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Golden Age of Hollywood


Golden Age of Hollywood: From the early days of silent movies and the talkies and the demise of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Definition and Summary of the Golden Age of Hollywood
Summary and definition:
The Golden Age of Hollywood, sometimes referred to as the period of classical Hollywood cinema, started with the silent movie era and the first major feature-length silent movie called the 'Birth of a Nation' (1915). The Golden Age of Hollywood ended with the demise of the studio system, the emergence of television, the rising costs and subsequent losses notably 'Cleopatra' (1963).

Milestones of the Golden Age of Hollywood
The Golden Age of Hollywood witnessed important milestones in the history of the movie industry such as the establishment of Hollywood as the American home of movies, the establishment of the Studio System, the first color movie, the first talking movie, the Oscars and animated cartoon movies. The liberal movies of the 1920s and early 1930s, the rise of movie idols and the scandals that involved famous actors and actresses that rocked America.

Important events during the Golden Age of Hollywood moved on to the regulations and censorship imposed by the Hays Code in movies such as 'Gone with the Wind' and 'The Maltese Falcon' and even the 'Betty Boop' series of cartoons. The fabulous musicals produced by the studios and the escapism that Hollywood movies offered during hard times. The Golden Age of Hollywood ended in the 1960s but its legacy continues into the modern day.

What was the Golden Age of Hollywood? The Golden Age of Hollywood saw the development of the Hollywood movie industry with important movie milestones, the production of famous, popular movies and the studio system  that created movie icons in the glamorous actors and actresses who starred in the films.

When was the Golden Age of Hollywood? The Golden Age of Hollywood started in 1915 and ended in 1963.

Why is it called the Golden Age of Hollywood? The Golden Age of Hollywood is so called because of the enormous amount of money the movies produced and the images of the glittering and glamorous movie stars that filled the movie screens.

What started the Golden Age of Hollywood? The Golden Age of Hollywood was started with the production of the first major feature length silent movie called the 'Birth of a Nation' (1915).

Why did the Golden Age of Hollywood end? The Golden Age of Hollywood ended with the fall of the Studio System, ballooning budgets and the emergence of television that resulted in diminishing returns and decline in profits.

Facts about Golden Age of Hollywood
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Golden Age of Hollywood.

The American movie industry was centred in Hollywood, Los Angeles in California. The climate and location of Hollywood was ideal place for outdoor filming and, by the 1920s, 85% of American movie production was made in or around Hollywood.

The Golden Age of Hollywood began when the first major feature-length silent movie was made in 1915. The movie was called the 'Birth of a Nation' was based on the novel 'The Clansman' by Thomas Dixon. The movie was directed by D. W. Griffith who co-wrote the screenplay. The feature-length silent movie lasted for 133 minutes and made massive profits of $10,000,000. The epic movie caused huge controversy and brought the full realization of the Power of the Movies to America. The inflammatory movie glorified the original Ku Klux Klan which resulted in the rebirth of the 1920s KKK and brought protests by the NAACP with riots in Boston and Philadelphia.

The United States entered into WW1 on April 6, 1917 and the Power of the Movies was again demonstrated as Hollywood joined in the war effort by making propaganda movies starring screen idols such as Charlie Chaplin

The 'Big Five' studios were MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO and Fox.  Universal, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists were Known as the "Little Three" studios that, unlike the "Big Five", did not own their own theater chains.

The studio system evolved in Hollywood and was essentially about long-term contracts for movie stars, that prevented them being poached by rival studios.

In 1919 the United Artists studio was established by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford,  and D.W. Griffith to enable them to gain control of their own interests rather than depending upon the 'Big Five' Hollywood studios.

The popular silent movie stars were idolized by millions, all over the world - Silent Movies held no language barriers. The most popular stars of the silent movie era were Marlene Dietrich, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Clara Bow, the Marx Brothers, Tallulah Bankhead, WC Fields, Lillian Gish, John Barrymore, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin and "Fatty" Arbuckle.

"Fatty" Arbuckle was involved in one of the most famous scandals in Hollywood which involved the alleged rape and murder of actress Virginia Rappe. After 3 trials "Fatty"Arbuckle was found not guilty and was acquitted, but his career was left in ruins.

In 1921 Rudolph Valentino created a sensation starring in the major movie role as "The Sheik"  was made for under $200,000 and exceeded $1 million in ticket sales. The movie studio tried to squash a scandal that would erupt due to rumors that their most popular movie star was gay or bi-sexual.

Clara Bow, "The It Girl" was one of the first sex sirens silver screen. Clara Bow won a photo beauty contest which launched her movie career in Hollywood. She was the epitome of the 1920s Flappers and made 58 films. Her life was surrounded by scandal and controversy. Clara Bow retired in 1931, when she was just  28 years old, amid a tangle of scandals surrounding  numerous love affairs, money and her addiction to alcohol. The scandals earned her the nickname of "Crisis-a-Day-Clara".

