By Theda Kleinhans Reichman
Gregory Paul Williams’ “The Story of Hollywood “ has received well deserved praise. Film critic Leonard Maltin says, “This rich historical account gets my highest recommendation,” and Ed Leibowitz of Los Angeles Magazine describes the lavishly illustrated soft cover book as “Old Hollywood through a pair of fresh eyes.”
Now Williams’ book, widely considered the classic text on the topic, is available in a limited soft cover edition in the same size and format as the original hardcover 9 x 12 edition. The book, filled with over 800 vintage never-before-seen images from the author’s private collection, takes the reader from the city’s origins as a paradise where soft breezes gently wafted over lemon groves back in 1909 to the present day. In the early days people fought to keep the groves, in the 1990’s preservationists struggled to save the vintage buildings ofHollywood’s past from demolition. Sadly the “Brown Derby” and the Ambassador Hotel, marvelous architectural reminders of the old glory days ofHollywood, are gone–victims of the winds of change. But thanks to Williams’ carefully researched pictorial history we can relive those early days of Hollywood’s long, glitzy, bright and glamorous story–those days when movies went from silents to blockbusters and the “Hollywoodland” sign slimed down to just say Hollywood in big, bold letters on a hilltop above this fabled city..
Williams, who grew up underneath the flickering shadow of theHollywoodsign , has a love for this city whose name conjures up vision of movie making the world over. While Williams acknowledges thatNew Yorkis the theatrical hub of our nation,Hollywoodis synonymous for the magic of the movies. It was also the hub for radio’s golden days when everyone listened to fabulous shows like Lux Radio Theater.
Williams, a successful entertainer and puppeteer in film and television, has worked with Bob Baker and his Marionettes, crafted Gingerbread Puppets for a Katy Perry TV special and puppets for Cher‘s Las Vegas extravaganza. Before working in his North Hollywood studio his office was housed in theTaftBuildingat the corner ofHollywoodand Vine.
When he started to research the history of the building he discovered it was built in 1923 in only 65 days and had aHollywoodopening with celebrities in attendance. The tenants ranged from lawyers, doctors and dentists, one of whom made the dentures for a struggling actor named Clark Gable. Over the years it was also the home for Variety, The Catholic Motion Picture League, Famous Players, IATSE and Art Linkletter.
Williams told me his first book, just 50 pages, was more like a “plump pamphlet” that he published himself and sold out of a car. But once his curiosity was aroused he continued to write and collect photos, scouring libraries nationwide with the help of his father Dino Williams. Then, through a family friend, he was able to rescue the rare photo collection of a newspaper photographer whose photos and negatives had been saved from confiscation and stored in an attic for over 20 years. The photographer, Cliff Wesselmann, had spent years documentingHollywoodhistory, shooting movie premieres, capturing events like Shirley Temple saluting the Hollywood American legion. His photos make up 60 percent of the black and white pictures featured in the book.
As he became involved in preserving the history of Hollywood’s earliest glory days Williams realized that many of the wonderful old buildings of the era were being demolished so he became actively involved in preservation. As a result, he ended up saving two buildings. One was adjacent to the famed Capitol Records building. It dated back to the 1930s and was originally a high end dress designer’s shop on the first floor and a dance studio on the second floor where Shelly Winters learned to tap dance. He also saved the façade of the TAV theatre, home of the Merv Griffin Show. It was also the place where Irving Berlin had his West Coast music writing offices. While many landmarks have been lost, great buildings like the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Egyptian Theater and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre are examples of sensible ways to preserveHollywood’s architectural landmarks
This fact and photo filled book is divided into seven segments. It begins with the very first people in the Valley of the Cahuengas, then describes the area in the early 1900s. Another section is entitled “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” followed by “Radio Days.“ The final portion, “Lost Hollywood,“ talks about the old buildings, fighting blight and the efforts to preserve the city‘s architecture and history so that it will not “fade out.”
This visually rewarding treasure is available directly via Greenleaf Book Group (800-932-5420), your local bookstore and Amazon.com and at storyofhollywood.com.