As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 383 - The Entertainment and Theme Park Industries

Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

photo of Hollywood

Introduction:  Last week we learned a great deal about the growth of Southern California, and Los Angeles in particular. No discussion of Southern California is complete without an understanding Hollywood and how Southern California became the movie capital of the world. But Hollywood is not just a place, it is also an industry. Thus, today we are going to closely examine the growth of California's entertainment and theme park industries and how both contributed to the idea of the California Dream..

Discussion Goals:.

  1. To define Hollywood - what and where is it?
  2. To understand how and why Hollywood became the film making capital of the United States
  3. To gain a chronological understanding of various stages during which the motion picture industry became concentrated first in Hollywood, then in Southern California, and finally in Northern California.
  4. To examine California's commercial tourist industry in terms of theme parks.

Goal #1: To define Hollywood - what and where is it?

Hollywood photo

When most people think about Hollywood, they don’t imagine it as a geographical place, but rather as the home to thousands of movies that have shaped our perception of the world around us.  Indeed, this is what Hollywood means to most people - Hooray for Hollywood at

Hollywood, however, is a distinct geographical region and has a history all its own.

As California historian Kevin Starr writes in Inventing the Dream,

And it is THIS Hollywood in which we are most interested. Starr argues that the Califiornia Dream was "invented" through the motion pictures of Hollywood. He wrote that “This capacity for story and dreams, for which it was uniquely suited, fixed film at the center of America’s inner life, and out of this synergy between technology and dream would soon emerge Hollywood" (p. 287) In Chapter 9, "Stories and Dreams: The Movies Come to Southern California," he makes the following points:

Echoing Starr, historian Carey McWilliams writes that “Hollywood … exists only as a state of mind ... ”  (Southern California: An Island on the Land, p. 330). Map of Hollywood

But just where is this Hollywood that arose to accommodate the movie industry? Technically, it extended from the summit of the Hollywood hills on the north to Beverly Boulevard on the south; from Hoover Street on the east, to Doheny Drive to the west.  This was Hollywood the suburb and business district – part of the larger city of Los Angeles.

Hollywood, then, is a distinct community – not a geographically-identified community but rather an industrial community.  Indeed, it is the concentration of the motion picture industry in Los Angeles that gives Hollywood its real identity. Assembly Bill 588 was approved by Governor Schwartzeneger on August 28, 2006 and delineated Hollywood’s official borders as the area east of West Hollywood, south of Mulholland Drive, Laurel Canyon, Cahuenga Blvd, and Barham Blvd. and the cities Glendale and Burbank, north of Melrose Avenue, and west of the Golden State Freeway. This includes all of Griffith Park and Los Feliz – two areas that were hitherto considered separate from Hollywood.

So how and why did film makers come to Hollywood and in so doing, change the nature of the growing community and invent the California Dream?

Goal #2: To understand how and why Hollywood became the film making capital of the United States

By the early 1890s, Thomas Edison had begun to develop some early models of moving pictures. By 1903,the Edison Company - which had learned much about projection from the French Lumiere brothers who developed the projection Photo of Edison with film equipmentdevice - produced and directed two films - The Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery. It soon became clear that films telling stories could make money, and so a new, decentralized industry grew up as independent filmmakers began shooting films in Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York. However, because many of these films were shot outside, bad weather often prohibited filmmakers from completing their films.

At the same time that weather began to impede the new move making industry, another problem arose.

In response to this growing monopoly, independent filmmakers began to move to Southern California, not just to avoid the taxes and distribution costs imposed by the MPPC, but also to take advantage of shooting outdoors in the great weather. Southern California was the logical location not only because of its weather, but also because it had no legal structure to challenge film makers efforts to avoid taxes. Additionally, Southern California was close to Mexico where these independent film makers could quickly move their businesses across the border in case MPPC attorneys and collectors came looking for their fees. Thus, Hollywood became the filmmaking center of the world largely because those in the growing movie industry did not want to pay taxes to those trying to regulate the quickly expanding industry.

But there are at least two other reasons why filmmakers came to Southern California:

Goal #3: To gain a chronological understanding of various stages during which the motion picture industry became concentrated in Hollywood

Stage One, 1896 to 1908 - Movies began as a novelty and consisted of 7-8 minute simple stories with casts of anonymous players. Most movies emphasized stunts, chases, and train crashes.Picture of Edison's VItascope

1896 - Thomas Edison and Thomas Armat unveiled the Vitascope and presented the first motion picture on a public screen in the United States.

