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!
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.
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?