S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Charlotte, great. Hey, I am.
S3: What’s in the box?
S2: Yo, yo, yo.
S4: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Slate Spoiler Specials. I’m Sam Adams, senior editor at Slate, and this week I’m joined by browbeat editor Matthew DSN. Matthew, hello. Hello. And podcast producer Daniel Shrader. Daniel.
S5: Hey, Sam. Today we are spoiling Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s Netflix series Hollywood. It’s the story based, in fact, and then extremely not of a group of up and coming filmmakers in 1940s Hollywood, a diverse and energetic group who set out to change the industry and the world and eventually succeed. It’s a history that becomes fantasy because, as one character puts it, movies don’t just show us the world as it is. They show us the world as it can be.
S6: So we’re going to get into discussing the series in its entirety, although because it’s seven hours long, we’re obviously not going to go through the entire plot. But because this is a spoiler, special, fair warning, we are going to be talking about the ending quite extensively. But before we do that, let’s just give our general impressions almost with you. Matthew, doesn’t. What did you think of Hollywood? Would you recommend it not? What’s your take away from it?
S1: I couldn’t entirely recommend it. No, it’s a it’s like an interesting attempt to sort of recreate that world in a lot of the details are very well done. But writing the plot just sort of at a certain point turns into fantasy in a way that I didn’t really like, Daniel.
S7: It was not for me and I would never recommended to anybody, because at times I think it is utterly unwatchable. But as with most Ryan Murphy shows, as a gay man, I feel some sort of like masochistic obligation to watch, even though at times it feels like I’m watching a Thomas Kincaid painting. But it was fun for the gifts and for a few of the actors.
S4: Yeah. If anyone listening has read what either Matthew I’ve written on Slate, this will be no surprise. But it’s also not something that I would recommend. It’s kind of an interesting project that I think is of some huge conceptual flaws in it. I like particularly a lot of the older actors in it, Holland Taylor and Jim Mantello and Patty Capellan especially kind of play the old guard of this fictional studios’ called Ace Pictures in 1947, Hollywood. And I really like the kind of energy and the gravitas they bring to it. The younger cast for the most part, most of whom are supposed to be bona fide movie stars, I think are really sort of you know, of course, it’s Ryan Murphy show. So they’re all fantastically good looking. But I feel like in a really kind of bland and uninteresting way so that they’re just not particularly kind of compelling or interesting to watch. That, in turn, makes the rest of Syria look much harder to get into.
S5: Let us talk about that story a little bit. It’s a big kind of ensemble drama, so it’s slightly hard to summarize. But I think the easiest place to start is with, if not the central character, the one who kind of drives the plot is just getting started.
S6: A Hollywood director named Raymond Ainslee, played by Darren Criss, Ryan Murphy’s old Glee compadre. He is like Darren Criss, himself half Filipino director who has largely been passing for White in the industry but does not want to and has decided he kind of wants to make his mark on Hollywood by diversifying the industry. So his first idea is to stage a comeback vehicle for enemy Wong, who is essentially the first Asian-American movie star that her career was grossly curtailed by racism. So he wants to bring this movie that’s going to kind of bring her back. He brings this idea of the studio. The studio is just like, are you kidding me? Like, of course, we’re not making a movie with a Chinese actress in the lead. So the second thing he comes up with is a movie called Peg, which is the story of Penkin was all who’s a aspiring actress who can famously killed herself by throwing herself off a Hollywood sign jump into her death. And so Hollywood becomes a story of them making this movie that’s first called Peg, and later than when Raymond decides to cast his African-American girlfriend, Camille, played by Laura Harrier in the role Meg. And so they’re making a story about kind of Hollywood failure and how this town kind of eats people alive. But once they cast a black actress in the lead, they realized that they kind of can’t tell that story because it sends the wrong message. And that’s when it becomes an entirely different type of show. I think this has been to talk about it’s going to talk about like kind of the front half of the series, which is sort of straightforward SC Hollywood history, albeit with a kind of revisionist slant. And then it’s going to second half of the series from maybe like, you know, five, six have in the last few episodes, but really kind of takes a right word turn.
S5: Matthew, you wrote a piece for the site, essentially fact checking the thing.
S6: And you you know, look, you know a lot about Hollywood history, as you wrote a lot kind of comparing to, you know, Hollywood’s version of Hollywood history with what it actually was. You know, what do you make, you know, particularly this kind of first half of the series, whereas there are invented characters, an invented movie studio, but it is at least, you know, showing you some kind of real things about that world of Hollywood in 1947.
