Roman Mars [00:00:00] Whether you’re listening to us at home or on the go, T-Mobile keeps you connected to what matters most. With T-Mobile, you get more 5G bars in more places, and they cover the most highway miles with 5G. That means you can quickly research those architectural details and questions that pop up while you’re out and about in real time. T-Mobile’s got our 99% Invisible listeners covered. Visit your local T-Mobile store to make the switch and join the leader in 5G coverage today. See 5G device coverage and plan details at t-mobile.com. Have a business, brand, or blog? You need Squarespace. Stand out with a beautiful website, engage with your audience, and sell anything–your products, content you create, and even your time. With member areas, you can unlock a new revenue stream for your business and free up time in your schedule by selling access to gated content, like classes, online courses, or newsletters. And stand out in any inbox with Squarespace email campaigns, using customizable templates. And Squarespace makes it easy to display posts from your social profiles and automatically push website content to your social media channels. Enter squarespace.com/invisible for a free trial–and when you’re ready to launch, use the promo code “invisible” to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. On March 21st, 2022, a small crowd gathered in front of the Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. They weren’t there for the restaurant. Instead, dozens of photographers, reporters, and Godfather fans packed in together to catch a glimpse of the ground.
Ellen K [00:01:52] We now declare today Francis Ford Coppola Day in Hollywood!
Roman Mars [00:01:59] It was right there on one of the most famous stretches of sidewalk in the country that acclaimed film director Francis Ford Coppola received the 2,715th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Gillian Jacobs [00:02:12] Even if you haven’t made the pilgrimage to Southern California, you can probably already picture what the Walk of Fame looks like. It’s a 1.3-mile walkway lined with terrazzo and brass squares. Each slab spotlights a salmon pink star and the name of a different famous celebrity deemed worthy enough to become a permanent part of Hollywood’s urban fabric.
Roman Mars [00:02:34] Your 99PI producer this week is actor, director, and Hollywood insider Gillian Jacobs. If her voice doesn’t sound familiar, you might recognize her face from shows like Community or HBO’s Winning Time.
Gillian Jacobs [00:02:47] The walk is located on Hollywood Boulevard, from Gower to La Brea, and continues on Vine Street, from Sunset to Yucca. Back in 1960, the Street’s main features were grand old movie palaces like Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the El Capitan. Those theaters are still there, but these days they’re surrounded by crowds of Elvis impersonators, snake wranglers, and people in Elmo costumes, hoping tourists will pay to take a picture with them.
Roman Mars [00:03:15] Upwards of 10 million people a year brave the traffic and crowds and fight over LA’s scarcest resource, parking, all just to snap a photo of a star with the name of their favorite famous person.
Gillian Jacobs [00:03:30] Before working on this story, I’d never actually gone to the Hollywood Walk of Fame despite living in Los Angeles for over a decade. It might be snobbery on my part or a deep ambivalence about my own profession, but I could not understand the appeal of looking at names embedded in the sidewalk. That is, until one day last year when I made the rare journey to the Walgreens on Sunset and Vine to buy the hypoallergenic baby detergent my dermatologist said would help with my rosacea–and I realized I was actually stepping on a portion of the Walk of Fame. There was the expected mixture of movie stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, musicians, television stars–you know, your Merv Griffin’s, your James Brown’s. But one name made me stop in my tracks. Dorothy Arzner.
Roman Mars [00:04:18] If you’ve never heard of Dorothy Arzner before, you are not alone. Most people these days have no idea who she was. But in the history of Hollywood, Dorothy Arzner was a big deal.
Dorothy Arzner [00:04:29] You want really intimate details?
Interviewer [00:04:31] Intimate details. Gossip.
Dorothy Arzner [00:04:34] You want gossip? I’m not very good at that.
Roman Mars [00:04:38] Arzner was the first woman admitted to the Directors Guild. She made films starring Joan Crawford, Clara Bow and Lucille Ball. And even though she stopped directing in 1943, she still holds the title for the most American studio films directed by a woman.
Gillian Jacobs [00:04:53] Which is impressive, but also super depressing, right? I had heard of her because she directed my childhood hero, Katharine Hepburn, in the film Christopher Strong. And as I discovered more of Arzner’s work in recent years, I’ve also come to love her wry sense of humor and her obvious skill in pulling funny, dynamic, even slightly mocking performances out of her actors. I also admire the hell out of her for being literally the only woman directing Hollywood films for much of her career.
Dorothy Arzner [00:05:22] I usually announce, you know, “If anyone doesn’t want to work with a woman director–with me being a woman–you know, speak up now.”
Gillian Jacobs [00:05:30] I felt giddy seeing that star there and knowing that she’s been memorialized forever. But I also felt sad, too. Dorothy’s star was in pretty bad shape. She was streaked with cracks, and the bottom half of her travertine star legs were missing. As I stood there holding my hypoallergenic baby detergent over Dorothy’s star, the thing that surprised me most is that I felt anything at all. Honestly, in my day-to-day life, I just don’t think about the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But when I do, it’s just another award in a town obsessed with celebrating itself. So why does this gimmicky, broken, little star make me feel things? Why does Dorothy Arzner’s name on the ground outside a Walgreens make me feel close to a woman I’ve never met–who died before I was born?
