From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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 and has frequently mentioned that Hollywood Babylon III may be on its way.
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.
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.
Subjects in the first volume (current edition) include:
- the drug-related death of Olive Thomas and subsequent scandal surrounding Jack Pickford;
- the drug addictions of Juanita Hansen, Alma Rubens and Barbara La Marr;
- the alleged sexual masochism of Mary Nolan;
- the statutory rape charges and subsequent trial of Errol Flynn and how it might have been ;
- the mysterious death of film producer Thomas Ince aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst;
- the extra-marital affair of Mary Astor with playwright George S. Kaufman as told through her diary;
- the career declines of Mae Murray, Pola Negri, Louise Brooks, Marie Prevost and John Gilbert;
- the relationships of Rudolph Valentino;
- the lesbianism of Alla Nazimova;
- Erich von Stroheim's on-set difficulties;
- the relationship between William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies;
- the Fatty Arbuckle-Virginia Rappe scandal;
- the drug-related deaths of Wallace Reid, Judy Garland, and (allegedly) Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer;
- the shotgun marriages of Charlie Chaplin to Mildred Harris and Lita Grey plus the Joan Barry paternity scandal;
- the murder of William Desmond Taylor and the damage it caused to the careers of Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter;
- the suicides of Lupe Vélez, Carole Landis, Peg Entwistle, Gwili Andre, Albert Dekker, Lou Tellegen, Bobby Harron, Max Linder, George Sanders, and Clara Blandick;
- Mae West and the censors;
- the alleged promiscuity and mental instability of Clara Bow;
- the rise and fall of Frances Farmer and her appalling treatment in mental institutions;
- the homosexuality of Ramon Novarro and his subsequent murder by male prostitutes;
- the mysterious deaths of Thelma Todd and Marilyn Monroe;
- the death of gangster Bugsy Siegel by the hands of Lucky Luciano and Siegel's moll Virginia Hill, and the death of Lana Turner's lover Johnny Stompanato at the hand of Turner's teenage daughter Cheryl Crane;
- the decline and death of Jayne Mansfield (who is featured on the book's cover in the 1975 publication);
- the death of Lewis Stone of a heart attack after chasing boys who were throwing rocks at his house;
- the suicide of Jean Harlow's second husband, Paul Bern (accompanied by nude pictures of a pre-stardom Harlow);
- the Hollywood Blacklist;
- the murder of Sharon Tate by Charles Manson;
- the Confidential magazine lawsuits.
Hollywood Babylon II includes:
- the murder/suicide of Gig Young;
- the decline of James Dean leading to his death and his alleged bisexuality;
- a variety of Hollywood orgies, suicides, and debauchery;
- the Black Dahlia murder;
- Busby Berkeley's off screen escapades, including the drunk driving incident;
- the murder case against Paul Kelly;
- Tijuana bibles spoofing celebrities;
- the sad downfall of homosexual actor William Haines;
- Alcoholism and drug abuse galore;
- the statutory rape case against Alexander Pantages;
- nude photos of a pre-stardom Joan Crawford;
- Loretta Young and Clark Gable's illegitimate child.