Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE LEADING MEN OF MGM by Jane Ellen Wayne


by Jane Ellen Wayne

Pub Date: March 15th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7867-1475-1

Slipshod biographies of the men who roared at MGM.

Given that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was one of the most successful and influential film studios during Hollywood’s golden age, a take on its leading male stars is entirely in order. As actors, just how great were Tracy and Gable? What sort of masculinity emanated from two of the studio’s biggest stars, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly? Look for little insight here into those or other related topics. Wayne (The Golden Girls of MGM, 2003, etc.), who has penned nine other Hollywood bios, reveals her slant early on. Interviewing the famous, she writes in her preface, is “a waste of time.” The “unknown starlets” bent on revenge are much more reliable, while prostitutes who serviced the stars are even better sources, especially on their clients’ penis sizes. Thus, Wayne reveals that some stars (Frank Sinatra, for example) were bigger than others (Gable, alas). Overall, it seems, Wayne spends perhaps more time in her subjects’ bedrooms than she does on the sets of their pictures. She reports, for instance, that Spencer Tracy sometimes suffered impotence, Robert Taylor was rumored to be bisexual, and Van Johnson was presumed by some actors to be gay. As for the films these MGM Boys (as they were called) starred in, the author seldom has more than a word or a phrase for them: Sea of Grass, she writes, was “a miserable picture,” and so on. Tossing off more clichés than there are in a shelf of romance novels, and leaning heavily on previously published accounts, Wayne goes on to rehash the tired details of the men’s lives. Peter Lawford ran interference when John F. Kennedy had sex with Marilyn Monroe. Frank Sinatra was hopelessly besotted by Ava Gardner. Clark Gable broke into pictures by having sex with openly gay actor William Haines. Frankly, though, few will give a damn.

MGM with lots of pulp. (Eight pages of photos)