The Hollywood sign graces the slopes of Mount Lee in Los Angeles, a quiet sentinel presiding over the birth and growth of cinema, television and music. She observed the golden age of film— the age of silent films, black and whites and the transition to color. She has been lovingly touched and gazed upon by the likes of Fred Astaire, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra. She is without doubt one of the most recognized global icons along with the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty. She represents the American dream and the hope, glamour and success that goes with it. She is Hollywood’s first lady.
It’s not commonly known, but the original Hollywood Sign was built in 1923 as an advertisement for a real estate development called HOLLYWOODLAND. The sign was only meant to stand for 18 months. The builders erecting the sign from metal and telephone poles could not possibly have known how important the sign would become. The part that said “LAND” was eventually removed and the Holywood sign as we know it today was born. She stood proudly for almost 60 years before years of exposure to the elements took their toll.
By the mid 1970’s, the sign was in a state of extreme disrepair and an effort, spearheaded by Hugh Hefner, was undertaken to replace the sign with a sturdier version supported by steel poles. Hollywood rallied to save their beloved sign with the following nine celebrities and notables sponsoring $27,777 per letter at a fundraiser hosted at the Playboy mansion:
H: Hugh Hefner (Founder of Playboy)
O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer)
L: Les Kelley (Founder of the Kelley blue Book)
L: Gene Autry (Actor)
Y: Terrence Donnelly (Publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper)
W: Andy Williams (Singer)
O: Warner Brothers Records
O: Alice Cooper (Singer, donated in the memory of his close friend Groucho Marx))
D: Dennis Lidtke (Businessman, donated in the name of Matthew Williams)
When the new sign was unveiled in November 1978, the original grand old lady — having surveyed Hollywood’s trials and triumphs — was to be scrapped. Through certain twists of fate, she escaped this undistinguished end. Her metal, imbued with the magic and mystique of sixty years of Hollywood, was quietly tucked away in storage until 2017, when Hollywood Watch Company purchased the remaining available metal.
Today, her legacy continues with pieces of the treated metal from the original sign being integrated into Swiss-made watches for cinema enthusiasts around the world who will cherish owning a piece of Hollywood history.