S1: Yeah. I mean, at the beginning, it looks like it’s going to be sort of a tour of Hollywood in the late 1940s, that that seems to be the show’s project. It starts with this this a studios’ thing, which is very clearly paramount. All the pictures that they mentioned are paramount. I mean, one of the things that strange things about the show is that it didn’t feel to me like it was building towards this moment where it took a twist off into fantasy, like it felt like there were a few episodes where they were trying to do a kind of a soapy drama about Hollywood in the 1940s. And then at a certain point, they were like. It just goes into this different thing, that early stuff. I mean, it all has the same sort of problems for me as far as that being just incredibly over the top. And everyone says exactly what they’re thinking and doing and why. You know, there’s no subtext in it. It’s not interesting, but it’s not crazy. And the sort of recreation of it would in that era. Although it’s really pretty surface level, there are some details that are nice. One of the characters works at Schwab’s Drugstore in the Interior. There is just gorgeous. Perfect. Lovely. So if you want to see an interior Schwab’s, that’s a show. If you want to see human beings interacting like human beings, then what are you doing?
S4: You’re right. Exactly.
S1: That’s not the problem.
S7: Like when we’re told to believe that the actress who eventually becomes Magg is like the most amazing actress, it’s something really difficult to stomach. It’s like when we had to pretend that the studio 60 sketches were funny.
S4: Yeah, well, Dana, let me ask, because you are kind of out, at least for the purposes of this podcast, you are a resident, Ryan Murphy expert. The first half of the show kind of fits into this ongoing project he’s had with feud with people versus O.J. of, you know, revisionist history. And I say that not in the kind of judgmental sense, but just as a legitimate historical endeavor. Fuzzy version of Sleighs. Another example is where you take kind of established history and you just you either retell it from a different point of view or you just kind of shift the emphasis in the characters. So you have look into the Marcia Clark episode of the O.J. series, which takes us, you know, figured was really largely vilified at the time and painted in a very compelling way as as a victim of systemic sexism. The Fossey Verden Show, which really basically tries to put, you know, Gwen Verdin on equal footing with the kind of acknowledged master, her ex-husband, Bob Fossey. So I don’t if you knew where this this series was going as you were watching it. But Ben, did that feel? Kind of like it was moving along expected lines for you.
S7: Yeah, I think that Ryan Murphy’s beats are pretty familiar to me at this point, regardless of show. What this reminded me most of was feud. And I think my question while watching this was how much of a failure was feud that Ryan Murphy thought? You know what? I think I need to make up stuff this time. So he just, like, pivoted from historical fact, like actually making up whole swaths of plot in ways that I thought were pretty unsuccessful because they felt so surface. There wasn’t much depth to anything at all. One of the biggest problems I had with this whole show was that everybody knew everyone and was interconnected in like three different ways. The screenwriter that Darren Chris’s character found the screenplay of is actually a prostitute at the gas station with another guy who becomes an actor. And then Rock Hudson, who is a character that we should talk about, like appears as well. And it’s all of these like hyper interconnected things that make it seem like there’s no there there besides what we see on screen like. And of course, we can get into the stuff at the end. But when you start to get into the lead white guy Jack Castelo backstory, you realize there’s nothing actually there. There’s no like meat to it. And so I think this was an entirely meatless show that really wanted to feel good about itself as opposed to create interesting drama.
S6: I mean, one of the things that is that I’m nowhere near like a Ryan Murphy completist, but I’ve seen, you know, a number of the series and kind of checked in on some of the other ones. And one of the things that I really, you know, make an effort to kind of give him credit for is I think he’s just a great in general, like kind of a great talent scout. I mean, for me, if Ryan Murphy had done nothing more than make Sarah Paulson the star that she always should have been like Dinu there a lot of, you know, relatively new figures in this, particularly among the young cast, give some more established figures and some of the older actors. But you have David Corn Sweat, who is also in Ryan Murphy’s The Politician, his first Netflix series playing this aspiring actor, Jack Costello. Jake, picking up playing Rock Hudson, Samarrah weaving, playing Claire Wood, who is another aspiring actress and also the daughter of the head of a studios. I mentioned Laura Hariya, probably best known, I guess, as Liz from Spider-Man Homecoming, who’s playing the big star and eventual best actress winner, Camille Washington. And then you have Jeremy Pope, who’s playing Archie Coleman, who is this aspiring screenwriter, kind of young black screenwriter who is very conscious of kind of not wanting to get pigeonholed in the world of what were then called race movies, which are kind of the black or Asian or whatever movies. And so he has written the script about Piguet with all this, you know, white British actress killing herself to show that he has range, so to speak.
