America. The post-WWII years. You’re young and full of dreams and one of your dreams is to become a movie actor/actress. So, where do you go to make your aspiring acting dreams come true: Hollywood. The question is, how does one become a Hollywood star? It all depends. What are you willing to do? Or should I say sacrifice?
If you’ve read some of my blogs, you probably know that I truly love Classic Hollywood movies and vintage fashion. And there is much to love. The stories, the sharp dialogues (with interesting hidden meanings), the class and charismatic actors and actresses. Classic Hollywood movies and movie stars have influenced the world until this day. However, not everything was peaches and cream for a lot of people. As much as I love Classic Hollywood movies, the Netflix serie has sparked some thoughts about the movie industry that I would like to share with you.
When you start with the Netflix serie Hollywood, the first thing that catches your eyes is the whole vintage aesthetic. From decoration to cars, clothing and hairstyles. It took me about 25 minutes to realise that this would be a fascinating serie. Although the vintage aesthetic and styling are very nice, these are just details as the story unveils. A story much bigger and more important than nice clothing and hairstyles.
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One of the biggest misconceptions of vintage Hollywood
The serie Hollywood was a fast ride for a binge-watch queen like me. It was at times hilarious, but also touching. I love how real stories were alternated with fiction. Some reviews caught my eyes. One of the biggest misconceptions about vintage Hollywood (or any other bygone era), is that everyone was as clean in their personal life as they seemed on the silver screen. The Gas Station story is (partly) based on a true story if we have to believe the memoirs of Scotty Bowers. Besides that, any Classic Hollywood star memoir will make it clear that actors and actresses who had a perfect, squeaky clean image on-screen, had a lot more offline entertainment than you’re imagining right now.
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The classic Hollywood industry
If you’ve ever read a biography of a Classic Hollywood star – which I highly recommend – you realise that the Classic Hollywood industry was not the place to be. Sexism, Me too-situations and racism in a time when speaking up was not done. In those days it was as normal as getting a cup of coffee. And as disturbing as that sounds, it was the reality for many actors and actresses. The serie Hollywood gives you a little peak into the Hollywood industry in The Golden Hollywood Era. It was indeed a golden era of movie classics that we still watch. It was also a golden era for very shady business, but it sure wasn’t a golden era for certain people.
Talent didn’t necessarily involve acting talent
Hollywood talent agent Henry Wilson was real. He groomed mostly young aspiring actors for stardom. You will probably raise your eyebrows many times, when you see him in action in the serie, but Jim Parsons did a wonderful job portraying Henry.
The biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner that I’ve read all have one thing in common: Hollywood was all about looks and behind the scenes it was mostly about ‘extra entertainment’.
The creation of the ‘perfect’ Hollywood look
Hollywood has mostly been run by men who also decided how you should look, but The Golden Hollywood era was a different level. If you didn’t have the right looks, you had no career. Hollywood agents could make or break you. If something was ‘off’ regarding your looks, you were instructed to dye your hair, change your teeth, hairline, maybe plan a little visit to the plastic surgeon. Anything to make you look better. 99% of the time your real name was too boring, so the studio would think of a new name for you. That’s also how Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe.
What about Margarita Carmen Cansino? The woman of partly Spanish descent who transformed into one of the most famous pin ups. Hairline electrolysis and flaming red hairdye were essential for her transformation. Also, Margarita Carmen Cansino was “too Spanish-sounding”, so they gave here the name Rita Hayworth. And the rest is history. Rita Hayworth became the most famous pin up girl of the 1940s. Careerwise she had many peaks thanks to this transformation including her unforgettable role als femme fatale in Gilda, but in her personal life she had many lows (but that’s another story).
