A note about the Hollywood sign. In today's films, if a character ups and moves to Los Angeles, we all know what's coming: a shot of the Hollywood sign. If aliens are attacking the earth and destroying the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Eiffel Tower, and the Empire State Building, you know Los Angeles's destruction will be represented by the obliteration of. . The Hollywood Sign. Earthquake disaster movie? There goes the Hollywood sign. Not sure how to let the audience know your characters live in L.A.? Insert stock footage of the Hollywood sign. So why, in "A Star is Born" is there no shot of the Hollywood sign, particularly in a montage that splashes the word, "Hollywood!" across it? Because, as representative as it is today of Hollywood--town, industry, and dream--in 1937, the sign still read, "Hollywoodland", as it was still acting as a decaying billboard for the Hollywoodland subdivision (more commonly known as Beachwood Canyon) below it. In 1937, Hollywood was better instantly summarized and encapsulated by another landmark that, like the truncated and refurbished Hollywoodland sign, still stands: Grauman's Chinese Theater. And it's there that Esther Blodget goes upon arrival in Tinseltown.
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David O. Selznick's 1937 version of "A Star is Born" opens with Hollywood film fan Esther Blodgett returning home after a night out at the movies. She is mooning over the film's star, Norman Maine, while her evil younger brother mocks her. The Blodgetts apparently have a case of cabin fever because these people hate each other. There's an uncle who'd rather spend his time with his View-Master thing than have a conversation, a grandmother who hates her own daughter, the cranky Aunt Mattie who, in turn, puts down Esther and Esther's Hollywood dreams, along with that aforementioned younger brother from Hell. We are instantly on Esther's side because, aside from Grandma, everyone else is an unabashed asshole--and, yes, that includes Aunt Mattie, played by Clara Blandick, who in Aunt Mattie adds to her repertoire of Aunts. (Em would be two years off and a tad more likeable.) By comparison, the original film, "What Price Hollywood" showed the lead character, Mary Evans, alone in her Hollywood apartment, spending time before her shift at The Brown Derby reading a fan magazine, dressing like the magazine tells her a movie star dresses, applying her makeup like a Hollywood starlet would (again, according to that fan magazine) and kissing a photo of Clark Gable. Mary Evans was a bit more experienced and, in pre-code "What Price Hollywood", it showed. Esther, while immediately likeable, is that odd Old Hollywood innocent. Thank God the grandmother gives her money so she can get out of North Dakota and go to Hollywood. Not so much to make Esther happy but more to piss off Aunt Mattie, I've always believed.