The Father of Hollywood, written by Gaelyn Whitley Keith, is an ambitious work that details the life and times of the author's great-grandparents, Hobart Johnstone "H.J." Whitley and Margaret Virginia Ross "Gigi" Whitley. The book is written largely from the first-person perspective of Gigi herself and contains actual excerpts from Gigi's personal diaries.
The Father of Hollywood begins by telling the story of HJ's tragic early years when he experienced the loss of both parents and most of his siblings, his whirlwind romance of Gigi, and their fairy-tale marriage. While they were on their honeymoon in California, H.J. and Gigi found and agreed to purchase the land which was later to become Hollywood. After the honeymoon, Gigi accompanied H.J. back to the Dakotas where they began their lives as man and wife. It was here that Gigi gave birth to their son, Ross. Over the next four years HJ, Gigi, and Ross traveled through the Oklahoma territory as HJ developed towns all along the rail lines for the Rock Island Railroad.
They finally ended up back in California where they opened a successful jewelry business. H.J. started work on his vision of Hollywood. From Sunset Blvd to the Hollywood sign, H.J. patiently sculpted his perfect town on the rolling California hills and managed to draw the fledging movie industry to his town. During this time Gigi gave birth to their daughter, Grace. What follows next was a happy portrait of what life was like for the wealthy and privileged in a rapidly growing Hollywood at the turn of the last century â" houses with all the latest luxuries, extravagant parties, trips around the world.
However not everything was as it appeared for the Whitley family. Keith also shows us the other side of the fairy-tale - H.J.'s ceaseless drive and work-ethic that repeatedly drew him away from his wife and children, Gigi's struggle with her resultant loneliness, and their children's struggle to obtain the attention of their frequently absent father. The book follows H.J. and his family up until his death in 1931.
During his lifetime HJ Whitley was credited with developing over 140 towns across the Western United States. Hollywood was his crown jewel.