As you might expect, Netflix’s new “Hollywood,” which debuts on the streamer May 1, didn’t have to travel far for production. However, the eight-episode series, from Ryan Murphy and his “Glee” collaborator Ian Brennan, doesn’t take place in contemporary Hollywood but rather in Los Angeles, just after World War II.
Production designer Matthew Flood Ferguson captures the 1940s beautifully. Not only did filming take place at many Los Angeles landmarks, but Ferguson also re-created long-gone institutions like Schwab’s Pharmacy.
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David Corenswet stars in the ensemble as Jack Costello, a G.I. from the Midwest who comes to Hollywood to be a movie star but finds himself turning tricks with well-to-do Beverly Hills housewives in order to make ends meet for him and his wife (Maude Apatow).
Darren Criss plays an aspiring director in a secret relationship with a black actor (Laura Harrier). Archie Coleman (two-time Tony nominee Jeremy Pope in his television debut) is a screenwriter who finds love with Rock Hudson (Jack Picking plays the matinee idol, one of a few real-life Hollywood legends depicted in the series). Patti LuPone takes on the role of a forgotten silent film star who’s now married to the most powerful man in the business, Ace Studios boss Ace Amberg (Rob Reiner).
While the Hollywood Sign is seen in the show’s opening credits and is also the location of a scene in a movie being made by Ace Studios, the “H” was the only letter they needed to shoot, so they built the 45-foot structure on a stage. “It’s pretty close to being the same size as the real one,” Ferguson tells Variety. “It’s just a little shorter, but not by much.”
The letter is also outfitted with lightbulbs. “When it was first built [in 1923], the Hollywood Sign was illuminated by 4,000 bulbs. It blinked like a Vegas sign,” Ferguson says. “There were some people on set who looked at it and were like, ‘Wait — what is this? “Cabaret?”’”
What were some of the real locations used during filming? Here, Ferguson takes Variety on a tour:
The Orpheum Theatre
Although the exteriors of Murphy and Brennan’s reimagined 1948 Academy Awards were shot at the original location of the big night, the Shrine Auditorium, Ferguson used the Orpheum for the ceremony, which included a re-creation of the massive Oscar sitting on top of a 20-foot three-tier round structure in the middle of the stage. “We had it molded out of Styrofoam and then sanded it down so it was very smooth and then sprayed it with gold paint,” Ferguson says.
The legendary drug store and ice cream shop closed in 1983, followed five years later by the demolition of the building it was housed in. The show’s set decorators spared no detail for their homage. “A lot of the product had to be made and it had to be cleared,” Ferguson says. “It was everything from cigarettes to shaving needs to lighters to gloves and pharmaceutical products and even alcohol. It ran the gamut.”
Known for being the first Chinese American movie star, Anna May Wong is another real person depicted on the show. In “Hollywood,” Wong, played by Michelle Krusiec, lives at the apartment complex as she struggles to make a comeback after MGM refuses to even consider her for the Chinese female lead in “The Good Earth,” opting to cast a white actor, Luise Rainer, instead. “The El Cabrillo was built by Cecil B. DeMille in the ’20s to house out-of-state actors,” Ferguson says. “It’s a beautiful Spanish colonial revival building with a courtyard.”
Paramount Studios (pictured top)
The exterior of the lot was used for the fictional Ace Studios. In one of the first scenes of “Hollywood,” aspiring actors crowd the front gate hoping to be discovered or, at the very least, snag some extra work. “Paramount still retains that classic studio look,” Ferguson says. The brightly lit studio commissary was built on a stage, with the walls decorated with framed Kodachrome portraits of Humphrey Bogart, Betty Grable, Bette Davis and others.
Beverly Hills Hotel
Avis takes Jack to one of the hotel’s bungalows for a rendezvous. While the exterior of the famously pink-and-green getaway and its signage are seen as they drive up to the entrance, the bungalow was built on a set using the hotel’s iconic banana-leaf-print wallpaper. “We could use the hotel on the show as long we used the real wallpaper and not a knockoff,” Ferguson says. “It’s not wallpaper you can just go into a store and buy. You have to order it and have it made.”
The James Oviatt Building
The 1928 building was once home to the men’s clothing store Alexander & Oviatt. Its penthouse apartment, where store co-owner James Oviatt lived, was transformed into the office of agent Henry Willson (Jim Parsons).
La Leyenda Apartments
An exterior shot of the six-story building is used to show where Jack and his wife live. “There were these wonderful Spanish high-rise buildings that back in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s were affordable places to live when actors were just starting out,” Ferguson says.