The 80 Greatest Hollywood Moments
From the 1915 epic 'The Birth of a Nation' to 2010's record-breaking 'Toy Story 3,' Todd McCarthy looks at the best of Hollywood for THR's 80th anniversary.
In commemoration of The Hollywood Reporter's 80th anniversary, we've chosen 80 moments in the history of Hollywood -- from its movies as well as from real life -- that we feel carry more weight than others, that linger in the mind after many years, that signal changes in the way movies and their own company town developed, operated and felt. Eighty entirely different occasions could have been chosen, and 80 more beyond those, so rich is the history and resonant are the emotional reverberations that American films carry with them.
1889 Hollywood consists of one big ranch and hasn't been invented yet, but the efforts of Thomas Edison, his assistant W.K. L. Dickson and George Eastman bear fruit with the showing of film on the Edison Kinetophonograph, the first machine able to show moving pictures on film. We might all still be here today, but we wouldn't have gotten here in the same way without them.
1903 William S. Porter invents creative editing in The Life of an American Fireman and shocks audiences when he breaks down the fourth wall by having a cowboy shoot a gun right right at the camera at the end of the 12-minute The Great Train Robbery. The Western is born.
1907 Edison's rival William N. Selig comes to Los Angeles to start making pictures and two years later builds the first significant studio.
The Birth of a Nation
1913 Finding the climate at Flagstaff, Arizona, too snowy and inhospitable, Cecil B. De Mille and Oscar C. Apfel, with the backing of Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldfish (later Goldwyn), reboard the train from New York and go to the end of the line in order to shoot their big Western The Squaw Man on natural locations and in a barn in a quiet, church-filled community called Hollywood. Other producers keen to escape Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company quickly follow suit.
1914 Carl Laemmle pays $3,500 for the Taylor Estate in Lankershim Township to build Universal Studios, which opens the following year. From the beginning, the public is invited to visit the lot and watch the doings at Movie City for 25 cents. The modern tour begins in 1964 and includes lunch at the commissary.
1915 With his incendiary three-hour epic The Birth of a Nation breaking all records, D.W. Griffith builds a massive Babylon set that towers over Sunset Boulevard. The elephants' descendents live on at Hollywood and Highland.
1919 Desirous of controlling their own destinies, four of Hollywood's most powerful figures -- Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford -- form United Artists.
1921 The Screen Writers Guild is formed.
1921 The tragic and misguided prosecution of comic Fatty Arbuckle for manslaughter at a wild party in San Francisco provokes widespread indignation about Hollywood's perceived status as a den of sin, giving birth to the industry's self-regulatory Hays Office. In 1934, the Production Code is introduced to to control what can and cannot be shown in movies; it is revised in 1966 and replaced in 1968 by the current ratings system.
1922 Adding to Hollywood's sordid reputation, on February 1, Paramount director William Desmond Taylor is shot to death in his Alvadaro Street bunaglow in a case never officially solved, although suspicion falls variously on comedienne Mabel Norman (Arbuckle's frequent costar), actress and Taylor's sometime lover Mary Miles Minter, the latter's mother, Taylor's former houseboy and the director's bisexual current valet, among others. The death from morphine overdose in January, 1923, of leading man Wallace Reid further intensifies demands that Hollywood clean up its act.
1922 On October 6, 20-year-old Universal production executive Irving Thalberg fires Erich von Stroheim for extravagance after six weeks of shooting on Merry-Go-Round, the first significant instance of an executive exerting such dominance over a director. Two years later at M-G-M, Thalberg plays an important role in cutting Stroheim's Greed from 42 reels down to 10.
1922 At the invitation of Mary Pickford, Ernst Lubitsch arrives in December to direct his first Hollywood picture, only to be met upon his arrival at the Ambassador Hotel by World War I vets protesting against a German directing a Hollywood film. He is the first of many directors from Germany, Austria and Hungary -- F.W. Murnau, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann, Michael Curtiz, Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Paul Fejos, William Dieterle, Edgar G. Ulmer, Andre De Toth, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Max Ophuls -- to cross the ocean and profoundly shape American movies.
