Monday, December 31, 2018

SEDUCTION: Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood

Title: SEDUCTION Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood
Author: Karina Longworth
Publisher: Custom House
How obtained:  through the publisher

What it's about: In this riveting popular history, the creator of You Must Remember This probes the inner workings of Hollywood’s glamorous golden age through the stories of some of the dozens of actresses pursued by Howard Hughes, to reveal how the millionaire mogul’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity trapped, abused, or benefitted women who dreamt of screen stardom.

My thoughts: It's been awhile since I've blogged for which I apologize. 2018 has been a difficult year in many ways for me, as well as a busy one. I started a new job which has been time-consuming as well as working on the Historical Novel Society conference which takes place this coming June in National Harbor, MD. I've also been traveling a great deal which has meant that blogging has fallen to the wayside. Reading, which has normally been one of life's pleasures for me, has become more of a chore at times.

However, one of the delights of this year, has been getting the chance to read Karina Longworth's new book SEDUCTION: Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood. If you are not familiar with Karina Longworth, she is the host, producer and writer of one of the best podcasts around You Must Remember This about classic Hollywood. If you haven't listened to the podcast, and you love old Hollywood films, I suggest you give it a try immediately. You will find it hard to stop listening once you start. When I heard that Longworth was writing a book about Howard Hughes, and specifically his time in Hollywood, I couldn't wait to get my grabby hands on it. I was fortunate enough that the good people at Harper Collins sent me an ARC over the summer but I decided to save it until just before my birthday to read.

Once I started, I couldn't put it down. What makes the book so fascinating is that Longworth examines Hughes life through the women in his life, Katherine Hepburn, Ida Lupino, Jane Russell, Terry Moore and Jean Peters among many others. It gives the reader a much different perspective on Hughes and movie history, than just a warts and all, cradle to grave biography of Hughes. What this book shows clearly is that powerful men have long been exploiting women in Hollywood. For every Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers or Jane Powell who managed to come out of their relationships with Hughes relatively unscathed, there are scores of other women who came to Hollywood, ended up scooped up by Hughes, and their careers went nowhere. If you have seen the Warren Beatty film RULES DON'T APPLY you have some idea of who Hughes or his cronies would find vulnerable, young girls, set them up in apartments, send them to classes, and then nothing. And then there are the women who made the mistake of falling in love with Hughes whose careers never got off the ground. This book flips the narrative, offering a different perspective. 

What becomes clear in the book is how Hughes used his money and power to sexually harass and coerce women, objectifying and sexualizing them on screen in ways that audiences hadn't seen before. In the beginning Hughes gravitated towards smart, talented, career women such as Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, actresses who had careers before and after Hughes. But eventually Hughes decided that he wanted to find women that he could mold. Hughes comes across not only as a smart man but also one who grew increasingly paranoid as time went on, hiring private investigators, security personnel and informers to rat on the women in his life. He went through a form of marriage ceremony with Terry Moore before eventually legally marrying actress Jean Peters. 

Longworth gives the reader a good idea of what life was like for women living in Hollywood from the 1920's through the 1950's and what sacrifices some women had to make it order to make it. It might be hard for contemporary readers to understand exactly why some of these women stayed with Hughes, especially after his promises to make them a star didn't pan out. Longworth does a good job of illustrating how charming Hughes could be when he wanted, and how he controlled women through money and the promise of fame. Also, many of these women were drawn to Hughes because he seemed like a lost lamb. He'd lost his parents at an early age, become a millionaire before he was barely out of his teens and suffered several, horrific accidents. 

The other thing that is fascinating is that Hughes eventually ended up running RKO, the studio that he bought, basically into the ground. He had no real instinct for film-making, although it fascinated him greatly. Longworth also explodes the myth that Hughes was a publicity-shy man who loathed being famous. Hughes comes into sharp focus in this book. 

One of the most fascinating chapters in the book involve Ida Lupino who was one of the few actress/directors working in Hollywood during the so-called Golden Age. I knew of Lupino as an actress but not as a director. Lupino's dealings in Hollywood when she was working not only as a director but also as an independent filmmaker should be required reading for any film student. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interesting in a well-researched book on the Golden Age of Hollywood and one of it's most intriguing and least understood movie moguls.


No comments: