Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon II

I picked up a second-hand copy of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon II for 50p. Now I have the set.

Kevin Brownlow quoted to me Anger’s answer to the question, “How do you do your research?” “Mainly by mental telepathy.” And so it has become sadly fashionable to debunk Anger’s investigations speculations lies, as in the commendable You Must Remember This podcast. Well, I never saw a bandwagon I didn’t want to jump on, even at the risk of upsetting the applecart, so I thought I’d have a go at fact-checking Anger using his own methods. Tuning my mental aerial to UHF, I leafed through the sordid pages of the discounted scandal sheet, and attempted to pick up Corrections from Beyond. This is what I come up with:

Page 96: “Meanwhile, back on d’Este Drive, left with a lonely libido in his spacious hacienda, along with his python-mistress, Elsie, a half dozen bed-trained dobermans, a talking macaw named Copulate, zoo-keeper Lionel [Atwill] maintained a rigidly disciplined schedule as a cog in the factory-studio wheel during the week.”

THE TRUTH: Yeah, none of that happened.

Page 127: “During production of Rebel without a Cause, James Dean was host to a thriving colony of crabs.”

THE TRUTH: There is no such film as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. The sentence should probably read, “During production of A THRIVING COLONY OF CRABS, Dean Jones was host to a raven without a caw.” Or maybe “During production of THE HOST, crabby Jim Dale was cause of a rebel colony, or craved a threnody.” Or maybe it shouldn’t be there at all.

Page 185: “After a three-year absence, [Bobby Driscoll] returned to the screen in 1958, in a B-programmer–Bernard Girard’s The Party Crashers. By a curious coincidence, his co-star was the lobotomized Frances Farmer, making her benumbed comeback after sixteen years away from the movies.

THE TRUTH: it’s hardly a “curious coincidence” that two actors happen to appear in the same film. Is it a curious coincidence that WHITE HOUSE DOWN co-stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx? In fact, my telepathy tells me that’s probably the film Anger was thinking of. Anyway, Frances Farmer never had a lobotomy, and by a curious coincidence, THE PARTY CRASHERS also stars Doris Dowling, Denver Pile and Onslow Stevens. Uncanny, isn’t it?

Page 235: “Shapely blond Carole Landis rose to stardom in Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. in which she played a primitive cavewoman. her 1948 Fourth-of-July suicide, provoked by unrequited love for Rex Harrison, caused a hullaballoo and a half for Mr. and Mrs. Moviegoer.”

THE TRUTH: Carole was a blonde, not a blond, and the cavewoman she portrayed for Roach, far from being primitive, was really a quite sophisticated troglodyte by the standards of the time (1940). Rex Harrison did not appear in the picture. Nor do George Moviegoer and his wife Ethel (nee Theatregoer). Landis’ tragic suicide cannot properly be called a “Fourth-of-July” affair since I doubt any festive tie-in was intended and anyway it occurred the following day.

Anger tastefully has a whole chapter on suicides. On the page opposite Landis, we get the following:

“A large quantity of sleeping pills had cured [Dorothy Dandridge] of her amnesia.”

THE TRUTH: Dorothy Dandridge did not suffer from amnesia, which cannot be treated with sleeping pills anyhow. I think the word Anger is groping for is “insomnia.” I think possibly it’s Anger who’s suffering from amnesia, or maybe aphasia.

Page 312: “[…] Claudette Colbert who was said to be among the first to advise the President to invade Grenada–she was far from delighted at the prospect of an island full of Reds so near to her palatial Barbados estate.

THE TRUTH: No such person as Claudette Cobert ever existed. Anger is evidently thinking of British actor Claude Hulbert (pictured). Though Hulbert never actually invaded Grenada, he was famous for his fussiness about being filmed from the correct side. Whole sets had to be rebuilt to avoid catching him from an unflattering angle. The most famous instance of this was on HEAVEN’S GATE (1980), where an entire western town had to be razed to the ground because it was facing the wrong way. This was all the more remarkable because Hulbert was not cast in the film, but perfectionist director Michael Cimino was taking no chance of offending the powerful star, who died in 1964.

9 Responses to “Fact-Checking Hollywood Babylon II”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

  2. Jeff Gee Says:

    It’s KIND of a coincidence that Onslow Stevens plays Connie Stevens’ father in “The Party Crashers.”

  3. DBenson Says:

    I remember there was a short-lived TV series of the books on MTV; in the 80s I think. Very low budget, shot on tape, with young actors who didn’t really look like Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Laurence Olivier, Vivian Leigh and Danny Kaye valiantly imitating the voices.

  4. Arena did a one-hour documentary presented by Anger himself which was pretty good — for what it was (a picturization of several of the book’s most lurid falsehoods.)

  5. I’ve met Anger, and he was very gracious, and autographed an image of himself for me. (This was at a film festival where he was the Main Attraction.) I’d argue that, everything aside (and there’s a lot to put aside), he kept people interested in those who’d been and gone and were pretty much forgotten. And, frankly, his two books – he continues to promise a 3rd – were very much in the spirit of Old Hollywood, where pretty much all of the write ups were concocted/invented. Another fact if you needed one?

  6. Yes he’s in the back of a Limousine. And his lips are very full.

  7. I think really it’s the tone of the book that weirds me out rather than the fake news. A lot of these stories had some kind of basis in truth and his baloney versions perhaps helped the truth come out.

    I saw him speak at Filmhouse decades ago and he was delightful, and Fiona and David Wingrove met him at an event in Dundee, I think, and he was charm itself. And I like his movies. It’s just his writing…

  8. MarySuzy Perla Says:

    Claudette Colbert did exist and she was a very big star in her day. She was the original Cleopatra in 1934.

    Could you please tell me who is on the cover of the book – the woman sitting in the car? Thank you.

  9. Don’t worry, I was only kidding about Claudette. This whole piece is intended to be funny, highlighting the absurdity of many of Anger’s claims.

    It’s Liz Taylor on the book cover, I’m afraid. Another Cleopatra.

    It’s that kind of book: Anger chose the most unfortunate and unflattering picture he could find, of a movie star in an obesity crisis.

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