You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Hollywood Sign: Unlikely Rival for the Statue of Liberty

Millions now see the 90-year-old former real estate billboard as a symbol of America

Flimsily constructed as a billboard for the Hollywoodland housing development at its feet, the Hollywood sign has evolved over its 90-year history into an international symbol of opportunity.

Though it’s long been known as an emblem of Hollywood wealth and glamour, in recent decades it has come to represent America itself for millions, especially around the Pacific Rim.

“They see (the Hollywood sign) in television, they see it in movies, and they see it as representative of the advertising of the American dream,” says Hollywood Sign Trust chairman Chris Baumgart. “It’s the allure of opportunity. Specifically, it’s the opportunity to make it in the entertainment business. But big picture, that’s the hope and dream that America represents.”

The sign is fenced off and under 24-hour surveillance, so it’s illegal to get within arm’s length. Yet tourists make the climb anyway. Hope Anderson, who directed the documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign,” says, “There’s this feeling that if you get close to the sign, and preferably can touch it, that some kind of magic will be imparted to you.”

Anderson, who was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Japan, and studied Japanese history at UC Berkeley, says: “It’s almost become this religious icon and people feel that if they touch the Hollywood icon … they’ll be the star that they know themselves to be.”

They’re often disappointed to be kept at bay, but as Baumgart says: “Isn’t that what dreams are all about? Just out of reach.”

Producer Luo Yan, a former movie star in China who moved from Shanghai to the U.S. in the mid-1980s and now splits her time between Beijing and L.A., observes the sign’s location adds to its mystique.

“Because it’s on a mountain, it means ‘on top of the world,’ ” Luo says. “It’s everything about America, not just Hollywood.”

Even showbiz vets feel the sign’s allure. Howard A. Rodman, VP of the Writers Guild of America West, says while the sign is owned by the city, “Really, it’s the property of the world.”

“To me (it) represents the continuation of that dream of what movies could be, of what entertainment could be. And, if we listen to our better angels, the kinds of stories that we, who live under its shadow, can tell the world.

“That gives me inspiration and courage as I get up every morning to write.”

More Scene

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • Lauren Ash44th Annual Gracie Awards, Show,

    Politics and New Abortion Ban Laws Dominate 2019 Gracie Awards

    Female empowerment was in the air Tuesday night as showrunners, writers and performers gathered at the 44th annual Gracie Awards to celebrate women breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings within the entertainment industry. Sandra Oh, Patricia Arquette, Rachel Maddow and Connie Britton were among the honorees at the ceremony, which took place at the Beverly [...]

  • Sacha Baron Cohen

    Why Sacha Baron Cohen Credits Donald Trump for ‘Who Is America?’

    Over the course of history, comedians have shared their take on current events with biting commentary on everything from class and gender to fashion and politics, and the current presidential administration is definitely no exception — with President Donald Trump regularly lampooned on shows like “Saturday Night Live” and by late-night TV hosts. But when [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content