Griffith observatory: Hollywood’s celestial theater

Stuart W. Leslie, Emily A. Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hollywood has always been about seeing and being seen and Griffith Observatory, perched on Mount Hollywood overlooking the Los Angeles metropolis, is the perfect stage set for a cosmic drama. In this article, the authors show how the Observatory’s form and function are uniquely Southern California productions. Since Griffith J. Griffith bequeathed funds for a public observatory in 1919, the astronomical community at the California Institute of Technology and the Mount Wilson Observatory have informed the selection of instrumentation, programming, and exhibitions at Griffith Observatory. Meanwhile, thanks to the Observatory’s studio connections, it has always been able to call upon the skills of some of Hollywood’s best artists, model makers, and scriptwriters to translate the latest astronomical discoveries into spectacular audiovisual experiences. In turn, the Observatory has featured prominently in hundreds of programs on radio, television, and film, becoming a celebrity in its own right. Aerospace contractors have kept the Observatory connected to the practical applications of astronomy. Displaying artifacts from Lockheed, Rocketdyne, and NASA, no other planetarium offered a better front row seat on the space race. The union of the astronomy, Hollywood, and aerospace communities under the vision of strong Observatory leadership continues to bring Los Angelenos and visitors from around the world closer to the heavens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-246
Number of pages20
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2017


  • Hollywood
  • Los Angeles
  • Mount Wilson
  • Observatory
  • planetarium
  • public astronomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


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