PALO ALTO, Calif. — Hollywood should have been in New Jersey. It was, after all, in that unglitzy state that Thomas Edison invented the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope, his cost-effective motion-picture camera and its companion viewer. And it was there that moviemaking took off; until the 1910s, many of the biggest hits of the day — “Jack and the Beanstalk,” for instance, or “The Great Train Robbery” — were produced in New Jersey and New York, many by Edison’s own company.
Yet by the end of that decade, the budding film industry had packed up and moved to California. Why? Scholars cite several reasons, but most accounts include an obvious one. The earliest movie cameras required lots of light, so films were often shot outdoors or on open-air sets. Unlike the gloomy Northeast, Southern California offered filmmakers year-round sun and a diversity of striking landscapes on which to dream up celluloid worlds — oceans, deserts and mountains within easy reach, glory wherever you looked.
In other words, Hollywood is in Hollywood rather than in West Orange, N.J., for many of the same reasons that California’s Central Valley produces about a quarter of the nation’s food, and why the Beach Boys wished for all of America to be like “Californi-a.” It’s why John Muir, looking from the summit of the Pacheco Pass, described a landscape that appeared “wholly composed” of light, “the most beautiful I have ever beheld.”