Roman Mars [00:06:21] Because gimmicky or not, the Walk of Fame is the story of Hollywood, the film industry, and the very origin of stardom itself in 1.3 miles of sidewalk. Today we use “Hollywood” as shorthand for the “biz”–and the “biz” as shorthand for the entertainment business. But there was a time when Los Angeles and the film industry weren’t inextricably linked. In fact, its original home was all the way across the country in the greatest city in the world… Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Gillian Jacobs [00:06:54] Like many professional actors in the U.S., I live in Los Angeles. And the reason I live here and not in Fort Lee is because of famous New Jerseyan Thomas Edison.
Lauren Steimer [00:07:04] You do, actually. You live in Los Angeles because of Thomas Edison–because he was the asshole of early cinema.
Gillian Jacobs [00:07:13] This is Lauren Steimer, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of South Carolina.
Roman Mars [00:07:19] Edison held over 1,000 patents in the U.S., including many of the patents for technologies required to make movies. And there was a problem with that.
Lauren Steimer [00:07:28] Thomas Edison was the original patent troll. Since the 1890s, Edison sued everyone over patents, cameras, projectors, film stock–and then those companies had to pay him license fees. So, if you wanted to shoot anything or screen anything, money goes to Thomas Edison.
Gillian Jacobs [00:07:49] Since New Jersey was where the tech was incubated, it was also where the production offices, studio stages, talent, and by default, the entire motion picture industry was based. But Edison’s stranglehold over the technology also made it more difficult, expensive, and frankly, annoying for other film studios.
Lauren Steimer [00:08:05] And then over time, they realized, “Well, why don’t we actually move far, far, far away from the grasp of Thomas Edison? And we’ll start our own thing.”
Roman Mars [00:08:15] It would be harder for Edison to enforce those patents from the other end of the country. And of course, the weather was better. So fledgling studios and filmmakers escaped to beautiful, distant Southern California.
Gillian Jacobs [00:08:29] In the early 1900s, Hollywood hadn’t yet become the physical manifestation of the film industry. It was just another name on a map.
Leron Gubler [00:08:37] Hollywood was its own community, and there were a lot of real estate promoters here trying to build up this community and make it something special. And so, when the motion picture industry settled here, it wasn’t quite what they anticipated.
Gillian Jacobs [00:08:50] This is Leron Gubler, Former President of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which is the entity that oversees the Walk of Fame. Hollywood was founded in 1887 when Harvey Wilcox and his wife, Daeida, registered his 160 acres of land with the Los Angeles County Recorder’s Office. These acres–just south of what is now known as the Hollywood Hills–were filled with apricots and fake trees. And for film studios looking for open space to build an industry on, it must have looked like heaven.
Roman Mars [00:09:21] But the Wilcoxes were the opposite of show biz people. They were religious teetotalers who envisioned their new community as a Christian utopia, where vice would be banned.
Leron Gubler [00:09:31] Hollywood was a very conservative, straitlaced community. And stars and celebrities at that time were not looked upon favorably. In fact, they had signs on apartment buildings saying, “No actors and no animals allowed.” So that was the original attitude towards actors back in the early 20th century.
Gillian Jacobs [00:09:58] But the Wilcoxes couldn’t keep actors out for long. By 1910, Hollywood went from being its own municipality to an incorporated district of Los Angeles. And by 1911, the very first of many film studios in the area were built. Hollywood would be the new home of the big, bad movie business.
Ty Burr [00:10:16] Oh, it was very down market. It was very shady stuff, the movies.
Gillian Jacobs [00:10:21] Ty Burr is a film critic and the author of Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame. He says that in the nascent years of the movie industry, the very idea of a monument to film actors–like the Walk of Fame–would have been unfathomable.
Ty Burr [00:10:34] You know, in the earliest days of movies, they didn’t even call it “acting.” They used all these different verbs to describe what was going on. “Shamming,” “posing,” “playing,” but never “acting.” It was just sort of being yourself in front of the camera. So, whatever it was, it wasn’t acting.
Roman Mars [00:10:51] Movies were viewed as a novelty at the time. Unlike today’s films, early cinema rarely had narrative plots. They were mostly just snippets of life captured on camera. Films were also silent–with no dialog to memorize. So, actors were pretty far away from thespians reciting iambic pentameter on stage.
Gillian Jacobs [00:11:11] And shockingly to this SAG member, performers weren’t even credited–mostly because movie studios didn’t want people to care about the actors.
Ty Burr [00:11:20] Carl Laemmle, who founded Universal–they all realized that as soon as you started naming an actor by name and promoting them, you would have to pay them more money. So, for the first 15 years of the film industry, actors were not named. You just got the title, you got the company that made the film, and that was it.
Roman Mars [00:11:40] But during the first decade of the 20th century, the number of small movie theaters and Nickelodeon’s skyrocketed across the country. Production companies rushed to produce enough content to meet the growing need for new films. Many studios relied on factory style methods to create more movies and would often cast the same group of actors over and over for the sake of practicality.
Gillian Jacobs [00:12:02] And because audiences were seeing the same actors over and over again, viewers were becoming attached to the faces they were seeing on screen.
Ty Burr [00:12:10] One of the things I found fascinating when I was researching my book was how crazy people went to find out the identity of these people. Some people would write to the film companies, to “the Biograph girl,” or “the girl with the curls,” or whatever they named them. And the letters that, you know, come up in the research are really kind of touching, and sad, and indicative of where we were going as a culture. You know, people saying, “Please tell me your name. I won’t tell anybody else, but please tell me your name.” And just this yearning that comes across–and it’s a new kind of yearning.
