There is only one Hollywood in the world. Movies are made in London, Paris, Milan and Moscow, but the life of these cities is relatively uninfluenced by their production. Hollywood is a unique American phenomenon with a symbolism not limited to this country. It means many things to many people. For the majority it is the home of favored, godlike creatures. For others, it is a "den of iniquity"; a center for creative genius, or a place where mediocrity flourishes and able men sell their creative souls for gold; an important industry with worldwide significance, or an environment of trivialities characterized by aimlessness; a mecca where everyone is happy, or a place where cynical disillusionment prevails. Rarely is it just a community where movies are made. For most movie-goers, particularly in this country, the symbolism seems to be that of a never-never world inhabited by glamorous creatures, living hedonistically and enjoying their private swimming pools and big estates, attending magnificent parties, or being entertained in famous night clubs. The other symbols belong to relatively small groups of people.
Of all the symbols, sex and wealth are the most important. Every Hollywood male is supposed to be a "wolf" and every Hollywood female a tempting object easily seduced. The movie fans, worshiping their heroes, believe this. For the conservative or radical, sex over and beyond the traditional mores and codes is part of their idea of Hollywood. The other characteristic -- easy Hollywood money, an enormous fortune quickly made -- is the contemporary Cinderella theme for the naive youngster in Alabama who has just won a beauty contest, as well as for the sophisticated New York writer who has been asked to come for six months to a Hollywood studio. No matter what the other symbols, or for whom they have meaning, the accent is on sex and money, for the Hollywood inhabitants as well as for the world outside.
Many other communities have a symbolic character. Paris, New York, a farming community in the Midwest, a town in the Deep South, an island in the South Seas, all mean many things to many people. For some, a South Seas island is thought of as an escape from a troubled world, for others as a place where money can be made by exploiting natural resources; for some it is a place where natives live a peaceful life, for others one where savages roam about in head-hunting expeditions. The anthropologist tries to find out what the place and people are really like. In studying Hollywood, he asks: Which of the myths and symbols have a basis in reality, which are fantasy, and which are a combination? What is their effect on the people who work and live there? What are significant elements about which the world outside does not even know enough to develop a folklore or mythology?
The geographical location of any community always has important social implications, and Hollywood is no exception. The semitropical climate gives a certain soft ease to living. Beaches, desert and mountains are all within easy reach, and the almost continuous sunshine is an ever-present invitation to the outdoors. Although Los Angeles stretches in distance for eighty-five miles and has a population of approximately four million, the whole of it is dominated by Hollywood. If the center of movie production had been in New York, the metropolis would probably have influenced the making of movies, rather than being dominated by it. Its location on the West Coast successfully isolated the movie colony in the past. Today, however, this insularity no longer exists, since many movies are being made on location in different parts of the country and abroad. There is also among the upperbracket people considerable trekking -- more literally, flying -- back and forth between Los Angeles and New York. But these actors as well as the many others who do not travel have their roots in Hollywood, and the new trend has not materially changed the colony's essential character.
Hollywood's domination of Los Angeles comes out in many ways. The most trivial news about personalities in the movie world are front-page headlines in the city newspapers. Many of the local mores have been strongly influenced by the movie industry. The standard technique for a "pick-up" in Los Angeles is for the man to suggest to the desired female that he knows someone who will give her a screen test. Pretty girls, working in the popular drive-ins, live in hopes that a producer or director will notice them. Schoolteachers, doctors, white-collar workers and many others who have never shown any talent for writing, and who in another community would have quite different goals, spend their spare time writing movie scripts. Earnest little groups meet an evening a week to criticize each other's work, expecting soon to reach the pot of gold at the end of the Hollywood rainbow. The people who work at the making of movies refer to those unconnected with the industry as "private people," the implication being that such individuals are unimportant.