“HOLLYWOOD” PULLS BACK CURTAIN ON POST-WAR TINSELTOWN
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“HOLLYWOOD” ON NETFLIX As reviewed in this column not so long ago, Showtime’s series “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” featured the strange rich history of Los Angeles during a period of social and political tension during the late Thirties.
Netflix gets into the act of a period piece of Los Angeles history in which aspiring actors and filmmakers of the post-World War II era are hoping to make a big splash in the Hollywood film industry at all costs. The aptly-titled “Hollywood” is a seven-episode series streaming on Netflix. Co-creator Ryan Murphy, the creative force behind the “Glee” television series, has found an outlet for a risqué homage to entertainment that could not be realized on network television.
What both “City of Angels” and “Hollywood” have in common, if at all, is the opportunity to weave true-life events into a fictional narrative that is either revisionist history or wish fulfillment for what never was.“Hollywood,” even more so than the Netflix series, goes out on a limb to explore the sexist, racist, misogynistic and hypocritical aspects of the lurid underbelly of the film industry’s Golden Age.
Have you heard about Scotty Bowers, a handsome former Marine who lands in Hollywood after World War II and becomes a legendary escort for male and female celebrities while providing his “full service” out of a gas station in the shadow of the film studios?
You may learn more about Bowers from his memoir “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” a collaboration with Lionel Friedberg, or the documentary film “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.”
The relevance of the post-war hustler’s dalliance with celebrities seeking furtive affairs is that “Hollywood” pivots in a big way to the activity at the Golden Tip gas station run by Ernie (Dylan McDermott), who provides a stable of hunky young men satisfying sexual fantasies. Celebrities of both sexes, gay and straight, turn up at the station and speak the magic words “I want to go to Dreamland” to one of the attendants. Enter Jack Castello (David Corenswet), a war veteran who wants to be a movie star by becoming one of the pump jockeys.
Expecting a child with his wife Henrietta (Maude Apatow), hustling at the gas station is the only way for Jack to get into show business, and as luck would have it, he gets hooked up with Avis (Patti LuPone), the wife of the studio head (Rob Reiner) of Ace Pictures.
Jack’s long-shot bid for the movie business was off to an inauspicious start when he’d hang outside the studio gates hoping to be an extra for the day, along with a throng of other hopefuls. Not alone in getting his foot in the door at the studio, Jack’s other gas station buddies, wannabe director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) and Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), an aspiring gay black screenwriter, are soon swept into their own dreamland.
Another young man, straight off the bus from flyover country, the handsome but dim Roy Fitzgerald (Jake Picking) ends up being molded by Henry Willson (Jim Parsons), a real-life closeted agent with a nasty streak, into Rock Hudson. That “Hollywood” is revisionist history, in the sense that it would like to present a world that did not exist, Hudson and screenwriter Archie become lovers so openly that even agent Willson warns that Hudson would sink his nascent career with a public display of his sexual orientation.
Grounded in some relatively factual situations, “Hollywood” brings to life real characters of the Golden Era, from a bawdy Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster) to Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec), the Chinese-American star victimized by institutional racism.
Wong was not alone in suffering ostracism. Queen Latifah’s Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar, played Mammy in “Gone With The Wind” and was mainly stuck in domestic roles.Ryan Murphy upends the customs of the era by bringing together the half-Filipino director Raymond, the gay screenwriter Archie, straight white male Jack, and future star Rock Hudson in a movie project based on the life of British actress Peg Entwistle.
Archie has penned a script titled “Peg,” and Ace Studios decides to make a film based on the tragic life of the actress, but the title is shifted to “Meg,” when Avis, acting as interim studio head, greenlights the production to star a black female actress.The actress in question is the fictional Camille Washington (Laura Harrier), involved in an interracial romance with director Raymond, and she delivers a luminous performance that is Oscar worthy.
The final episode, knowingly titled “A Hollywood Ending,” takes us to the Academy Awards, where “Meg” is nominated in several categories including, among others, Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director. Just for fun, make your own guesses on the winners.
Blending fact and fiction for a desired narrative, Ryan Murphy is the driving force behind the fantasy message for an illusory Golden Age in “Hollywood,” buttressed by the visual treats of retro scenery, automobiles, and elegant clothes that are fun to take in.