Gillian Jacobs [00:12:50] Soon, movie studios had no choice but to yield to their audiences’ demands and start identifying and then promoting their stars.
Ty Burr [00:12:59] Once you name one star, you gotta name them all. And right there is where the star system is born.
Gillian Jacobs [00:13:06] You might understandably think that with all this new fame and prestige–all this collective yearning–that Hollywood actors would finally come into their power. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, executives like Carl Laemmle realized that stardom was a commodity that could be manufactured, controlled, and profited from.
Roman Mars [00:13:27] Studios tied up actors in exclusive contracts, which meant they could only work for that particular studio; they had nearly complete control over their stars.
Lauren Steimer [00:13:36] So you had not just to go where they wanted you to go, but you had to be photographed and be photographed how they wanted you to be photographed. So, they would tell you to go to Musso and Frank’s, and there will be some photographers outside, and you’re going to have a dinner inside, and magically the photographers will find their way inside to a private restaurant.
Roman Mars [00:13:58] Movie studios understood how these public spaces could be used to generate even more star power. So, they started exerting control not only over which pictures the stars acted in but where they went at night and with whom.
Lauren Steimer [00:14:10] If you were not romantically involved with anyone at that time, they would actually craft a narrative in which you were dating some other celebrity at the studio or newcomer at the studio that they wanted to promote to help their career.
Gillian Jacobs [00:14:23] Back then, an appearance at a restaurant like the Brown Derby guaranteed a write up. Rival gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were permanent fixtures inside. It generated publicity for the actors and the restaurants and let fans know where to go if they wanted to see stars in-person.
Roman Mars [00:14:42] Meanwhile, the neighborhood of Hollywood–which not long before had its no actors, no animals rule–quickly capitalized on the film industry and its celebrity status. If Detroit had its cars, then Hollywood had its stars.
Vintage Announcer #1 [00:14:57] The city below looks like any other sprawling metropolis. Yet this one is different. Its fame has spread to the four corners of the earth. Its name is known to practically every man, woman, and child in the universe. For this is fabulous Hollywood.
Lauren Steimer [00:15:13] The press actually really pushed both the idea of the star and the idea of Hollywood as this glamorous, identifiable location. And it helped cement this idea that Hollywood itself was such a glamorous area.
Roman Mars [00:15:31] Despite its reputation today, the truth is that not many movies are actually filmed in Hollywood. And this was true even back in the day. Of the five big film studios at the time–MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Fox, and RKO–most were located in other parts of Los Angeles, not Hollywood.
Ty Burr [00:15:49] Municipally, it is its own thing. And I think it’s always existed parallel to the film industry–sometimes almost as a parasite of the film industry.
Roman Mars [00:16:02] But moviemakers understood the power of branding. And so, the name “Hollywood” became synonymous with entertainment.
Vintage Announcer #2 [00:16:09] One of the most interesting aspects of Hollywood is the motion picture industry. This vast empire is also a potent factor in the economic life of Southern California. Its studios employ thousands of workers, electricians, carpenters, painters, seamstresses, artists–artisans of every conceivable kind.
Gillian Jacobs [00:16:32] Throughout the 1930s, MGM Studios had actors like Clark Gable and Judy Garland on their roster. Dorothy Arzner–the director whose star I saw on the Walk of Fame–was at the peak of her career. She worked extensively with Paramount Studios, where she directed 11 features in five years. The movie industry was one of the biggest businesses in the world–and as it reached the height of its power, film became the economic lifeblood of Los Angeles. Nothing could stop Hollywood.
Roman Mars [00:17:02] Nothing except… for the Supreme Court.
Lauren Steimer [00:17:09] So the Paramount decision of ’48–it affected all of the major studios.
Gillian Jacobs [00:17:14] The Paramount decision was a landmark antitrust ruling that went after the big five movie studios, who dominated Hollywood.
Lauren Steimer [00:17:21] That’s the number one thing that destabilized the industry–and that was kind of the very slow decline of the industry and their power.
Gillian Jacobs [00:17:29] Basically, the Big Five had a powerful monopoly over the entire motion picture industry. They controlled everything from the production of films right down to the theaters that screened them. If a studio owned a movie theater, it could shut out its competition by refusing to play any film from a rival company. The 1948 rule put an end to that, making studios give up control of their movie theaters and sell them to independent companies–which was great for competition, but bad for the system Hollywood had been built on.
Roman Mars [00:18:02] On top of that, in the late 40s and early 50s, Americans were flocking to newly constructed suburbs far away from the city centers where movie palaces were located. Ticket sales plummeted.
Ty Burr [00:18:13] Movie theater attendance dropped by 60% in some markets; it just dropped like a stone. And the studios were panic stricken for good reason.
Roman Mars [00:18:26] The Hollywood film industry was suffering and with it, the district of Hollywood.
Leron Gubler [00:18:31] Retail had gone into a state of decline because people weren’t coming over the hill to shop like they once did.
Gillian Jacobs [00:18:38] Leron Gubler says that residents who fled over the hill for the San Fernando Valley suburbs weren’t just ditching a night out at the picture palace. They were ditching the entire local economy. It seemed as though the industry and the neighborhood were in crisis.
