I actually still think that if the ‘Studio System” as it was called was run today benignly it would be a brilliant success. Wishful thinking because technology of film production, the world itself and the audience have a changed. The way that the Studio ran the lives of people, shaped careers, created images and stories all for the sake of publicity have shaped a dominating legacy. This system was as we know not without its problems it s control mechanism to destroy or shape a life or a career. One such case was that of Marie Provost.
Marie was a promising Canadian born comedian who was discovered by Mack Sennett another Canadian in over 121 pictures both talking and silent to great success had a career cut short because a ‘slight’ to Louis B Mayer . If this is “urban legend’ then it is hard to disprove as Mayer never forgot a wrong or a kindness. Provost’s career floundered till she was forced to work in a hospital comforting people for little or no money. Marie never received much comfort in her life so she wanted to repay it. She passed away in 1937 with an estate valued at 300.00
Indiscretions were handled sometimes at great expense with teams of lawyers. Would that have happened today in this age of knowing every move sometimes before it happens. The resulting loss of a ‘star” to the screen and to television is rarely as catastrophic as it was in Hollywood’s Golden Age. You wonder now today if there is the same moral code in the film colony of today. There is a the written word of course as studios have to protect investments but I ask is there an unwritten Moral code for the sake of the Art.
A “morals clause” allows advertisers, television networks, and movie studios to terminate a talent agreement when an actor’s conduct is detrimental to the buyer’s interests, or otherwise devalues the performance due. In the 1950’s, these clauses were infamously used by Hollywood studios to fire suspected communists and uniformly upheld by courts. Today, the morals clause remains a standard term in advertising, motion picture, and television talent agreements.
Blond Bombshell Jean Harlow (Known as The Baby to some because of her sweet down to earth personality with all people.) who died of kidney failure in 1937 was involved in the famous Paul Bern murder case in 1932. Its was said that Louis B Mayer had some much power that he and his studio heads where at the murder scene first before the police had arrived. The famous Paul Bern suicide note was changed certain articles were moved before the police were called.
Harlow’s own death of kidney failure in 1937 was also changed. Rumours were that here death was caused by the hair dye solution which was applied every few days, a botched abortion yet it had recently come to light or legend that she did die of kidney failure. She could have been saved by today’s technology. Harlow’s troubles were misdiagnosed by the first Doctor that attended here with the failure to far gone to be changed. The second Doctor discovered the true diagnosis refused to the true story for years to protect the other Physican whom he knew as a long time friend and a ‘Good Doctor” The secret was carried to the grave.
Errol Flynn’s famous statutory rape trial in 1942 which he was acquitted on due to the fact that the victim’s story was proved false. Seventeen year old Betty Hansen had been unable to give the correct height of bed in the cabin that she was said to have been forced onto. The court had the bed height from the floor measure and found its to be impossible to have that happen as it was off the ground at great height that one needed stairs to get to it. This scandal apparently replaced World War two on the front page of pages. The aquittal resulted in Flynn forever being thought of a ‘phallic symbol” when he deeply wanted to be thought of as serious actor thus one of the factor in the downward slide of someone whom should receive a Honorary Oscar.
My most stunning Flynn story is that his battling relationship with Jack Warner was a fake along with the allegations that he was a Nazi spy during the war. The Jack Warner feud was put on as the two men working together to trap actor Peter Van Eyck who’s brother was a real high ranking German officer.
Flynn made anti Jewish remarks aloud many times in public that Van Eyck fell for it and recruited him to steal the plans for the Norden Bomb sight. Flynn told Jack Warner who built a studio set along with fake measurements for a bomb sight that Flynn photographed and gave to Van Eyck. The result was the German Military spent huge amounts of money trying to duplicate the fake sight. It was all a good laugh that Flynn and Warner on many social occasions over drinks in private.
If these an other stories are the results of fabrication then that is matter of opinion. The fact remains there was control over all things by the studio. Today’s people with like Lindsey Lohan, Charlie Sheen, the unfortunate River Phoenix and other have something in common with the people of the past yet are different. Today you get a second, third and forth chance at your career or you make a new one simply being ‘bad’ and collecting more money then you ever dreamed or you end up dead. Today there are no Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle cases that destroy career due to morals and trials that go one in the media. Lionel Atwill who was know as “Pinky” to his friend. Atwill had a brilliant through erratic career ye his know in social circles of the day to be famous for his peculiar sex orgies that where the talk of people. A fact he did not deny when caught
In retrospect that should be a good thing as the studios are at the mercy now of the collective media of the internet or just doing a better job of covering things up before they happen. Hollywood is the stuff that dreams are made of. To that end… sometimes its better not to know.