Hollywood’s nefarious chronicle by the filmmaker Kenneth Anger
The cult, experimental and underground director is also a brilliant writer. In his novel “Retour à Babylone” [Back to Babylon], he unveils the best gossips from the old Hollywood. Review of five poisonous rumours.
The cult, experimental and underground filmmaker who influenced Scorsese, Lynch and John Waters is also a brilliant writer. After his nefarious Hollywood Babylon, published in France in 2013, the Tristam editions unveil its second volume, even more poisonous. Here are five rumours, destroying the glittering myth of the biggest dream machine and revealing what really happened behind the scenes.
The secret side to hot icon James Dean
According to Kenneth Anger, the sex symbol caught crabs on the set of Rebel without a Cause. In between scenes he’s be scratching his crotch so much that director Nicholas Ray dragged him to a drugstore to get some ‘insecticide’. At the time the gorgeous Jimmy was known to hang out at the Club, a bondage bar in east Hollywood, looking for anonymous sex. There he discovered the pleasures of bondage and belt beatings. At the club he was known as the ‘human ashtray’ because when he got drunk he’d beg everyone to stub their cigarettes out on his bare chest. We also discover how Dean managed to get out of military service by saying he was gay. When the actress and columnist Hedda Hopper asked him how he did it, he replied, “I kissed the doc.” And at the beginning of his career when he had no money at all, he was kept by an aging TV producer.
Alfred Hitchcock was a voyeur (and a psychopath)
One of the all-time greatest movie directors didn’t just like scaring his audiences, he also had a penchant for spying on women, and enjoyed seeing them being badly treated. To the point of scopophilia (achieving sexual satisfaction through voyeurism) he would use telescopes to watch actresses as they undressed in their trailers, in particular the sublime Grace Kelly. He then sexually harassed another typically Hitchcockian blond, Tippi Hedren, for whom he harboured an unhealthy obsession (he kept a replica of her face in his home). As she refused his advances off screen, he got revenge on screen. On the set of The Birds he insisted – for the sake of ‘realism’ – that real birds attack her. She nearly lost an eye and fell into a deep depression when filming was over.
The tragic life of Jean Seberg
When the brilliantly edgy heroine of A Bout de Souffle arrived in the USA during the 1960s, she became friends with the Black Panthers and was radicalised politically. In order to discredit her, the FBI circulated fake documents claiming she’d been impregnated by a member of the protest movement. Her husband at the time Romain Gary declared that the FBI had intimated her and ultimately been responsible for her premature demise when a few years later her body was discovered naked in the back of a car. The cause of death? A barbiturate overdose... During her last days alive, the actress had become acutely paranoid, according to Anger, convinced that even her refrigerator was threatening her. She left everyone truly Breathless...
Liz Taylor got better by taking the trash out
At the start of the 1980s, the violet-eyed actress checked into the Betty Ford clinic to break free of her 25-year addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. She claims she spent most of her time there taking out the trash and cleaning the patios with a hosepipe, two chores that helped her to recover. The superstar who majestically played the title role in the epic movie Cleopatra was, for the first time ever, faced with a life of solitude. Which couldn’t have been easy for this fervent lover (of jewels among other things)...
Marilyn Monroe, traumatised by her stay at a mental hospital
She said she’d end up really going mad by dint of being locked up “with the crazies”. Anger also evokes Gene Tierney’s stay at a clinic. One evening at a show the stunning brunette was kissed by a ‘fan’ with the measles who’d left her sick bed especially to see the actress. Gene was pregnant, caught the illness and her daughter was born blind and handicapped. Following this she fell into a profound depression (understandably) and attempted to end her days. Locked up in a lunatic asylum she even suffered electro-shock therapy.
Retour à Babylone,
320 illustrated pages,
in French bookshops or online from Thursday April 28th,
published by Tristram.
By Violaine Schütz