Other scandals involving Hollywood in the 1920s involved famous figures in the movie industry. The scandals involved the licentious  behaviour of Tallulah Bankhead and other scandals involving drug abuse and alcohol addiction implicated Mabel Normand, John Barrymore, Wallace Reid and Barbara La Marr.

In 1922 the first all-color movie was produced  in Hollywood, called 'Toll of the Sea', starring Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong.

In 1922 the first 3-D movie called 'The Power of Love', starring Noah Beery, was shown in front of an audience when it was premiered at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel

1925 was another major landmark in the Golden Age of Hollywood when the first movie with sound effects and music, called 'Don Juan', was made by Warner Brothers starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor.

The United Artists studio scored a box office hit with 'The Gold Rush'. Charlie Chaplin's silent comedy, in his Little Tramp persona, made $4,250,000.

In 1927 Warner Brothers released the 'The Jazz Singer' starring Al Jolson. The movie consisted mostly of music with only a couple of hundred spoken words. 'The Jazz Singer' was an immediate sensation and brought about the demise of the silent movies and the ability to attract a world wide audience with no language barriers. For additional facts and info refer to the First talking movie - The Jazz Singer

On November 18, 1928 Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie premiered and introduced the world to animated cartoon films with synchronized sound and to Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie Mouse.

In 1929 the first Oscars (Academy Awards) were given in a short 15 minute ceremony at a private hotel. Charlie Chaplin won an honorary award for the 1928 silent movie, 'The Circus'.

Betty Boop, the animated cartoon character created by Max Fleischer, made her first appearance in Dizzy Dishes (1930).

The last silent movie was released in 1931 - another milestone in the Golden Age of Hollywood. By 1930 40% of America's cinemas had sound systems installed.

Movie Genres: Popular movie genres of Hollywood in the 1920's were gangster movies, epic movies, comedies, musicals, thrillers, westerns and horrors.

Movies in the 1920s had liberally used nudity, profanity, immorality in its themes and appeared to endorse illegal drinking during Prohibition . The lives of movie actresses, or "vamps" such as Clara Bow, with their heavy makeup, scanty clothing and loose morals together with the series of famous tinsel town scandals had brought Hollywood under close scrutiny and mounting criticism. Complaints led to the introduction of the Hays Code and Censorship to American movies during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The Hays Code was a set of guidelines and rules that enforced censorship on the American cinema. The Hays Code was created in response to public complaints about the lewd content of films and the scandalous behavior of Hollywood movie stars and was voluntarily applied as a form of censorship by the Hollywood movie industry. The Hays Code was nicknamed "the motion picture industry's Magna Charta of official decency" and had a significant effects in the later movies during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Pre-Code Hollywood movies: The Hays Code was presented in 1930 but was not rigidly enforced by 1934. The Hollywood movie industry produced some notorious Pre-Code Hollywood movies during the four year period, from March 31, 1930 to July 2, 1934, when the Hays Code and finally implemented. Refer to Hays Code Facts for background history and the events in Hollywood that led to its creation.

Pre-Code Hollywood movies: Hollywood took advantage of the lax period and produced movies including "Scenes of Passion" with themes of adultery and illicit relationships. This type of movie included 'Faithless' starring Tallulah Bankhead (1932), 'Blonde Venus' starring Marlene Dietrich (1932) and 'She Done Him Wrong' starring Mae West (1933).

During the Great Depression (1929 - 1941) audiences sought total escapism or films they could relate to. In the 1930s social consciousness films were produced and Disney cartoon films became popular.

Screwball Comedies, like 'Bringing Up Baby (1938)' with Cary Grant and 'My Man Godfrey' (1936) delighted audiences. But even movies such as 'It Happened One Night', Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable (1934) fell foul of the Hays Code and "no scenes of passion".

Musicals, especially those starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, provided escapism for their audiences in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals were produced by RKO Studios and included Flying Down to Rio (1933), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935) and Follow the Fleet (1936). Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire made a total of 10 musicals together. Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels!

Gangster Movies, starring George Raft, James Cagney, Humphey Bogart and Edward G Robertson were popular stars in the 1930s starring in movies such as Angels with Dirty Faces, The Maltese Falcon, The Roaring Twenties and G Men.

For the family audience, child star Shirley Temple came into her own into movies like Stand Up and Cheer (1934), The Little Colonel (1935), Curley Top (1935), The Poor Little Rich Girl (1936),Heidi (1937), and The Little Princess (1939).

The story of the Civil war was told in the epic romance 'Gone with the Wind' (1939) starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.  Based on Margaret Mitchell's top-selling novel it was probably the most long-awaited movie in the history of Hollywood. Fans immediately favored Clark Gable in the role of Rhett Butler  (even though he believed the role would ruin his masculine image) but the question of the day was who would play the part of Scarlet O'Hara. The movie studio started a nationwide search for Scarlet and famous stars such as Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead and Paulette Goddard desperately jostled for the part which eventually  went to English actress Vivien Leigh.

