Looking back, early Hollywood seems to be a time and place that was filled with glamor. However, that was not always the case. It was a time period still rampant with racism and discrimination. Even the actors themselves were discriminated against for their occupation. For instance, the screenwriter Frances Marion came to Hollywood in 1912. While searching for an apartment many rental signs came with an extra message, “No Jews, actors or dogs allowed.” This memory, along with other tales of old Hollywood were recently documented by the film historian and writer Cari Beauchamp whose book, “My First Time in Hollywood: Stories From the Pioneers, Dreams, and Misfits Who Made the Movies,” is out now.
In her book, Beauchamp collected stories and memories through various autobiographies, speeches, and oral storytelling from different people that were in Hollywood at the time. Some people featured in the book include legendary actresses Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and Gloria Swanson and directors like Cecil B. DeMille and King Vidor. All of the individuals are telling memories or stories that surround their first introduction to the magical town of Hollywood as they embarked on pursuing their dream of filmmaking.
Beauchamp chose interviewees with a specific commonality in mind – she had her sights set on the experience of women, she also wanted to interview more crew than famous actors. By focusing on crew over actors, she was able to delve into a part of Hollywood that is given little attention, although the crew is responsible for making most of the movie magic actually happen. Some of her crew interviews include cinematographer Karl Brown, set decorator Winfrid Kay Thackrey one of the first women in that role, and Valeria Belletti secretary to the legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn.
In addition to marking unfair accounts of first breaking into Hollywood, the book also recalls the breathtaking scenery and architecture prominent in the town. For instance, actress Lillian Gish first arrived in town in 1913 when there were only 300,000 residents. She recalled the juxtaposition of the “wide boulevards, churches and Spanish-style houses,” and the “ocean and desert, snow-capped mountains and green valleys, Spanish missions and fruit farms.”
Others recalled that beauty even existed in the studio lots during that time. Legendary actress Mary Pickford came to Hollywood in 1910 and was truly a pioneer in the field. In her account she said, “Studios were all on open lots — roofless and without walls, which explains the origin of the terms ‘on the lot.’ Our studio consisted of an acre of ground, fenced in, and a large wooden platform hung with cotton shades that were pulled on wires overhead. On a windy day, our clothes and curtains on the set would flap loudly in the breeze.”
While editor Cari Beauchamp worked to put all of these various accounts into one cohesive document, she realized that each individual experience beautifully demonstrated the notion of community in Hollywood. Beauchamp was also amazed at the resilience of those who chased their dreams in Tinseltown, as they kept persevering even when being denied time and time again – this is one similarity that those in the film industry share even until today.
It was almost as though those who found their way to Hollywood were pulled there subconsciously, like a moth to a flame, no matter their age. The book also included accounts of an elderly French painter and designer named Maurice Leloir, he first set foot in Hollywood in his late 70’s to work on The Iron Mask in 1928. He had never before left his homeland of France and was so taken with Hollywood that he even wrote a novel about it. Others were much younger when they were pulled to the town, like actress Colleen Moore, who arrived in 1916. She seemed to echo the sentiments of all those who love Hollywood saying, “I knew this was my land. There was where I belonged.”