Roman Mars [00:18:54] So in 1953–in response to declining revenue and a distinct lack of good old Hollywood oomph–a man named E.M. Stuart, who was the volunteer president of the Chamber of Commerce, came up with an idea. It was a plan to harken back to the old, glorious days of Hollywood.
Leron Gubler [00:19:14] He said, “The tourists come here looking for stars, and they’re disappointed. So, let’s give them stars.”
Roman Mars [00:19:19] The chamber announced in a press release that they were proposing an attraction that would maintain the glory of a community whose name means “glamor” and “excitement” in the four corners of the world: the Walk of Fame.
Gillian Jacobs [00:19:32] The idea would be to take the ethereal stars from the screen and place them into the ground where anyone could visit them. Instead of hoping and then failing to bump into William Holden at the Brown Derby, you can at least know that you’ll have a small piece of him along Hollywood and Vine. And then as you’re strolling along to take a picture of Humphrey Bogart or Claudette Colbert’s star–oh, hey–maybe you’ll pop into Woolworths to buy a new handbag or tuck into Musso and Frank’s for a steak lunch. Very subtle.
Leron Gubler [00:20:03] So when they were designing the stars–what they were actually going to look like–there was a lot of discussion.
Gillian Jacobs [00:20:10] No one quite knows where the original idea came from, but Leron believes the inspiration for the design of the Walk came from the ceiling of the dining room in the Hollywood Hotel.
Leron Gubler [00:20:20] A lot of celebrities hung out–and in their dining room, on the ceiling, they had stars with the names of celebrities out there. And if you look at those stars, they are very similar to what ended up in the ground.
Roman Mars [00:20:35] The Chamber of Commerce created four committees with experts in four separate categories: motion pictures, television, audio recording, and radio. The first members of the Motion Picture Committee included industry giants Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn, and Walt Disney. They combed through thousands of names–dating back to the earliest days of Hollywood–in order to decide who deserved to be honored on the brand-new Walk of Fame.
Gillian Jacobs [00:21:02] At this time, there was a kind of cosmic shift taking place. By the 1950s and sixties, the actors who had inspired that new kind of yearning were changing. While the town and the film business were still relatively young, the movie stars fueling the industry were not.
Ty Burr [00:21:19] The classic stars were getting old. And stars aren’t supposed to get old. And what happens when a star gets old? We really hadn’t come to grips with that as a culture. But you get into the postwar era and cable’s getting old and Crawford’s getting old–all these things are just changing.
Gillian Jacobs [00:21:36] A permanent ode to the great stars that made Hollywood itself great seemed like a very appropriate tribute.
Roman Mars [00:21:42] The Walk debuted with a sort of soft open–with the unveiling of eight stars: Joanne Woodward, Olive Borden, Ronald Coleman, Louise Fazenda, Preston Foster, Burt Lancaster, Edward Sedgwick, Ernest Torrence, and me, Roman Mars. Sorry–force of habit.
Gillian Jacobs [00:22:00] And in 1961–after years of debate over where it would go and who would be honored, if the color scheme would clash with the neighborhood, and if Charlie Chaplin was indeed a communist–the walk was finally installed.
Leron Gubler [00:22:14] They put in 1,500 stars all at once to create an instant tourist attraction.
Roman Mars [00:22:20] The Chamber of Commerce wanted to acknowledge that this would be a living monument, so it left about 500 stars blank as placeholders for future recipients.
Gillian Jacobs [00:22:29] This was a pragmatic move because–let’s be honest–of those first eight names unveiled on the Walk of Fame, chances are you didn’t recognize most, if any, of them. The Chamber knew that the industry was fickle–that people would eventually forget about their old favorites and move on to the next big star in line, whether that was Farrah Fawcett or Francis Ford Coppola.
Roman Mars [00:22:51] It’s a permanent memorial dedicated to a fleeting concept: fame.
Gillian Jacobs [00:22:58] Although it began as a ploy to generate business, the Walk of Fame ended up tapping into that intimate connection people feel for their favorite performer–the same one that had fans writing to movie studios in the early days of cinema, begging to learn the names of “the girl with the curls” or “the Biograph girl.”
Ty Burr [00:23:17] The Walk of Fame allows people to feel that they are in the presence of–privy to–whatever stardust–whatever magic–these people had. There’s that gulf between, you know, us and them. And there are very few places that bridge it with physicality.
Roman Mars [00:23:38] And that is the story of how the Walk of Fame saved Hollywood.
Lauren Steimer [00:23:48] Oof. So, things really start to go downhill in the 1960s and 70s–between the 60s and the 80s.
Roman Mars [00:23:54] Yeah, it was never going to be that easy.
Gillian Jacobs [00:23:57] Despite the Chamber of Commerce’s best efforts, the neighborhood kept declining. This was something that was happening to urban areas all over postwar America. But contrasted to its glory days, the decay of Hollywood Boulevard felt extra bleak.
Lauren Steimer [00:24:12] Hollywood Boulevard becomes, you know, a place where you find a lot of, like, uh… What can I call them? Like, cheap stores, stores for, like, dollar items, $5 items, really, really cheaply made souvenirs. And those picture palaces–in the 1960s and 70s, if they’re still around, they’re showing porn.
