H 4-introduction


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  1. 1. Introduction Bohemians in the Depictions of Hollywood Thelma Todd was pleasure-loving and temperamental, not the domestic type at all. Miss Todd and Roland West frequently participated in the gay par- ties at Miss Catherine Hunter’s Hollywood bungalow. Miss Todd often remained overnight with Miss Hunter at her home. West, who had testified on business matters twice, refused to answer questions about Miss Todd’s love life. “I am determined at all costs to protect her memory.”1 Movie star Thelma Todd’s sex life took center stage during the grand jury investigation into her death. The movie industry, newspapers, magazines, and book publishers produced endless publicity. Their articles fed and stoked audi- ence members’ desire to connect with the stars and other people in the movie industry. Most of this publicity showed virile men and virtuous women, dat- ing males and females, and faithful husbands and wives in Hollywood. How- ever, the newspaper articles on Thelma Todd hinted that the actress was not content as a wife and had a romantic life that her friends wanted to keep secret. The image of Thelma Todd was not unique. Newspaper and magazine articles, Hollywood novels, and Hollywood movies featuring Hollywood between the late 1910s and early 1940s showed audiences a whole lot more. Actress Greta Garbo defined herself as a bachelor. Screenwriter Mercedes De Acosta wore mannish attire. A trio of male heartthrobs attended a party and showed no romantic interest in women. Homosexual designers picked up men in nightclubs. The industry and the media covering Hollywood developed and disseminated these real and fictional characters, whom I call Hollywood’s bohemians. In an era when many thought there was a connection between a person’s sexual interests and their gender behavior, why did homosexuals, adul- terers, effeminate males, and butch females appear in all these depictions of Hol- lywood? The Hollywood bohemians appeared because they contributed signifi- cantly to the construction of the movie capital’s image. They helped forge the perspective of Hollywood as the most racy, risqué and unconventional place in 3
  2. 2. 4 INTRODUCTION the country. Hollywood was the dream factory, a place to project our fantasies and reflect our desires, no matter how outlandish. The usual Hollywood pub- licity enabled audience members to develop a sense of intimacy with the celebrity so that readers could imagine themselves as having a greater under- standing of the star. Hollywood bohemian images increased the appeal to audiences’ prurient interests in sexual naughtiness. As homosexuals, adulterers, effeminate males, and butch females, the bohemians embodied the pleasures of the forbidden and the taboo. Hollywood bohemians linked the industry to exposure of (pre- viously) guarded secrets. They played an important role in developing Holly- wood’s image as a place of sexual abandon, further enhancing the Hollywood “mystique.” The brilliance of these images was that they set the bohemians at familiar Hollywood locations. The presence of the sexual “other” makes the location more exciting, and the familiar location makes the “other” less threat- ening.2 Most publicity images and descriptions of Hollywood in novels and movies used Hollywood as their setting. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood was known for its nightclubs and restaurants, movie premieres and the Academy Awards, private parties, star homes, and the giant studio lots. A movie about Hollywood from the era, Warner Brothers’ Hollywood Hotel (1937), offered audiences a tour of Hollywood and revealed each of the important locales. As a newcomer landed at the airport in Hollywood and drove toward the studio, the audience saw what they envisioned as the movie capital of the world; a building shaped like a derby hat and another with engravings and pillars at the entry passed by. The Brown Derby and the Cafe Trocadero were two of the top restaurants and clubs that formed the Hollywood nightlife. Along Holly- wood Boulevard, the car passed Grauman’s Chinese Theater, one of the places where the staged events and semi-public affairs that composed the public Hol- lywood parties happened. A sign selling personal guides to movie star homes flashed past. The panorama of Hollywood ended with an image of the studio gates, and inside them were the stage sets, dressing rooms, and studios of Hol- lywood — behind the scenes. Unlike all the other images of Hollywood, the bohemians linked these famous movie industry places with unusual people and behaviors. By binding these places to things that the culture viewed as taboo, the Hollywood bohemi- ans made those locations appear wild and spectacular. Bohemians made Hol- lywood, the town and its industry, stand apart and appear to be something that people thought they had to see and experience — more intriguing than any other place in the country. Each chapter will examine one of these important Hollywood locations and show how the Hollywood bohemians made the place stand out. Beginning with the most public locations, the restaurants and nightclubs that formed Holly- wood nightlife, each chapter will center on a three-part examination of media
