Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Everyone likes a good scandal and Kenneth Anger picked the purple dawn of old Hollywood Land as his subject matter for, Hollywood Babylon.

I found this book some years ago collecting dust in a charity shop. It's egdes are now quite tattered and dog eared as I’ve read it over and over again.

Nothing screams glamour scandal better than a starlet in a fur stole gunned down in a mafia-style killing, venom bitch rumours of casting couch crabs and nymphos ahoy in Charlie Chaplin land. Gods and Goddesses were created and destroyed with one fell swoop of the studio king’s hand as the world lapped up stories of hedonistic orgies. The most notable example, Eric Von Strohiem’s secret studio lock ins where 24 hours of debauchery were caught on celluloid. Exotic actors and actresses with bellies full of caviar and champagne could be seen the next day emerging out of the studio gates looking as though consumed by the vice of the Hollywood dream. Opium induced deaths filled the column inches as well as romantic and not so romantic suicides. Lupe Velez’s, dreams of a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ headline to mark her early death were flushed literally down the toilet pan- apparently sleeping pills and a Mexican dinner do not mix well. Lupe was found the next morning by her maid, head in toilet bowl. Verdict: Death by drowning.

Everyone wanted to be a star. Some left home with nothing but a few dollars, fewer friends and big dreams of the silver screen only to be seen in their final act of dramatics, jumping off the Hollywood sign. One hopeful starlet in particular only grabbed headlines after her suspcious death, most claimed by an amorous Fatty Arbuckle and his weapon of choice? A coke bottle.

Everyone loves a trashy read but what strikes me the most about this anthology of decadent scandal is the vulnerability of those who made up this new breed, the stars. Swept up in the studio system they were merely pawns under the studio mogul’s thumb. Today with the studio system scrapped to give actors more freedom, the Hollywood celebrity reigns supreme where consequently super egos have given birth to…Tom cruise.

And these final words belong to Gloria Swanson, as Norma Desmond in 'Sunset Boulevard', a film which truly evokes the death of the Golden Age of Hollywood, "I'm ready for my close-up Mr DeMille".


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