Hollywood: so you wanna be in the movies?

The suburb of Los Angeles where the Oscar ceremony takes place was founded by a couple of devout Methodists in 1887. They were trying to escape LA's increasingly hedonistic Downtown area, but their quiet haven was soon overrun by an even faster set. California's climate and the dirt cheap rents of Hollywood attracted film-makers.

The suburb of Los Angeles where the Oscar ceremony takes place was founded by a couple of devout Methodists in 1887. They were trying to escape LA's increasingly hedonistic Downtown area, but their quiet haven was soon overrun by an even faster set. California's climate and the dirt cheap rents of Hollywood attracted film-makers. The first studio was set up in 1911, the casting couch was unpacked and by the 1920s "Tinseltown" had become the epicentre of the emerging movie industry.

The 1930s and 1940s were Hollywood's Golden Age, but the glamour soon faded and much of the film industry re-located long ago. Today the area is seedy rather than glamorous. However it's still a place of pilgrimage for dreamers and hopers. Along Hollywood Boulevard you'll find the Walk of Fame where you can see stars' nameplates laid in the pavement, and, of course, their foot- and handprints in the concrete outside Mann's Chinese Theatre.

To see a movie being made, check out the website of the Entertainment Industry Development Corporation ( www.eidc.com) which tells you what's being filmed around LA. About 150 film crews take to the streets of LA each day, but don't expect to get close enough for an autograph.

For a studio tour, Universal (001 818 777 1000 www.universalstudios.com) in the San Fernando Valley offers an experience more akin to a theme park. To learn about the workings of a studio, visit either Paramount (001 213 956 1777, store.paramount.com/studio_tour.html), the only one still in Hollywood, or Warner Brothers Studios (001 818 954 6000), which offers two-hour VIP tours.

And that Hollywood sign? Erected on Mount Lee in 1923, it read Hollywoodland and aimed to attract people to buy property at the bottom of the hill. The "land" went in 1949, since when the sign has become the symbol of Hollywood. Be warned: there's a big fine for anyone climbing it.

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