1906 - Hundreds of little theaters called nickelodeons open across the nation.

1907 - The first full-length motion picture was finished in Los Angeles - The Count of Monte Cristo by William Selig. The film began shooting in Chicago but moved to L.A. to take advantage of shooting outdoors in good weather.

1908 - Selig made the first movie that was completely filmed in L.A. - In the Sultan's Power. The production was shot in a vacant lot next to a Chinese laundry located at Seventh and Olive Streets in Los Angeles.

Stage Two, 1909 to 1919 - Movie makers began moving to Southern California where they produced movies that emphasized stories and dreams.

picture of nestor studio in 1913

1910 - In the first three months of the year, D. W. Griffith made 21 films utilizing Southern California locations. One of his most well known was Ramona.For the full plot of Ramona, see For a clip of the movie, see

1911 - The first production company to be located specifically in Hollywood - Nestor Film Company - opened in an abandoned tavern and eventually was incorporated into Universal Studios. Soon, neighbors erected signs reading "No dogs, no actors."

1913 - Cecil B. de Mille made the first Hollywood movie, Squaw Man - which symbollically marked the founding of Hollywood as the center of the nation's motion picture industry. He soon developed the "director's uniform" seen below - leather boots, holster and pistol, military shirt, and western hat. Cecil B. DeMille directing a film

1915 - Carl Laemmle opened Universal Film Manufacturing Company, the world's largest motion picture production facility, in Hollywood near the Cahuenga Pass. He charged the public 25 cents to watch films being shot and included a boxed lunch.

1915 - D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation created a sensation while the film's story justified racial segregation and glorified the Ku Klux Klan.

1916 - The Jesse L. Lasky Company, a Hollywood film production house, merged with Adolph Zukor’s New York-based Famous Players to distribute films under Paramount Pictures.

1918 - Brothers Sam, Jack, Harry and Albert Warner - immigrants from Poland via Pennsylvania - opened Warner Bros. Studios on Sunset Boulevard.

1919 - Hollywood forced the City of Los Angeles to enact zoning ordinances restricting motion picture studios to seven proscribed areas.

Stage Three, 1920 to 1948 - Movie making became consolidated under the control of eight major movie studios, most of which achieved vertical integration of the industry. Movies reflected the visions and perceptions of the eight powerful studio moguls who also promoted and sold the talents of their favorite movie stars to the public.

1920 - Eighty percent of the world's films were shot in California.

1920s - Eight film companies - the Big Eight - consolidated their control over Hollywood. All but one formed fully integrated companies - owning their own production facilities, running their own worldwide distribution networks, and controlling theater chains committed to showing the company's films in which their own contracted actors starred.

1923 - A young cartoonist named Walt Disney arrived in Los Angeles with $40 in his pocket.

1925 - Each week, 50 million Americans went to the movies.

1926 - Warner Brothers was the first to use a pre-recorded, synchronized sound track - which eliminated the expense of live entertainment - in their movie, Don Juan.

1926 - The first labor agreement was negotiated between the studios and actors.

1927 - The Jazz Singer was the first feature-length talking picture. By the end of the year, over 300 movie theaters across the nation were wired for sound. Hollywood's motion picture industry changed from making films primarily outdoors on location to shooting films indoors in soundproof studios.

1928 - The first Academy Awards ceremony took place at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Wings, directed by William Wellman, won best picture.

1929 - Each week, 110 million Americans went to the movies.

1930 - The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) created "A Code to Maintain Social and Community Values in the Production of Silent, Synchronized and Talking Motion Pictures," also called the Hays Code. It condemned movies that "lower the moral standards" of viewers and promised that "the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin." The Code was largely ignored and not enforced until 1934.

1933 - The Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) was founded to eliminate exploitation of Hollywood actors who were forced into oppressive multi-year contracts with the Big Eight movie studios that did not restrict work hours or allow for minimum rest periods. These contracts allowed the studios to dictate the public and private lives of the performers who signed them, and most did not have provisions to allow the performer to end the deal.

1934 - The new Hayes CodeProduction Code Authority (PCA) began to enforce the Hays Code and required movie production companies to join the PCA. Any company that released a film without its seal of approval was subject to a fine. (For an excellent chronology of banned movies, see )

1938 - Motion pictures ranked 14th among all American industries by volume of business and 11th in total assets.