Leron Gubler [00:24:38] There was a period in the late 70s and early 80s when it was difficult to find celebrities who would accept stars. The problem was Hollywood was going downhill economically and physically, and it was becoming kind of rough out there on the sidewalks. And a lot of celebrities were reluctant to accept stars at that time.
Gillian Jacobs [00:24:58] Leron Gubler says that the Walk of Fame itself was never actually in any danger of disappearing–even as the urban area around it deteriorated–in part because of the ways the walk has had to evolve over the years.
Roman Mars [00:25:11] Since it was first installed, the Chamber of Commerce has made a number of changes to its process. It added additional categories to honor, expanded the actual area of the walk, and began hosting unveiling ceremonies for each new star installed. So, the celebrity receiving the star actually has to show up in order to get one.
Gillian Jacobs [00:25:30] And in the 1980s, a radio and television personality named Johnny Grant stepped onto the scene to try and shake things up.
Johnny Grant [00:25:41] I must tell you one thing. By the way, I’m Johnny Grant, and I’ll be your host for this evening…
Leron Gubler [00:25:48] Johnny was the world’s greatest promoter. And when he got his star, he got involved in the ceremony. He arranged for a military flyover and a brass band. And the Committee that put on the Walk of Fame was so impressed with what he did for his own ceremony that they said, “Hey, Johnny. How would you like to chair the Walk of Fame?” And he immediately jumped at the opportunity and really is probably the person most responsible for what the Walk of Fame has become today.
Gillian Jacobs [00:26:23] But one of the most important changes to the process was instigating a fee in order to receive a star on the Walk of Fame. In 1980, this started at $2,500 to help pay for installation, maintenance, and the unveiling ceremony. But by 2022, it’s ballooned to $55,000.
Roman Mars [00:26:40] In most cases, a studio or sponsor will foot the bill because it’s great publicity.
Gillian Jacobs [00:26:45] There’s a whole nomination process involved, so it’s not like you can just shell out $55,000 and buy yourself a star. But the price tag–as well as how that money is spent–has been a point of criticism for the walk over the years.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:26:58] Well, for me, the significance is that you only get a star on the Hollywood Boulevard if you’re willing to pay for it or someone who’s trying to get publicity for a film coming out pays for it–which is how most of them get put there.
Gillian Jacobs [00:27:14] This is Walk of Fame star recipient Francis Ford Coppola.
Roman Mars [00:27:18] Wait. You know Francis Ford Coppola?
Gillian Jacobs [00:27:20] I know a guy who knows a guy. If you weren’t aware, Coppola is the director of The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, and a personal favorite of mine, The Conversation. Even though his career spans decades, he says he didn’t receive his star until early 2022 because of the hefty price.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:27:41] Usually, my films were produced by myself, and we did not spend money in PR in aggrandizing people like myself. But now–with the 50th anniversary of The Godfather–Paramount is willing to treat me to that. And certainly, there are many people on that Walk of Fame that I am humbly proud to be in their company. One of them is Ms. Arzner.
Gillian Jacobs [00:28:11] “Ms. Arzner” as in Dorothy Arzner, the film director whose broken star on the Walk of Fame first got me interested in this story. After Arzner retired from directing, she taught film at UCLA, where one of her students was actually a young Francis Ford Coppola.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:28:26] Well, Ms. Arzner was a wonderful teacher. She really made us feel as if she cared for us. And aside from that, she was a movie pioneer. She was one of the people who created the cinema.
Gillian Jacobs [00:28:39] Arzner had a reputation for being a director with an eye for new talent. She was able to help craft on screen personas for new actors and mold them into stars.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:28:49] She was always coming up with little tidbits like that–little pointers. And of course, the most significant one–that the director should always sit at the same place next to the camera, not only because that’s the best view, but also it was so the actors would see that you’re there because they’re doing it for you. And if you’re back away in some place, where there are television monitors, the actors can’t see who they’re doing it for.
Gillian Jacobs [00:29:19] Arzner also had a successful career as a film editor before she began directing. Coppola says that she showed him some important directorial tips from back when you physically cut and paste film negatives and you had to use your arm to measure the length of a scene.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:29:35] I remember she told me once–and demonstrating–that one arm length for a kiss was a long, sexy kiss. But two arm lengths was a really passionate kiss. And three arm lengths was a very sexy kiss.
Gillian Jacobs [00:29:52] And on top of that, Arzner made some pretty amazing technological contributions to filmmaking. She’s credited with inventing the prototype for the very first boom mic. Here she is talking about how she came up with the idea in order to let the actress Clara Bow move around freely on set.
Dorothy Arzner [00:30:10] I’d hang the mic, and Clara Bow would have to say what she had to say and then be silent until she got over here if she moved. And it wasn’t many days till I said to the prop man, “Do you have a fishpole?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Bring it tomorrow and a ladder, and hang that thing on it. And when Clara moves, you move in with it.”
Roman Mars [00:30:30] It might not be a microphone taped to a fishing pole anymore, but the boom is a piece of equipment that’s still essential on film sets today.
Gillian Jacobs [00:30:39] In 1943, Dorothy Arzner retired from the film industry. It was probably much earlier in her career than she anticipated.
Dorothy Arzner [00:30:47] I got pneumonia on the last picture I made, which it took me some time to get over. And I didn’t feel strong–and you have to be strong to be a director–to stand up to the end.
