Hollywood Babylon  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Hollywood Babylon is a book by avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger which details the sordid scandals of many famous and infamous Hollywood denizens from the 1900s to the 1950s. It was originally published in 1959 by J.J. Pauvert (Paris, France) as Hollywood Babylone. Anger wrote a sequel, Hollywood Babylon II, in 1984. First published in the US in 1965, it was banned ten days later and would not be republished until 1975. Upon its second release, The New York Times said of it, "If a book such as this can be said to have charm, it lies in the fact that here is a book without one single redeeming merit."

The book details the stories of Hollywood stars from the silent era to stars of the 1960s including Charles Chaplin, Lupe Vélez, Rudolph Valentino, Olive Thomas, Thelma Todd, Frances Farmer, Juanita Hansen, Mae Murray, Alma Rubens, Barbara La Marr, and Marilyn Monroe. Hollywood Babylon also featured chapters on the Fatty ArbuckleVirginia Rappe scandal, the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the Hollywood Blacklist, the murder of Sharon Tate, and the Confidential magazine lawsuits.

Many of Anger's claims have been called into question and debated since the book's initial publication. However, Hollywood Babylon's place in the history of Tinseltown cannot be denied, nor can Anger's influence on filmmakers such as John Waters, Vincent Gallo and Paul Morrissey (the director of Andy Warhol's later movies). Despite the book's popularity — it has been a perennial best seller since it was first published — Anger has been criticised for his lurid exposition, wild allegations, spurious anecdotes, rumor, innuendo, and minor plagiarism.

Some readers are offended by Anger's choice graphic and shocking images, particularly the photographs depicting the body of Carole Landis after her suicide, Bugsy Siegel's bullet-ridden corpse, Lupe Vélez in her coffin, Thelma Todd's body after her mysterious death and the scene of the traffic accident which killed Jayne Mansfield.

What was apparently the first U.S. edition of Hollywood Babylon was published in 1965 by Associated Professional Services of Phoenix, Ariz. The volume was a 95-cent paperback that bears little resemblance to the more familiar later editions. Instead of being divided into chapters, the text runs continuously. Many of the photographs in later editions, such as the disarrayed suite in the St. Francis Hotel in the Virginia Rappe/Fatty Arbuckle chapter, do not appear in the 1965 edition. A second U.S. edition was published by Rolling Stone's Straight Arrow Press and distributed by Simon and Schuster, released in 1975 after a series of copyright conflicts.

The 1965 edition opens:

Hollywood was not yet a dirty word in 1916. It was just a junction of dirt roads, a solitary "Mission-style" hotel, some claptrap bungalows scattered in the orange groves, and the startling apparation of a Babylon orgy in full swing in the sunshine, smack on Sunset Boulevard.

The current edition opens:

WHITE ELEPHANTS — the God of Hollywood wanted white elephants, and white elephants he got — eight of 'em, plaster mammoths perched on mega-mushroom pedestals, lording it over the colossal court of Belshazzar, the pasteboard Babylon built beside the dusty tin-lizzie trail called Sunset Boulevard.

Contents

Subjects in the first volume (current edition)

Chapter headings

The Purple Dawn; The Clutching Hand; Fat Man Out; Panic at Paramount; Hays Fever; Good Time Wally; Champagne Baths; Heroin Heroines; The New Gods; Charlie's Nymphs; Lo: Lita; William Randolph's Hearse; Rudy's Rep; The Dirty Hun; Hollywood Headlines; Clara's Beaux; Saturn Over Sunset; Drastic Doubts; Enditalls; Babylon Babblers; Monster Mae; Diary in Blue; Death Garage; In Like Flynn; Who's Daddy? Sugar Daddy; Daughter of Fury: Frances, Saint; Chop-Suicide; Mr. Bugs Comes to Town; Red Tide; Peep Show Peccadillos; Con Game; Blood and Soap; Hollywoodammerung.

Hollywood Babylon II subjects

Criticisms

Exploitation

Film historian Kevin Brownlow has repeatedly criticized the book citing Anger as saying his research method was "mental telepathy, mostly." The book featured graphic images such as the scene of the traffic accident which killed Jayne Mansfield, and a shot of Lewis Stone lying dead in his driveway right after he had his fatal heart attack. It also published excerpts from Mary Astor's diary graphically detailing her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman.

Falsehoods

Although many of Anger's claims have been denounced as untrue since the book's initial publication, it is responsible for many oft-quoted urban legends. For example it claimed that Clara Bow slept with the entire USC football team – including a young John Wayne – a falsehood which has been debunked several times. Bow's sons considered suing Anger at the time of the book's second release.

The book also said that Lupe Vélez was found drowned in her own vomit with her head down a toilet after she committed suicide by swallowing more than 500 sleeping tablets. There was no basis to the story; in 2013 the first publication of a death photo showed Vélez had been found on her bedroom floor.

Hollywood Babylon is also the source of the rumor about a sexual relationship between Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino. Although Novarro was gay, there has never been any proof that he and Valentino were anything more than acquaintances. In a 1962 interview, Novarro stated that he met Valentino "only once". Anger also claimed Novarro had died with an Art Deco dildo – a gift from Valentino – shoved down his throat. No such gift existed and nor was such an object found at the crime scene.

Sequels

Hollywood Babylon II was published in 1984. It was greatly expanded in format but was not as well received as the first book. It covered stars from the 1920s to the 1970s. Though slightly more accurate, the book still suffers from the same troubles as the first.

Anger stated for years he intended to write a Hollywood Babylon III, and in a 2010 interview he told that it had been finished but was placed on hold, explaining, "The main reason I didn't bring it out was that I had a whole section on Tom Cruise and the Scientologists. I'm not a friend of the Scientologists." In 2008 a third book, titled Hollywood Babylon: It's Back!, was written by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince and had no participation or association with Anger. Anger was reportedly so upset he placed a curse on the authors (Anger is a self-proclaimed magician of the school of Thelema).

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hollywood Babylon" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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