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TOM LEONARD on new TV series 'Hollywood'

by Joann Kent (2020-05-25)

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The month was March 1946 and the rest of the world was still picking its way through the rubble and misery of World War II.

However, in Hollywood, the first post-war Oscars awards sought to recapture the glitz, glamour and shameless egotism that had been mothballed as America pulled together to win the war. Oscar statuettes that had been plaster were now solid bronze plated with gold.

Joan Crawford stayed away from the ceremony, blaming pneumonia, hồ ba bể but everyone in town knew she just couldn't face watching Ingrid Bergman win Best Actress.

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Sure enough, as soon as it emerged that Crawford had won (for her starring role in Mildred Pierce), she put her face on and invited the Press into her bedroom as she accepted the statuette.

She did, at least, make sure there was no one in bed with her. Along with her bitter rival, Bette Davis, Crawford was notorious for aggressively sleeping her way to the top. But when it came to scandal in the post-war years, her enthusiastic embrace of the casting couch paled in comparison to the rampant drug-taking, gay prostitution, orgies and sexual assault that were also going on behind the scenes in the outwardly wholesome movie industry.

The colourful canvas provided by this last gasp of Hollywood's so-called 'Golden Age' provides the setting for Hollywood, a lavish new mini-series on Netflix from May 1. Made by Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator of the hit high-school musical series Glee, the seven-part drama promises to put a very 21st-century gloss on post-war Hollywood.

Murphy has described it as a 'revisionist' look and a 'love letter to the Golden Age of Tinseltown'. His executive producer Janet Mock calls it an 'aspirational tale of what ifs' — which include a studio director who's a woman, a male screenwriter and lead actress who are both black and a matinee idol star who is openly gay.

Murphy is gay while Mock is a black transgender activist who paid for her sex change at 16 by working as a prostitute.

The drama mixes up fictional and historical characters, the latter including Rock Hudson, Hollywood's most famous closeted star, and his more flamboyantly gay agent Henry Wilson; Hattie McDaniel (the first black actress to win an Oscar, as Mammy in Gone With The Wind, who was forced to sit at a segregated table at the ceremony); and Anna May Wong, Hollywood's first Chinese-American star.

Murphy's fictional characters include a pimp who runs an escort business, out of a petrol station, for gay or married stars. He's clearly based on the outrageous Scotty Bowers, a former U.S. Marine who ran just such an operation from 1946, and who claimed half of Hollywood used his services.

Marilyn Monroe. Hollywood, which Marilyn Monroe described as an 'overcrowded brothel', was still ruled by the major studios (whose usually predatory executives treated actors like chattels). Washington effectively ended their rule by stopping them owning cinemas in 1948

It sounds tailor-made for the Instagram generation which lapped up Glee, as the main characters 'battle stereotypes, biases and abusive industry power players'. But they'll have their work cut out, because the real post-war Tinseltown wasn't remotely 'woke'.

Hollywood was unashamedly white, heterosexual (at least in public) and chauvinist. Racial segregation and prejudice was deeply entrenched, and even Jews, who pretty much ran the business, were excluded from wider U.S. society. Laws banning mixed-race sexual relations remained in place in California until 1948.

Hollywood, which Marilyn Monroe described as an 'overcrowded brothel', was still ruled by the major studios (whose usually predatory executives treated actors like chattels). Washington effectively ended their rule by stopping them owning cinemas in 1948.

Financially, the post-war years were boom time for the industry as the shattered world sought distraction at the 'flicks'.

Rock Hudson. The list also took in Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, Rita Hayworth, Noel Coward, Mae West, James Dean, Rock Hudson and Edith Piaf. Oh yes, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

On screen, a strict decency code still limited what could be shown, but studios were no longer pressured to make uplifting, propagandistic movies to help the war effort.

Although some actors — including Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart had gone off to fight — many of the stars who dominated screens in the immediate post-war years were the same ones as during the war.

In the years immediately after 1945, Bette Davis and British actresses Olivia de Havilland and Greer Garson still topped the bill along-side male stars such as Laurence Olivier and Humphrey Bogart. The British ex-pat male contingent, nicknamed the 'Hollywood Raj', boasted the likes of David Niven, Rex Harrison and Ronald Colman.

Hitler may have been defeated but tyrannical studio bosses continued to run Hollywood with an iron fist, binding actors in exclusive deals in which the moguls not only got a say in the films they made but the private lives they led.

Numerous young stars such as Judy Garland and Lana Turner were pressured to have abortions. Some became pregnant frequently, effectively using termination as birth control. 'These newly wealthy men and women didn't know how to control their bodies, or their lives, spending, cavorting and revelling in excess,' says Hollywood historian Anne Helen Petersen.





