If you're under the impression that Hollywood scandal is new and that the seemingly pristine days of the Golden Age were free of shocking behavior, then avant garde film director and occultist Kenneth Anger's underground favorite, Hollywood Babylon, will set you right. Overdoses, suicides, mental breakdowns, affairs, statutory rape, and even murder! Tinseltown has been wallowing in bad behavior since its inception.
Anger's volume (the first of two), complete with lots of photos including crime scenes and contrastingly beautiful head shots, was originally published almost like a zine in France in 1959. So many people were enthralled by the lurid gossip in its pages that it gained quite a cult following before it was published here in the US in 1965.
Drawing outrage for decades, the book has been blasted for its possibly false accusations, plagiarism, and lack of taste–particularly in the bloody photos. You could also add hypocrisy to the list. With all the book's disdain for the gossip columnists of the time–one of whom is lovingly referred as “that syndicated, sob-sister, mutant, deadline hunting pecker”–Anger himself is just as bad (if not worse) in his exploitation of movie stars' and starlets' biggest heart breaks.
While the scandals and the public's insatiable need to hear about them haven't changed much since the days of Fatty Arbuckle and Frances Farmer, one significant development has occurred. Now a days, the number of Kenneth Angers out there is innumerable, anybody on the street can be a gossip columnist, all he/she needs is a celebrity sighting and within minutes it can be on Gawker stalker. Also, it used to be that the studio system would try to hide the shame of drug addiction, ugly breakups, and madness. These days, celebrities are more than willing to sell the dirt themselves.
So in a way Hollywood Babylon, with all its lurid and tasteless gossip, is a bit like a stroll down memory lane, to–unbelievably, a slightly more dignified era. But really, it's just vintage Star magazine stuff written with a much more snobby and charming tone.