Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

The Dream Factory


"Los Angeles delivers the goods. You betcha. She's happy, healthy
and handsome."
Mark Lee Luther, The Boosters (1924)
"It is possible to tell a great story in motion pictures in such a way that
the spectator. . . will come to believe that what he is looking at is real."
Erich Von Stroheim, The Truth About the Movies (1924)

Oil and oranges, automobile tires and airplanes, tourism and the movies made Los Angeles the most modern of American cities, a paradigm of the growth and prosperity that characterized the Twenties. The city population had grown to more than a million people in 1920, with over 2,000,000 visitors a year by the end of the decade.

Traffic jams beleaguered the downtown area where a new monumental city hall and spectacularly southwestern/Egyptian public library tickled civic pride. By 1920 the movie industry, centered in Hollywood, had become the biggest industry in L.A., with nearly 90 percent of all American movies being produced there. Movie palaces, such as Grauman's Chinese Theatre (which opened May 18, 1927, with Cecil B. DeMille's silent King of Kings) and Grauman's Million Dollar and Egyptian Theatres, dotted the landscape like temples.

The first footprints in the cement in front of Grauman's were those of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Hollywood's own royalty. Though film star Rudolph Valentino died, talkies replaced the silent movies, and scandal after scandal plagued Hollywood, the industry persisted and new film royalty emerged when glamorous Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo graced the silver screens. Boosterism and tourism were attendant on the gospel of growth fueling the new, modern Los Angeles economy. All in all, it was for many Americans the very incarnation of the American Dream.

American post card depicting orange groves and snow-capped mountains in California
American post card depicting orange groves and snow-capped mountains in California

California post cards such as these from the 1920s played a role in promoting the state as a tourist destination.

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