You Must Remember This is a storytelling podcast exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. It’s the brainchild and passion project of Karina Longworth (founder of Cinematical.com, former film critic for LA Weekly), who writes, narrates, records and edits each episode. It is a heavily-researched work of creative nonfiction: navigating through conflicting reports, mythology, and institutionalized spin, Karina tries to sort out what really happened behind the films, stars and scandals of the 20th century.
Ramon Novarro was a Mexican actor and singer whose stardom at MGM in the 1920s and 30s was not impeded by his offscreen life as a gay man. In Hollywood Babylon, Anger focuses only on Novarro’s grisly murder in 1968 -- which outed Novarro to a public that had largely forgotten him--and needlessly embellishes a crime scene that was already pretty horrible. Today, in our final episode of Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon, we will explore the life which Anger left out of Hollywood Babylon, and correct that book’s version of Novarro’s death.
In part two of our two-parter on the demise of the biggest and most pernicious tabloid of the 1950s, we’ll explore what happened after the magazine’s claim that redheaded star Maureen O’Hara was caught having sex at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. O’Hara positioned herself the “Joan of Arc” of Hollywood, single-handedly defending a cowardly industry against the existential threat posed by Confidential. As we’ll see, this is one story where the Kenneth Anger version is more credible than the version related by one of the subjects.
Over two episodes, we will explore Hollywood Babylon’s coverage of Confidential Magazine and the two celebrities who testified against the scandal rag in the 1957 trial that helped end what Anger rightfully refers to as its “reign of terror.” We’ll begin with Dorothy Dandridge, the first black actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. Dandridge’s testimony against Confidential reveals the publication’s racist agenda, as well as the double standards that governed her real private and public lives.
Jewish gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is frequently credited with corrupting Hollywood’s unions and “inventing” Las Vegas. Siegel did have movie star friends, but the true story of his involvement with the Flamingo casino is also the story of a much bigger movieland player: Hollywood Reporter founder/publisher/columnist Billy Wilkerson.
The bisexuality of Marlene Dietrich was not exactly a secret in 1930s Hollywood -- in fact, her ambiguous sexuality was part of her on-screen brand. But there is some debate as to who Dietrich counted among her lovers, and which of her fellow stars participated in what has been called the “sewing circle” of female intimacy. Anger alleges that Dietrich had a “passionate affair” with Claudette Colbert, an Oscar-winning actress with an extremely heteronormative persona. We’ll explore what was going on in Dietrich’s life and career around the time when this affair could have taken place, and then delve into Colbert’s image as a very different kind of on-screen sex symbol, and her complicated off-screen personal life.
Mexican actress Lupe Velez was the victim of one of Anger’s cruelest invented stories. His fabrication of her manner of death lays bare a vicious racism in addition to Hollywood Babylon’s usual sexism. Today we will sort out the fact of Velez’s life from Anger’s fiction and consider the star of the Mexican Spitfire series as a comedienne ahead of her time.
In 1936, actress Mary Astor (who had not yet made her most famous film, The Maltese Falcon) and her husband went to court to fight for custody of their four year-old daughter. The trail made international news thanks to both sides’ use of Astor’s diary, in which she had recorded details of her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman. How much did Astor truly reveal in her diary, and what role did the scandal play in her life and career?
Mae West was the biggest new star in Hollywood in 1933, thanks to two hit films she co-wrote and starred in as a sexually implicit, wisecracking broad who romanced a young Cary Grant. In Hollywood Babylon, Anger credits West’s abrupt decline in movies to a coordinated conspiracy organized by William Randolph Hearst and carried out by the Hays Office. Today we’ll explore West’s background, her history of pushing the censors past the limits of legality, and the truth of her lightning-fast rise in Hollywood and somewhat slower descent back to earth.
This Italian pin-up, along with Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, was emblematic of a brand of post-war European sexuality that America happily imported. But the Hollywood career of “La Lollo” was delayed, thanks to Howard Hughes, whose obsession with Lollobrigida led him to keep her virtually imprisoned in a Los Angeles hotel and sign her to a contract that essentially made it impossible for her to work for any other U.S. producer.
Seduction begins at an MGM sponsored orgy at the Ambassador Hotel, as told through the eyes of one of the attendees, a young female screenwriter named Frederica Sagor. Sagor would go on to pen one of the frankest memoirs of 1920s Hollywood, revealing the systematic sexual exploitation of women in the film industry by men like Marshall Neilan--one of Howard Hughes’ early mentors. Frederica’s story also details how tough it was for a woman to hold on to power behind the scenes in the film industry as Hollywood evolved.
We’ll begin the season by talking about the complicated, intermingled romantic and professional relationships of Howard’s uncle, Rupert Hughes, who paved the way for his nephew as a Hollywood figure known for his colorful history with women.
We’ll close this half of our Hollywood Babylon season with one of that book’s most famously distorted stories: the tale of “It” Girl Clara Bow’s supposed nymphomania and alleged “tackling” of the entire USC football team.
