Hollywood at 100: From Beverly Hills to Rodeo Drive it's celebrity paradise
By Victoria Gooch
Last updated at 5:22 PM on 8th August 2010
Hooray for Hollywood - this year marks 100 years of creating fantasy worlds and lives. The billion-dollar industry was born among citrus groves and fields in 1910, when DW Griffiths shot the first Hollywood movie, In Old California, in what was then a quaint village.
Within less than a decade, the bucolic backwater had been transformed into the bustling epicentre of the new entertainment industry - and an age of opulence, decadence and movie stardom had arrived.
Alluring: The exclusive Beverly Hills Hotel
The seismic shift - an appropriate metaphor for a city built near the vast San Andreas Fault - from farmland to dreamland in those early days was astonishing as this new California witnessed its second goldrush. East coast filmmakers and actors headed West, lured by the promise of perfect lighting under dazzling cloudless skies, and - no less dazzling - a job.
Troupe actor Charlie Chaplin rapidly became the biggest star in the world and the first to have a million-dollar contract, while a young actress named Mary Pickford became the nation' s sweetheart.
In just a few years, the citrus groves had made way for studios such as Paramount (the only major movie studio still operating in Hollywood itself) and the sprawling Universal City, the first to recognise as far back as 1915 that filmmaking attracts tourists.
Lavish theatres such as Grauman's Egyptian, El Capitan and the Chinese were thrown up on Hollywood Boulevard to showcase these new works of art, and still do so today. Of course, the property boom began as extravagant houses were built, torn down, and rebuilt by stars who found themselves with unprecedented incomes and adulation.
Luxury: An extravagant home tucked away in Beverly Hills
Among the most famous residences of all is Pickfair, the mansion created in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who founded United Artists together with Griffiths and Chaplin that same year.
Hollywood's first golden couple drew stars to an area that was largely still fields of lima beans surrounding the luxurious, dusky-pink Beverly Hills Hotel. The city that grew around it soon became one of the most desirable areas to live for anyone connected with Hollywood.
Beverly Hills's 5.7 square miles of manicured perfection remains so sought after today, the only way to have a new home there is to demolish an old one. Anyone who's anyone has lived on the wide, curving streets that hug the hills, from Lucille Ball and Rudolph Valentino, to Russell Crowe and Robert Redford, in varying degrees of elegance and opulence. Pickfair may no longer exist (demolished by its new owners, of course, to much outcry) but you can still get an idea of what it was like to live - and be outrageously wealthy - in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
New neighbour: Star Cameron Diaz has just moved in
Perched on a hill above Beverly Hills is the opulent mock-Tudor Greystone Mansion, built in the Twenties by an oil baron and now a public park.
Although the house itself, complete with two-lane bowling alley, is now open to the public only on special occasions such as the Concours d'Elegance, it's well worth a trip to see what was, at the time of its construction, the most expensive home in California.
Today's most expensive home - in the entire US - is up for sale, if you've got some spare change. The Manor, legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling' s dwelling, is on the market at the bargain price of $150 million. Well, it does have 123 rooms.
You get to see it, and dozens of other homes of the rich and famous, on an I-know-I-shouldn't-but-it's-so-fascinating celebrity home tour. Several companies offer the chance for a bit of drive-by snooping, but it was Starline Tours that was the first to recognise there was gold in them there hills.
Back in 1935, movie mogul Sid Grauman gave his young chauffeur, Bud Delp, some advice: 'All those tourists who come to Grauman's Chinese Theatre are just dying for a chance to find their favourite movie stars.
'Some one who knows where they live could make a pretty penny - even in the Depression.'
The chauffeur set up a firm to take visitors from the theatre to the stars' mansions, and 75 years later, the canny scheme has lasted longer than some of the houses.
Cameron Diaz is just the latest celebrity to buy into Hollywood, for a mere £6.5 million.
Those who don't have a home in Beverly Hills or the Hollywood hills beyond often choose to stay in the city's finest hotels. The waiting list for a bungalow in the Beverly Hills Hotel (a snip at upwards of $1,000 a night) is a long and exclusive one, with royalty - Hollywood and European - enjoying the 12 acres of luscious troppical gardens and shaping the industry in the booths of the fabled Polo Lounge. Warren Beatty and Elvis both lived for a time in the nearby Beverly Wilshire, Richard Gere's residence in Pretty Woman, while those who prefer life away from the spotlight choose the views from the rooftop pool of the exquisitely elegant Peninsula Hotel or the new Montage Beverly Hills, designed to evoke those glamorous Twenties estates.
But when it comes to haute couture, there is only one place to go: Rodeo Drive, baby.
The likes of Prada, Chanel and Gucci sit cheek-implant-by-lipoed-jowl with Harry Winston and De Beers - so helpful to the stars nipping in to Beverly Hills on Oscars eve for an outfit and some bling. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself is but a stone's throw away on Wilshire Boulevard, the Academy Awards are held back in the heart of Old Hollywood, on Hollywood Boulevard.
Pool with a view: The Peninsula Beverly Hills is hangout for the stars
The first Oscars ceremony was held during a banquet in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel - just part of the evening's activities - but today's venue is across the street at the Kodak Theatre.
Adjacent to the Kodak is the wonderfully ostentatious Grauman's Chinese Theatre, where the hand and footprints of the famous have been captured in the forecourt ever since the eponymous Sid put his foot in wet concrete in 1927.
The enterprising showman never put a foot wrong; he had already built Hollywood's first movie palace (the Egyptian, further up the boulevard), which held Tinseltown's first premiere (the first of many Robin Hoods).
Both form part of the new Hollywood and Highland retail and leisure complex, designed to give a tired area a nip 'n' tuck.
The complex, in the shadow of the iconic Hollywood sign, fittingly acknowledges the area's history with a huge courtyard inspired by another DW Griffiths film, the 1916 epic Intolerance. You may feel a little intolerance yourself as you run the gauntlet of hawkers and lookalikes patrolling Grauman's forecourt and the 50-year-old Hollywood Walk of Fame beyond, hoping for a quick photo and fast buck.
Iconic: Rodeo Drive is the Hollywood home of haute couture
Now, where Marilyn Monroe and Shirley Temple were immortalised in concrete is both a temple to the past and a pest - but don't let that put you off.
Where else but Hollywood could you gaze out at the world's most famous hillside sign, vying with Cinderella, Edward Scissorhands and Zorro on a replica of an epic silent film set, right where it all began?
Now that's entertainment.
Air New Zealand flies from Heathrow to Los Angeles from £467 (0800 028 4149, airnewzealand.co.uk). The Beverly Hills Hotel (00 1 310 276 2251, beverlyhillshotel.com) has rooms from £300. Rooms at the Peninsula Beverly Hills from £220 (00 1 310 551 2888, peninsula.com). For more information, contact Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau (00 1 800 345 2210, beverlyhillsbehere.com)
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