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Garland, so sweet in The Wizard Of Oz, had a particularly grim time. Studios forced actors to work long hours, keeping them going with drugs from compliant doctors. No dispensation was made for children. MGM, to which Garland had signed aged 13, hooked her on amphetamines to keep her slim and energetic through a relentless filming schedule.

She'd then be given sleeping pills and allowed to rest for four hours, before being woken up with more amphetamines — she said it meant she could work 72 hours almost continuously.

'Half the time we were hanging from the ceiling but it was a way of life for us,' Garland recalled.

Hollywood actress Lana Turner

Telling her she was a 'fat little pig', MGM executives also kept her hungry and encouraged her to smoke heavily to suppress her appetite. She was left with a lifelong, insecurity about her weight and a drug addiction that killed her at 47.

Debbie Reynolds said she almost met the same fate when MGM tried to foist pills on her, but was saved from a 'life on stimulants' after her doctor insisted she rested.

Young actors weren't safe from sexual abuse either. Garland was repeatedly propositioned by MGM executives from the age of 16. Studio chief Louis Mayer liked to show that he thought she sang from the heart by putting his hand on the teenager's left breast.

Fellow child star Shirley Temple recalled how on her first visit to a powerful film producer's office, he unzipped his trousers and exposed his genitals to her. When she giggled, he threw her out. If women were victims of a deeply misogynistic culture, black actors —of either sex — were at the bottom of the Hollywood heap.

The relatively well-connected African-American actress Lena Horne thought she'd scored a victory by insisting studios never cast her as a maid. Instead, she never got a lead role in anything. Her appearances were limited to standalone scenes that could easily be cut from films in U.S. cities where cinemas refused to show movies with black performers. The studios' obsessive need to control their stars ran to covert surveillance. 'Love goddess' Rita Hayworth was one of Hollywood's highest-paid actresses by the late 1940s, earning more than $375,000 a year. That didn't stop her studio, Columbia Pictures, from bugging her, she claimed.

Her one-time husband, Orson Welles, said the studio chief, Harry Cohn, did the same to him and — on the assumption that someone was always eavesdropping — Welles would say 'Hello Harry' when he came into his director's office each morning.

Studios employed 'fixers' to sort out problems such as abortions. If stars had car accidents, they would depute lesser actors on the studio books to take the blame.

If an actress was a lesbian, fixers would leak stories to the Press about her latest boyfriend or even force them into a studio-arranged marriage.

But there were some scandals the fixers couldn't keep secret. The Swedish superstar Ingrid Bergman caused a huge ruckus in 1949 when she became pregnant — while still married to her first husband, Swedish surgeon Petter Lindstrom — by Italian film director Roberto Rossellini as they filmed the drama Stromboli. American fans who had warmed to the Casablanca star's virtuous image felt betrayed.

Hollywood effectively blacklisted her, and in Congress — where her behaviour inspired a bill to ban from cinema screens all actors 'guilty of immorality and lewdness' — she was denounced as a 'powerful influence for evil'.

Thankfully for her, no one had picked up on her earlier brief affair with Gregory Peck while making the 1945 Hitchcock film Spellbound.

Alfred Hitchcock's notorious mistreatment of his leading ladies wouldn't be properly exposed until The Birds star Tippi Hedren revealed his aggressive sexual obsession with her decades later. But he was clearly at it in the 1940s — slapping Joan Fontaine to make her cry while filming Rebecca and making fellow British actress Ann Todd uncomfortable during work on the 1947 thriller The Paradine Case with his 'schoolboy's obsession with sex'.

Whether they'd served in the Forces or not, some of the most notorious womanisers, such as Errol Flynn and Clark Gable, returned after the war to re-start their acting careers — and their sexual exploits. An MGM executive memorably observed: 'Clark was the least selective lover in the hemisphere. He'd screw anything. A girl didn't have to be pretty or even clean.'

Officially, homosexuality didn't exist in Hollywood. Unofficially, it was rampant — at least according to Scotty Bowers. The veteran hustler said that, from 1946, he set up and sometimes took part in sexual liaisons involving Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Spencer Tracy and Errol Flynn.

The list also took in Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, Rita Hayworth, Noel Coward, Mae West, James Dean, Rock Hudson and Edith Piaf. Oh yes, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He said he arranged orgies for Cole Porter and had threesomes with actresses Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, and — separately — with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.

Some have accused the late Bowers of exaggeration but a fair number of the names sound plausible. Quite how they avoided exposure by Hollywood's famously omniscient gossip columnist Hedda Hopper remains a mystery. Perhaps she considered it unprintable.

Hollywood's so-called Golden Age may have produced many classic films but the glitter hid many layers of ugliness. 

Hollywood launches on Netflix on May 1.


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