1925 After having caught Louis B. Mayer's eye during a talent hunt in Berlin, Greta Garbo, along with her director-mentor Mauritz Stiller, arrives in Hollywood in September and immediately scores in her initial American film, The Torrent, launching a Hollywood craze for European beauties that has never really ebbed.
1926 After five years as the Latin lover of the screen, Rudolph Valentino suddenly dies in August at age 31, prompting an outbreak of mass hysteria among the throngs of women cramming the streets of New York for his funeral.
1927 "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothing yet," Al Jolson prophetically proclaims in the first words of dialogue heard in a synchronized sound feature film. The world premiere of The Jazz Singer in New York on October 6 --t he day after Sam Warner, one of the Warner brothers, dies, and the day before Yom Kippur--signals the beginning of the end for silent pictures and the launch of the sound era.
1929 The first Academy Awards are presented on May 16 at a dinner for roughly 270 people at the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. At tables dominated by waxed candy replicas of the new Oscar statuette designed by Cedric Gibbons, Jumbo Squab Perigeaux and Lobster Eugenie are served. With the winners having been announced three months earlier, there is no suspense (this will change the following year) as Douglas Fairbanks and William C. DeMille hand out the Oscars to "Wings" for best production (The Jazz Singer had been ruled ineligible), "Sunrise" for unique and artistic production, Janet Gaynor for actress, Emil Jannings (already back in Germany) for actor and Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven) and Lewis Milestone (Two Arabian Knights) for director. Commenting on the statuette's design, screenwriter Frances Marion quips that, "It's the perfect symbol of the picture business: a powerful athletic body clutching a gleaming sword with half of his head, that part which held his brains, completely sliced off."
1930 Tens of thousands jam Hollywood Boulevard for the May 24 opening of Howard Hughes' $3 million aviation epic Hell's Angels at Grauman's Chinese Theater. The most stupendous premiere of them all, the teeming, frenzied nature of the event inspired the Nathanael West's portrait of an out-of-control mob at the climax of his novella The Day of the Locust, in which the central character creates an incendiary painting called The Burning of Los Angeles.
1930 The Hollywood Reporter, the town's first trade paper, published its first issue on September 3.
1933 Making an emergency landing on the beach in Malibu in William Randolph Hearst's private plane on the morning of March 29, George Bernard Shaw spends his only few hours in Hollywood, hitching a ride along Pacific Coast Highway with a UCLA sophomore to Culver City, where Marion Davies hosts a luncheon in his honor attended by Hearst, Louis B. Mayer and Clark Gable, among others.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
1933 With the exception of MGM, the studios are bankrupt; Shirley Temple almost singlehandedly saves Fox, Mae West does the same for Paramount, King Kong rescues RKO, gangsters and Busby Berkeley float Warner Bros. and, the following year, Frank Capra bails out Columbia with It Happened One Night.
1935 RKO's Becky Sharp is the first feature to be filmed in the three-strip Technicolor process.
1936 The Directors Guild of America is created on Jan. 13 and 100 directors immediately apply for membership. By the following year, 95 per cent of all Hollywood directors and assistant directors belong.
1937 Walt Disney risks everything on a full-length animated feature and hits the jackpot with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
1938 At the Oscar ceremonies at the Biltmore Hotel on March 10, Leo McCarey accepts the best director award for The Awful Truth by saying, "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture," a nod to his other 1937 film, Make Way for Tomorrow.
1938 Shortly after setting Tyrone Power on his way at 20th Century-Fox, Charles K. Feldman asserts his status as the most creative agent in town by signing Marlene Dietrich when she is down and reigniting her career and doing the same for John Wayne soon thereafter.
1938 On December 10, as the burning Atlanta set turns the skies red above Culver City on the first night of shooting Gone With the Wind, agent Myron Selznick introduces the little-known English actress Vivien Leigh to his producer brother: "David, I'd like you to meet Scarlett O'Hara."
