Friday, January 21, 2011

The Other Other Hollywood

If you're reasonably up on your trivia, you might know that there's a Hollywood in Florida. If you know that much, you have almost certainly, at some point, used it as part of some lame joke in which Hollywood, Florida is mistaken for Hollywood, California.

You've probably also mistaken it for some trailer-park backwater, probably somewhere in the panhandle. In fact, it is the twelfth-largest city in the state, housing over 140,000 people, and is quite firmly part of the same South Florida metropolitan area that includes Miami. A first-time visitor to Miami could get sufficiently lost to stumble into Hollywood without even realizing it.

Were you to get even more lost, and travel north out of the metro completely, fairly soon you might find yourself in Hobe Sound. At only 11,000 people, and with a much less-developed oceanside, Hobe Sound might come a lot closer to your initial vision of Hollywood, Florida, though it's still not a trailer-park town.

What you would never guess is that Hobe Sound put a lot more effort into becoming the next Hollywood, California than Hollywood, Florida ever did.

Thomas Edison, as you had better be well-aware, was a very proficient inventor. One of those inventions was the motion picture. He was the first to get it to work, patenting the 'kinetoscope' in 1888, even though the groundwork had been laid as early as Leland Stanford. However, he was not the only one with a patent relating to motion pictures, and since this was a new, major thing, not a small bit of chaos resulted. Imagine if Microsoft had a patent on video game consoles, Nintendo had a patent on video games themselves, and Sony had a patent on the CD's the games were printed on. It's not a perfect analogy, but it'll hold up long enough for us to proceed. The rivalries were largely sorted out in 1908, when many of the competing companies banded together to form the Thomas Edison Motion Picture Patents Company with an eye towards creating a monopoly, and made everyone in the budding film industry pay them licensing fees in order to remain in business.

Some paid, and play no further part in this story. Some didn't. Those that didn't, the "independents," chose to run far, far away from the prying eyes of Edison, or any other authority that might make them pay up.

But where to go? It had to be far from Menlo Park, obviously. Another factor that went into the decision was local climate. Since they are picking out a preferred location, it might as well be friendly to filmmaking. Someplace warm. Someplace with nice weather. Someplace with a variety of settings they could use.

Someplace like Hollywood, California. Here, the independents could work with plenty of lead time on the authorities and develop their craft-- producing, distributing and exhibiting. When Edison threatened the supply of film used by an exhibitor, the exhibitor would just start making their own films and proceed merrily along. Eventually, the courts struck down the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1915 as part of the trust-busting movement, but by then they were more or less rendered moot anyway.

What does any of this have to do with Hobe Sound? In the 1920's, Florida, then a very rural state, experienced a land boom. As part of this land boom, Hobe Sound, like the rest of the state, got some fairly grand ideas in their head. They wanted to become the next Hollywood. Led by the Olympia Improvement Corporation, streets were renamed after the Greek pantheon. The town was renamed "Picture City." Fancy lightposts were built. Building construction was started all over town.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers would never get a chance to arrive. While construction was still underway, the land boom collapsed in 1926. Two years later, the Okeechobee hurricane, currently the 9th-deadliest Atlantic hurricane of all time, slammed into Florida. There was no way they were going to be the next Hollywood now. Picture City was changed back to Hobe Sound.

Not that fate was done with them yet. A year after that, as if to rub salt in the wound, the Great Depression hit.

No studio ever got built. The street names remained, the lightposts remained, but that was about it. To this day, the town has remained virtually untouched by the filmmakers they were trying to attract, with the only released feature film ever shot there being the 1972 movie Charcoal Black. Hobe Sound went back to being the sleepy oceanside town it was before and remains today.

Meanwhile, Hollywood, Florida, primarily by virtue of being a Miami suburb, has attracted a number of filmmakers, among them Martin Scorsese, who used the town as part of the backdrop for his 1991 remake of Cape Fear, starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange. So was The Hours, a 2002 Best Picture nominee. Among the other productions that have used Hollywood, Florida: Midnight Cowboy, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Striptease, and episodes of Burn Notice and Dexter.

Some cities have all the luck.

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