A history that shows clearly how powerful men exploited actresses long before the #MeToo movement began.
Hollywood historian Longworth (Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997, 2014, etc.) has mined memoirs, biographies, magazines, newspapers, and archives to create an entertaining, gossip-filled portrait of the film capital’s golden age, from the 1920s through the 1960s. Central to the story is the enormously wealthy, paranoid, and erratic Howard Hughes (1905-1976), businessman and aviator, whose self-proclaimed goal was “to become the world’s most famous motion picture producer” and whose leering desire for buxom young actresses represented the proclivities of many other men in the industry. These were women “whose faces and bodies Hughes strove to possess and/or make iconic, sometimes at an expense to their minds and souls.” They were harassed, abused, surveilled, and, in some cases, imprisoned by a man with the money and power to make or break their careers. Hughes, writes the author, “was not the only mogul in Hollywood who profited off treating actresses as sex goddess flavors of the month, good for consumption in a brief window but disposable as soon as the next variety came along,” but he acted “more crudely, and with even less of a regard for the person these actresses were before they came into his life.” Those actresses range from the barely remembered (Billie Dove, Faith Domergue) to major stars: Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn (who shared Hughes’ home for a while), Bette Davis, Ida Lupino (whose directing career Hughes supported), Ginger Rogers, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, and Jean Peters (whom Hughes, uncharacteristically, married). Hughes was so famous that he could lure women merely by promising them future stardom: Choosing a young woman’s photo from a newspaper or magazine, he sent a team of men to track her down, have his own photographer take new pictures, and, if he was pleased, invite her to Hollywood—and took control of her life. The media, dazzled by his self-created myth, perpetuated his image as an iconoclastic folk hero.
A lively—and often sordid—Hollywood history.