1940 Budd Schulberg, son of former Paramount production chief B.P. Schulberg, quits the Communist Party when its Hollywood boss, John Howard Lawson, tries to dictate changes to Schulberg's corrosive novel What Makes Sammy Run?, which is published the following year.
1940 Preston Sturges begins a never-matched run of compressed creativity, writing and directing eight great or near-great films, including The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, The Palm Beach Story and Hail the Conquering Hero, within a five-year stretch.
The Big Sleep
1940 With his fifth novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, unfinished, F. Scott Fitzgerald dies of a heart attack in the Hollywood apartment of Sheila Graham at age 45.
1941 William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles have their only personal encounter. According to Welles, he entered an elevator in the Fairmont Hotel on the day of the San Francisco premiere of Citizen Kane to encounter inside Hearst alone. Welles impudently offers the publishing tycoon two tickets but Hearst doesn't respond. Welles later insists that Charles Foster Kane would have accepted the invitation.
1944 Frustrated at contractually being barred from the set and irritated at rumors filtering up to his office, Jack Warner sends down this memo to director Howard Hawks directing Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on The Big Sleep: "Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop."
1944 In a huge victory for actors and contract employees, the California Supreme Court decides in Olivia de Havilland's favor in her lawsuit with Warner Bros., ruling that studios could not keep extending a contact period beyond seven years by adding time spent on suspension.
1946 With soldiers back from the war and young couples dating heavily, American movie attendance reaches its all-time peak of 100 million admissions per week.
1946 Howard Hawks casts a young New York actor named Montgomery Clift in Red River; the following year, another young New York actor, Marlon Brando, creates a sensation on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire and makes a screen test for a film called Rebel Without A Cause, which Warner Bros. makes several years later with James Dean. Under the influence of the Actors' Studio and Elia Kazan, these three forge a new modern style of American screen acting.
1947 After a 10-year career as a second-tier leading man at Warner Bros., liberal Ronald Reagan becomes president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving through 1952 and again in 1959. In 1964, he makes his last film, playing a bad guy in The Killers. Two years later, now a conservative Republican, he is elected governor of California, serving two terms, and in 1980 is elected President of the United States, again serving two terms.
1947 After nine days of hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington to examine "the extent of Communist infiltration in the Hollywood motion picture industry," The Hollywood Ten are cited for contempt of Congress. In reaction, on Nov. 24-25, 48 leading executives from every studio, intent on demonstrating that they will keep their houses in order, hold a secret meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and create the Hollywood blacklist, which through more rounds of hearings in 1951 put hundreds out of work.
1948 Marking the beginning of the end of the traditional studio system, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Hollywood companies' vertically integrated structure violates antitrust laws, forcing the studios to start divesting themselves of their theater chains.
1950 In January, a sneak preview of Sunset Boulevard in Evanston, Illinois, audiences howl with derisive laughter when the film begins with William Holden's body being wheeled into a morgue, outfitted with a toe tag and beginning to convese with the other corpses about how they got up there. When it is shown for the first time to a Hollywood audience in April with the scene gone, it goes much better but Louis B. Mayer wants to run Billy Wilder out of town for insulting the business.
1950 Agent Lew Wasserman negotiates a deal for his client James Stewart to receive a hefty percentage rather than straight salaries for two films at Universal, Winchester 73 and Harvey. The trend-setting arrangement also calls for the star to be paid through a company rather than to him personally, thus saving a great deal in taxes
I Love Lucy
1951 I Love Lucy airs for the first time on October 15. Six years later, Desilu, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's company, buys RKO studios. Between 1949-1953, the number of television sets in use in the U.S. rises from 3.6 million to 25.2 million.
1952 This Is Cinerama launches the vogue for ultra-widescreen theater presentations as a means for combating television, followed by the huge success the following year of The Robe in the more conventional one-lens widescreen process, CinemaScope.
1953 Roger Corman produces his first movie and, the following year, Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson form American Releasing Corp., soon renamed American International Pictures. Separately and together, they dedicate themselves to making exploitable pictures very cheaply and aiming them directly at young viewers. The teenage audience is born.
