THEN AND NOW: HOLLYWOOD AND THE NEWS MEDIA – By GARRY ARMSTRONG

I am 210 pages into a riveting biography of Louie B. Mayer. The “Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer” by Scott Eyman has really done a thorough, scholarly and fascinating look into the folks who created old Hollywood. Louie Mayer was perhaps the most influential of them all.

I am familiar with Mayer’s early years. The immigration from Russia, the poverty years as a metal and trash collector in New England. Right around the corner in Haverhill, Massachusetts. I did pieces at Channel 7 in Boston back in the 1970s about Mayer’s early years before we had an internet with easy access to Hollywood history. Much of my stuff rehashed old studio publicity memos and interviews with then-surviving actors who either loved or hated the golden days.

Eyman skips past the usual tabloid stuff about MGM’s stars, the oft-repeated gossip and cliché analysis about the studio suits. He really digs into the lives of these legendary people. He had confidential files which had been long dormant under the thumbs of the mogul’s estates.  The day-in day-out details are mind boggling.

I just finished a section where Mayer, Thalberg, Goldwyn and others used their studio power and personnel to torpedo the gubernatorial aspirations of Upton Sinclair in California. They played very dirty pool, aligning themselves with William Randolph “Citizen Kane” Hearst to orchestrate what FOX news does today.

I had to stop when I reached the section where Thalberg, the erstwhile ‘Golden Boy cum Last Tycoon-Great Gatsby” hero tries to strongarm the fledgling writer’s union. He does the “you’ll never work in Hollywood” again bit with writers trying to form their union.

It reminded me of my days at ABC Network News where there was not very subtle pressure from top level suits to censor, alter, or ignore information we were getting from overseas reporters in Vietnam, Moscow, and sometimes China. The pressure was most obvious with the Vietnam casualty reports which were the numbers from the daily MACV briefings.

We had the real numbers from veteran correspondents like Don Baker, Ted Koppel and others when we took in their reports in the editing (verbatim) studios. I was part of the new wave of young reporters who didn’t mind sparring with the old guard suits who were getting their marching orders from the Pentagon.

Our union — the WGA (Writers’ Guild of America) — got lots of pressure from the very top level of the Network. As relatively low-level grunts, our union basically told us to “just do your jobs” with not so subtle asides about “don’t take any shit from the suits about the content of the news.” Some of the older WGA members were afraid of losing their jobs.

We newbies didn’t know fear. We were too hungry for success, too young to be afraid of intimidation. Therefore, I had this rush of old memories reading the Mayer book. It’s fascinating how things never change in “the biz.”

And that’s entertainment!



Categories: Anecdote

8 replies

  1. It sounds fascinating. As you know, my father worked as a publicist for MGM for many years, but I don’t remember his telling any stories about Mayer. I guess he was too involved with his job with the actors.When I was a teenager, he was handling Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn, and Peter Lawford’s publicity. Ed Wynn was a friend of my father and I remember going to the hospital with the two of them to see Keenan after his motorcycle accident. Underneath all the hoopla at the studio were human beings making a living . I’m sure that ‘s what you understood and wrote about celebrities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia, fascinating – yes but as I said – a reminder of how somethings never change. Some of my former ABC colleagues remained at the network and rose to positions of prominence there and at other networks. I’m not sure how they feel about this.

      I’ve finished the Mayer book. Truly fascinating. The Van Johnson, Evvie Wynn-Johnson, Keenan Wynn affair was a classic “handling” job with “the fixer”, Eddie Mannix, doing his job. Were you around those folks at all? Just wondering how they got along . I’m sure they had their publicity faces on at social gatherings.
      I knew a fair amount of this stuff and tried to keep it compartmentalized in my dealings with the celebs. I tried to keep my professional relationships with them open and untarnished by the PR stuff. I think this allowed me access and, in some cases, brokered ‘friendships’ beyond the reporter-celebrity relationship.

      I don’t recall many complaints about my dealings with the Hollywood legends. It was, as I’ve often said, a genuine pleasure to deal with people I admired. I always tried to balance the reality of their professional and personal lives.

      Patricia, it’s always a pleasure to share with you because you’ve had that REAL insiders look at Old Hollywood. You were in my thoughts frequently as I read the Mayer bio.

      I’m still laboring through the massive Pappy Ford book.

      Patricia, I hope all is well with you these days. I really cherish our friendship and still hope we might connect in person or by phone if you are agreeable.

      Like

      • I just sent you a reply. with my phone number. Yes, my father was close to that Johnson/Wynn affair. It was a huge scandal at the time. I met the Wynns at one of Lucy’s Sunday parties when they were still married. I never met Van Johnson. The closest I came was when my father was teaching me how to drive and we were cruising Beverly Hills in our convertible. Another convertible faced us down one street, driven by Johnson. He smiled and waved at my father who waved back. I was lucky to stay on the road.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I also want to read your book, Garry!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. and what page are you on in your book Garry? I’m waiting….You’ve already got one sale…me!
    Leslie

    Liked by 2 people

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