12.14.2011

Hollywood Babylon

My neighbor Linda let me borrow the controversial book Hollywood Babylon, an infamous expose on the debauchery of early Hollywood. From the days of silent film to the 1950's, the founding stars of Tinseltown had antics that would make even the most jaded Angelenos blush.

Hours-long orgies were taped inside of studios, never to make it to theatres. Directors held these elaborate sex scenes (sometimes involving slaves and torture) as artistic visions, but America's laws on censorship made sure they never saw the light of day. The country's consternation over the budding film industry was so intensely disapproving, that actors and directors in the 20's and 30's were considered pleasure-loving outcasts, not lauded celebrities.

There were all-night parties, murders, rivalries, involvement with the mob and starlets overdosing in their Hollywood apartments only to be eaten by their house pets. But none of the stories filled me with such shock and horror as the story of Fatty Arbuckle.

Hollywood Babylon writer Kenneth Anger claimed that the burly actor raped aspiring actress Virginia Rappe behind a locked door at a party. Everyone heard her screams, and later Rappe mumbled to friends, "He hurt me," and "Arbuckle did it." She died a couple of days later. Her bladder had ruptured and her insides were torn to shreds. Hollywood Babylon claims that he had raped her with a broken Champagne bottle. In fact, long after his trial and acquittal, he was pulled over for drunk driving (a chronic addiction he suffered until death), and he smashed a bottle on the side of the road and laughed, "There goes the evidence."


Other sources I have read claim that there is no evidence to support the bottle theory, which is one of the reasons Hollywood Babylon is so controversial. It's the inaccuracy. There were signs that the book was smutty. The cover shows Jayne Mansfield with an exposed nipple; the only thing colored red in the black and white photo aside from her lips. The photos inside, while enthralling, are gratuitous. On display are dead bodies, whether with gunshot wounds, head in a gas oven or partially eaten by house pets. But nothing disturbed me as much as the story of Fatty Arbuckle.

I recommend this book for those fascinated with history and pop culture. But you have to read it like one would Us Weekly - with a grain of salt.


No comments: