Playground to the Stars explores the early history of the Sunset Strip, from its origins in 1906 when Sunset Boulevard was extended westward from Hollywood through poinsettia fields, melon patches and orange groves toward the new city of Beverly Hills to its transformation three decades later into a world-famous boulevard lined with chic shops and boutiques, art galleries, four-star restaurants, elegant hotels and world-famous nightclubs, many of which were fronts for mob-run, high-stakes gambling operations. The story of this early period — the Strip’s Hollywood era — ends in the late fifties after a bloody mob war for control of the boulevard led to a crack-down that drove the gambling and the millions it produced each year in illegal revenue off the Strip, mostly to the new Strip in Las Vegas.
The coverage coincides with a series of national and world events that directly affected Hollywood and the Strip — Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II and the anti-communist Black List — as well as the advent of the morality-based Production Code was which self-imposed on the movie studios after a series of off-camera scandals that played out on the Strip and elsewhere.
In fact, it is through the lens of the crime and scandals that transpired there that this project chronicles the Strip’s rise and fall. Many of the notorious incidents covered here involved famous people and made international headlines at the time and are still part of Hollywood lore today. Others were covered up or have been forgotten until now.
Relying on rigorous research sourced to contemporaneous sources, biographies of key players and local histories, Playground to the Stars operates on multiple levels: a book that is in progress; the website, where articles and blogs about the Strip’s history are published; outreach to groups and organizations; and historical research and consulting services.
About the Editor
Jon Ponder is a writer who has been researching the history of Sunset Strip since 2007. He is a creator of the audio series “Hollywood & Crime,” for Wondery, and was a writer, producer and director for the series first season, “The Black Dahlia Serial Killers.”
Ponder was editor and producer of Gore Vidal’s official website until the author’s death in 2012. In the early nineties, he spent a year working at the Playboy Mansion as a research assistant on the autobiography of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. He has worked as a advertising copywriter, including a five year stint at the New York publishing house John Wiley & Sons, and has written magazine articles and book reviews and edited newsletters.
In the 1990s, he was a partner in Big Film Shorts, a Burbank-based pioneering worldwide distributor of award-winning short films that represented films like “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” starring then-unknown Ryan Gosling, that was expanded into the feature “Half Nelson,” and Sundance Film Festival winners, such as “Nonnie and Alex” and “Harvie Krumpet.” Under the company’s Nano TV brand, he produced packages shorts for Time-Warner On-Demand. Earlier, he served as a development rep in New York and in Los Angeles for a North Carolina-based film production company. Very early in his career, he was a coordinator for movie-star press junkets in the Carolinas for Columbia Pictures, United Artists, Disney and other studios.
An experienced website producer, Ponder served as VP Creative for Hollywood-based Shoom Inc. Since 2008, he has worked as an independent web producer for Miami-based NewmanPR.
In 2013, he co-founded the Alla Nazimova Society. He is also a member of the board of directors of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance.