Monday, 1 May 2017

"Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush." Special sleazy "Confidential" blog issue!

Film fans will recognise the marketing slogan in the headline of this post as belonging to Sid Hudgens, the publisher of the salacious scandal rag Hush Hush,... played by Danny DeVito in the 1950s-set 1997 crime film, L.A. Confidential.  The fictional rag Hush Hush was modelled on Confidential, a bi-monthly Hollywood scandal magazine which, in the mid-'50s,  was outdoing Time, Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Look, The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's by selling up to five million copies an issue. As it's reckoned each copy was read by about five people, that meant some 25 million Americans were reading it (a fact which reminded me of the gangster Meyer Lansky's famous remark about American organised crime: "We're bigger than US Steel.")  For their 25 cents, the purchaser would be able to enjoy what the writer Tom Wolfe described as "the most scandalous scandal magazine in the history of the world."
Confidential spawned a host of imitators (including two titles actually called Hush-Hush and On the QT). Its creator wasn't in the least like the sweaty, drooling creep played by Danny DeVito: Robert Harrison was a tall, blond, good-looking, flashily-dressed, limelight-loving, high-living newspaper and magazine veteran who launched Confidential after his girlie magazine company went bust in the early '50s. By 1956, the magazine was yielding profits of $500,000 per issue, but by then the Hollywood stars, entertainers and politicians it routinely exposed as ex-cons, homosexuals, philanderers, paedophiles, alcoholics, wife-beaters, drug addicts, cross-dressers and fellow-travellers - and the studios who owned them - had had enough, and, in 1957 the magazine was summoned to court for what was known as the "Trial of 100 Stars".
The jury couldn't agree on a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. An ebullient Harrison saw it as a victory - but the subsequent threat of a retrial and a possible three years in prison made him agree not to publish salacious Hollywood revelations in future. Naturally, the circulation plummeted, and the magazine - its name, at least - was sold the following year for a paltry $25,000. It carried on as a bi-monthly publication until finally folding in 1978.
One of the oddest things about Confidential is that most of the stories which appeared in it seem to have been accurate. Liberace - one of the stars, along with Errol Flynn and Dorothy Dandrige, involved in the Harrison trial - eventually settled out of court for $40,000 over a story suggesting he might have been practicing the pink oboe - the same trick the flamboyant pianist was to pull on the Daily Mirror in 1959.
The film L.A. Confidential was based on the third of novelist James Ellroy's L,.A. Quartet, in which he created an impossibly corrupt world entirely peopled by bent cops, shyster lawyers, brutal Hollywood moguls, crooked FBI agents, and scandal-dodging entertainers and politicians. I assumed when reading the books that Ellroy was exaggerating wildly: the story of the magazine in which all these malodorous elements hit the fan suggests he wasn't. 
Miscegenation was evidently a hot topic for Harrison, but ultimately he seems to have most enjoyed outing gays and bisexuals:
Not all of Confidential's imitators were quite as accurate:
So Van Johnson was gay - but Liberace wasn't? How did that happen?
Of course, it all seems rather sad and a bit repellent now - but (I have to admit) oddly fascinating. 
If you haven't had enough of "CHOCOLATE BON BONS" and "WHOOPSY WAITERS" by now, there's an excellent Atlantic article by Neal Gabler - "Confidential's Reign Of Terror" - available here
Be sure not to miss the next pulsating issue of The Grønmark Blog - and remember: it'll be off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush!


  1. I haven't seen these since forays to The Popular Book Centre.
    Great stuff.

    1. Probably collector's items these days. I assume Britain's draconian libel laws prevented anyone trying to publish anything similar here - or maybe the News of the World satisfied the need. Anyway, I'm not sure a magazine full of scurrilous gossip about Gracie Fields and George Formby would have been a winner.