TIME Books

Anne Helen Petersen on How to Build (and Bury) a Hollywood Scandal

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The author and expert on all things scandalous talks to TIME about her new book

Everyone loves a scandal — and no one did scandal better than old Hollywood. In her new book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance and Drama From the Golden Age of American Cinema (out Sept. 30), writer Anne Helen Petersen delves deep into the back stories of some of old Hollywood’s most famous stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Mae West.

Yet Petersen doesn’t just dish the dirt; as a “Doctor of Celebrity Gossip,” with a PhD in media studies, Petersen also provides insightful historical and cultural context to stories behind the gossip. TIME spoke with Petersen about the nature of a scandal, how gossip repeats itself and how Hollywood has changed.

TIME: What defined a scandal in old Hollywood?

Anne Helen Petersen: The thing about scandals that I always say is that no action is de facto scandalous. It only becomes scandalous when it trespasses or transgresses the lines of the status quo. So something in the late ‘40s — like when Ingrid Bergman had an affair with her director and then had a child out of wedlock, she was denounced as an instrument of evil on the Senate floor. If you did that today, [the reaction would be different].

Right. And a lot of actors and actresses had affairs, the public just never heard about. How much of that secrecy was a factor of the old Hollywood system, where stars had contracts with studios that were in turn invested in keeping their images clean?

The studio system functioned in symbiosis with the gossip apparatus — so the gossip magazines, the gossip columnists, the people who were in charge of mediating the information about the stars. It was never down on paper, but it was understood that [the gossip media] toed the studio line and in exchange for that they received a constant stream of information— maybe not true information, it was often times very fabricated information — about the stars.

Elizabeth Taylor Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a lot of your writing you connect certain scandals that took place in old Hollywood with the scandals that take place today. In particular, I know you’ve compared coverage of the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds love triangle with the ongoing Jennifer Aniston and Brangelina tabloid saga. I’m wondering if scandals in Hollywood have actually changed at all since the golden era?

I think certain tropes of what we expect of a woman or of a man or of a relationship have shifted over the last 100 years, but we’re still very much engaged in policing those [expectations] as a society. So the reason it’s so easy to relate scandals that are happening now to scandals that have happened historically is that it’s the same sort of policing taking place. So while the specifics of the scandal may change, the actual ways that society and media treats it has not.

Were there any differences in the types of scandals that actors versus actresses faced?

In the book, some scandals aren’t scandals at all. With the story of the affair between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard or the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it’s a story of how something didn’t become scandalous. Because if you were a white straight male, you could handle a scandal. Unless you were a white straight overweight male like Fatty Arbuckle.

Fatty Arbuckle Library of Congress

But the real tragedies of the book are all women. Today [it's not quite so bad]. When Kristen Stewart was caught cheating with a director, it was a scandal, but [not in the same way it was for] Ingrid Bergman, where it ruined her career.

What effect has the rise of entertainment media had on Hollywood?

Even in classic Hollywood there were always people who wanted to know the dirt and tried really hard to get it. But what happened with the demise of classic Hollywood — and you see this in my book in the last section about Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando and James Dean — is that there were these stars who weren’t on studio contracts and that allowed for all sorts of scandalous material to come out about them.

Marlon Brando Library of Congress

As I see it, there are the two modes of reporting on celebrities: you have the people who want to serve up stories that affirm that celebrities are exactly who we think they are. And then there is the mode that kind of tears down the celebrity. There are just more outlets on either side, whether they are bolstering or tearing down stars. So it makes it harder to have a really coherent image of a particular celebrity. I think that’s the reason that people really seem to like Jennifer Lawrence, because she’s just so on message.

‘On message’ is an interesting concept. Do celebrities have more control over their own image today because of things like social media or a more savvy awareness of branding?

Well, we think we have more access to the stars with social media, like there’s this real semblance of authenticity and that we somehow have a direct conduit to everything that a star is doing. But actually I think that it’s a way that they can control their brand message even tighter.

The way I think of the history of Hollywood is this cycle of control and rupture, control and rupture. So in old Hollywood everything is locked down, as with the studio system. And then there’s the rupture of the 1950s, [where actors were beginning to work without long-term contracts]. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, everything was very controlled and locked down again by these incredible publicists. Then, with the rise of digital technology, you have TMZ and gossip bloggers like Perez. The crazy gossip period of 2005 to 2008 is again this time where people are trying to reconfigure [celebrity]. Now, a star thinks, People can take a picture of me anywhere and I can connect with my fans directly through Twitter. How do we [make this work for] our message?