1955 In one of the most stunning upsets in Oscar history, Grace Kelly in The Country Girl bests Judy Garland in A Star Is Born for best actress of 1954 in a year otherwise swept by "On the Waterfront."
1955 A seven-mile freeway backup, the breakdown of rides and 30,000 guests, double the number invited, mark the calamitous opening day of Disneyland on July 17. Admission price for the general public beginning the next day is $1.
1956 Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond flee Hungary and within 15 years are in the forefront of changing the way Hollywood films are photographed.
1957 Humphrey Bogart dies and other great leading men soon follow -- Errol Flynn in 1959, Clark Gable in 1960, Gary Cooper in 1961. All are 60 or younger.
1959 In a long association with United Artists, the Mirisch Brothers set the standard for consistent quality in commercial cinema for a decade beginning with Some Like It Hot and continuing through The Apartment, The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story, The Great Escape, The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, In the Heat of the Night, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, The Thomas Crown Affair and others.
1959 On September 20, Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev arrives is Hollywood for a luncheon at 20th Century-Fox Studios, where he also watches a live production number being performed for the musical Can-Can. Among those who got their hands on the hottest ticket in town were Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Gary Cooper, Dean Martin and Jack Benny. A few, including Ronald Reagan, decline, and Walt Disney will not allow the Communist leader to visit Disneyland.
1960 Shot modestly in black-and-white with his TV crew, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho opens in New York City with lines around the block beginning at 8 a.m. on June 16, with an unprecedented policy that no viewers will be admitted after the film begins. Its enormous success, the greatest of the director's career, launches the modern era of screen violence. Hitchcock attributes 33% of the film's effectiveness to Bernard Herrmann's alarming score.
1962 Universal-International is bought by longtime talent agency MCA, run by Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman. Film studios gradually get bought up by conglomerates, as Paramount becomes part of Gulf+Western in 1966, Warner Bros. is taken over by Seven Arts in 1967, which in turn is acquired by Steve Ross' Kinney National Service two years later, and MGM is snapped up by Kirk Kerkorian in 1970.
Marilyn Monroe, circa 1962
1962 The newspaper editor's line, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend," in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, emerges as one of the most resonant lines, not only in the work of its director John Ford but in all Hollywood films about history.
1962 After being fired from Something's Got to Give, Marilyn Monroe, 36, is found dead in bed at home on Aug. 5, having overdosed on barbiturates.
1964 Building upon the success of the first two films, Bondmania explodes throughout the world with Goldfinger. "Shaken, not stirred" becomes a by-word, United Artists has "Kitty" Galore ready as a back-up in case Pussy Galore doesn't is too much for America to handle, no one can tell Gert Frobe is dubbed in the title role and Sean Connery becomes every man and woman's ideal.
1965 The Pawnbroker is proclaimed to be the first widely distributed American film in decades to show breasts and, the following year, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? blasts through numerous language tabboos.
1966 Surprisingly hired to head up production at Paramount when the studio is at a low ebb, former actor Robert Evans revives it during an impressive eight-year run that includes Rosemary's Baby, The Odd Couple, True Grit, Goodbye, Columbus, Love Story, the Godfather films and Serpico.
1967 After initial mixed reviews and cool box office, producer and star Warren Beatty muscles Bonnie and Clyde back into theaters, some critics reverse their earlier pans with raves (except for The New York Times' Bosley Crowther, who essentially loses his job by protesting too much) and with second wind it becomes a sensation, setting new thresholds in screen violence and clearly showing the influence of recent European cinema techniques, which are also evident in The Graduate, which is an instant smash upon opening in December, with the success of Simon and Garfunkel's songs creating a subsequent vogue for pop tune soundtracks.
1968 Stanley Kubrick comes back to the United States for the last time to open "2001: A Space Odyssey" on April 2 and personally cuts the film by 19 minutes within its first week of release. Dismissed by some critics and ecstatically embraced by others, it is gradually embraced as one the key films of its time as young people return to see it again and again in its long Cinerama engagements and Kubrick becomes a cinematic god.