  3. 3. Introduction 5 images: A presentation of the media images of the location in other cities and towns will provide a standard for how the location usually appeared in the media; a focus on the way the location appeared in most Hollywood publicity and many novels and movies that described the movie industry and its town is the second part of this examination. This focus will show how Hollywood publicity worked, with its elaborate description of a location and the revelation of information about a star’s per- sonality. The focus will display the publicity’s emphasis on showing how both the location and star conformed to society’s expectations. The publicity and images that form Hollywood novels and movies with Hollywood bohemians will demonstrate how the bohemians made each location appear fun and crazy. The first chapter covers female impersonators and women in men’s cloth- ing who lit up Hollywood’s neon night scene. The second describes how Hol- lywood stars emoted at the Hollywood public parties of the Oscars and movie premieres. The middle chapter discusses the beautiful people making all kinds of love at Hollywood private parties. Chapter four shows how chic bachelor women and odd bedfellows made happy homes. Finally, the fifth chapter reveals temperamental artistes plying their trades behind the scenes at the studio lots. The Hollywood bohemians worked within almost every profession in the industry. They included actors and actresses, screenwriters and publicists, direc- tors and producers, and costume designers and makeup artists. Actors and actresses formed the most publicized group in Hollywood and they appeared in the majority of the images. The performers and other professionals who composed the Hollywood bohemians appeared in three types of media material. The novels featured Hol- lywood as the primary setting for the story and a major character who worked in the movie industry. Known as Hollywood novels, these books spanned across genres, including drama, romance, farce, and musical comedy. Hollywood novelists ran the gamut of the writing profession. They included literary lights such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Last Tycoon, 1941) and the currently respected authors, like James M. Cain (Serenade, 1937). The group also featured popular writers of the era like Vicki Baum (Falling Star, 1934) and virtual unknowns such as John Preston Buschlen (Screen Star, 1932). Movies that centered on Hollywood and its workers, “Hollywood on Hol- lywood” motion pictures, also slipped Hollywood bohemians into scenes. Like the Hollywood novels, these movies crossed genres and types and included money-making pictures such as Going Hollywood (MGM, 1933) and box-office failures such as Hollywood Party (MGM, 1934). Some achieved critical acclaim, such as Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (Paramount, 1941), while others like Stunt Pilot (Republic, 1939) were B-movies intended to be minor time fillers. Newspapers and magazines, including metropolitan dailies and tabloids, depicted Hollywood bohemians in feature articles and gossip columns. The
  4. 4. 6 INTRODUCTION magazines that carried these images ranged from trade types such as the Hol- lywood Reporter and fan magazines such as Photoplay to general interest types, including Life and Time.3 The novels, movies, newspapers and magazines used different words and degrees of detail to describe the Hollywood bohemians and their activities. Gen- erally, only the novels used the word “homosexual.” The movies and newspaper and magazine articles opted for code words or phrases, such as “pansy” or “the happy couple.” Rarely did any of the media use the word “adulterer,” and all three tended to show effeminate males and masculine females through the clothing that they wore. The three types of media rarely depicted the “illicit” activities of the adulterers and homosexuals. Instead, they usually hinted at the action. The vast majority of the images of Hollywood bohemians showed people who appeared to enjoy rich and happy professional and social lives. The stars and character actors and behind the scenes artisans all earned high salaries. They also worked on some of the best Hollywood productions. They owned homes, cars, and beautiful clothes. The bohemians received respect from their fellow movie people and formed friendships and loving relationships inside and out- side the industry. Hollywood bohemians lived like few others. Readers and viewers occasionally encountered images of adulterers and homosexuals in the mass media during the first half of the twentieth century. Depictions of these figures in books, such as in Upton Sinclair’s Oil! (a girl seducer) and