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Exhibition traces Jewish origins of Hollywood

'Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital' traces the origins of the movie studio system in America's center of filmmaking
'Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital' traces the origins of the movie studio system in America's center of filmmaking - Copyright AFP ROBERTO SCHMIDT
'Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital' traces the origins of the movie studio system in America's center of filmmaking - Copyright AFP ROBERTO SCHMIDT

A new exhibition opening in California this weekend traces the Jewish origins of Hollywood.

“Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital” tells the story of how the then-small city of Los Angeles became the global center of filmmaking, partially because of the challenges Jews faced at the start of the 20th century.

Jewish migrants escaping pogroms and persecution in Europe flocked to the New World where they hoped for better opportunities, said exhibition curator Dara Jaffe.

“Even in America, Jews would have been restricted from entering any industry that was thought of as high class or specifically elite,” she told AFP.

“At its very beginning, film was thought of as lowbrow, kind of declasse…so there weren’t the barriers to enter the film industry that they would encounter with a lot of other professions.”

Entrepreneurs in businesses like clothing who were used to dealing with customers and their rapidly evolving demands, found a natural home in the burgeoning film business, where they chiefly started out running their own theaters.

“Almost all of the Jewish founders actually entered the industry by way of exhibition — building theaters — and then worked their way to distribution and then production,” said Jaffe.

“These were the people that founded the original Hollywood studio system that really came to dominate the industry.”

These studios included many of the legends whose names have dominated America’s movie landscape, such as Paramount, MGM, Fox, Universal, Columbia and Warner Brothers. 

The exhibition, which is on permanent display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, takes its name from the original sign that loomed over downtown Hollywood.

The sign — a must-see for any film buff or tourist visiting Los Angeles — initially read Hollywoodland, having been constructed as an advertisement for an upscale real estate development.

It lost its last four letters in 1949.

AFP
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