The Hollywood Sign Gets a Makeover The Hollywood Sign was originally constructed in 1923. After several incarnations, the most recent version has become an unmistakable American landmark. This year the Los Angeles icon is getting a makeover. NPR’s Melissa Jaeger-Miller reports from the precarious hillside scene.
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The Hollywood Sign Gets a Makeover

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The Hollywood Sign Gets a Makeover

The Hollywood Sign Gets a Makeover

The Hollywood Sign Gets a Makeover

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The Hollywood Sign was originally constructed in 1923. After several incarnations, the most recent version has become an unmistakable American landmark. This year the Los Angeles icon is getting a makeover. NPR’s Melissa Jaeger-Miller reports from the precarious hillside scene.

The Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, Calif., gets a makeover for the first time in more than a decade. Melissa Jaeger-Miller, NPR hide caption

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Melissa Jaeger-Miller, NPR

The Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, Calif., gets a makeover for the first time in more than a decade.

Melissa Jaeger-Miller, NPR

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Hollywood sign has towered over Los Angeles since 1923. Back then, it read: Hollywoodland, a giant ad for housing development. This month, the icon is getting some cosmetic enhancements, and NPR's Melissa Jaeger-Miller reports.

MELISSA JAEGER-MILLER reporting:

LA's most famous landmark hasn't always gotten A-list treatment. In the 1970s, it was a truly sorry sight. An `O' had tumbled down the hill. An `L' was set on fire. A campaign to save the sign got the help of Hugh Hefner, who held an auction at the Playboy Mansion, and a brand-new Hollywood sign was erected in 1978.

(Soundbite of scraping)

JAEGER-MILLER: Today it's looking--well, pretty good. Painter Riley Forsythe hoists a hanging scaffold up the second `L' to explain the job.

Mr. RILEY FORSYTHE (Painter): We may do this with a sprayer. We're using a roller today just for the effect, you know, for the photos and all that.

JAEGER-MILLER: It doesn't really look all that bad right now. It's...

Mr. FORSYTHE: Oh, the letters? Yeah, I know. I know. That's the first thing I thought when I came up here. I thought, `Ah, they don't look that bad.' But you can see once we get done, they'll be a little bit brighter.

JAEGER-MILLER: On this day, a half-dozen workers are scraping and painting and posing for the cameras. For this latest fix-up, two companies are donating about $100,000 worth of materials and labor. They're getting plenty of press in exchange. A TV tabloid reporter puts on a hard hat, complete with the painting company's logo, and grabs a paint roller as she applies a white coating to a clean white letter.

Unidentified Woman: All right, here we go. Three, two, one. It's a ho--three, two, one. It's the ultimate Hollywood makeover.

JAEGER-MILLER: Usually it's impossible to get this close to the sign. Earlier this year, new motion sensor cameras were installed and right now they're beeping constantly with all the commotion.

(Soundbite of beeping)

JAEGER-MILLER: The cameras are meant to discourage everyone from casual climbers to more ambitious pranksters, like in 1976, when marijuana enthusiasts changed the sign to read: `Hollyweed.' For the pope's visit in '87, it was `Holywood.' And in 1985: `Raffeysod,' whatever that meant. But judging by the beer cans scattered below the sign, some still make it up. Hanging out down by the `D' are two young women in faded T-shirts and jeans, looking a little sheepish.

Ms. IRENE OSTOSOVICH: See the white car? That's me.

JAEGER-MILLER: Irene Ostosovich points down to her car. It's a distant white dot. She and Cynthia Smeizer(ph) trekked a half-hour up the hillside, which is illegal, by the way. They're friends from acting school.

Ms. CYNTHIA SMEIZER: I wasn't expecting it to be made of what it's made of.

Ms. OSTOSOVICH: Yeah.

Ms. SMEIZER: Do you remember, we were like, `I bet it's made out of this.' `I bet it's made out of that.'

Ms. OSTOSOVICH: Yeah.

Ms. SMEIZER: Like, we were taking bets on what it was made out of. And so we...

Ms. OSTOSOVICH: And then we all get up here, we're like, `Huh.'

Ms. SMEIZER: `Huh.'

JAEGER-MILLER: Actually, the letters are made of corrugated metal supported by thick steel beams, and they tower five stories high, perched on the edge of a pretty treacherous decline. The city spreads out in front of it with the ocean glittering in the distance. Hollywood, for all its camera-hungry hopefuls, will always draw some, like these young actresses, just hoping to sneak up and enjoy the view.

Ms. OSTOSOVICH: Coming from Davenport, where it's all plains and then it's Hollywood, it's almost like you're here. You're in the city. You've made it.

JAEGER-MILLER: More than just made it, they've left their mark on Hollywood, scrawled behind the `Y' to be hidden soon enough under a new coat of paint. Melissa Jaeger-Miller, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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