S4: It’s a very tall order for the show because the plot requires him to cast multiple actors in roles where the character is seen by a person with, you know, decades of Hollywood experience and that person to meet their star. And it’s really hard to find even one young person with that kind of instant charisma, let alone four or five of them. I mean, do you feel like they succeed? I mean, are these kind of young actors you want to see in other things or how do we kind of evaluate that aspect of the show, I guess?
S1: I mean, it’s a structural problem when you have people that are supposed to be good at acting that you don’t have. If you have a character who is a good novelist or a good painter or whatever, you can hire somebody to do a painting. But that’s always a problem with anything where a character is supposed to be very good at a skill that we can all see whether or not they’re good at it.
S7: OK, maybe Laura Harris is a better actress than I’m giving her credit for, but I did not care for her in this role. And it was really tragic to see like a smara weaving who I think is a good actress kind of halfway through her screen, DSB like, fuck it, I don’t care about this. And then kind of pass it off to actually the worst actress, even though, like for the plot, she is the better actress. And I kept wondering, like, as people kept screening this movie, who is being moved by this performance? I think that Ryan Murphy is good at collecting a bunch of pretty people that we will forget about in a few years, every few years.
S1: The one thing that I would say about it for sure, though, is that there’s only so much you can do with the dialogue. The dialogue on the show is just sort of unbelievable. It is. It is everybody saying exactly this is what I am thinking and why. And then you have this imagine Hag or Meg movie that you have dialogue for that. And that’s. You know, on the nose in the 1940s way, but no less than the other stuff, it’s just these aren’t. What can you do with it? There’s only so much you can do if that’s your script.
S7: The most absurd line of dialogue in the entire show for me, and it was my favorite gift that I sent to all of my friends, was when the screenwriter looks in a mirror at a bar and says, I won’t be a black writer writing about some white lady. I’ll just be a writer. And it was also like subtext as text. No attempt to like an add nuance to this. It was just this is what I’m writing in a way that felt like Ryan Murphy was talking to himself in that moment. Love, this is what I’m saying about myself as an artist. And that never worked.
S1: Yeah. It didn’t seem like anybody understood themselves or their industry in the way that somebody might have in 1947. The perspective was absolutely 20/20. People talked about these issues in the way they do in 2020. It didn’t feel like that that time period at all.
S7: I kept thinking that if a actor from the 1940s saw this, they would jump off the Hollywood sign after.
S4: Yeah, I mean, there is what we’re gonna try to talk about, kind of the twist that the series takes later on, where it becomes kind of, you know, extremely like aggressively presentist. But there are all these really kind of clanging moments where people in the 1940s say at one point when they’re discussing whether or not they’re going to try and release what they cast as the first studio movie with an African-American lead. And they say, well, we want to change the conversation. There’s a point where they’re having a story meeting in this, Jim, and kind of like the head of development for the studio says, oh, well, that’s kind of a trope, isn’t it? And there’s one see, and this is my favorite slash thing that makes me want to claw my ears out. There’s a point where an editor whose career goes back to the silent era uses the word creatives. I don’t feel like anyone should be using that word in the year 2020, let alone 1947. You can make an argument and I try to kind of give them the benefit of the doubt that this is, you know, the show kind of deliberately nodding to the way that its departing from history. But it grates on my ear and in a certain way. I mean, I don’t want to think about kind of among the young cast. I mean, Danieli mentioned Samarrah within who I think is established enough that you can’t really kind of call a discovery at this point. She’s had a starring role in a kind of you know, it’s already a cult movie called Ready or Not. Couple years ago, she is great. And I think Jeremy Pope, who plays Archie Coleman, the screenwriter, basically his kind of first screen thing that he’s done, he’s was in one movie for a couple of years ago that I’ve never even heard of before. So he is I feel like a bona fide discovery he has. And I feel kind of like real presence in magnetism, like he is someone I would want to see in something else. Again, of course, he’s not playing an actor.
