“Many talented actors have placed their handprints, footprints and, in the case of Whoopi Goldberg, their hair, in the cement”
Among the first studios to set up in Hollywood were Universal and Paramount. Universal was the very first, and made its reputation through low cost, high-impact genres such as horror. It was quickly eclipsed by the “majors”– vertically-integrated studios that not only owned production facilities, but also theatre chains. Paramount, the first of these majors, began life as the Famous Players Film Company about a month after Universal was established.
Today, Universal Studios’ west coast location is a Disney-lite theme park with pre-planned pratfalls and dated Terminator stage shows. Paramount is the only studio that still has a backlot in Hollywood, and offers visitors a historical tour – although, since Kenny, one of its guides, thinks Johnny Depp starred in Rear Window, you may take some of the patter with a pinch of salt. By the 1950s, with the power of the majors waning under competition from television, stars managed to wriggle out of their studio shackles, giving rise to independent contracts and, consequently, the agent. Today, with wannabe Ari Golds brokering deals for anyone with a headshot, costs have gone through the roof, forcing production levels to decline. Whereas Universal was lucky to produce a dozen films last year, during Hollywood’s Golden Age, the studio would annually turn out an average of 45 features.
On the Paramount lot, the appropriately named Production Park is a vestige of this bygone era. Four buildings, each one once housing key personnel – actors, writers, producers and the moneymen – face off across a narrow stretch of grass. It was here that classic projects such as With so many shows in production, one might expect to be constantly colliding with stars, but the biggest name you are likely to meet on the Warner Bros tour is Talyan Wright, the eight-year-old who plays the daughter of Ashton Kutcher’s girlfriend in Two and a Half Men.
Talyan has become a regular fixture on the tour because the tiny cabin in which she takes her mid-shoot classes was sensibly placed on a busy backlot junction, while Ashton Kutcher luxuriates in a massive satellitetopped trailer, which you must not photograph. Not that Talyan seems to mind the distraction: she uses it as an opportunity to direct visitors to her IMDB page. At the very least she will get an A for self-promotion.
Responding to the exponential production of the Golden Age, Hollywood developed around the studios, with many landmarks springing up along Hollywood Boulevard. With their eyes fixed firmly on the pavement, tourists wander like poorly trained actors searching for their mark, frequently butting heads over the cement-preserved handprints of Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Joan Crawford at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Since its opening, with Cecil B Demille’s The King of Kings in 1927, many talented actors, and the Twilight cast, have placed their handprints, footprints and, in the case of Whoopi Goldberg, their hair, in the cement outside Grauman’s..
More recently, superheroes have dominated: Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Jr are recent additions.