Roman Mars [00:30:58] Health issues aside, she was also a female film director and a lesbian. At this point, sexism and homophobia in Hollywood were squeezing out people like her. Arzner directed her last Hollywood film at age 46.
Gillian Jacobs [00:31:13] The fact that someone has a star on the Walk of Fame means that they achieved a level of renown and acclaim so immense that the Chamber of Commerce thought that the mere sight of their name would entice tourists to the area. But the reality is that the industry and the public have a short memory when it comes to people like Dorothy Arzner. And many of the names on the sidewalk that were once a draw have faded into obscurity.
Roman Mars [00:31:52] Today, Hollywood Boulevard is in better shape, but it wasn’t all because of the Walk of Fame. In the early 2000s, the city invested millions of dollars of public and private money to build up Hollywood and Highland into a commercial district equipped with a shopping center and luxury hotel.
Gillian Jacobs [00:32:09] Jimmy Kimmel does film there, and Hollywood has hosted the Academy Awards since 2001–except for in 2021 because of the pandemic–but the general area has undergone a sort of Times Squareification, where it’s… you know… fine, I guess.
Lauren Steimer [00:32:27] There’s a lot of space–a lot of retail space–that’s taken up by… Hmm. What would I call them? They’re designed to appeal to anyone who’s there. They’re really just tourist traps.
Gillian Jacobs [00:32:42] And despite the somewhat renewed glamor, you are very, very, very unlikely to see a celebrity walking down the Walk of Fame. There is a man with two snakes. There is a man with two snakes. I’m very afraid. I am walking away. There are people paying to have the man put snakes on them. I think the unintended irony of the Walk of Fame is that it was a group of business owners–not the film industry itself–that gave those stars a permanent place to be memorialized. And for underappreciated pioneers like Dorothy Arzner, her star on the Walk of Fame remains the greatest public tribute to her life and career–even if it is missing a few pieces.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:33:27] You remark how the Hollywood Boulevard star with her name on it was rather old and worn.
Gillian Jacobs [00:33:34] Here’s Francis Ford Coppola again.
Francis Ford Coppola [00:33:37] To me, that is a badge of honor because it shows how long her name was enshrined in that way. And in terms of Ms. Arzner’s legacy, of course, the first way that is preserved is by the many movies she worked on.
Gillian Jacobs [00:33:54] Francis Ford Coppola probably has the healthier perspective on this matter, but I still felt bummed about Dorothy’s star. And because the Chamber of Commerce maintains the Walk of Fame, I couldn’t help but raise the issue of her missing star legs when I was talking with Leron Gubler.
Leron Gubler [00:34:11] You know, if there’s a star that needs repairs, if somebody sends an email to the chamber–[email protected]–we’ll pass it on to the Historic Trust. So, if there’s one that you think needs some attention, just let us know.
Gillian Jacobs [00:34:26] Ms. Arzner is missing her bottom legs–her bottom star legs.
Leron Gubler [00:34:31] Oh, the terrazzo’s missing from–?
Gillian Jacobs [00:34:32] Yeah.
Leron Gubler [00:34:33] Okay. Let me make a note.
Gillian Jacobs [00:34:37] She’s near the Walgreens.
Leron Gubler [00:34:38] Near the Walgreens?
Gillian Jacobs [00:34:41] She’s across the street from the Walgreens.
Leron Gubler [00:34:44] Really? Okay.
Gillian Jacobs [00:34:45] A few months ago, I took a stroll over to North Vine to pick up more detergent. And not only was the Walgreens gone, but I was horrified to see that Dorothy’s star was somehow in worse shape. The bottom of her cracked terrazzo had been filled in with black asphalt by the city, which was something that Leron warned could happen if there was a tripping hazard. I don’t know if there’s any point to the Walk of Fame, or Fame, or Hollywood, or any of this business that I’ve chosen. Some days when I think of Dorothy’s star, it just feels like a symbol of how quickly Hollywood forgets. There are more than 2,700 names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame–most of them completely unknown to the 10 million people who visit every year. But other days, I take comfort in the fact that despite the pushy tour guides, and snake wranglers, and sweaty people, and Elmo costumes, that the Walk of Fame is a place where anyone can stop, look down, and remember Dorothy Arzner–a director who made movies all the way back when.
Dorothy Arzner [00:35:58] There you are. Now, that’s a long story. And I briefed it. It has lots of detail in it.
Roman Mars [00:36:12] Coming up after the break, what Gillian Jacobs can teach Roman Mars about con law. Hollywood con law. Do you ever look up from your life and realize that nothing turned out quite like you expected? One day you’re 20, you’re working on your Ph.D. in genetics, and you have a whole life of academia just, like, right there in front of you. That is what is going to happen. And then you wake up, and you’re in your late forties, and you host a podcast. Try explaining that to your 20-year-old self. First of all, he would say, “Uh, what’s ‘podcast?'” But, you know, maybe a life of academia would have worked out; I love teaching. You know, as much as we try to plan for every moment in life, sometimes we get stuck in those what ifs. But no matter what what ifs, life throws your way, State Farm provides the coverage you need to feel supported. They do it by showing up for you how and when you need it. With a real person, when you want clarity–or digital support, when you’re seeking something more efficient. Let’s imagine what a future could look like as a State Farm customer.
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Gina [00:37:22] We’ve been together for, what, like, 15 years now?