Scandals of Classic Hollywood is based on your popular column over at The Hairpin. What can your regular readers expect from the book?

It’s based on the same concept as the column but it’s all new content. My goal for the book — and really for all of the writing I do now — is to do this hybrid, where I take the ideas that I know from academia and then write them in a way that’s accessible to a wider audience.

Dorothy Dandridge Library of Congress

What’s next for you?

I think that my next book will take contemporary icons — people like Jennifer Lawrence or Kanye West or Beyonce — and look at their antecedents from, say, 20 years before. So I’ll look at Princess Diana in the 1980s and then I’ll look at Kate Middleton. Then there will be the tortured genius, so I’ll look at Michael Jackson and Kanye West. It will still use the historical context, but it won’t go as far back in history.

TIME celebrities

From Goofy Teen to Dashing Groom: George Clooney’s Life in Pictures

In honor of the sexiest man alive becoming the sexiest husband alive, here's a look back at Clooney's life, loves and long career

TIME celebrities

George Clooney Will Appear in a Downton Abbey Charity Sketch

Clooney in Downton Abbey charity sketch
A February 2014 file photo of George Clooney, who is to take a guest role in a charity sketch based on TV hit Downton Abbey Anthony Devlin—PA Wire/Press Association Images

But details are sketchy

George Clooney is set to make an appearance in a Downton Abbey charity sketch, a spokesperson for the hit British period drama has confirmed.

According to the Guardian, the 53-year-old Hollywood star will play an American wedding guest at the English country manor.

The scene was specially written as part of the Text Santa charity fundraiser for the ITV network, which broadcasts Downton Abbey in the U.K., and will be shown at Christmas. But Clooney will not be acting in a full episode and ITV are keeping quiet on further details.

“George isn’t appearing in any episodes of Downton Abbey. He is appearing in a Downton Abbey scene for Text Santa. That is all we and ITV are saying at this stage,” said a spokesperson.

TIME celebrities

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt Got Married in France Last Weekend

Finally

Superstar couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were secretly married in France on Saturday, a spokesperson told the Associated Press on Thursday.

The duo reportedly first came together on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith about a decade ago, but they were only engaged in 2012. Now, their marriage is official.

Jolie and Pitt were married in Château Miraval in the south of France in a small ceremony attended by family and friends, including the couple’s six children, the AP reports.

The couple is set to get back together on the screen next year in a drama that Jolie wrote and will direct called By the Sea, set for release next year.

[AP]

TIME movies

Lake Bell to Direct Film Adaption of The Emperor’s Children: Reports

Actress Lake Bell arrives at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica
Actress Lake Bell arrives at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California on March 1, 2014. Danny Moloshok—Reuters

The budding director is set to tackle her next project following the success of her debut In a World

Actress and promising auteur Lake Bell is booked to direct the film adaptation of Claire Messud’s 2006 novel The Emperor’s Children, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The feature is set to be produced by Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment, while the screenplay has reportedly been penned by indie-film stalwart Noah Baumbach. There is no word yet on when the movie will hit theaters.

The narrative follows the lives of three affluent but struggling late-20-somethings leading up to and after 9/11, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The novel was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and picked up the 2007 Massachusetts Book Award for fiction.

The Emperor’s Children will be Bell’s second feature film to direct following the success of her helmer debut In a World.

[Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Television

See What’s Next For Jennifer Lopez’s Love Life

The 45-year-old actress told Chelsea Handler, "I need to plan better"

Jennifer Lopez opened up about her relationship life on Chelsea Lately Thursday. Lopez told outgoing E! host Chelsea Handler, “I don’t really plan things out” when referring to her love life. Lopez also confirmed her status as being single, despite the rumors that she may be back together with her actor ex-boyfriend Casper Smart.

Prior to her relationship with Smart, Lopez was married to musical artist and television producer Marc Anthony. Lopez told People in May in an article about her divorce that she “went through a tremendous low, but I wouldn’t change anything [about my past] because it made me who I am.”

