THE FIXERS: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine (Book review)

  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland Publishing (Nov. 30 2004)

Hollywood’s morals (or lack of)  have long been with us as we discover even today. I have been interested in that part of Hollywood for a long time and wanted to find out more.  Hence, I got myself a copy of E.J. Fleming’s book  THE  FIXERS: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity machine.  I have already been through Kenneth Anger’s  HOLLYWOOD  BABYLON  volumes with their sensational photographs and  legends.   I have found that THE  FIXERS rates right up there with them in content and prose minus the full spread photos.

This book doesn’t present the story of Mannix and Strickland but simple  a catalogue of events and scandals.  MGM had what was called the”Special Services Department,” which took care of all manner of matters for stars and studio personnel.  It has been written it was this department that was involved in a potential cover up of Jean Harlow’s husband Paul Bern in 1932. Mayer and others from the studio were on the crime scene before the police had arrived, to tamper with evidence and plant a ‘suicide’ note.  This department of the studio could not have done this on its own – it needed complicity with police forces. It had sweeping powers.

Special Services provided a cushion from everyday life for those that worked at MGM; including those attending the studio school.  Other studios had versions of this department, often with newspaper people and the current rendition of the gossip columnist, who were given exclusive stories by meeting, talking to or ferreting out stories for the public’s insatiable appetite for Hollywood stars and the studio that employed them.  These people would cover up peccadilloes by providing ‘medical leave from exhaustion’ to a female star, extra, or script girl. It wouldn’t look good if the star of your latest picture about homespun American life with Mom and apple pie was seen in a drunk tank, or as Johnny Weismuller did, to have lifted a starlet up so high off the ground that her footprints were found next morning on the ceiling of a living room after a night’s frolic.

THE  FIXERS does present the  Rosco (Fatty) Arbuckle case  with sympathy for what eventually happened, even after being acquitted.  E. J. Fleming paints Virginia Rappe  as a opportunist party girl ,who, in fact, had  several abortions.   Virginia’s mother  was complicit with studio heads  Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor in setting the evening’s  events up to get money, since the studio felt that Arbuckle was being paid too much.

THE  FIXERS also makes claims that  Louis B Mayer  had  affairs with practically every major female star including Swanson, Harlow,  and  many others.  The book also contains inaccuracies and speculations, such as  Errol Flynn being  born in New Zealand. Speculations are passable in a  book of this nature but they should be labeled as theories in the text.  THE  FIXERS  speaks dimly of law  enforcement and  the medical profession as many of those people chose to look the other way due to money or persuasion and  promises of  exclusive access.

Fun events include British Director Edmund Goulding who was a homosexual and hated by Mayer  who staged and choreographed S and M parties including one that got so out of hand two people were hospitalized in the  presence of Anita Loos.  He later hired a  prostitute to have  sex at a  Hollywood gas station so he could watch the reaction of  the mentally challenged “Gas pump’ jockey. There was  a infamous ‘Gas Station’ brothel known as  Scott’s but that was in the 1940’s and the site is long gone.

Goulding was banished the  Europe when he was also in trouble with the Law.  Irving Thalberg brought him back to MGM against Mayer’s objections and  the felony conviction.  Quite a  life I would say.

THE  FIXERS  goes  into detail about brothels owned by the studio in which clients might enjoy the company of “three month” contract starlets surgically altered or made up to look like major female  stars. These women  would often be schooled in how to talk, the lives of those stars lives and outfitted in actual wardrobe from films manufactured in a  shop in the basement.

E.J. Fleming misses  the mark with THE FIXERS by cataloging these and other events instead of  going behind and  talking about the the personal side of  Eddie Mannix and  Howard Strickland. We know that these men were powerful; often at the  right hand side of Louie B Mayer,  telling him what happened or  who sent whatever in the studio mail.   Most of these events are by people long passed on, so anything is speculation now.  It gets harder to separate the  legend from the facts, which means the real story is somewhere in between.




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