The original version of “Hollywood Babylon” first appeared in France in 1959. An incredibly scandalous reveal of Tinseltown that had to wait until 1965 for a US publisher brave enough to put it out. Within ten days it was banned and did not appear again until a decade later. Written by American film-maker Kenneth Anger ,who claimed to be in the know concerning scandals, the first volume had an emphasis on the stars of early Hollywood and the silent era. A second volume appeared in 1984. Many of Anger’s claims have been strongly denied if not always completely unproven so they have hung around as rumour and urban legend. The books are sleazy and compelling in equal measures, I’ve read both over the years.
So enthused by the format were Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince that in 2008 they claimed “it’s back” with another volume of scandal, rumour and sleaze ranging from the Hollywood in its hey-day to modern Tinseltown. (Tom Cruise certainly does not get off lightly here). Anger was decidedly angered by Porter and Prince muscling in on a direct copy of style, format and general grubbiness.
Truman Capote (a source of a number of the scurrilous titbits in this book) reputedly said that gossip will become the literature of the twenty-first century (and he should have known being a tremendous gossip himself) so maybe what we have here is literature in its purest form. Movie heart-throb Rock Hudson (another gossip) said “In Hollywood you can keep a mistress, or a boyfriend, maybe both. You can go gay, bi or pan-sexual. Just don’t tell anybody and don’t get caught. What do you expect when you bring the world’s most beautiful people together in the same town?” This quote does seem to be the raison d’etre for this book.
It’s not an easy read. By adopting the style of the original and of classic scandal magazines from “Confidential” of the 1950s to the National Enquirer it has ended up as vague, repetitive writing, keen to go off on tangents, with grainy black and white photography which may or not provide proof to their claims.
It will rouse strong emotions. I read a (withdrawn) library copy and there’s a chunk of pages which have been roughly ripped out (hence the withdrawal and not by me I hasten to add). I know where there’s another copy (hopefully undefiled) and will be keen to see what has been so forcefully extracted (oddly enough from the contents it seems to be the end of a section concerning Lucille Ball!)
The lips are pursed and the dirt is dished throughout. Some may be familiar stories and there’s a great deal of emphasis on who slept with who, who was secretly gay, and what was the size of the equipment they were doing all this sleeping around with. Thus Ivor Novello is linked with Winston Churchill, Mick Jagger with Eric Clapton and James Dean and Marilyn Monroe with just about everybody. Does any of it matter? Of course not, but there is still something compelling in this catalogue of stories with dubious provenance that kept me reading even when I felt quite grubby doing so.
I recently watched on Netflix the documentary film “Tab Hunter Confidential” in which the 50’s heart-throb movie star and singer puts into context his hiding of his sexuality in a calm, admirable way. It is the weird attitude of Hollywood and its hypocrisy (recently brought into focus with all those accusations against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey) which has brought about all this net curtain-twitching from Porter and Prince.
This book is one of a sizeable output from Blood Moon Productions who on their website claim to be “applying the standards of today to the Hollywood scandals of yesterday” and they do this in volumes dedicated to performers such as Rock Hudson, Lana Turner, Peter O’ Toole, The Gabor sisters – the list goes on, including even politicians (Donald Trump: The Man Who Would Be King is a recent Porter and Prince work). Scanning down this back catalogue on bloodmoonproductionscom I couldn’t help but think “Ooh, I’d like to read that” on quite a few occasions. I know it’s all a far cry from the literary blogger I strive to be (Ha Ha!) but sometimes I just can’t help looking to the gutter for inspiration!
Hollywood Babylon It’s Back!” was published by Blood Moon in 2008