1968 Russ Meyer's status as the most successful American independent filmmaker is cemented by the enormous success of Vixen!, which makes more than $6 million profit on a $76,000 budget and earns its director a deal at Fox for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
1969 After debuting at the Cannes Film Festival and opening in the summer, Easy Rider changes everything; old studio executives are out, the counterculture is in and almost any young director with long hair gets a shot. But the one element of it that endures it Jack Nicholson, who had been knocking around Hollywood for more than a decade and only gets the part when, for whom Terry Southern wrote the lawyer role, has a bust-up with director Dennis Hopper.
1969 Sam Peckinpah pushes screen mayhem to its bloodiest extreme yet with The Wild Bunch. The same summer, Charles Manson's minions bring the violence home with the ghastly murders of Sharon Tate and her friends.
1970 At 45, Robert Altman hits his stride with M*A*S*H, winning the Palme d'Or in Cannes and effectively launches a uniquely idiosyncratic and prolific career.
1971 Clint Eastwood breaks through as a star in Dirty Harry and as a director in Play Misty for Me and remains on top for going on 40 years.
1972 Bob Fosse directs Cabaret for the big screen, Pippin on Broadway and Liza With A 'Z' for television and pulls off the hat trick -- never accomplished before or since -- of winning Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards all in one year.
1972 With Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and, more legitimately, Last Tango in Paris, porn chic arrives.
1974 Saturday Night Live humor invades the big screen in National Lampoon's Animal House, and the face of comedy changes overnight.
1974 Francis Ford Coppola has as good a year as a director can have, winning two Oscars for the grand The Godfather, Part II and also being nominated for the smaller-scaled The Conversation.
1975 Sensing a major hit, Universal opens Jaws on June 20 in an unprecedented 464 theaters to an opening weekend gross of more than $7 million, establishing wide release as the new model for big commercial films.
1976 Adolph Zukor, the last of the original moguls, who formed the early production company Famous Players in 1912 and was subsequently president, then chairman of Paramount, makes his last public appearance (in the company of Mae West) at the premiere of Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, then dies, at 103.
1977 George Lucas, preparing a film called Star Wars, negotiates with distributor 20th Century Fox to retain merchandising rights, possibility the most lucrative single deal point ever won.
1977 VHS tapes begin being sold to the public on Oct. 1, win the battle with the Betamax format by the early 1980s and are surpassed in sales by DVDs in 2003.
1979 Ridley Scott conquers the realm of science-fiction with Alien and, in 1982, with Blade Runner.
1980 Robert Redford wins an Oscar for directing Ordinary People and founds the Sundance Institute.
1980 The financial fiasco of Heaven's Gate not only cripples United Artists and compromises the career of director Michel Cimino, but once again gives the upper hand to executives over directors after more than a decade of its having been otherwise.
1989 In January at what is then still known as the U.S. Film Festival in Park City, Utah, an unknown director shows a small film called Sex, Lies & Videotape. The next morning, Steven Soderbergh is fielding calls from Universal, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford and every specialized distributor in the country, including a 10-year-old outfit called Miramax, which buys the film and, that summer, after the film wins the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, finally puts itself decisively on the map by turning the film into a major hit. American indie cinema is officially born.
1991 Steven Spielberg breaks box office records with Jurassic Park and wins the Oscar for Schindler's List in the same year.
1994 In May, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction wins the Palme d'Or in Cannes and goes straight into wide release, becoming the first American indie to break $100 million in box office as well as a cultural watershed.
2002 Denzel Washington, for Training Day, and Halle Berry, for Monster's Ball, in the same year become the first black actor and actress to win Academy Awards for leading roles.
2004 After Fahrenheit 9/11 world premieres in Cannes, Jean-Luc Godard predicts that Michael Moore's film will help re-elect George W. Bush for a second term as president.
2009 Avatar, released on Dec. 16, begins its run on its way to do the seemingly impossible, to surpass James Cameron's own Titanic as the biggest grossing film of all time.
2010 Toy Story 3 becomes the 11th consecutive major hit for Pixar since the animation studio began making feature films in 1995, a record never previously achieved.