Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hollywood Babylon - Kenneth Anger

'Drama - a city-full,
Tragic and pitiful...
Bunk, junk and genius
Amazingly blended...'
- Don Blanding

'My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives a lovely light!'
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

For someone (like me) who had knew nothing about early Hollywood (or Hollywoodland as it was called then) this book was a certain eye-opener. Anger's book is complete with scandal and graphic in-your-face pictures of nudity and death of movie stars people loved and dreamed to emulate. He traces Hollywood from the very beginning in 1915 with Grifith's Babylon - whom he calls the 'God of Hollywood' to the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and eventually the tearing down of the LAND in the iconic structure of HOLLYWOODLAND into simply HOLLYWOOD as it still stands today.

The book starts of with a mention of Babylon and then goes on to mention the birth of the 'fatal chimera – STAR'. He describes the natives as 'the cinema crowd of cocaine-crazed, sexual lunatics' (this he says was in the teens). But it was a sign of things to come. He gives Theda Bara the title of the 'first sex queen' and gives the reader the first shock to hit 'the Golden Age' of Hollywood with Olive Thomas' death from poison. A chapter devoted to Olive Thomas - the 'ideal American girl' who turned out to be a 'dope fiend'. Then theres the mention of the story of Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle – the 'prince of whales' and his mauling of Virginia Rappe. William Taylor's murder and the resulting expose of his multiple affairs. Will Hays was then appointed to 'clean up' Hollywood who came out with his 'Doom Book'. The story of Wally Reid – 'the King of Paramount' follows. The titles of his chapters are in themselves epitomes of scandal. Names like 'Champagne Baths' and 'Heroin Heroines'. The latter about Barbara La Marr and Alma Rubens. Even Charlie Chaplin gets his but is latter upholded as a survivor as a mark of his genius. The murder of Tom Ince by Hearst and the coverup. The scandal and death of the popular 'Pink Powder Puffs' - Rudy Valentino. Stronheim's outrageous boldness and imagination.The 'Clara Bow' and 'Daisy DeVoe' courtwar. Then he describes the stock market crash and how the depression resulted in multiple suicides and some heroes like Joan Crawford who quoted “I, Joan Crawford, I believe in the Dollar. Everything I earn, I spend!”. Peg Entwistle meanwhile committed suicide by jumping of the 13 letter and the second D of HOLLYWOODLAND. Mae West is brilliantly covered by Anger; so is Mary Astor and her graphic and no-holds-barred diary. Thelma Todd's murder remained unsolved. Errol Flynn's rescue by smart lawyer Jerry Geisler. Frances Farmer losing her wits. The suicide of Lupe Velez. The entry of Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel an the making of Las Vegas as we know it and his death and a funeral that no one attended. The anti-communist campaign and the rise of Confidential. The obsession of the beautiful Lana Turner and finally the death of Marilyn Monroe and other tragedies.

Phew! The book ends in a dialogue between a wannabe star and Dick Powell who tells the girl that 'hollywood is a boulevard of broken dreams' and asks her to go back to the boy who loves her on the town 'little rock' and then he breaks into a sad song...

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