S1: They cast him as the one role where he can’t use his acting things to make the rest of it more credible.
S4: You mentioned in the series that really kind of seems to be in a way. Ryan Murphy and I guess he Brennan kind of talking to themselves about how important like, you know, the creatives and their, you know, the writers and directors are. So the fact that, like, they cast, you know, some of the most magnetic interesting actors as the writer and director in the story is, if not intentional, at least maybe something they could talk to their therapists about. One of the ways of the story is kind of aggressively revisionist, really kind of, you know, revealing something that would not have been common knowledge at the time is a subplot that starts with Jack Castelo, this aspiring actor finding work at a gas station run by Dylan McDermott, who is this sort of former actor who has basically become a pimp in his middle age. This gas station does, in fact, pump gas, but more importantly, it is a front for a large scale prostitution ring. Basically, I think it’s a myth, not exclusively male prostitutes. Most of the ones we see are male and they service both men and women. So that kind of introduces this whole very persistent subplot of this kind of sexual undercurrent of Hollywood in 1947, just being much more complicated than the sort of certainly than the image of the town that Hollywood would have presented itself at the time.
S6: So you have it, as you mentioned, Rock Hudson, who is then kind of an aspiring actor, was obviously gay, although in real life was closeted almost until his death in 1985. It wasn’t until he had to go public with having HIV. That is, sexuality kind of became public, although, as you know, it open secret probably for decades. Archie Coleman, the screenwriter, becomes his his sort of long term boyfriend. His character, played by Jim Parsons, called Henry Wilson, is based on a real figure who becomes Rock Hudson’s agent and requires rock, as he does most of his male clients, to sleep with him in order to advance his career. So it’s this whole kind of thing that runs through the series.
S1: And if I can say it’s that plotline that made me sort of do a double take when it. Went off the rails all off the time line because for the most part, that’s based on two real memoirs, which are Scottie Bowers, who is a gas station attendant, turn them turned prostitute or whatever, but was responsible for making those kind of assignations out of out of a gas station in Hollywood. He wrote a memoir about it and his portrait of that time here in Hollywood. It is kind of revisionist history that you would read and think, hey, this could make a great Ryan Murphy show. And the way that the show begins, it’s like, OK, that’s it. It’s going to sort of follow this line. The point of the show is going to be while there was a lot of crazy stuff going on back then the people don’t know about. And the same thing is true with Henry Wilson and Rock Hudson saying that was Wilson was a real guy. He really was Rock’s agent. He was responsible for all of those kind of 50s Bisquick actors, Tab Hunter, you know, whatever he gave those people as names and was not a very good guy. And so I thought, okay, that’s the show. But then it turns out that’s not the project at all. Really, that’s that’s just the jumping off point.
S7: I mean, you’re saying it now. That sounds like such a better show. And honestly, that’s the problem with. I think my, like, overarching theory of Ryan Murphy shows is that they’re great to start, but then they fall apart once he gets an idea about what he’s making. If he just hit start and then walked away and let other people keep making it, it would be a lot better. I think the Jim Parsons role was, I think, my favorite part of the show, just in terms of his pure, absurd commitment to the role. He’s like, fucking. I have Big Bang money now. I can do whatever I want. And so he’s just like dancing around with, like, scarves and being really bitchy and an awful person like he is a Macchiavelli in gay, but in a way that like I loved and really enjoyed getting to watch, like when he has the monologue about his, like, lover who died at 19 and then immediately pivots into like, okay, rock, now we’re gonna have sex again with these two guys. It was really like it was gross, but it was fun inlike. This is the type of like lurid Hollywood stuff I wanted to watch when I was watching this, as opposed to what shakes out at near the end, which we need to get into. And I think also speaks to maybe some of the things Ryan Murphy might be trying to work on himself.
S4: One of my one of my kind of issues with the show is that, you know, Henry Wilson is one of the people, Anna Mae Wong, Rock Hudson. I mean, a number of Hattie McDaniel who appeared briefly in the stories later on, played by Queen Latifah. I mean, these are all people with amazing lives and amazing stories. And they really, by and large, have not been told, certainly in, you know, fictional like biopic form. The idea you have to sort of like making up these like young, attractive people is go getters and like change the system because they really wanted to do it real bad. It’s just like, why not tell, like, the real stories that are interesting and largely untold? I mean, there’s never been an enemy Wong movie. There’s never been a Hattie McDaniel movie. Want to make that instead?