William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (rape and voyeurism) and Rad- clyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (masculine women, lesbianism), sparked censorship efforts to keep them from being printed and distributed. The sup- porters of censorship saw these images as vulgar and disgusting. They believed that the people who saw these images, particularly the young and the simple- minded, would have their morals corrupted. This corruption of morals would destroy the civilized world, so they saw it as their job to stop the images before the world as they knew it was lost.4 The legal efforts failed to stop the presentation of adulterers and others in the media. Still, books were not awash in these images. The images that did appear, including those in the books previously mentioned, showed that these characters’ activities made them feel miserable. No character escaped experi- encing emotional turmoil because of their sexual behavior. The figures appeared occasionally in the newspapers and magazines of the era usually because they engaged in criminal activity. Otherwise, their appearance in articles carried a pejorative tone. When the newspapers ran stories about a Hollywood celebrity whose scandalous behav- ior sparked a public outrage, the industry responded by firing or demoting their nonconformist stars and other employees. Writers, including David Ehrenstein in Open Secret and William Mann within Behind the Screen, noted the studios’ negative responses, but did not discuss the industry’s promotion of their bohemian employees.5
  5. 5. Introduction 7 Characters who did not conform to the culture’s norms for sexuality also appeared in movies that did not feature Hollywood as the main setting. As in the non–Hollywood books and newspapers, the adulterers and homosexuals encountered a hostile world and negative experiences. Adulterers, gold dig- gers, and other “fallen woman” either met unfortunate ends or redeemed them- selves at the end of the movie. Even before the increased reviewing of movies that occurred under the Pro- duction Code Administration, scripts eliminated the racy woman. The movies either tried to marry the racy woman off to a good man at the end of the movie or sought to show that she learned a life lesson. Male and female homosexual images in general Hollywood productions from the early 1910s to the mid–1970s led lonely lives. These figures experienced derision and sometimes became vic- tims of murder or suicide. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, effemi- nate males appeared in a range of movies where they faced derisive comments and were linked to members of other groups viewed unfavorably in the cul- ture. Books, including Vito Russo’s Celluloid Closet and Richard Barrios’s Screened Out and Janet Staiger’s Bad Women, documented these findings while missing the Hollywood bohemians.6 These negative presentations in literature, news, and general Hollywood movies of adulterers, homosexuals and others strengthened the status quo. The images provided entertainment for audiences. They laughed at the characters in comedies and rooted against them in dramas. The images gave audience members the opportunity to feel personally superior and feel the satisfaction of knowing that they did not occupy the bottom rung of society. Indeed, scholars who studied these negative images argued that they appeared in the media to maintain the dominant gender and sexual norms in U.S. society. The images presented stereotypes of homosexuals and adulterers so audience members would supposedly know about them. The stereotypes experienced horrible lives to establish sharp boundary definitions for whom and what the culture considered unacceptable. The depictions indicated that rewards came only from following behaviors the culture considered acceptable. This system of reward and punishment aimed to keep audience members from wanting to or believing that they could cross the lines.7 Hollywood bohemians composed a distinctly different set of images. While many portrayed similar gay and lesbian stereotypes, others did not. Most uniquely, this book shows us that Hollywood presented figures who success- fully suggested to audience members that crossing the lines was not fatal or harmful. The Hollywood bohemians illustrated that those who did not follow these norms could lead successful lives. At least in Hollywood, they could obtain material goods, be a part of a community, and have friends, lovers, and spouses. The Hollywood bohemians had a complexity that made them more than simplistic stereotypes of homosexuals and cross-dressers. The Hollywood bohemian images appeared similarly to the main character in a novel, a fully
