Moon River

Posted by on August 21, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo for Friends of The Wizard of Ads

Remember Andy Williams, the silver-voiced crooner who had his own TV show back in the 1960’s? How about Alice Cooper, the first of the gory, 70’s shock-rockers? Now imagine a happy quartet composed of Andy Williams, Alice Cooper, 1940’s sing-along cowboy Gene Autry and adult magazine publisher, Hugh Hefner. Sounds unlikely at best, right?

Well it happened.

Although the philosophical and stylistic differences separating these men were definitely “wider than a mile,” the four unlikely comrades did, in fact, come together to save a sentimental icon that was very dear to each of them. Williams, Cooper, Autry and Hefner joined hands, hearts and wallets to refurbish a deteriorated, five-story billboard in Los Angeles. What was it that made the sign so special to Andy, Alice, Gene and Hugh? Perhaps it had to do with the fact that, like each one of them, the sign was glitzy, larger-than-life, and completely homemade.

Built in 1923 to promote a Beachwood Canyon subdivision, the strange, homemade sign became the property of the city in 1944, when the company that had erected it filed bankruptcy. Not wanting to draw attention to a failed area subdivision, the city of Los Angeles chopped off a third of the sign’s message, hoping that newcomers would now assume it to simply be a navigational landmark.

It worked. By removing the last four letters, L-A-N-D, hundreds of thousands of dreamers, hopefuls, cornballs and crazies, including Andy Williams, Alice Cooper, Gene Autry and Hugh Hefner, were brightly encouraged each day as they drove past Mount Lee in Griffith Park. No longer did they see a tacky, promotional billboard for Hollywoodland, the failed subdivision of 1923, but they saw instead a glitzy, larger-than-life landmark of nine white letters sprawled across a mountainside that somehow seemed to whisper to them, “Never give up. Never give in. This is the place where dreams come true.”

So now you know.

Roy H. Williams

“L.A. is a great big freeway. Put a hundred down and buy a car. In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star. Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass. And all the stars that never were Are parking cars and pumping gas.”

From Do You Know the Way to San Jose? Written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. Immortalized by Dionne Warwick.


PS Be looking for a feature about The Wizard in USA TODAY this week. (Probably Monday….today!) Our latest intelligence tells us the story will be on page 3 of the Money section. Chris Maddock, Wizard’s right-hand man

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