S1: The thing about Jim Parsons difference, I say, is that he said with one person, you sort of knew how the show could work, you know, like he knows what what kind of show he’s on and how to like it. It’s just very earnest in ways that don’t work later on in the markets. And you didn’t work for me anyway.
S5: But I’ll move into the kind of the second half of the story.
S4: Now, I think the pivotal point for this kind of the inciting incident for the second half is a visit to a studios by Eleanor Roosevelt.
S7: Real quick. This is my favorite moment. So they’re trying to decide whether or not they should release MEGG because it’s starring a black woman. And Patti Lupo’s, who is currently the head of the studio because her husband, played by Rob Reiner, is currently in a coma. And so she is talking to Eleanor Roosevelt at lunch and saying, oh, I feel so awful because we should give it to this one actress, but she’s black and she’s the better actress. But we should give it like we’re gonna give it to the white girl. And there’s just this zoom in on Eleanor Rosen at Felt’s face in that moment. That is just literally the moment that these white women discovered intersexual feminism.
S4: Eleanor Roosevelt says to her, and I want to read this quote, because it is truly astonishing, Eleanor Roosevelt. This is in 1947, two years after the end of World War Two, says, I used to believe that good government could change the world. I don’t know that I believe that anymore. However, what you do, you fantastic Hollywood people, what you do can change the world. That is just the most like mind blowing, the self-serving thing for a Hollywood production that literally called Hollywood to say essentially about itself, like, you know, what really matters is us. You talk about making the subtext text, Daniel, and this is I mean, this is the show just coming right out and say it like what we do is really important. This is a show about how important we are. So it is, I guess, give them credit for owning up to it. But it is just you gonna have to pick your job after the floor after that.
S1: Yeah, I was just. Damaging moment in a show full of astonishing limits.
S7: Well, so this is where the turn happens, as you were saying, where like the astonishing moment start coming one after another. And it turns out that it’s just like the Social Justice Warrior Brigade of 1947 out to save the film industry. Rob Reiner wakes up and he’s like, wait, we can’t do this movie after. Like, some of the characters had gotten burning crosses placed in their yards, even though no actual, like, violence or anything fell upon them. It was this was just like something for the show to kind of signpost for us that like this is happening for them. So they don’t have to, like, get into any of that. Rob Reiner wakes up. He’s like, no, we can’t do this anymore. Tries to cancel everything. They end up like wanting to burn the movie as opposed to putting it out so as not to lose all of the money that they are possibly losing and all of the other movies that were in production or were airing, but are now pulled because of this race picture that they are trying to make. And so everything goes in the fire. And then Rob Reiner is having dinner with Patty Lupo’s at their house. And they kind of have a discussion where Patty is like, you know what, I’m done taking this anymore. I had a taste of power and I’m not going back to not having it anymore. So make me a partner. And he just says, well. OK, and agrees to. And then we’re like, oh, wow, Rob Reiner’s a good guy. He’s like going to be a savior along with everybody else. This is great. And then he dies that night in his sleep. And so it’s like he gets this savior moment. And then he gets to die. And then they still burn. We have to watch. So, yeah, we still. Exactly like Rob Reiner got out of it.
S4: I mean, there’s his consistent theme in the second half of the show. And Matthew, in your piece, you kind of detail like all the milestones that end up happening in this story. And then when they actually happened in real life, you know, when was the first, like, interracial kiss in a Hollywood movie? When was the first, you know, woman of color to win best actress? I think the most staggering of them is the first black person to win Best Original Screenplay, which is a milestone that happened in the long, distant past of 2018 when Jordan Peele won. Forget out what happened in 1947 in this movie. You know, a mere, you know, 65 years ahead of schedule that as they’re singing. I mean, it’s this consistent thing in the story where these barriers fall in this story, not because, you know, kind of people sacrifice and bleed and build up structures that can change the way the world works. But just because they kind of ask a lot, they put their foot down, you know, petty the punches. I really want to be, you know, the head of the studio with you and Rob Reiner says, good point. That’s fair. OK, Darren Kris’s, look, I’m not making this movie with a white lead. I’m only going to make it if we change the title. And my black girlfriend plays the lead and the studio goes. OK, sure, you’re right. That just kind of happens again and again. And there is, you know, a wish fulfillment aspect to it that I think is not to be dismissed. I mean, think about this for weeks.