  6. 6. 8 INTRODUCTION realized person who changes over time. They were figures who created success- ful lives beyond the culturally mandated boundaries of acceptable behavior. This suggested to audience members that crossing the lines was fun and exciting. The bohemians undercut the system of reward and punishment and made the boundary lines appear less firm. The need to solidify gender and sexual boundaries was particularly impor- tant during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A variety of cul- tural and economic forces resulted in an era of impressive change. The woman’s movement promoted more educational, work, and political opportunities for women and led to more females engaging in experiences outside the home. Industrialization and technological developments sparked the expansion of bureaucratic work environments, resulting in men having less control over their work lives. The waves of new immigrants brought their different cultural traditions into American society. Together with the women’s movement, they created a muddle of the appropriate behaviors for men and women. These developments spurred the need to create new definitions for appropriate male and female behaviors. Factors including rising divorce rates and the expansion of commer- cial leisure activities promoted greater discussion of sexuality and changes in the behavior and expectations regarding sex. Men and women discovered that older avenues for demonstrating masculinity and femininity and proving sex- uality had closed and entirely different venues had emerged. The medical and psychological professions informed everyone in society that sexuality had great importance in human lives. This made the desire to demonstrate masculinity and femininity and prove sexuality become even more important to individ- uals in this era. The mass media blossomed amid this time of transition. New innovations in communications led to new and different mass media forms. These prod- ucts ranged from phonographs to movies to radio. The emergence of a con- sumer culture offered plentiful goods and services. This new mass entertainment media became the prime location for the presentation of both male and female behavior and sexuality. The media began to establish appropriate behaviors for men and women of all classes. It also pre- sented a greater amount of sexual discussion and titillation. The working and middling classes gained larger incomes and leisure time during the early twentieth century. They spent a good portion of these resources on their enjoyment of the movies and related publications. Hollywood provided this audience with fantasy lives and celebrity images. Many people desired human images and identified with stars to escape the stresses and anxieties of daily life and the limitations and restrictions of the culture.8 This growing mass media presented more images in general and racier ones in particular immediately after World War I because of changes in the country. The United States witnessed the breakdown of genteel culture and its
  7. 7. Introduction 9 restrictions on topics of discussions in the aftermath of the war. The new “mod- ern” culture invited greater presentation of sexual innuendo and sexuality in the mass media. Indeed, as the first era to revise notions of sexuality around desire and fulfillment, the culture interpreted sex as central to personal iden- tities. The entertainment for this culture would logically focus on presenting such an important topic to its audiences. Around this same time, changes in the movie industry resulted in the pro- duction of both more celebrity and more risqué imagery. The studios changed their publicity approach. The divorces and other off-screen activities of several major stars forced the industry to shift away from promoting stars as picture personalities. Picture personality publicity used the star’s on-screen character as a mirror image of their off-screen lives. The studio publicity featured the star’s supposed everyday life and developed stories about their personalities. The beginnings of the cult of personality necessitated the discussion of the star’s sexual behavior since that was considered central to personal identities.9 The number and variety of media that featured Hollywood people expanded significantly during the era. Newspaper coverage included regular articles about the industry’s personalities and featured daily gossip columns from the six major syndicated writers on the beat. General interest magazines, such as Time and Life, and the fanzines, like Photoplay and Silver Screen, reached millions of readers with their weekly photographs, features, and gossip items on Hollywood. The Hollywood novel changed its focus during the late 1910s away from the technology of movie making to presenting readers with stories about characters within the industry. Hollywood movies about the industry increased as movie production solidified itself in the southern California cul- tural climate.10 Hollywood was not alone among places to present themselves in the mass media. Other cities perceived the advantage of reaching a wide variety of audi- ences through the mass media. Cities like Paris, France, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, used the press, wax museums and