scandals of classic hollywood book coverReviewed by Jax Kepple

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema is a fascinating collection of stories of the behind-the-scenes power the movie studios had over their stars in the early-to-mid twentieth century. The studios, knowing that they had to please the conservative public, had actors sign contract which often had morality clauses and directives on how soon they could marry after divorcing. It’s almost unbelievable how much the studios got away with, but that was the price these actors and actresses would pay for fame.

About half of the stories included here were already shared on the blog The Hairpin by author Anne Helen Petersen. As someone who read and enjoyed that column I realized that they had been significantly edited in this book, and some of the stars and stories that weren’t included were a little juicier. Petersen links each volume of her book with a common theme (“Broken by the System,” “The Blonde Menace”) and has a lot of well-researched information but I often felt like I wanted more minute details and more information on what exactly happened.

The Dorothy Dandridge story was one that was vastly edited down from the blog. Not only did the column have a ton of pictures, which helped to get the point across (i.e., Dandridge on the cover of Life, wearing her Carmen Jones costume) and also helped the reader associate with the subject, since most of these actors aren’t as well-known as actors today, and their photos are not as widely shared. Several times, I recalled something from the blog that would have added to the story, made it more devastating. In Dandridge’s case, I remembered that her final husband ran her into the ground financially, and on the blog post Petersen goes into exactly what he did in detail. It is brushed over in one sentence in the book version of the story.

The end of each stars’ story was also glossed over, and I truly felt like they were rushed. How, exactly, did Montgomery Clift unravel into alcoholic despair? It is told, not shown, in the book. His accident is summed up in one paragraph, with no info about his recovery beyond “he recovered.”

There is a disconnect between the brilliancy of the blog posts and the book. Maybe an editor wanted it to be more accessible to more readers than a feminist blog but unfortunately some of the best parts were left on the cutting room floor.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided by Penguin Group. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.