Friday, 13 October 2017

Tinsel-town then and now

Emma Thompson, on BBC yesterday, put the Harvey Weinstein phenomenon down to a "crisis in masculinity". In fact it is nothing so new age. Weinstein is simply following in a disreputable Hollywood tradition,  though one that one hoped had run its course.

 The most notorious abuser of power was probably Harry Cohn.

2,000 mourners attended [his funeral], prompting the famous remark by Red Skelton: "It proves what Harry always said: Give the public what they want and they'll come out for it."

Another, possibly apocryphal story, is that one Hollywood insider in the queue, asked why he was there replied to the effect that he had been told that it was an open-coffin affair and he wanted to assure himself  "that the bastard was dead".

During his career he gained a reputation for his combative and autocratic manner and he ran Columbia as a one man dictatorship, becoming in the process one of the most unpopular men in Hollywood. [...] Harry Cohn was not a prepossessing character and was one of the most unpopular men in Hollywood. He was a blustering, foul-mouthed, abrasive taskmaster and acted like a tyrant at Columbia. His office there contained a large height adjustable desk for Cohn and small seats for his visitors, enabling him to seemingly dwarf them. His desk also contained a photo of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whom Cohn admired. Cohn also delighted in eavesdropping on employee's conversations using concealed microphones on sound stages and in dressing rooms. He developed a reputation for using the "casting couch" - expecting sexual favors from actresses in return for career advancement.

Sound familiar? Louis B Mayer was another molester. The incident in this summary of Judy Garland's career may be typical. There were others before and since.

Two things have changed, one for the better: the police have got involved, which would not have happened if one of the old-time studio heads had been accused. If Harvey Weinstein is guilty of any of the charges against him, he is going to go down - or at best, be stuck in the US legal system for years.

The thing that has changed in Weinstein's favour is the diminished power of the gossip-columnists. Nowadays, every person with an internet account can be their own rumour-monger, and scuttlebutt on the Web is treated accordingly. Those few traditional news media are stretched financially, so that Weinstein was able to square them. Any victims could be silenced with confidentiality agreements.

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

Broadway was no better. The barely-educated Shubert brothers ("if my father had had education, he would have been Hitler" said one of the next generation) abused the virtual monopoly they had built up at the beginning of last century:

Female sexuality entered into the exchange process in other ways as well. Anecdotal evidence suggests that female performers routinely encountered sexual harassment at the hands of their male employers and that the myth of the casting couch is firmly rooted in the historical realities of a labor market in which supply consistently outstripped demand. According to their most recent biographer, Lee and J. J. Shubert, the most powerful theatrical producers of the first half of the twentieth century, were incorrigible womanizers who had no qualms whatsoever about using their position to get chorus girls into bed. “What they did to those girls wasn’t fair,” observed one former Shubert employee in hindsight. “If you didn’t sleep with them, you didn’t get the part.”

European Journal of American Studies, Autumn 2008