postcards to depict their spectacular realities and sensual pleasures. This enabled individual businesses to promote themselves and also the entire area to become known as a destination point.11 Like the media that featured Hollywood, these mass media depictions offered their audiences stories. They contained narrative suspense, novelties, and a faithful depiction of the city and industry. Each city’s presentation of this sensationalized reality contained a familiarity that promoted audience mem- bers’ sense of participation and belonging in that reality. The depictions also contained enough celebrities and fantastic events to prompt audience mem- bers to wish that they were there and desire to find out what more there was to know. While Paris sensationalized crime coverage and Atlantic City pre- sented bathing beauties, only Hollywood depicted itself as populated with “bohemians.” None of the other mass media businesses in the era associated themselves
  8. 8. 10 INTRODUCTION with adulterers or homosexuals. Vaudeville presented female impersonators and male impersonators on stage. However, the publicity for these performers described the first as tough and virile and the second as sensitive and demure. The Broadway stage might have had homosexuals in its ranks. Yet neither plays about the theater nor the publicity about theatrical people ever mentioned their presence, nor the presence of other breakers of the culture’s sexual norms. When producers such as the Charles Froham Company and Mae West put plays featuring lesbians and drag queens on stage, the city government closed down one production and no theater owner would offer a Broadway location to the other. Immediately afterwards, the New York state legislature passed the Wales Padlock Law in early 1927, granting municipal authorities the power to lock up any theater if its owner put a play with homosexuals in it on its stage.12 Hollywood successfully accomplished something that other cities and mass media industries could not. Hollywood was a wild place. As one contemporary noted, “I lived in Hollywood because as a kid I got used to carnivals.”13 Hol- lywood studios, insiders and newspapers and magazines focused on selling characters to attract audiences. One of its most marketable assets was the pres- ence of different people and outsiders in its midst. However, Hollywood’s marketing of these characters differed from carnivals and sideshows in key ways. Sideshows featured people with physical and cultural differences within bizarre environs to showcase their inability to adapt to the pre- vailing cultural norms. Audiences experienced reactions of superiority to the “freaks of nature” or, at best, pity. Hollywood bohemians appeared as understand- able figures in recognizable yet fantastic environments with whom audience mem- bers could forge and build an identification. Indeed, Hollywood bohemians offered audience members the opportunity and motivation to identify with the “other.” This book will motivate us to reconsider what we think about Hollywood during the studio era. Hollywood was the dream factory of the masses because of its great climate, wealth, and glamorous romances between a man and a woman. But the Hollywood bohemians revealed another part of the equation that has been omitted from the Hollywood story. The dream included people pursuing wild, outlandish, and “illegal” sexual activities and interests. Audi- ences enjoyed being exposed to the culture’s marginalia, and the bohemians illustrate that the movie industry humanized these outsider images. Hollywood Bohemians will show that one of the primary image-makers in the world used the images of “bohemians” not only for purposes of entertainment and deri- sion but as an integral part of its self-definition. Hollywood Bohemians will offer us the opportunity to understand how entertainment industries work and what audiences enjoy. The discovery of Hol- lywood’s intentional use of risqué and racy images provides an explanation for why so many religious and other groups opposed the movie industry then and today. The images helped the movie industry sell both its product and Hol- lywood in general.
  9. 9. Introduction 11 The Hollywood bohemians influence our current media. They are the fore- runners of today’s highly sexualized images. They show us how we arrived at two controversial features of the way our media operates: The bohemians high- lighted celebrity and public figure’s personal lives, which has become the focus of extensive coverage now. They represented the media presenting culturally controversial behavior images on display, pushing the envelope of what the media showed. This “cutting edge” then built and maintained audience size and interest. The Hollywood bohemians appalled some groups of audiences, but they appealed to many more, and they kept everyone watching and talking. Hollywood Bohemians shows us the background for how the U.S. culture arrived at contemporary attitudes about the media and sexuality.