Fake it until you make it
The serie Hollywood touches upon the making but especially faking of a perfect reputation. Unfortunately, if you didn’t have a hetero sexual orientation you just have to fake it because Hollywood (and the audience) just wouldn’t except the real you. Which brings me to the story of Rock Hudson. He truly was one of the most popular actors of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Not only was he a great actor (watch the movie Giant), he also had the perfect Hollywood star looks. There was only one little detail that could get him into Hollywood trouble: he was homosexual. His true orientation was an open secret in Hollywood and it stayed an open secret for years thanks to good old Henry Wilson. He disclosed juicy information about another Hollywood star in 1955, in exchange for not printing Rock Hudson’s secret.
The truth caught up eventually 30 years later, in 1985. Rock’s sudden unrecognizable and gaunt appearance made people wonder. Was he ill? And unfortunately for Rock Hudson, he was. Rock became one of the first major celebrities who had AIDS. Just before he died, he released a statement where he not only stated that he had AIDS, but also that he was homosexual. The world was in shock. During his Hollywood career, he had always looked like the all American straight man, who should marry your daughter. Indeed ‘looked’. That makes it very clear how solid these fake Hollywood reputations were. More importantly, it shows how powerful Hollywood studios were because everyone believed it for years.
Goodbye Hollywood, if you didn’t have the right color
The stories of Anna May Wong and Hattie MacDaniel (from Gone with the Wind), are again based on events that really happened. These examples make it christal clear that there was no room in Hollywood for you, if you didn’t have the right color/ethnicity. If you were lucky, your career would be limited to typecasting or side roles as a maid. But a leading role? Out of the question. With an exception of Dorothy Dandridge, who was actually nominated for an Oscar for Best Actrice. Regardless of her achievement, sadly she was still not recognized as much as she would have been if she would have had light skin.
It’s the reason why Merle Oberon hid her true ethnicity so well. Merle was born in British India, but claimed to be born in Australia. Former British colony Tasmania became her new birth place. Merle refused to be on set without makeup to disguise her darker complexion. She died without revealing her true ethnicity/identity. The only thing we know for sure is, that she was biracial (probably Anglo-Indian) and went to great lenghts to cover that up. The reason? Hollywood simply didn’t accept mixed race in those eras.
Classic Hollywood stars ahead of their time
All the above makes me naturally attracted to the actors and actresses that were ahead of their time. It’s one of the reasons why I love Lucy, a.k.a. Lucille Ball. She had her own company in a time when having ambition outside the household was discouraged. That same Lucille was the first openly pregnant actress who appeared on television. She married – and divorced – Desi Arnaz who was not only Cuban but also 6 years younger than her.
All Hollywood ‘sins’. It was considered a taboo for an older woman to be with a younger man, but thankfully that didn’t stop Lucille. Let’s not forget Marilyn Monroe, who used her connections in such a way, that it sparked the career of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald who otherwise would still be playing in small clubs for a long time. Another example is Jane Russell who stood up for that same Marilyn, when her insecurities on set would caught up with her.
Why the serie Hollywood gives me food for thought
The few examples above give you some more insight about the industry behind Hollywood. Back to the serie and what I love about it. As I came near the end of the serie, I couldn’t help but feel connected to character Meg, but of course the characters of Rock Hudson and Archie Coleman also make you wonder. You can feel the urgency as the story unveils and the last episodes gave me food for thought.
What if people really had the guts to make a difference back in the day. How different could the movie industry have become in those eras, knowing how powerful Hollywood studios were. If people had stood up, would it have made a difference and would we have more and faster progress with all those black pages in history? Of course we will never know, because this is history reimagined. One might argue that this serie is just a fantasy, but that applies to many Hollywood movies.
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What I love about the serie is that people who don’t know a lot about the vintage Hollywood industry get a sneak peak simply by watching this serie. It’s accessible for everyone, at times hilarious and the vintage aesthetic is on point while getting into serious subjects. The serie is not historically accurate, but then again that is the whole point. Reimagining what could happen if you stand up in situations that are not normal.
Pictures Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz: Pixabay
All other pictures via Wikimedia Commons