Eloise Ross reviews 'Scandals of Classic Hollywood' by Anne Helen Petersen

Eloise Ross reviews 'Scandals of Classic Hollywood' by Anne Helen Petersen

Scandals of Classic Hollywood

by Anne Helen Petersen

Plume, $19.99 pb, 303 pp, 9780142180679

Eloise Ross

Eloise Ross

Eloise Ross is completing a PhD in film studies at La Trobe University. She is a writer and researcher specialising in Hollywood film

...

Bette Davis once described Hollywood actors as American royalty, a cohort that answered the core human desire to look up to something. Those Hollywood actors who became stars (so named because of the stars in Paramount Pictures’ logo), thus served a purpose not only by acting, but also by representing societal and cultural ideals; not an easy demand, as such ideals are often conflicting. Anne Helen Petersen’s first book, through a series of star profiles, suggests that there is something more sinister than grand about this worship. In the early years of Hollywood, ‘stars weren’t born, they were made’; this may sound glamorous, but Petersen explores the darker side of this phenomenon.

While Scandals of Classic Hollywood feels like a book that might inspire or quash salacious rumours – the cover design features two couples in heated embrace and a selection of sensationalised tabloid-worthy snippets – the real scandal is how studios, journalists, and the public cared more about the image than the person. On the surface, Petersen’s book seems in the vein of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon (1959), an infamous tomb of gossip that has largely been disproved. But Petersen, an academic and historian, weaves contemporaneous accounts from newspaper columnists, cultural commentators, and biographical materials into a strong critique of the studio system. She treads the ever-thinning line between pop-cultural journalism (published online by the likes of BuzzFeed, where Petersen is now a staff writer) and considered academic analysis, stemming from her doctoral thesis on the celebrity gossip industry.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in April 2015, no. 370

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.