TIME Opinion

Matthew Weiner Is Wrong. The Gender Wage Gap Is Real, Even In Hollywood

Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner Mike Pont—FilmMagic/Getty Images

In some ways, we're still living in a Mad Men world

In a recent interview, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner delved into a sensitive subject about the way women are treated on the job. No, he wasn’t talking about the women who work at Sterling Cooper circa 1969. He was talking about his fellow showrunners circa 2014, who don’t earn the same amount of money that he does.

“I don’t think that’s a gender issue,” Weiner said in a recent interview with HuffPost Live. “Jenji’s entitled to every dollar but you have to fight for it, male or female. No one gives you anything.”

The Jenji he was referring to is Jenji Kohan, the showrunner of Orange is the New Black, who recently spoke out about the gender wage gap in television to The Hollywood Reporter. From the THR‘s story:

“I don’t think I’m getting paid as much as the men in my position, still,” [Kohan] says, “and it’s extremely frustrating.”

Gender inequality has been a thorn in Kohan’s side since she was a young girl and her novelist mother told her that men were “funnier” and “better at this.” That Kohan’s own studio, Lionsgate, is paying Weiner a reported $30 million for Mad Men‘s final three seasons adds another layer of complexity. “It’s hard when one of your best friends is Matt,” she says, then carefully adds: “I don’t begrudge him for one second; it’s more of just, ‘Why am I not making that?'” (Lionsgate declined comment.)

It’s apparent from her comments that Kohan isn’t pulling in the same amount of money as Weiner, but is the Mad Men producer correct in his belief that gender had nothing to do with it? Considering that across the board full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts make, is it really possible that this trend isn’t the case in showbiz? Sadly, no. While there aren’t hard, public figures for many of the people who work in the film and television industries, there is enough information out there that gives a strong indication that a discrepancy does, in fact, exist.

Weiner suggests in the HuffPo interview that if only Kohan was fighting for a higher salary — like he has throughout his career — than she’d be getting a bigger pay-check. But that logic falls flat when you consider the fact that Kohan likely has fought throughout her career, in ways that Weiner might not be able to imagine, to just get her foot in the door at all.

Kohan is repeatedly ranked among the best showrunners working right now, but she’s also one of a handful of women working in the field. Take a look at THR‘s list of the top 50 TV writer/producers of 2013: it features a total of 14 women on it, and many of them work as part of a team with a man. (Weiner and Kohan were both named.) If you’re part of a vast minority working in a hugely competitive industry, it’s likely that you already had to work pretty damn hard to be there. To suggest otherwise smacks of unacknowledged male privilege. What’s more, women who work in other male-dominated fields don’t make as much as the men they work with; to assume it’s different in the television and film industry seems absurd.

Just look to other areas of show business for a clearer idea. Women behind the camera in the film industry are also a tiny minority. According to San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s annual Celluloid Ceiling survey, women accounted for only 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the 250 top-grossing films last year. That 16 percent is part of a pretty consistent trend in Hollywood. (The Celluloid Ceiling survey has been conducted every year since 1997.)

While many of the women in that tiny minority have worked on some pretty impressive films, it still hasn’t landed them in the realm of top-salaries. A Vanity Fair breakdown of Hollywood’s top-earners in 2011 looked at the incomes of actors, directors, producers and writers to see who landed in the top 50. Only six women in total made the list, and they were all actresses. The group didn’t include a single woman director or producer or writer.

Yet even where women do seem to be pulling in top, competitive salaries — namely, in front of the camera — they still aren’t earning as much as their male co-stars. Take this year’s Forbes list for the top 10 highest-earning actors and actresses. Collectively, the top 10 highest paid men made a whopping $419 million last year. Meanwhile, the top 10 highest paid women earned $226 million — just 54 percent of what Hollywood’s actors were pulling in. For as much buzz as Jennifer Lawrence gets — with an Oscar win, a devoted fan-base and a beloved franchise under her belt — she still made $12 million less in 2013 than her American Hustle co-star, Bradley Cooper. True, these women aren’t facing any financial hardships despite the gap, but what about the women in the lesser-paid areas of the industry?

When you have a minority of women working in the industry’s top positions — and they are saying and sometimes proving that they’re earning less — than, yes, it is a gender issue. Of course, as Weiner himself points out in his interview, showrunners’ salaries aren’t typically made public. Which is too bad. If the hard numbers were out there for everyone to see, perhaps the gender wage gap — and Jenji Kohan — wouldn’t be so easy to dismiss.

