Before Judy Garland captivated audiences in “The Wizard Of Oz”… Before John Ritter got laughs in the sitcom “Three’s Company”… Before Fay Wray evoked horror in the clutches of “King Kong”…
They were teenagers attending Hollywood High School. Dozens of other tinseltown celebrities were students there. The school, located in the heart of Hollywood, has been known as “The High School Of The Stars”, “The Most Famous High School In The World”, and “The Star Hatchery”. Even the school’s mascot represents an icon of the silver screen—The Sheik, as portrayed in the movie of that name by Rudolph Valentino.
Among the other stars that attended Hollywood High are Mickey Rooney, Lana Turner, Alan Ladd, Carole Lombard, Sarah Jessica Parker, Laurence Fishburn, Carol Burnett, Stefanie Powers, Jason Robards, Jill St. John, James Garner, Sharon Tate, Linda Evans, Lon Chaney, Jr., and two of America’s favorite teenagers of the past, David and Ricky Nelson…
Judy Turner (later known as Lana Turner) was a student there when she cut a class to run across the street for a soda and was “discovered”. That year, 1936, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Nanette Fabray, Marge Champion, and Alexis Smith were all on campus at the same time, according to the book “Hollywood High—The History of America’s Most Famous Public School” by John Blumenthal.
Since the early 20th Century the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood. Hollywood High started as a two-room school in September 1903 on the second floor of an empty storeroom at the Masonic Temple on Highland Avenue north of what now is Hollywood Boulevard. It was the first school serving the newly incorporated municipality of Hollywood. In 1904 the campus moved to its current site at the intersection of North Highland Avenue and West Sunset Boulevard. More than a century later, on January 4, 2012, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
These days a portion of Hollywood High is a Performing Arts Magnet School, according to its principal Jaime Morales. The Hollywood Performing Arts Center includes classes in drama, vocal music, dance, technical theater, film/digital graphics.
The coordinator for the high school’s performing arts magnet school is Stormy Sacks. Some of his students already are on the road to success in show business. “A number of our students have gone on to perform with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company,” he said. “This year 53 of ours students sang with the Broadway cast of ‘Memphis’ for an audience of 6,000 at the L.A. Convention Center.
The school is the site of The Hollywood High School Museum, which highlights the school’s history as well as famous alumni. Located in the library building, the museum displays photos and memorabilia of notable alumni including those in show business, sports, politics, science, the arts, military, and philanthropic sectors.
One large wall in the museum is adorned with a striking array of photos of the stars when they were students at the high school alongside pictures of them from movies, television shows, and stage productions that brought them fame.
Among them is Mike Farrell from the graduating class of 1956 and a framed copy of the script from the movie “Mash” on which he wrote “Peace, Mike Farrell”. Carol Burnett’s picture from the class of 1951 is beside a photo of her as a star, which she signed “To Hollywood High with gratitude and pride. Love, Carol Burnett.” Other sets of before and after pictures include Judy Garland, Lana Turner, John Ritter, Stefanie Powers, Gloria Graham, Jason Robards, Sally Kellerman, Linda Evans, Nannette Fabray…
(A young Judy Garland, fresh from the set of The Wizard of Oz, shares a laugh with classmate Ray Hirsch in 1938.)
One eye-catching set of photos shows Fay Wray as a student alongside a photo of her in the grip of King Kong. She signed it, “With fond memories of being a student at Hollywood High.”
Hollywood High School Alumni Association Vice President actress Carole Wells manages the museum. “Stefanie Powers and I had a lot of fun when we were in high school together,” Wells recalled. “She was an absolute hell-raiser. And everyone loved her. This is where she started acting.”
The non-profit Alumni Association was founded in 1907, the year the school had its first graduating class. The Association organizes social events and fundraising activities to provide scholarships for students and makes contributions to the school in its effort to enrich the lives of students. Hollywood High will have Alumni Day and Homecoming on October 5th.
Wells and Alumni Board of Directors Secretary Cilgia Halperin have been upgrading the museum with donations from supporters. They’re hoping that with the money they raise they’ll be able to hire a docent so they can open the museum to visitors from around the world. They also want to provide online access to the museum collection. “I would encourage any of the celebrities who attended Hollywood High to please help us because we are going to have a fund raiser for the museum,” Wells said.
“The students today come from all walks of life,” Wells pointed out. She described two students who couldn’t even speak English when they came to the high school. One spoke only Arabic and another spoke only Korean. Yet both eventually earned scholarships.
At an Achieve The Honorable Ceremony this year outstanding students were awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships to help with college needs and tuition. The Alumni Association, along with private individuals, corporations, families and agencies donated the money.
According to the high school’s principal, “There is great ethnic diversity at the school. Families of our students speak up to 30 different languages. It is an advantage to us to have children from different cultures because our students learn from each other about their cultures.”
In his column in the Los Angeles Times Hector Tobar described what it meant to his immigrant father to attend Hollywood High Adult School. “A man can enter as an immigrant with a sixth grade education from the Guatemalan countryside and come out a U.S. citizen on his way to earning his college degree. That’s what my father did almost half a century ago.”
The fame of so many graduates who achieved show business success gave the school its unique glory.
Another enduring legacy for generations of students is Hollywood High School’s motto: “Achieve The Honorable”. DH