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Arts and Entertainment

A Brief History Of Hollywood Sign Pranks

The Hollywood sign, seen on November 11, 1988. (Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)
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By Michael Darling

The Hollywood Sign is the most famous sign in the world; which has naturally made it a target of pranksters over the last few decades. Here's the 41-year history of Hollywood Sign pranks and alterations, from HOLLYWeeD in 1976 to HOLLYWeeD in 2017.

1976: The tradition of Hollywood Sign pranks was started by 21-year old Cal State Northridge art student Danny Finegood when he turned the sign into HOLLYWeeD. According to the Los Angeles Times, Finegood grew up in Hollywood and had always been fascinated by the sign. So, when one of Feingood's classes assigned a project that involved working with scale, he knew he wanted to do something with the Hollywood Sign. In the early hours of January 1st, 1976, the date a state law decriminalizing marijuana took effect, Feingood and three friends draped bed sheets on the two O's to turn them into e's. The pot-friendly message appeared in newspapers around the world and earned Finegood an "A" on his assignment.

1983: For the first, and so far only, time ever; the Army-Navy Football Game was played on the west coast. In celebration of the game, which was played at the Rose Bowl, a group of Navy Midshipmen covered a few of the letters of the sign with the intention of making it read GO NAVY. However, as they only put sheets over select letters and didn't cover up the unused letters, it wound up reading GOLLNAVYD. Navy won the game 42-13.

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1985: On New Year's Day the sign was mysteriously changed to read RAFFEYSOD, leaving police puzzled. A week later, New Orleans rock band The Raffeys took credit for the prank during a concert in Venice. According to a UPI report, band member Charles Arack claimed "We are here to conquer Hollywood and we definitely want to let people know." The Hollywood Sign prank wound up being The Raffeys' most notable achievement.

1987: 1987 was a very busy year for sign alterations. First, in April the Fox network celebrated the launch of their primetime programming by placing an F and an X over the H and first L, and shined a spotlight on the hillside FOX for five nights.

A month later, senior pranksters from CalTech changed the sign to spell CALTECH. Then, in July 1987, Danny Finegood returned to the sign and covered up the H to create OLLYWOOD, a mockery of Oliver North's involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. Finally, September saw the sign become HOLYWOOD again to celebrate a visit from Pope John Paul II.

1990: With the Gulf War raging, Finegood changed the sign to OIL WAR, buta contemporary L.A. Times report says the political message was removed shortly after it went up. This wound up being Feingood's last alteration to the sign before his death in 2007. Until his death, Finegood continued to come up with ideas for sign pranks. The Times' obituary for Finegood mentioned two specific unrealized pranks: changing the sign to HOLLYWEEN on October 31st and an April Fools Day prank that would involve camouflaging the sign in a way that would make it look like it had disappeared.

1991: In April a yellow ribbon was tied around the sign to mark the end of the Gulf War. Then, in December, Pepsi placed two giant reproductions of their redesigned soda cans on top of the L's for a couple of hours.

1992: Hollywood residents were appalled to discover one morning that a 75-foot cutout of the sexy cartoon character Holli Would from the movie Cool World was sitting on the sign's D. According to the Times, Paramount Pictures paid the City of L.A. $27,000 for the sign's maintenance and another $27,000 to Rebuild L.A. for permission to temporarily install Holli Would. That same year, Ross Perot supporters hung banners over the sign to make it read PEROTWOOD.

1993: Unknown pranksters hung two banners on the sign: A J over the H and a G over the W, so that it read JOLLYGOOD. Eight years later, Virgin Atlantic would advertise their new flights from London to L.A. with a photoshopped image of the Hollywood Sign spelling out JOLLYGOOD. Also that year, just before the UCLA-USC game, members of UCLA's Theta Chi Fraternity used black tarps to make the sign say GO UCLA. The Bruins went on to beat the Trojans, 27-21. This incident led to the installation of a state of the art security system.

2010: While the new security system kept the sign unaltered for many years, on February 4th, 2010 pop singer Kesha claimed she had pranked the sign. In a pre-dawn tweet, Kesha wrote "HwOOD $IgN I$ oFFiciaLLY My bIZnatCH!!!!! Good work2allmyHoTCULpritss!! LOOK AT THE SIGN LA!" A video was soon releaseddepicting Kesha and friends changing the sign to read KE$HAWOOD. Reporters and the Hollywood Sign Trust quickly debunked the video and tweet as a hoax. A week later, on February 11th, the sign was changed for real when activists (with permission) hung sheets reading SAVE THE PEAK to help raise funds to buy the land near the Hollywood Sign.

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2014: The tradition of Hollywood Sign pranks spreads to animation. In the sixth episode of Netflix's animated showbiz satire BoJack Horseman, the title character steals the sign's D, leaving it as HOLLYWOO. From that point on in the series, the neighborhood and entertainment industry are consistently referred to as Hollywoo.

2017: Forty-one years to the day the sign was first pranked, artist Zachary Cole Fernandez changed the sign into HOLLYWeeD in celebration of California's legalization of recreational marijuana. On January 9th, Fernandez surrendered to the authorities and was charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

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