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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 02:59 GMT 03:59 UK
Red letter day for Hollywood sign
By David Willis
BBC Los Angeles correspondent

Hollywood has been paying tribute to one of its most famous inhabitants - the massive sign which bears its name.

On Sunday it was 80 years to the day since the famous metal letters were first put in place on the hills above Los Angeles.

As befits an 80th birthday, there was a cake and balloons as well as speeches by local dignitaries.

Hollywood sign
A metaphor for a land of broken dreams

The Hollywood sign is now close to the heart of many in Tinseltown, although that wasn't always the case.

In 1978, it was in such a state of disrepair - termites having infested the wooden scaffolding that supports the fifteen metre high letters - that one of the O's had fallen off.

A few months later arsonists set fire to the letter L.

The sign was saved by, of all people, Hugh Heffner - the founder of the Playboy empire - who launched a fundraising campaign to have it rebuilt.

It became part of the LA landscape in 1923 as a giant billboard erected to publicise a property development called Hollywoodland.

Then the final four letters were removed and the sign became one of the world's most famous landmarks - a symbol not only of glamour and glitz, but of the shattered dreams of many young starlets.

In 1932, after failing to find fame and fortune, an actress known as Peg Entwistle committed suicide by climbing to the top of the letter H and throwing herself off.

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