Kenneth Anger explores Hollywood's darkest recesses in his landmark tell-all.
Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon is the grandaddy of all Tinseltown exposés. It was published in 1965, banned ten days later, and shelved until 1975. It's exactly as advertised, outing everybody that was anybody for everything. Entire chunks are devoted to Charlie Chaplain, Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Fatty Arbuckle and other cinematic luminaries. Some of its claims have been proved false—for instance the assertion that Lupe Velez died with her head in a toilet, and that Clara Bow screwed the USC football team (we doubt anyone really believed that one, even back then). But other tales are basically true, including accounts of various legal run-ins and feuds.
Anger's writing is uneven, but at its most effective mirrors the type of pure tabloid style that influenced the likes of James Ellroy and others. Besides the salacious gossip the book has a ton of rare celeb photos, and those are of real worth. We've uploaded a bunch below. They came from a digital edition because our little paperback was too fragile to get on a scanner. By the way, don't feel as if we're working overtime on our website this Christmas morning—we uploaded everything in advance and are actually nowhere near a computer today. We're glad you took a minute to drop by. Copious vintage Hollywood below.
The Lowdown proves that it deserves its name.
We’re jumping right into our treasure trove of newly arrived tabloids today with a glance at this issue of The Lowdown published in March 1965. On the cover you see Jean Harlow, Carroll Baker, and Ed Sullivan. We talked about Baker recently and there she is in that crazy gown again (below)—or is she? No, on close examination this is yet another version of the dress. Clearly, the photo was shot on a different night than all the others because her hair and jewelry are different. But the actual dress also looks slightly different from both the Oleg Cassini and Pierre Balmain iterations. A reference in the story clears things up at least a little: “Transparency gowns are another of her big passions and she often wears them.” There you have it. Half naked was a fairly standard look for Carroll Baker. They just don’t make stars like they used to.
You might be curious what the article is about. On the cover the header reads: “The Night Carroll Baker Played a Call Girl,” but on the inside, it says: “The Night Carroll Baker Played a Harlot!” The story goes that she wanted to research her role as a prostitute in the movie Sylvia, so sheventured down to Tijuana, Mexico, toured a few brothels, and somehow disappeared alone for two hours: “We don’t know what happened in the house in Mexico or what sights she could have barged in on, but that is bouncy Miss Baker’s bit.” Lost in a Mexican whorehouse. The mind reels. Do we buy it? Not for a minute.
The other story of note asks: “How Hot Was Jean Harlow’s Sex Life?” Well, let's take an up close look and find out. In 1932 when Harlow was 21 years old she married Paul Bern, a director and screenwriter. Bern apparently had never done well in the sex department due entirely to his own lack of passion, and his shyness was well known. To him Harlow supposedly represented a chance at true sexual fulfillment. If the most desired woman in Hollywood couldn’t rouse his slumbering libido, nobody could. According to The Lowdown, Bern failed on the wedding night. Here’s what the text says:
In the wee hours of the morning, Jean’s agent [Arthur] Landau received a frantic call from her asking that he come and get her immediately. When [they] got to Landau’s home, according to the agent, Jean stripped off her filmy wedding nightgown to reveal her beautiful body a mass of welts and bruises. “Her back and buttocks were covered with bruises. Therewas one especially bad bruise directly over her kidneys.” The implication here is because Harlow died several years later of kidney failure that she incurred the fatal damage during that wedding night beating. It gets weirder—brace yourselves. Landau goes to Paul Bern’s house, geared for a confrontation:
The bridegroom of some eleven hours was [snip] sprawled nude and drunk on the floor of his den. Silently hating the man at his feet, Landau wanted to kick the slight, pasty body of Bern. Instead he rolled the unconscious man to his back to discover what had never been suspected by anybody in the industry. Paul Bern had the sack and penis of an infant boy. The story goes on to explain that the entire mess was hushed up for the sake of Harlow’s career. Two months later Bern committed suicide via a bullet through the brain. One more excerpt:
Paul had prepared himself for death by removing all his clothing and stood before the dressing room mirror. [snip] And, staring at his tormented body, he pulled the trigger. The nudity added a sexual element to his suicide that encouraged a spectrum of interpretations of his farewell note:
“Dearest dear, unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done to you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you. Paul.
You understand that last night was only a comedy.”
What was the comedy? Harlow said nothing to the press. But according to Arthur Landau, she told him Paul Bern had spent $200 on a device to increase his manhood. Wearing the contraption he had entered their bedroom intent on finally consummating their marriage. This hope was doomed from the start and the whole plan turned into such a tragic farce that both he and Jean finally gave way to hysterical laughter. That’s probably one of the sadder stories you’ll ever hear. Is it true? It appeared in a biography about Harlow, but we can never know. We can, however, at least answer the question posed by The Lowdown’s story header. No—Jean Harlow’s sex life was not hot at all.