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Hollywood Babylon ~ A Capsule Book Review

Hollywood Babylon ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The silent screen’s greatest lover, Rudolph Valentino, was married twice, both time to lesbians, and neither marriage was ever consummated.

Movie director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his Hollywood apartment in 1922. Investigation into his death revealed that he had been living a double life. All his colleagues were suspects in his death but, even with this plethora of potential murderers, the truth was never uncovered. The real murderer took the secret to his/her grave.

Silent screen comedian, jovial Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, must certainly have wished he had never thrown a wild party in a San Francisco hotel room in 1921. The sexual shenanigans at the party led to the death of a trashy “starlet” named Virginia Rappe. Fatty was jailed and charged with first-degree murder in Rappe’s death. He was eventually cleared of the murder charge (after three lengthy trials), but his screen career was finished.

Thelma Todd, twenty-nine-year-old comedic actress (she starred with Laurel and Hardy and the Marx brothers), called the “Ice Cream Blonde,” was found murdered in the garage where she kept her car in 1935. Nobody ever found out what really happened, but Thelma was believed to have had an ongoing feud with gangster Lucky Luciano. Thelma Todd’s murder is one the most baffling unsolved murders in Hollywood history.

Twenty-five-year-old Olive Thomas, called “the most beautiful woman in the world,” was vacationing in Paris in 1920 with her husband Jack Pickford (brother of Mary Pickford) when, after a night of nightclubbing and drinking, she drank mercury from a bottle and died at a Paris hospital several days later. Evidence suggests that her poisoning was unintentional, but the story still persists that she killed herself on purpose.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ramon Navarro was the biggest star in Hollywood. His most famous role was in the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. In 1968, age 69, he was brutally beaten to death in his Hollywood home by a pair of brothers out to rob him. The brothers were brought to justice but received only light sentences.

In 1932, would-be movie actress Peg Entwistle killed herself by climbing to the top of the famous “Hollywood” sign and jumping off. After her death, she became a symbol for Hollywood disillusionment and broken dreams.

Silent screen superstar Charlie Chaplin was quite a dog with the ladies. (Apparently he wasn’t too particular about which ladies.) In the 1920s, he impregnated sixteen-year-old, would-be actress Lita Grey. He did the right thing and married her, but the marriage was a disaster. It turned out that Lita Grey and her dear mama were planning on taking poor old Charlie for every cent he had.

Screen goddess Lana Turner’s sexy bad-boy boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was a shadowy underworld figure with an Oscar-sized tool in his pants. (Lana found him exciting.) In 1958, he was abusing Lana with his fists, when Lana’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, intervened with a big knife, stabbing pour Johnny to death in Lana’s Beverly Hills mansion. It was eventually ruled a “justifiable homicide,” but Lana and Cheryl experienced much unfavorable press coverage, not to mention the heartache.

Nearly every Hollywood scandal, from the silent era through the 1960s, is covered, however superficially, in the book Hollywood Babylon. It was banned when first published in 1965 but managed somehow to resurface ten years later. People find Hollywood Babylon objectionable because it makes no pretense of journalistic integrity. A lot of the purported “truth” in it is false, exaggerated, scurrilous, sensationalized and unfair. That’s not to say it doesn’t hold your interest from first page to last, though, as long as you read it with the proper attitude.

Copyright 2021 by Allen Kopp