Throughout the Thirties and Forties, the major Hollywood studios were meticulous and hammer headed about protecting privileged stars from outside scandal.
The studio machinery, notably at MGM, could sweep anything — sleazy affairs, nasty divorces, boozing, drug addiction, nasty auto accidents, outright criminality and even murder — under the rug. The stars were big money makers, and their just HAD to be protected.
By the Fifties, the studios’ grip on movie making began to significantly loosen. The same could be said of the collective studio ability to control and shush up unwanted scandal. This was especially true with the advent of a then little-known publication in New York, Confidential, published by a miscreant by the name of Robert Harrison.
We were inspired to these recollections by the publication of Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story Of Hollywood’s Scandal Magazine by Samantha Barbas (Chicago Review Press), which will disclose perhaps more than you wanted to know about this prototypical publication.
Confidential prided itself on telling readers what the gossip columnists and show biz journalists couldn’t or wouldn’t. The result was traumatic for studio publicity machines. They could no longer protect even the biggest stars. They and their handlers (agents, managers, etc.) were pretty much on their own. The wheeling and dealing began.
For example, Rory Calhoun at one point in his career found himself embroiled in the effort to hide the homosexuality of Rock Hudson. Calhoun’s agent was Henry Willson, who was gay. His biggest client prize was Hudson, and Willson went to great lengths to prevent the actor from having his career ruined by being outed.
When Confidential sniffing around Hudson’s personal life in the mid-Fifties, Willson supposedly bargained information about Calhoun’s jailbird past in exchange for dropping the Hudson sizzler. The subsequent disclosures about Rory’s less than admirable past — he spent several years in a Federal prison — actually helped reinforce his career his bad boy image.
Some tidbits from Confidential:
Red Skelton was in the Fifties and beloved movie and tv actor/comedian of protean gifts and a wide following. By 1953, though, reports began to seep out of personal and marital problems. Confidential smoked out the real story: Skelton was an alcoholic, who has violent arguments with his wife. Several times in the past year, Skelton has galloped through the house, waving (a) gun and staggering…. And, as per author Barbas, another thing: he liked to watch ‘dirty movies.’
Operatic leading man Mario Lanza, star of 1951’s The Great Caruso, was revealed to be a real handful. According to author Barbas, depressed, alcoholic, reclusive, wildly temperamental and a binge eater.
Confidential decreed that Lanza was such an emotional problem child that many of his friends have expressed the belief a psychiatrist should slow him down. His ego is astounding.
Song and dance man Dan Dailey was in the late Forties and early Fifties having his share of mental and marital hurdles. By 1951 he decided to seek admission to the Menninger Clinic for psychiatric problems. The conventional Hollywood fan magazines reported about his journey to recovery aided by religion. “Modern Screen described Dailey as a devout Christian and “man of faith,” writes author Barbas.
Confidential expressed another view. Daily was ambivalent sexually and was a cross dresser. Writes Barbas: (The magazine) was right that Dailey was a cross dresser. According to film historian William Mann, Dailey’s habit of wearing women’s clothes — whether for gags or otherwise — was legend in Hollywood.
Barbas writes that Confidential didn’t say outright that Dailey was gay, but it implied as much.
Soon, stars who felt themselves wronged by Confidential (notably Maureen O’Hara and Dorothy Dandridge) fought back — in court. By the late Fifties, the magazine was gone, out of business. The studio publicity machinery could relax a bit.