In the very beginning out West, there was only dust. Hollywood presented a virgin land of ranches, fig trees and snaky canyons. Beverly Hills had the ambience of “an abandoned real estate development”, Charlie Chaplin recalled. “Sidewalks ran along and disappeared into open fields”. California’s promise glimmered like the Promised Land.
First men came west for God, then for gold. Now a new breed of technical pioneers colonised the frontier in search of the aura of new clear light. The merciless Californian sun proved the ideal medium for these magicians to conjure up ghostly moving pictures on their magic lanterns. Farms became studios, turning celluloid into riches. An obscure and dilapidated roadhouse, the Hollywood Hotel, suddenly became the eye of the storm.
The allure of the West Coast sucked in a swarm of writers and swindlers, moneymen and showgirls, tycoons on the make, hunters and their prey. This gold rush proved as fatal and alluring as the mad old days of Forty-Nine; the spell of California promising the bounty of untold wealth to the ferociously ambitious with nothing to lose but their souls.
The early movies were lucrative but their style was unpolished. In a bid to embellish his artistic credentials, the studio supremo Jesse Lasky invited over a brace of established writers from old Europe. Many eminent names failed utterly to grasp the “screen angle”, and were duly sent packing. Elinor Glyn, in contrast, proved a natural. For seven years, her romances would rule the Hollywood roost.
From Elinor Glyn – Jersey’s Hollywood Queen published in Our Island, March 2015