Book Review: Gregory Paul Williams' 'The Story of Hollywood' Gets Paperback Release


First published in 2006, The Story of Hollywood was the recipient of the National Best Books Award 2007, and was also a Film, TV, Radio IPPY Silver Medal Winner 2007.  Leonard Maltin has given the book his highest recommendation, and Los Angeles magazine calls The Story of Hollywood the best book on the neighborhood to come out this decade.

During the course of his research, Gregory Paul Williams saw so many buildings being destroyed and lost in Hollywood that he soon realized he was mapping out an incredible place that was about to become the stuff of myth rather than reality. This made him not just want to record its history, but get actively involved in its preservation, which led him to serve Hollywood Heritage as the chairman of its Preservation Issues Committee for two years.

Since its publication, Williams has become acknowledged as an expert, spokesman, as well as an advocate about his hometown and its historic architecture.
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What can I possibly add to the accolades showered upon The Story of Hollywood, An Illustrated History (BL Press LLC), as its paperback hits the streets? As I opened the 405 pp. coffee table book, the first photo that caught my eye was that of Ginger Rogers accepting her Academy Award for Kitty Foyle in 1940. Although a black and white photo, the glamor practically jumped right out at me. I've seen thousands of black and white photos of thousands of celebrities, but most are forgettable. The image of this glamorous lady, as actress/dancer, star, triggered in me a deep-seated feeling, a wish, a dream that had beckoned to me to come to Hollywood in the first place many years ago. Something that I wanted to find, something that I wanted to experience like never before became a quest. Unfortunately I did not grow up in Hollywood, but just to know that glamor did exist and to see it in an old photograph sent my imagination reeling. Even if you do not have great imaginative powers, The Story of Hollywood will bring visions of Hollywood in its heyday to vibrant life. 

Hundreds and hundreds of beautiful photos adorn the pages of The Story of Hollywood from its beginnings to the present. The book is divided into seven fascinating sounding chapter headings: 1. In the Valley of the Cahuengas, 2. A City of Homes, 3. No Dogs, No Movies, 4. Main Street of the Movies, 5. Boulevard of Broken Dreams, 6. Radio Days and 7. Lost Hollywood. Let me tease you with a tiny fact or tidbit of information from each chapter that will give you just a glimmer of an idea of what this spectacular book has to offer.

Just picture it - the not-so-familiar of yesteryear right before your eyes! At the onset you will see a picture of the very first homestead in Hollywood, an adobe near Franklin Avenue and Outpost Drive built by Don Tomas four years into California's statehood in 1854. Behind it are the Santa Monica Hills upon which today rests the famous Hollywood Sign. There's also a look at the very first Joyriders in a jalopy along Hollywood Boulevard in 1909. In Chapter Three-No Dogs, No Movies-we are offered a glimpse of the first Hollywood studios. The original Paramount Studio was on Vine in 1916 and Metro in 1919 was housed at the corner of Cahuenga Boulevard and Romaine St. Did you ever think that studios could start so small? Or did you ever imagine a movie theater so huge? Well, Sid Grauman built Grauman's Egyptian Theater, called a temple of art and one of its very first premieres was Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood in 1922. The poster of Fairbanks towered over Hollywood Boulevard. What fun to see people on the rooftop of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel watching a movie premiere across the street at Grauman's and to see vintage photos of Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and even little Shirley Temple out on the town. In Radio Days, we are treated to the beginnings of radio programs that originated in Hollywood, like William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, as well as George Burns and Gracie Allen and John Barrymore among many others. Finally in Lost Hollywood we see the more familiar in the origins of the Metro system RailRoad from Hollywood Boulevard to NoHo (North Hollywood) in the early 1990s.

Did you know that the famous Pig 'n Whistle Restaurant was around in 1929, or that in 1934 Sardi's was in competition with The Brown Derby or that in 1941 since Orson WellesCitizen Kane was boycotted by William Randolph Hearst to play anywhere, that it ran exclusively at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard? Also that Capitol Records built the first circular office tower in 1954 - still a landmark in Hollywood, or that the Emmy Award as we know it was redesigned in Hollywood in 1949? All of these facts have tremendous meaning to trivia buffs who savor show business and the changing face of Hollywood through the years.

Wow! What a beautiful coffee table book that makes a great addition to anyone's home library, a perfect gift just in time for the holidays. I will use it as a reference and will treasure it always!<


More From This Author

Don Grigware Don Grigware is an Ovation nominated actor and journalist/writer whose contributions to theatre through the years have included 6 years as theatre editor of NoHoLA, a contributor to LA Stage Magazine and currently on his own website:

Don hails from Holyoke, Massachusetts and holds two Masters Degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in Education and Bilingual Studies. He is a teacher of foreign language and ESL.

Don is in his eighth year with BWW, currently serving as Senior Editor of the Los Angeles Page. He received a BWW Award for Excellence in 2014 as one of the top ten Regional Editors across the globe.

Don is also an author/playwright and recently published Books I, II & III of his children's fable Two Worlds Together: Donnelly's Greatest Christmas. You may purchase copies of the two volumes at A trilogy of one-acts in a collection called Holiday Madness was recently revised and re-published, also on Both the story and plays are available on kindle as well as in paperback.

There are new projects on the horizon, including co-authoring an autobiography, publishing a collection of scary mini-plays - 10-15 minutes in length - and publishing a sequel to Two Worlds Together, entitled Donnelly Tackles Technology. Stay tuned in 2017 for more fun and games!