'Gone with the Wind' (1939) received 8 Oscars including Best Film. Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy in  the movie became the first African-American to win an Oscar, but was racially segregated from her co-stars at the awards ceremony at the Coconut Grove and made to sit at a separate table at the back of the room.

More serious movies like the John Ford film, How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) based on John Steinbeck's novel were popular with audiences in the Great Depression. As did the truly wonderful the Wizard of Oz in which Judy Garland is carried from the Depression-struck farm in Kansas by a tornado and lands in magical kingdom of Oz. Judy Garland famously sung  "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" an uplifting song of hope  for Americans enduring such hard times.

Frank Capra films also struck a chord with Americans during the Great Depression with movies such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and continued the theme of the common man in the 1940s with 'It's a Wonderful Life' starring James Stewart (1946).

Mention should be made of Westerns. John Wayne was the king of the westerns and starred in 84 movies of this genre starting with The Big Trail in 1930 and the Shootist in 1976.

Swashbuckler films provided a perfect vehicle for many movie stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Douglas Fairbanks starred in swashbucklers from 1920 to 1929 and Errol Flynn from 1935 to 1941. Errol Flynn was idolized in his role  'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938) but was subject of a damaging Hollywood scandal in in 1942 when two underage girls, accused him of statutory rape. He was acquitted of all charges but 'mud sticks' and his career never really recovered

Beginning in the 1940s Bob Hope and Bing Crosby partnered together as a wise-cracking in a series of 'Road' films with actress Dorothy Lamour.

World War 2 (1939-1945) interrupted the Golden Age of Hollywood as famous movie stars joined the armed forces including Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Jackie Coogan, James Stewart and Douglas Fairbanks. Propaganda movie shorts were produced such as Winning Your Wings, Combat America and Mission Accomplished.

Golden Age of Hollywood continued with famous movies in the 1940s including Casablanca (1942), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Double Indemnity (1944), Citizen Kane (1941), The Third Man (1949) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) which was the most successful film of the decade.

The early 1950s witnessed the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating Hollywood. Hearings resulted in the blacklisting of many actors, writers and directors, including Charlie Chaplin and the brilliant author and screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo.

The MGM musicals breathed some light relief into the movies and the Golden Age of Hollywood with the production of 15 years of musical films under the leadership of the producer Arthur Freed. The music and lyrics were composed by people such as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein. The names of the musicals included Anchors Aweigh, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate, On the Town, Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and It's Always Fair Weather. The MGM musicals starred actors and actresses such as Gene Kelly, June Allyson, Debbie Reynolds, Van Johnson, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn, Esther Williams, Donald O'Connor and Howard Keel.

Epic Movies also dominated the movies in the 1950's including Ben-Hur (1959), The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Quo Vadis (1951), Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), the Land of the Pharaohs (1955) and The Vikings (1958). The most popular actors who starred in this genre of movies included Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, Victor Mature, Tony Curtis and Robert Taylor.

Spartacus (1960), about a Roman slave who leads a rebellion against Rome, was a another epic with over 10,000 extras (many from the Spanish Army). Directed by Stanley Kubrick it starred Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Peter Ustinov, Woody Strode, Jean Simmons and Laurence Olivier. The movie is one of the best ever made. Apart from the acting, special mention should be given to Kirk Douglas who risked the movie by publicly announcing that the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo was the screenwriter of Spartacus.

The Movie Industry tried to combat the rise of television used film formats that could only be appreciated in the wide-screen of the cinema. These included experiments with multiple-camera wide-screen Cinerama, stereoscopic 3-D, CinemaScope, VistaVision, Todd-AO and Panavision. Despite these efforts attendance dropped each year until by 1964 it had dropped by 75% since 1946. The end of Golden Age of Hollywood was insight.

The story of the Golden Age of Hollywood started with one epic, the Birth of a Nation, and ended with another - Cleopatra. Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra marked the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The movie starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Elizabeth Taylor was paid $1 million for starring as Cleopatra. The film was a financial disaster and nearly bankrupted 20th Century-Fox. Both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were married to other people at the time and their affair sparked one of the most publicized scandals in the history of Hollywood. Cleopatra saw the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood as other studios opted to make less expensive films in favor of more character driven movies of the mid 960s and early 1970s.

Why are the movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood still so popular today? The structure of the movies made easy viewing with a beginning, middle and an end. Today, films such as Pulp Fiction, are more difficult and confusing to follow. Other people dislike the graphic portrayal of violence and the use of profane language. But most Americans enjoy the nostalgia evoked by the Golden Age of Hollywood and hold fond memories of the glamour of the old Movie Stars.

US American History
1929-1945: Depression & WW2

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