Matt [00:37:25] Since we were 16. And we’ve been with State Farm for almost as long.
Gina [00:37:28] After high school, then packed it up to move across the country.
Matt [00:37:32] A.k.a. I followed her to school, so we could start our lives together. We really had no clue how much work that would be.
Gina [00:37:37] Our first big adult thing was, really, buying the car we drove in.
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Gina [00:38:32] Yep. And it was so nice not to add home insurance to the list of things keeping me up at night. And even now, with the baby on the way, I’m sure we’ll need to make a few changes to our policy. But I’m not even stressing ’cause I know State Farm will have it under control. Matt keeps joking that we should name the baby “Jake” with how much I talk about State Farm.
Matt [00:38:52] What? It’s a good name.
Gina [00:38:54] Can we talk about this later?
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Gina [00:41:57] This is a true dream come true for me. So, thank you for having me.
Roman Mars [00:42:00] I’m delighted with the result, and I’m delighted to be speaking with you now. So, you’re here, again, because there’s a few things we want to talk about that’s something we touched about in the main piece, but it’s actually come up in the news kind of recently. What is that?
Gillian Jacobs [00:42:14] Yeah. So, when I started working on this piece with Vivian, the Paramount Decree felt like a sort of historical anecdote that we needed to explain to help explain the Walk of Fame. But it’s actually become very relevant for current day Hollywood to the point where friends are actually texting me about it. And now, instead of feeling like I’m boring my friends with this information I’ve learned working the piece, I can actually help illuminate perhaps what we’re seeing go on in current day Hollywood.
Roman Mars [00:42:41] Right. And so that Paramount Decree was a Supreme Court decision from 1948, and it led to these huge changes and shake ups in the movie industry. It, like, broke up the sort of vertical monopoly that studios had.
Gillian Jacobs [00:42:53] Exactly. Yeah. So, to recap, Hollywood during its golden age operated on something called the studio system, which meant that a very small number of very large studios dominated essentially every aspect of the American film industry.
Roman Mars [00:43:08] And that was the big five studios that I listed out in the piece.
Gillian Jacobs [00:43:10] Exactly. So, these studios operated under what you just described–vertical integration–which meant that they didn’t just make the films, but they had ownership and control over how they were distributed and exhibited.
Roman Mars [00:43:22] Right. And so, the big studios–they owned the movie theaters that the films were screened in. And that meant they could simply refuse to screen movies that were made by their competitors.
Gillian Jacobs [00:43:32] Yes, yes, yes. So we didn’t mention it in the piece, but another big aspect was that before the Paramount Decree studios engaged in something called “block-booking,” which meant that if a movie theater was independently owned, in order to show a really popular film from a big studio, it would have to sign a contract, saying they would also screen a bundle of other films that were released by that studio. And a lot of times those would be the not great titles that the studios wanted to unload.
Roman Mars [00:44:01] So if a theater wanted to show The Wizard of Oz, MGM–who made Wizard of Oz–could force them to exhibit, like, five other crappier MGM films, too. And it was the Paramount Decree that put an end to all that.
Gillian Jacobs [00:44:14] It sure did, yes. So, the Decree initiated a lot of really important and good changes to the entertainment industry. The number of independent and art house movie theaters shot up from the 1950s onward, independent filmmaking was finally able to take off, the number of international films being shown went up, censorship was severely weakened, and it kicked off a really interesting, creative, and freer time for American filmmaking–which is now known as the American New Wave or New Hollywood.
Roman Mars [00:44:45] Yeah. And this is where your friend–your best friend–Francis Ford Coppola comes into the scene. And Scorsese, and all these people.
Gillian Jacobs [00:44:53] Okay, so let’s just smash cut to the present day. And in August of 2020, the Paramount decision was actually overturned, which was pretty stunning.
Roman Mars [00:45:03] So why now–after 70ish years–did this reversal happen?
Gillian Jacobs [00:45:08] Okay, I’m going to state the obvious, but the film industry is so different than it was in 1948. The rental market didn’t even exist in the 1940s, when the decision was made. And in recent years there’s been a huge move into streaming content and home release. A lot of films don’t even see theatrical release anymore. So, the argument was that the Decree wasn’t relevant anymore and that studios have kind of already been in control of their distribution and exhibition with streaming. So, in November of 2019, the DOJ moved to terminate the Decree, and in 2020, a district court judge agreed. So, it is no more.
Roman Mars [00:45:45] What does this mean for the entertainment industry in 2022?
Gillian Jacobs [00:45:49] So even though the Decree was terminated in 2020, there was a two-year sunset period to allow for theaters and the business model to adjust. So, we actually haven’t felt the full effects of the decision yet.
Roman Mars [00:46:01] Oh, okay. Okay.
Gillian Jacobs [00:46:03] But as you can imagine, it’s caused a lot of anxiety in Hollywood. And the National Association of Theater Owners, the DGA, and the WGA have all pushed back on this.
Roman Mars [00:46:13] And so why is that constituency anxious about this?
