Intolerance in Hollywood, Then and Now
Intolerence in Hollywood actually started in Los Feliz back in 1916 and has since moved to the heart of the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the Hollywood Highland Center.
No I’m not talking about the intolerant attitudes that have prevailed since the birth of Hollywood that squash any views not supported by the powers that be. A well known example of this was the Blacklisting that went on for so many years over political beliefs. A current example (not to get into the politics here), several people I know in Hollywood have privately told me they voted for Donald Trump, but they publicly criticize and attack him for fear that they won’t get any parts if they don’t. I know of several other taboo opinions and beliefs in Hollywood.
I’m talking about a D.W. Griffith movie by that name and more so the famous Babylon set from it. Most Angelenos have driven by the site of the original set and stepped into the courtyard of the current set without even knowing it. The same is true for tourists visiting Hollywood.
Where the historic Vista Theatre sits on at the intersection of Sunset Blvd, Hollywood Blvd and Hillhurst Streets meet was once the site of the epic Babylon set from the movie Intolerance… one of the grandest and most expensive movie sets ever built.
At the time the set was built, Sunset Blvd was a dirt road out and away from the city. The overall cost of producing Intolerance has been reported to be between $386,000 and $2,000,000 in 1916 dollars depending on who you listen to. Either way it is a staggering sum of money for that era. One third of the cost went into the Babylon set and portions of the film.
Intolerance was met with an enthusiastic reception from film critics upon its premiere and it has gone down in history as one of the greatest films ever made. Theodore Huff, one of the leading film critics of the first half of the 20th century, believed that it was the only motion picture worthy of taking its place alongside Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings, etc. as an artistic contribution. Intolerance and its unorthodox editing were enormously influential, particularly among European and Soviet filmmakers.
In 2001, the set was resurrected in the Hollywood Highland Complex on the Walk of Fame. The complex was designed with a grand staircase (and some escalators) leading up from Hollywood Blvd. to a replica of the Intolerance Babylon set. I’ve heard it was built to the scale of the original set to give you an idea of just how massive the original set was!
When you are visiting Los Angeles and Hollywood, there is a richness to the history that far surpasses the visible tourist attractions. The burgeoning new silent film industry in Los Feliz, which soon moved to Hollywood, forever changed history, entertainment and the arts. The City of Los Angeles has done a stellar job at taking steps to preserve our rich cultural history, but much of it remains hidden behind nothing more than a cultural landmark sign, or a sign in a shop window (such as the one in Walt’s Disney’s first studio).
We are working continually to point out to you where you can find some of these hidden treasures when you visit Hollywood. Take a moment to look over some of the articles on our site to get an idea of the hidden treasures to be found and the history of some of the venues as well as the spooky urban legends connected with so many of our landmarks.. Subscribe to our email list (right side of page) to get weekly summaries of new posts so you can see the things your friends probably missed when visiting Los Angeles!
Top Photo: Scene still of Belshazzar’s feast in the central courtyard of Babylon from D. W. Griffith’s 1916 silent film Intolerance. Public Domain, courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullRecord.asp?id=68698
Filming Photo: By Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research – http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/fullRecord.asp?id=96693, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30190866
Vista Theatre and Hollywood Highland photos by Mark Stout Photography.