TIME Hollywood

Enough With the Kooky Ingénues — Bring Back the Dame!

Lauren Bacall
Silver Screen Collection—Getty Images

Lauren Bacall was the last of a female archetype we so desperately need

The passing of Lauren Bacall, she of The Look, her chin canted downward ever so slightly, at once coy and challenging, made me wistful for a time in Hollywood long bygone: the era of the Dame.

You would never call Audrey Hepburn one. Nor Meg Ryan nor even Meryl Streep: Too delicate, too flaky, too august. A Dame must be feminine and tough. She is glamorous and sensible. She is a guy’s gal and a girl’s girl. And we need her. Desperately.

An archetype born out of serious times that called for serious women, a Dame was seriously stunning, seriously funny, seriously game. Think Katherine Hepburn, resplendent in a floor-length gown, crowing, “I was born on the side of a hill!” as she limped along Cary Grant in broken heels.

The Dame is not to be confused with the Femme Fatale. While the latter is devious and destructive, the Dame is playful, whether she’s dancing by the fountain with Jimmy Stewart and a bottle of champagne (Miz Hepburn again in The Philadelphia Story) or showing the newsroom how it’s done (Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday). Unlike the overt sexuality of Femmes like Rita Haworth and Ava Gardner, a Dame opted instead for subtlety. Sam Wasson, visiting professor of film at Wesleyan and author of 5th Ave 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, put it to me succinctly, “Glamour is sexuality under the cover of sophistication. Plain sexy has no cover.”

And don’t mistake the dame for a Broad—the Dame is a little smoother around the edges—tough but never rough—while the Broad has no problem dishing out vulgarities with the rest of the boys. Elaine Stritch? God bless that Broadway Broad’s whiskey-soaked soul.

The Dame had the glamour that the Broad would scoff at, not just in her clothes, though the clothes are nothing to sneeze at. Laura Brown, the executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar describes it as such: “It was a presence, a pragmatism of dressing that made frills and fluffs seem as superficial as they sound.” The Dame was lovely and streamlined; she’s yar—a word that can only be said by a Dame (again, The Philadelphia Story), or men who wear madras shorts.

As a California girl, I have always been entranced by the Dames of Howard Hawks films like The Big Sleep and Bringing Up Baby. They all seemed to come from places with names like Braintree and “Lake Winniepasomething.” They strode around in tweed suits and Grecian gowns with equal panache, and spoke in rumbly broad swaths of the Mid-Atlantic accent. Bacall’s famous purr still arched with class in her 1980’s commercials for decaffeinated coffee. Dames were like tomboy princesses of the Old World, but better because they were American.

The Dame wove repartee from mere wit. While a Lady might always have had a compact in her clutch, only a Dame had a clutch exit line – like Bacall’s most famous scene in which she gave Bogart whistling tips: “Just put your lips together and blow.”

A Dame is quick. A Dame is funny.

And now, a Dame is scarce.

She was a wartime phenomenon – the world was a scary place and she was the woman we needed: tough and sweet, feminine and brawny. Then the war ended. American audiences didn’t want brass, they wanted warmth and sweetness: Sandra Dee and Debbie Reynolds. With a wink and a smile, the Girl Next Door killed off the Dame; suddenly being a “cute girl” was valued over being a “handsome woman,” and we’re still living with this cultural shift. Manic Pixie, anyone?

Enough with the kooky ingénues! These are times that call for a grown-up woman who can play with the gentlemen, stand by her ladies, and be a true egalitarian. Let us have a Dame! How shall we summon her? With a whistle? How do we do that again…?

 

EA Hanks is a writer based in Los Angeles. She hopes more than anything to one day be described as “yar.”

TIME celebrity

Watch Lauren Bacall Say Her Most Famous Line

"You do know how to whistle, don't you?"

The famed Hollywood actor Lauren Bacall died Tuesday at 89. The Humphrey Bogart Estate tweeted on Tuesday: “With deep sorrow, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall.”

Bacall was known for her body of work in Hollywood’s Golden Age, in particular her iconic line from To Have and Have Not, the 1944 movie Bacall co-starred in with Humphry Bogart.

Bogart and Bacall married in 1945 and had two children together, staying together until Bogart’s death in 1957. Bacall also starred in The Big Sleep, Key Largo and Dark Passage, in which she also played opposite Bogart.

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