Gillian Jacobs [00:46:17] Okay. So, we’re in a period of consolidation in Hollywood right now. Warner Discovery– Disney bought Fox. So, take Disney, for example. What I think the fear is, in terms of something like block-booking–which is, you know, something, as I said, that the Paramount Decree banned–is that so much of the box office is motivated by huge budget films, like Marvel movies. So, these are the films that a majority of theaters will want to screen. If studios return to the practice of block-booking, Disney can theoretically tell both large and small movie chains, “Okay. So, if you screen Guardians of the Galaxy Volume… you’ll also need to screen, like, four direct-to-video-quality Winnie the Pooh movies. Now, I love Winnie the Pooh movies. Also shout out to Paddington movies. If you’ve never seen Paddington 2, you’re missing out. Okay, back to my main point. So even if you have a larger multiplex theater chain with like 20 screens, if most of those are being taken up by blocks of Disney properties and blocks of Warner Brothers properties, that leaves fewer movie screens left to play–you know–independent and international films. So, this could end up hurting independent filmmaking because there’s less room for it in movie theaters. And despite the fact that in-person viewing of movies has declined, there really is value in being able to see independent films in a movie theater.
Roman Mars [00:47:40] Right. And I truly love seeing a movie in a movie theater. I also like seeing them at home, but I really like the movie theater experience. So, if the Paramount Decree is really set aside and all of a sudden, you know, movie studios can own theaters again in large scale, what is the result of that?
Gillian Jacobs [00:47:59] I don’t know. I’m a Hollywood insider, not a Hollywood expert, so I don’t know. And that is, I think, probably why my friends are texting me. There is a lot of feelings of anxiety right now about what is the future of content. But as we know, theater owners were already seeing a decline in moviegoing even before this regulation was rolled back and even before the pandemic. But I think people are imagining scenarios in which one of the remaining big studios could buy AMC, which is one of the largest movie theater chains. So theoretically, that movie studio could shut out its competition and only show their properties on 11,000 screens across the country.
Roman Mars [00:48:47] Oh, wow. I mean, it’s already pretty close to that now. But, like, it would be bad if that were policy, for sure.
Gillian Jacobs [00:48:54] Yeah. And I truly don’t know if that will happen. I don’t know what is going to happen. But the end of the Paramount Decree came at a really scary time for movie theaters. It hit right in the middle of the pandemic, which decimated moviegoing. And there have been so many changes–even within the last few years–in the industry that it really left independent theater owners on shaky ground. And now studios have the ability to swoop in and buy up these theaters. And, you know, actually, it’s been quietly happening for a while. There’s this weird loophole from the 1948 ruling that allowed for city specific exceptions, so Disney already owned the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. And in 2020, Netflix bought the famous Egyptian theater. And for people not from Los Angeles, the Egyptian is an iconic L.A. landmark. It was actually the site of the very first big Hollywood premiere, so it has a deep history to everything we talked about in this episode. It’s right there on Hollywood Boulevard. So, the Egyptian is supposed to reopen next year, and half of the titles screened will be Netflix.
Roman Mars [00:50:06] Wow. What’s interesting about what you said there is that even in the Netflix theater, only 50% of the films being shown will be from Netflix. So obviously, they feel a need to assuage people’s fear about what a monopoly would mean, especially in a place so historic as the Egyptian Theater.
Gillian Jacobs [00:50:25] Yeah, it’s been really fascinating working on this piece and seeing how cyclical this all is. You know, as it says at the National Archive, “What’s past is prologue.” And so, you know, we are living through a historic time for the entertainment industry again. And every week it feels like there’s a huge breaking news story about the continued shake out of these major mergers, and consolidation of power and big, big changes happening.
Roman Mars [00:50:57] Yeah, but what gets me about this–and this gets me about all sorts of when regulation diminishes–is there’s this quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg when part of the Voting Rights Act was being eroded. She said that getting rid of these provisions are like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re no longer getting wet. I mean, the reason why people feel that the landscape is different is because this regulation existed. And now that it doesn’t, it could immediately snap back to the bad old days that people hate. I think it’s really kind of nerve racking. Well, thank you, Gillian. I really, really appreciate this. This is fun.
Gillian Jacobs [00:51:38] Thank you. I am so glad to have this forum where I can talk about this with people equally interested and not just get a glazed over look at dinner parties anymore. Not that I go to dinner parties.
Roman Mars [00:51:53] Well, I will be happy to talk about Dorothy Arzner with you any old time.
Gillian Jacobs [00:51:57] Thank you.
Roman Mars [00:52:02] 99% Invisible was produced this week by Gillian Jacobs and co-produced and edited by Vivian Le–with additional editing by Kelly Prime. Sound mix by Martín Gonzalez. Fact-checking by Graham Hacia. Music by Swan Real–with additional music from APM. Our senior editor is Delaney Hall. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. Our intern is Olivia Green. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Christopher Johnson, Emmett FitzGerald, Jayson De Leon, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Joe Rosenberg, Lasha Madan, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars. Special thanks this week to Roman Coppola, Kelly Wolf, and Judith Mayne. Judith’s interview didn’t make it into this story, but if you want to learn more about Dorothy Arzner, you should definitely check out her book. It’s called Directed by Dorothy Arzner. If you want to read more about the biz, Ty Burr has a Substack. Subscribe to it at Ty Burr’s Watch List at substack.com. Gillian Jacobs also directed a great documentary called More Than Robots. It follows four teams of high school students as they prepare for the 2020 FIRST robotics competition, and I know fans of 99PI will love this movie. You can watch it on Disney Plus right now. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM Podcast Family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet at me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram, Reddit and TikTok, too. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love, as well as every past episode of 99PI at 99pi.org.
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