Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital’ Exhibit Debuts at the Academy Museum : ‘Hollywoodland

Imagine it’s 1920s Los Angeles

Published Time: 16.05.2024 - 20:31:44 Modified Time: 16.05.2024 - 20:31:44

Imagine it’s 1920s Los Angeles. You’re driving around town in a Model T, cruising from Echo Park’s Edendale studios to Universal City to Musso and Frank on Hollywood Boulevard. That experience comes to life for visitors at the Academy Museum’s new permanent exhibit “Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital,” which opens to the public on Sunday in Los Angeles.

The exhibit, housed in the museum’s Laika Gallery, opens more than two years after the Academy was criticized for not including much material covering the largely Jewish moguls who created the studio system.

The new installment seeks to remedy that with three exhibits that showcase the history of Hollywood, with an emphasis on how it was shaped by Jewish immigrants. Outside the gallery, a large Hollywoodland sign mural, red carpet and giant-sized Oscar statue provide a natural selfie spot for visitors, with the mural’s hills transitioning right into the real Hollywood hills seen through the large adjacent window.

Dara Jaffe, associate curator of the exhibit, explains that there are two Hollywoods: the geographic space of Los Angeles — the city itself — and the mythological symbol of Hollywood that has come to represent American filmmaking around the world. “There was filmmaking in Los Angeles before the Jewish founders established the Hollywood studio system and we’re exploring that in the gallery,” she says. “But it was the Jewish founders’ establishment of the studio system that transformed Los Angeles, the city, into Hollywood, the symbol.”

“We’re answering the question, ‘Why L.A.?’ Why is this the place that became the movie capital of the world that it still is today? This was key for us to balance these two main characters very organically — the idea of L.A. and the idea of the Jewish founders. We wanted those to be very organically woven through all the components -

of the exhibition,” Jaffe says.

The exhibit’s most impressive element is an immersive display that should be engrossing for both tourists and Hollywood history buffs. Titled “Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902–1929,” it includes a state-of-the-art projection system that interacts with a relief map to bring early moviemaking to life with vintage scenes of 30 locations that were key to early Hollywood.

Along one wall, “Studio Origins” outlines how the major studios got their start — Universal, Fox (later Twentieth Century-Fox), Paramount, United Artists, Warner Bros., Columbia, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and RKO — with lively biographies of their founders and vintage photos and artifacts.

Hollywoodland’s third component is a small screening room that plays “From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood,” a short documentary narrated by Ben Mankiewicz that looks at how Hollywood’s early years were shaped by immigrants who faced antisemitism. Based on Neal Gabler’s book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywoodand,” it shows how the studio founders’ vision of the American Dream came to define the movies they made.

Jaffe notes that the exhibition, which will be permanently on display, is bilingual in English and Spanish, which is the direction the entire museum is going in. “We’re making it permanent because we feel it’s foundational to both the film industry and the city we’re a part of. We want to give visitors the sense they are standing right in the center of the history,” she says.

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