WHEN Hollywood town was created in 1887 it was supposed to be a utopia without booze, immoral behaviour or even loud noise.
But by the time the famous white sign was installed above the Los Angeles settlement, that vision was well and truly dead.
It had been drowned out by a thunder of actors, extras and directors all desperately trying to scramble to the top of the movie industry.
Now, in the 100th anniversary year of the iconic Hollywood sign, the area’s history is once again under the spotlight — and it is a tale that would make one hell of a movie.
Hollywood became a byword for sin due to the murders, drug abuse, sex and nudity all associated with the movie business in the 1920s.
The 45ft-high letters standing 1,500ft above sea level on Mount Lee had been painted white, but there was little pure about the area they looked down upon.
For every dream of stardom that came true, hundreds more ended in misery.
One British starlet even threw herself to her death from the sign’s H after her film contract was cancelled.
Two decades ago the body of a model was discovered in the Hollywood Hills, after she had been tricked into meeting her killer by the false promise of a part in a James Bond movie.
Yet the sign was never supposed to be connected to the film industry when construction started in the summer of 1923.
The original, temporary tin structure read “Hollywoodland” and was an advert for new homes.
There was no mention of movie studios in the brochure for them.
HER GHOST STILL HAUNTS THE AREA
But it still attracted the wrong kind of people, including the murderous mobster Bugsy Siegel, who would go on to hang out with movie greats such as Cary Grant.
In the 1970s the sign fell into disrepair and had to be saved by donations from local residents including Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
These days it is surrounded by hi-tech security to prevent parties, and to stop pranksters changing the “wood” part to “weed”.
Professor Leo Braudy, author of The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy And Reality Of An American Icon, tells The Sun: “Hollywood has a double history of being lauded culturally on the one hand, but also being considered a den of iniquity.”
Until 1887 the area was just a barren Californian hill on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
But in that year Christian property developer Harvey Wilcox registered the land on which it now stands.
Legend has it that his wife Daeida heard the word Hollywood during a train journey and liked it.
Prof Braudy says: “They didn’t want to have noise — no blacksmiths, nothing that would disturb the tranquillity.
“When the Wilcoxes laid out the land, Hollywood was supposed to be a kind of temperance utopia where people could cushion themselves from the evils of the outside world.”
The locals opposed the movie industry when it arrived after the turn of the century — initially objecting to Charlie Chaplin opening up a studio in 1910, before relenting.
Prof Braudy says: “Actors were considered to be low-lives of a sort.
“They would have signs saying, ‘No actors allowed’.”
In 1923 developer Harry Chandler decided to extend the town of Hollywood up to Mount Lee.
It took around 100 Mexican workers to put up the Hollywood sign as a huge advert.
It was supported by telephone poles and lit by 3,700 20-watt lightbulbs.
On December 8, 1923 the lights went on, announcing Hollywoodland to most of Los Angeles.
It first became associated with failed dreams when 24-year-old Peg Entwistle took her life there by jumping from the letter H in 1932.
The Welsh-born actress was highly rated on the stage, but only made one movie before being ditched by her studio.
She left a note saying, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything”.
A painful divorce from actor Robert Keith was also believed to have played a part in her turmoil.
It is said her ghost still haunts the area around the sign.
Big-name stars from the golden age of cinema including Bela Lugosi and Humphrey Bogart were among the initial residents of Hollywoodland.
In the 1930s they were joined by Bugsy Siegel who was one of the founders of the organised crime syndicate Murder, Inc.
Siegel, who died in a hail of bullets in 1947, befriended stars of the time including Jean Harlow, who was god-mother to one of his daughters.
It was not an isolated friendship — there were lots of rumours of links between the film industry and the mob during the 1920s.
The Hollywood sign was supposed to last for 18 months.
But it was left in place because the developers could not shift all the lots before going bankrupt in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In 1944 the Hollywoodland sign became the property of Los Angeles and the unsold plots were used for locals to walk in.
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Around this time, the H fell down in a storm and the letters still standing were in a poor state.
Jeff Zarrinnam, the chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust, tells The Sun: “People were complaining that it was becoming an eyesore.”
It would have been scrapped if The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which now owns it, had not decided to refurbish it.
At this point, the final four letters — Land — were dispensed with.
Soon the Hollywood Hills area went upmarket — but crime was never far away.
The death of resident Elizabeth Short remains one of America’s greatest unsolved murders.
Nicknamed Black Dahlia after her killing, Elizabeth’s naked body was discovered severed into two pieces in 1947.
By 1978 the Hollywood letters were looking worse for wear again.
A plan was hatched to auction off each of them, at a price of £22,000 per letter.
The money would be used to replace the sign.
Rocker Alice Cooper was the first to put his hand in his pocket and he was quickly followed by Hugh Hefner, who held a fundraiser at his Playboy Mansion.
That rebuilt structure still stands today.
Mount Lee, the public land on which the letters stand, is difficult to get to and, infamously, has become a place at which to bury murder victims.
In 2012 the head of former airline worker Hervey Medellin, who had lived in the area, was discovered close to the sign — separated from the rest of his remains.
Brad Pitt’s home was close enough for his bodyguards to be asked if they had seen any strange goings-on in the area.
Four years later, hikers discovered the human skull of a 20-year-old woman not far from the sign.
It had been buried there for less than a decade. How she came to die is unclear.
What is certain is that Hollywood continues to lure young hopefuls with its bright lights and promises of fame.
Tragically, model Kristine Johnson, 21, was a victim of those hopes in 2003 — her remains were also found by hikers.
Victor Lawrence Paleologus posed as a filmmaker to tell her he could line up a part in a James Bond film.
Instead, he strangled Kristine to death and buried her in the Hollywood Hills.
It would seem that the sign itself is far better protected than Hollywood’s residents.
The local chamber of commerce has installed infrared cameras, 24-hour surveillance and huge fences in order to fend off graffiti artists and prevent anyone else falling to their death.
They have also trademarked the sign’s distinctive font and style.
There has been talk of installing a gondola to take tourists up to the structure, and of building a visitor centre.
But Prof Braudy believes anyone wishing to visit this shrine to the American dream should have to struggle their way up the long path.
He says: “It’s about aspiration, it’s about the difficulty of it.”