and “refreshingly different.” They loved the fact that the stars didn’t act, but instead basically played themselves going about their lives. The magazine also lauded the inclusion of Arbuckle. “The introduction of the rotund Roscoe Arbuckle is the big surprise. It is probably a bit of diplomacy. If Roscoe gets a hand every time this picture is shown and the folks thus show that all is forgiven – we believe that it will not be long before the fat fun maker will be in our midst again.”
The New York Times loved the picture and stated in its Aug. 5 review that “it is all accomplished so cleverly and with such apparent good nature that neither the public nor the players could take any offense.” They also had a slightly different take on Arbuckle’s appearance. “Undoubtably ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle hoped to gain popular sympathy by consenting to being pictured as turned down at the casting director’s window…his appearance in this film makes one think that although he once had a great following, he deserves no pity and he is only being treated like thousands of other good folk who can’t find work. He lived in opulency and sowed a wild oat or two.”
In a story dated Aug. 23, the Los Angeles Times reported that theaters were full, especially with tourists, preventing residents from attending. They thought that audience’s hearts would go out to the heroine Angela, who cries on her grandfather’s shoulder after being in Los Angeles for two hours and hasn’t seen any stars, when in fact they’ve been all around her at the hotel, giving directions, etc. Writer Tom Geraghty claimed in a Sept. 9 story that all the stars who appeared were friends of his, and took just $7.50 a day each.
The film even parodied attempts at writing and selling scenarios, with one such title stating, “Selling a scenario is as easy as to mow a lawn with a safety razor.” The Times writer felt it was because there were so many people in Los Angeles who had experience in writing and attempting to sell scripts.
While the film was a huge success, director Cruze was experiencing some drama of his own as wife Marguerita Snow filed for divorce in October, claiming that he frequently beat her, even in public. Within a month, Cruze and actress Betty Compson announced their engagement.
HOLLYWOOD unfortunately is now considered lost, but is one of the films most highly sought after by film historians and buffs.