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What is Tinseltown?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tinseltown is a slang term for Hollywood, a district in the city of Los Angeles that has become famous as the cradle of the American film industry. Because of Hollywood's association with the film industry, the district has become almost a magical place for some Americans, who romanticize both the region and the people who live there. The term is also used to describe films, often scathingly, to dismiss them as shallow.

The original meaning of “Tinseltown” is not complementary. People have used the word “tinsel” since the 1600s to describe something that is showy or even gaudy, but ultimately worthless. When people used this term to refer to Hollywood in the 1970s, they obviously meant to cast aspersions on the film industry and the people who powered it. The implication is that Hollywood is all celebrities and glitter, but no real substance.

The history of Hollywood was originally agricultural. Orange groves and fields of other crops existed there until the early 20th century, when film makers first began to exploit the district for its friendly population and vacant lots, ideally suited to filming. By World War I, Hollywood had become the powerhouse of the nascent film industry in the United States, and many studios continue to have their headquarters there.

Hollywood has a number of landmarks relating to the film industry, from historic studios and theaters to the well known Hollywood Walk of Fame. Many films premiere in Hollywood, often at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre). The district also houses many prominent figures in the film industry, who enjoy living close to the glamor of the area; some visitors to the region enjoy taking tours which point out the homes of famous movie stars.

The first known written use of “Tinseltown” appeared in 1975, as the film industry was undergoing a major shift. Films were getting more daring, more filmmakers were entering the business, and the colossal studio system that had dominated Hollywood had collapsed. Oddly enough, many critically acclaimed and still beloved films emerged from Hollywood in the 1970s, belying the idea that the industry was producing a gaudy but valueless product. This era, for example, marked the begin of the rise of independent film, and of well known movie makers like Francis Ford Coppola, Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon209985 — On Aug 28, 2011

Sounds a little slanderous of those to say that Hollywood was exploited by anyone. Artist and engineers were behind the creation. No one would say this about Broadway!

By icecream17 — On Feb 03, 2011

Crispety - I agree with you. Most of the best actors are actors of the Pacino era. It is something about the way he electrifies the screen that just leaves you mesmerized.

You really feel the passion in Pacino’s performances and you really can’t fake passion. Either it’s there or it’s not.

By Crispety — On Feb 01, 2011

Sunny27- I have to say that one of my favorite movies was “Good Fellas”. This film was as good as the book. Ray Liotta was incredible as Henry Hill.

This true story was a real rollercoaster ride and to Scorsese’s credit it was very true to the book. I think that classic method actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Nero personify true Hollywood talent.

They are not like a lot of the contemporary actors that fit the true meaning of the word Tinseltown. A lot of the current crop of actors would learn an enormous amount from legends like Pacino and De Nero.

By Sunny27 — On Jan 29, 2011

Subway11-I loved that movie too. It was a really passionate film. These movies had a lot of Hollywood star power like Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Nero, Robert Duvall, Lee Strasberg and, Diane Keaton.

Martin Scorsese also directs a lot of passionate films that usually contain Robert De Nero. Films like "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas" were among his most famous movies.

By subway11 — On Jan 28, 2011

I have to say that Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are my favorite Hollywood directors. My favorite movies of all time had to be “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part two.”

Both movies were masterfully executed. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino offered a realistic portrayal heading a mafia family. The movie is riveting because it really makes you feel like you are experiencing things right along with the characters.

One of my favorite scenes in Godfather Part two was when Michael played by Al Pacino negotiates a gambling license in Nevada and is insulted by the Senator and says, “We're both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.”

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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