— By TODD GLASSCOCK
Mineral Wells may not be a film industry mecca as, say, Austin might, but the city doesn’t lack for Hollywood lore.
“Celebrities came to Mineral Wells as a destination vacation and resort,” author Sue Seibert recounts in her 2011 pictorial history of the city “Images of America: Mineral Wells.” “People like Judy Garland and Will Rogers visited and proclaimed the area as a haven for those seeking good health.”
Historians note the Baker Hotel had its share of celebrity guests and parts of the 1986 movie “Shadows on the Wall,” a murder mystery starring Wilfred Brimley, were shot inside the building. It was shown in 2011 by the Mineral Wells Heritage Association. The movie also featured a local resident, the late Elmer Jeffcoat, a former hotel watchman, who played a deranged bellhop.
While local residents may have gotten their 15 minutes of fame either hobnobbing with the famous when they passed through town or sharing a brief moment on the silver screen, one piece of lore connects Mineral Wells with Hollywood much more intimately.
Some historians mention the Welcome sign atop Welcome Mountain that greets visitors traveling U.S. Highway 180 and Hubbard Street, is rumored to have inspired the famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.
The sign, first erected in 1922 on East Mountain, was purported in its time to be the largest non-commercial electric sign in the world, according to the Portal to Texas History website. The sign was a gift from then-governor of the Texas Rotary Club George Holmgreen and was moved to its present location in 1972.
Built in 1923 by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, the Hollywood sign was “an epic $21,000 billboard for his upscale Hollywoodland real estate development,” reports the Hollywood Sign website maintained by the Hollywood Sign Trust in Los Angeles.
With its 45-foot tall white letters, the sign, originally reading Hollywoodland and named for the real estate development, has taken “on the role of the giant marquee for a city that was constantly announcing its own gala premiere,” the site reads. “Hollywood” would lose its “land” in the 1930s.
While the dates for the construction of both signs are about a year apart, the Portal to Texas suggests the connection is just part of Mineral Wells lore, said Palin Bree, library manager at the Boyce Ditto Library. The library has contributed a significant amount of material to the Portal, an online database available to the public for historical research.
Some of that material comes from various sources such as A.F. Weaver’s “Time Was in Mineral Wells,” she said, which notes a visit to Mineral Wells by legendary director D.W. Griffith, who produced the classic film “Birth of a Nation” and created the Keystone Kops.
The history site notes Griffith stayed at the Crazy Hotel on his visit and was impressed with the Welcome sign, the only connection, other than time and history, the two signs seem to have. The site also notes Griffith played a role in the development company in charge of Hollywoodland. What’s problematic, however, is that Griffith’s visit was in 1929, well after both the Welcome sign and the Hollywood sign were built.
The connection to the signs hasn’t been researched by Hollywood Signs, said site spokesperson Betsy Isroelit.
“I have never heard of that story,”she said in an email, “but it is fascinating.”
On the Portal to Texas site, Griffith is pictured standing on the Crazy Hotel’s roof, and other stories say he was able to get his “impressive” view of the Welcome sign from that rooftop.
Whether the signs are connected or not, as the site notes, as history itself shows, Mineral Wells does get at least a footnote in Hollywood’s ballyhoo, playing host to icons like Griffith and Garland, here at the very least to relax and perhaps find inspiration in the surrounding hills for their next film.