Where Celebrity Scandals Started



With the jailing of slimy publicist Max Clifford it would wonderful if the age of celebrity obsession became too tarnished to be worthy of our attention (although the Sunday Times is eerily obsessed with the idea of ‘hanging out with the famous’).

But it’s not a new thing at all. The age of the ‘kiss and tell’ story began much further back, first with salacious press stories in the 1920s, and then with Kenneth Anglemeyer in the 1950s.

If ever there was a case of adopting an apt pseudonym, Anglemeyer had it. Born into a middle class family in Santa Monica, California, he quickly became the author of his own legend and rechristened himself Kenneth Anger. Setting out to become a child actor and then a filmmaker, he managed to acquit himself after being placed on obscenity charges for his first self-directed short at the age of 20. What had he done to draw done such wrath?

Anger’s 14 minute film ‘Fireworks’ conflated homoeroticism, mysticism, surrealism and sado-masochism, and set the tone of his work for decades to come. He never made a feature, but his 40 independent shorts (nine of which were grouped together as the ‘Magick Lantern Cycle’) proved unique and highly influential. Anger was a fan of Aleister Crowley and other self-styled ‘magicians’, and formed a lifelong friendship with Dr Alfred Kinsey, who became something of a father figure.

Soon he was turning sexuality into a political act and testing the boundaries of acceptability, producing his strangely poetic films in Paris and Rome, befriending another experimentalist, Stan Brakhage, hanging with Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger, regularly facing obscenity bans. Although his films are tame by today’s standards they continue to exert a peculiar power.

Where does the birth of the scandal-sheet fit in?

While he was broke, Anger ventured into writing. In 1959 he produced ‘Hollywood Babylon’, a collation of outrageous Hollywood tittle-tattle (complete with unsavoury bootlegged photographs) that could only be published in France as it was stuffed to the gills with uncorroborated scandal, suggesting that Walt Disney was addicted to opiates and that Rudolph Valentino was sexually submissive with dominant women.

As slimy and salacious as it was, the failed child-star’s prose touched on a truth that had not until that time been stated in print; that the studio heads rigorously controlled the behaviour of their wayward stars and misrepresented them in publicity.

‘Babylon’ perfectly captured Anger’s love/hate relationship with Hollywood and became an underground classic, but was hastily disavowed and remained unavailable in the US until 1974. It was followed by a sequel, but by this time the public had become less easily gulled by Hollywood publicity, and it bombed.

However, Anger had opened the floodgates; muckraking volumes poured out, each more prurient than the last, thanks to US libel laws, which provided more extensive defences for those accused of making derogatory statements. Surprisingly, the original book is still in print, and Anger remains an iconoclast.

8 comments on “Where Celebrity Scandals Started”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    That looks like a young Sofia L. trying to ignore J. Mansfield’s “hanging out”. Does anyone find that appealing? Mansfield could nearly always be counted on to be udderly amazing, even in her death – poor woman – which was shocking. And she was a darling of Confidential magazine, which really got the “you have to know all the smut all the time” genre going and kept the studios super busy trying to debut the real trash reporting and the inflated.
    Just to risk a tomato or two, let me add I have so far visited Ireland once to break bread – well drink it up with my Father’s WWII circle of Irish buddies in Dublin! Bookstores!!
    One evening they invited the chief Catholic censor for Ireland to join us, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but he turned out to be witty, charming, and even complained about how much of what he had to ban for the Church wasn’t half bad.
    (PS: Not starting a trend here as I have only a few film stories.)

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Above not” debut”, but rebut. Confidential debuted the smut, which in plants is a type of rust or mold and destroys a plant and can quickly destroy a field. By the way Word correct changed the above word without my noticing. Often disable it with some trepidation.

  3. John Griffin says:

    Clifford will come out the other side a rich man – either he will have deposits made from those who cannot have their secrets out, or he’ll get a pile on exit from his newspaper articles and memoirs. The former, I suspect, will be the case.

  4. Ken Murray says:

    I read Babylon 20 odd years ago after hearing about it via his connection with Jimmy Page and their joint project – Lucifer Rising, and loved it.

    Incidentally, I seem to remember reading Jane Mansfield was also well endowed with a high IQ? Which reminds me I must get round to watching the movie – Jayne Mansfield’s Car. Its on my ‘must watch before it comes on telly’ list.

  5. snowy says:

    Celeb gossip in printed form goes way back to the Georgians, who would print anything they thought they could get away with. The columns are full of not very veiled references to people who would have been known to their readers, along the lines of;

    “Sir S___n S______d was yesterday seen in the company Miss H——d at the Dury Lane Theatre, they departed before the final curtain in order to seek a more private accomodation”.

  6. snowy says:

    [Note to self:- Don’t use the TAB key in a comment, it selects ‘post’ and suddenly you have launched words on the world unbidden.]

    Hollywood was always a seething bed of; well all the things young and highly paid people like to do, a quick flick through one of David Niven’s autobiographies will give you a flavour. Though he is thought to have embroidered them somewhat, [though I dread to think what he must have had to leave out for legal reasons.]

    Not to the general taste? We should perhaps then give the ‘Fatty Arbuckle Affair’ a wide berth. If a film is more your thing then ‘Hollywwodland’ the sad tale of George Reeves, TV’s ‘Superman’ or even the ‘Black Dhalia’.

    Ms Mansfields IQ rings a vague bell, but agents would make up all sorts of rubbish to puff their clients, but for something more practical the mobile phone in ones pocket/bag relies on a technique patented in the mid 40’s by Hedy Lamarr, [ not *Hedley*, it’s *Hedy*. Hedy Lamarr.]

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    So, it isn’t only my Tab key that triggers that. There are several common every day keys that will snap end your session. Best to tiptoe through the keyboard, as Tiny sang.
    If you type a lot, you will discover on Facebook et al that the right pinky will just gravitate to the Enter key and as the saying goes: That’s all she wrote.

  8. Vivienne says:

    On Chiswick roundabout (busiest in London?) there is a sign with a quote from Jayne Mansfield “what a sweet little roundabout” which is sweet and bizarre at the same time.

Comments are closed.