1940 - Hollywood's movie business was the most highly publicized industry in the world and Hollywood was its most highly publicized location. Some 400 news reporters, columnists, and feature writers were assigned to the Hollywood beat. Only Washington, D.C. had a larger press corps. Further,

Stage Four, 1941 to 1950s - Movies and the motion picture industry in Hollywood suffered a huge decline due to the independent producers' fight agains the Big Eight, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Congressional HUAC hearings, and the rise of television.

1940 - 3,785 television sets existed in the United States.

1941 - The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers (SIMPP) was secretly established by independent producers who had been forced to distribute their films through the Big Eight's monopoly in Hollywood. A year later, SIMPP publically declared its existence and the reasons why it was created - to "strengthen and protect the role and function of the independent producer of motion pictures" and to protect motion pictures "as a force for good and as an integral part of a democratic society." Members vowed to publicize issues that affected the audience members, and put pressure on the Justice Department to step in when necessary.

1942 - The motion picture industry responded to America's entry into World War II by producing films intended to uplift Americans through stories that were patriotic rallying cries for national unity, combat films that emphasized group effort and the value of individual sacrifices for a larger cause, and to show how groups of men from diverse backgrowns were thrown together, tested on the battlefild, and triumphant in creating a dedicated fighting unit.

1947 - The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) started an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who Poster - HUAC and Hollywoodwere working in Hollywood who became known as "friendly witnesses." They named 19 people whom they said had left-wing views. Ten of these people refused to answer any questions during the hearings and became known as the Hollywood Ten, all of whom claimed that the First Amendment gave them the right to refuse to answer questions about their beliefs. The HUAC and, subsequently, the courts disagreed and all ten men were found guilty of contempt of Congress. Each was "blacklisted" from the film industry and sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

1948 - In United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that studios must end vertical integration - that they could not own their own theaters where they showed films made only by their studios and only with actors who had exclusive contracts with those studios.The Court held that the existing distribution scheme violated the U.S. antitrust laws which prohibit certain exclusive dealing arrangements. That decision marked the unofficial end of the "Golden Age of Hollywood."

1950s - The landscape of Hollywood began to change with the advent and popularity of television. The television industry began building studios in Hollywood.

1951 - HUAC again focused on hollywood, calling hundreds of witnesses from both the political right and left. Those who refused to name names found themselves unemployed and unemployable. About 250 directors, writers, and actors were blacklisted. HUAC's endeavors discouraged Hollywood from producing politically controversial films. Between 1947 and 1954, Hollywood producers made 50 strongly anti-communist films.

1952 -The U.S. Supreme Court reversed its 1915 decision by extending First Amendment protections of free speech to the movies. In Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, the court overturned New York State censors' decision to ban Roberto Rosselini's film, The Miracle, on sacrilegious grounds. Film was therefter defined as an artistic medium protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech.

1953 - Attendance and box office receipts fell to half their levels in 1946.

1960 - Nine in every ten homes in the U.S. at had least one television set.

Goal #5: To examine California's commercial tourist industry in terms of theme parks

California's Theme Parks:

Conclusions - The Entertainment and Theme Park Industries

  1. From the very beginning of the entertainment industry that arose in Hollywood, motion pictures spoke directly to what Kevin Starr has called "the inner life of fantasy and dreams."
  2. In its earliest years, Hollywood was a refuge for independent film makers who did not want to pay taxes to those who were trying to control and regulate the industry.
  3. It did not take long for businessmen to understand that films telling stories could make money if the audience could identify with the story action. And it was these businessmen who created both the mythology and reality of Hollywood.
  4. Hollywood began as and continues to be an industrial community dependent upon the commericial success of its product - motion pictures.
  5. Hollywood contained the only industry in California that was not dependent on raw materials.
  6. By the 1920s, the motion picture industry was concentrated in the Hollywood suburb of Los Angeles.
  7. By the 1940s, Hollywood's movie business was the most highly publicized industry in the world and Hollywood was its most highly publicized location. Some 400 news reporters, columnists, and feature writers were assigned to the Hollywood beat.
  8. By the 1950s, Hollywood suffered a huge decline in popularlity - a decline that was largely due to the independent producers' fight agains the Big Eight, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Congressional HUAC hearings, and the rise of television.
  9. While people from around the world have vacationed and visited California for over 100 years, by the middle of the 20th Century, California began to develop a commerical tourist industry based on theme parks. Today, California is the theme park capital of the world.