Monday, 16 November 2015

Confidential

This post is brought to you by my recent re-reading of Henry E. Scott's Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, "America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine"...

Confidential magazine hit the newsstands in November 1952, and is now considered the granddaddy of all those celebrity scandal magazines. Heat and its ilk wouldn't exist without Confidential. Whether or not that would have made the world a better place, I'll leave you to decide. ;)

The issue that really launched Confidential into the public consciousness.

Confidential was the brain child of Robert Harrison, once a copyboy at the New York Graphic and latterly a publisher of cheesecake magazines like Beauty Parade, Titter and Flirt. Unwilling to go down the route of full nudity meant that by 1952 Harrison was facing financial ruin - the answer was a tabloid gossip rag, building on the style employed back at the Graphic.

In April 1953 a story vindicating Walter Winchell, an influential journalist and radio commentator who had been accused by Josephine Baker of being complicit in racial discrimination, gave the magazine a push in the right direction. It really took off in August when the magazine promised an expose of the DiMaggio-Monroe split, boosting its circulation from around 250,000 copies to 800,000. Confidential hinted that the problem was Joe Schenck's penchant for the younger lady. Rival publications like Photoplay and Film Pictorial wouldn't have dared risk the wrath of the chairman of Twentieth Century-Fox!

Harrison's pet obsession was outing homosexuals - Rock Hudson's agent gave Confidential this story about Rory Calhoun's convict past in exchange for the magazine keeping his sexuality under wraps. Others weren't so lucky; Van Johnson was outed in September '54, Tab Hunter in September '55, and in September '56 it was revealed that Havard had a secret policy of segregating gay students into Claverly Hall...

Next on the list of people Confidential shouldn't have got on the wrong side of was Harry Cohn, the chief over at Columbia studios. Still, a story in September 1954 about Rita Hayworth's neglect of her children achieved just that. By this time Confidential's circulation was well over a million copies, and Harrison had set up his own network of Hollywood informants, culled from the likes of disgruntled beat cops and jealous bit players.

When scandal wasn't forthcoming, Harrison wasn't beyond creating it. The inaugural issue of Confidential had featured a staged homosexual wedding, and in March 1955 Ava Gardner came in for intense criticism after Confidential hinted that she had had a fling with Sammy Davis, Jr. Mixed-race relationships were a big no-no in mid-50s America. When Gardner weathered the storm, Confidential printed the same hint about Meg Myles in March '56, ending her career. Still more brazenly, the March 1957 issue claimed that Maureen O'Hara had practically had sex in Grauman's Chinese Theatre - on a day her passport stamps proved she was in London. O'Hara sued.

Liberace might have been gay, but he wasn't about to admit to it. In 1957 he'd just won a libel case against the UK's Daily Mirror for insinuating he was gay - when this issue was released in July '57 he successfully sued Confidential too.

Hollywood had finally had enough. Studio bosses had been buoyed when Jerry Geisler chose to represent Doris Duke, Lizabeth Scott, and Robert Mitchum in libel cases against Confidential in 1955. In 1956 an anti-scandal magazine propraganda film, Slander, had been released by MGM. Everything fell into place when Confidential's star writer, Howard Rushmore, was forced to leave and decided to expose the magazine, revealing the names of its informants. The summer of 1957 saw the guns drawn on both sides for Hollywood vs. Confidential. Harrison's niece and nephew-in-law, Marjorie and Fred Meade had, it was alleged, demanded a $1,000 bribe from producer Paul Gregory back in 1955 to keep a story out of the magazine. Fred used his time on the stand to preach about the hypocrisy of it all. Confidential, he said, was just telling it like it was - Hollywood had been able to pull the wool over the public's eyes for too long.

The jury were asked to decide whether the Confidential stories were true, published with malice, and obscene. Unsurprisingly they were unable to return a verdict, though Harrison still had little choice but to sell the magazine in the summer of 1958 to offset his costs. Rushmore had killed his wife then shot himself a few months earlier, LA news vendors were refusing to put Confidential on their shelves, and Harrison had to content himself with the odd low-key project until his own death in 1978. For all that, Confidential's legacy lives on. Robert Harrison himself said: "I sincerely believe the basic vehicle of the story-behind-the-story will be here long after we are all dead."


Are you a fan of the 'scandal' mags? Which is your favourite?






MamaMummyMum

10 comments:

  1. I love a trashy mag. I get great fun from 'the flip' as mum and I call it - when you look at the pictures but don't really read the pages. Hello and Ok are perfect for this! #readwithme

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    1. My mum's next door neighbour gets all the women's and celeb weeklies and then passes them onto my mum once she's read them... who then passes them onto me. I completely get what you mean about just flicking through them. It's just quite relaxing, and doesn't even matter that they're all weeks if not months out of date by the time I get them! :)

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  2. I tend to avoid trashy mags, apart from when I'm in the hairdressers. Then I read them all!

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    1. Hehe, it's what the hairdressers is for! :)

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  3. I like to read them in waiting rooms, but I never buy them.

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    1. I always used to look forward to going with my mum to appointments when I was a kid so I could read all the 'naughty' stories in the women's weeklies in the waiting rooms! :)

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  4. I don't tend to read stuff like this really but if I'm bored I will click through the metro's links on facebook and read their random/celebrity stories occasionally #readwithme

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    1. I love the Metro - I get it on the bus in the morning and learn about how old and out of touch I am, not recognising half the 'celebs' they're featuring... :)

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  5. I have to say I can't resist a good trashy mag sometimes even if I know it isn't true lol. thanks for sharing with #readwithme

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