The Academy Museum in Los Angeles recently opened the exhibition Hollywoodland: Jewish Founders and the Making of a Movie Capital. The show is dedicated to the beginnings of the film industry in Hollywood and how Jewish founders established the studio system, which defined production and moral codes for the first few decades.

Designed as an immersive exhibition divided into three distinct parts, the intent of the curators is to take visitors on a journey through the history of Hollywood, from its humble beginnings to the glorious classical era of the 1940s and 1950s. Installed as a permanent exhibition in the Laika Gallery on the third floor of the Museum, the first part, Los Angeles: From Film Frontier to Industry Town, 1902-1929, has on display a topographical map of the city with a wall-length video screen in the background, both of which document its progression from a humble frontier town to a bustling metropolis.

The film industry took firm root in the cultural and social life of Los Angeles, thanks to the enterprising nature of the Jewish studio executives who called it home. The section Studio Origins gives visitors a detailed overview of the history of the Hollywood studio system and how the eight studios known as the “majors” and their Jewish founders defined its limits and content. Archival documents and images chart the initial stages in the rise of these studios, as well as the lives of their founders, in this new environment.

From left: Sam Warner, Harry M. Warner, Jack L. Warner, and Albert Warner, undated. Courtesy Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The final section, From the Shtetl to the Studio: The Jewish Story of Hollywood, is a 30-minute documentary that delves into the personal lives of the Jewish studio executives, their experiences of immigration and the kinds of challenges that they encountered while establishing the nascent film industry in Hollywood. Most of these founders were either immigrants or the children of immigrants, which the exhibition contextualizes as the archetypal American story.

Organized by Dara Jaffe, associate curator at the Academy Museum, this exhibition has been years in the making. Hollywoodland is the first permanent exhibition at the Museum, which opened to the public in 2021. More information can be found here.

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