Rudolph Valentino was Hollywood’s first “latin lover.” His shocking death at the age of 31 was attributed to side effects from an appendectomy, but Hollywood Babylon forwards theories that Valentino may have actually been poisoned
Thomas Ince was one of early Hollywood’s most pioneering producers—in fact, some credit him for popularizing “producer” as a job title and for codifying what it meant to do the job, as well as helping to develop the Western as a genre.
The killing of director William Desmond Taylor was the third in a trifecta of scandals which, over the course of about a year and a half, painted such a sordid a picture of the movie colony as a hotbed of sin
This season will interrogate Kenneth Anger’s controversial and influential gossip collection, Hollywood Babylon. Is this cult classic a needed subversive attack on Hollywood’s false idols, or a dangerous work of “fake news”?
Forgotten by Hollywood, struggling with morphine addiction and a dependency on alcohol, at the end of his life Bela Lugosi was welcomed into a rag tag bunch of micro-budget movie-making freaks led by Edward D. Wood Jr.
Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were two middle-aged, foreign, struggling actors who became huge stars thanks to Dracula and Frankenstein, the first two of a trend of monster movie hits released by Universal Studios during the 1930s.
Jean buries her child in Iowa, and then returns to Paris in a fragile mental state. Back in the States, Jane subsumes her passion for activism into her new marriage to Tom Hayden, and works to get her movie career back on track.
On the heels of making her biggest Hollywood movies in years, Jean Seberg becomes involved with two black radicals, one a cousin of Malcolm X who spouted violent, anti-white rhetoric, the other a leader of the Black Panthers.
Today, we revisit Barbara Payton’s story: her rise to quasi-fame, and the slippery slope that reduced her from “most likely to succeed” to informal prostitution, to formal prostitution, and finally to a way-too-early grave.
More famous today for her gruesome car crash death than for any of the movies she made while alive, Jayne Mansfield was in some sense the most successful busty blonde hired by a studio as a Marilyn Monroe copy-cat.
Thelma Todd was a sparkling comedienne who began in the silent era and flourished in the talkies, holding her own opposite the Marx Brothers & playing straight woman in one of cinema’s first all-girl comedy teams.
With America increasingly paranoid that it and the Soviet Union were destined to demolish one another through nuclear war, anyone who had connections to Communism was seen by some as a potential threat to national security.
In the 1940s, Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in America, one of the first celebrity CEOs and the figurehead of what for most Americans was the most glamorous industry on Earth. In 1951, Mayer was fired from the studio that bore his name. What...
Elizabeth Taylor grew up on the MGM lot, spending 18 years as what she referred to as “MGM chattel.” The last four years of that 18 year sentence were arguably the most interesting. From 1956-1960, she made a run of really interesting...
Gloria Grahame arrived in Hollywood in 1944, after Louis B. Mayer personally plucked her from the New York stage, and changed her name. But Grahame was the rare actress who Mayer didn’t know how to turn into a star. Finally in 1947, Mayer gave...
The legendary "Sweater Girl" was one of MGM’s prized contract players, the epitome of the mid-century sex goddess on-screen and an unlucky-in-love single mom off-screen who would burn through seven husbands and countless affairs. After nearly...
In 1941, Selznick signed a young actress named Phylis, who was then married to actor Robert Walker. Selznick renamed Phylis “Jennifer Jones,” and set to work turning her into a star, helping her to earn an Oscar for her first film under...
In 1930, after putting in time at MGM and RKO, Paramount executive David O. Selznick married Irene Mayer, the daughter of L.B. Mayer. Irene’s father would soon thereafter bring Selznick to MGM to fill in for an ailing Irving Thalberg, but MGM...
When Spencer Tracy signed with MGM, he was a character actor better known for his problem drinking (and very public extramarital affair with Loretta Young) than for his movie hits. But the studio made him a star, and by the time Katharine Hepburn was...
The rare silent star who made a relatively smooth transition to sound films, William “Billy” Haines was one of the top box office stars of the late 1920s-early 1930s. Beginning in 1926, Haines started living with Jimmie Shields, and the...
The trials of the Manson family became a kind of public theater which a number of current and future filmmakers found themselves caught up in. Joan Didion bought a dress for a Manson girl to wear to court, Dennis Hopper visited Manson in prison, and a...
After the murders, Manson moved his family to the depths of the California desert. There, even before they were finally apprehended by the law, their utopia started to fall apart. Hollywood was in the process of being changed by Dennis Hopper's Easy...
Roman Polanski was in London the night his pregnant wife was murdered in their home. He returned to Los Angeles, devastated, to find himself wanted for questioning in a crime which the LAPD, initially, had no idea how to solve.
While trying to launch her own acting career, Sharon Tate fell in love with, and eventually married, Roman Polanski, the hotshot Polish filmmaker who had his first massive American hit in the summer of 1968, Rosemary’s Baby.