S5: And then our former Slate colleague, Aisha Harris, wrote something about it in The New York Times this week that shows, quote this There is something to be said for the show’s fluffy confection of a historicism when it’s not indulging in myths of racial reconciliation in movies as change makers, the happy resolutions conjured up by message films from the Hollywood era almost always benefited straight white people and no one else. Here is a fantasy set in the past where women, people of color and queer characters ultimately win to a part of me. Can’t ignore what it feels like to see this Technicolor spectacle populated by these faces and experiences to see the 1940s depicted through a 2020 lens. Browner, less sexually repressed, more women calling the shots.
S4: You know, I think that that is definitely powerful. And I think that is clearly what Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan and all the other people who made this show. That’s their vision. Obviously, this isn’t what happened. But like, what if it had? I think I saw someone describe it on Twitter as like a what if story where the premise is like, what if people were fundamentally decent? You know, it’s like, great. I mean, little I wouldn’t wouldn’t live to live in that world, you know? It’s more like kind of just and equitable. And if people point out that your industry is kind of, you know, structurally racist and sexist and homophobic, you go, oh, yeah, I guess it is. But you put out this movie that’s like the first Hollywood movie with an interracial romance and another black female lead. And you put it in front of audiences and they go to it and they go, you know what? I love that. I’m going to tell my friends to go see it. And then they go see it. And then it’s a big box office hit and then it wins best picture and everything out there. It’s like it feels like in this movie, like people want to be good and they just need an excuse to do it. One of the kind of more minor historical things in it, but it’s significant is there’s this whole the whole reason why they. The studio says they kind of can’t make Meg in the first place. Instead of Peg, it’s because Southern movie theaters are not going to play a movie theater with a mixed race cast because they’re going to boycott it. That’s that’s just way too much. The business, the studio can’t risk it. Not only are they not going to play Meg, but they will pull all of a studio’s other movies if they even try to release it. That’s why they ended. Wanted to burn the negative. So Dick Samuels, who’s this studio executive played by Joe Mantello to counter this, he invents, but he decides to call the wide release, which is a studio technique that was not actually implemented until 1975 and had really caught on with Jaws in 76.
S1: Not a vector for social change.
S4: No, not then. Not ever, but yet. But the idea is, if you just kind of flood the zone, if you like, change the conversation and put this thing, I think, and they say in like 650 theaters or something, that’s an unimaginable, unimaginable number 19, 47 people will feel like they have to go see it. There’s these newsreel clips of like, you know, sort of white women coming out of this theater and be like I really identified with the character. I felt like she was me. I felt like she was going through what I was going through. It’s just like people to. I just want to see this, and it’s very nice, but again, also very, you know, self-serving thing. We’re like mass entertainment. It’s kind of the cure all for things. And that this is going on Netflix as well, which is which is kind of made this part of its brand is like really just feels very like kind of, you know, throwing out your shoulder to pat yourself on the back.
S1: Well, and it’s it’s so divorced from, like, the idea of white supremacy as a kind of material system that people benefit from. You know, I mean, the thing the thing about it that is strange to me is it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that one studio could have been could have made one film with one interracial kiss in 1947. But it’s the idea that that film would then convince all of America to stop being racist. And which is what I mean, there’s something in there about how when this movie first comes out, there are protests and then the protest. A newsreel guy cheerfully says that protests just melted away when the movie was released.
S5: And so, you know, the line in the newsreels is verbatim racial protests of every kind simply melted away as audiences rushed out to see a new kind of motion picture.
S4: That didn’t happen in like, you know, a couple of years ago when Black Panther came out. Like, it just doesn’t doesn’t work that way.
S7: I like the idea of that. This gives a a meaningful look into. Like, what if Hollywood were different? And what if things were nicer and happier for people of color and queer people? But as a gay man, my problem with that is that there’s no substance to this. There there’s no meaning behind it. And so any of this storytelling for marginalized groups doesn’t have any weight for me. If it doesn’t have any, like, sense of depth for itself, it’s really tough to have watched this ever after getting to watch Watchmen Uncomparable projects at the same time, like. We have Damon Lindelof making an amazing analysis of race in America. And then we have Ryan Murphy making Hollywood.
S1: I think, Sam, you wrote about this, too, but it’s one of those things where it’s like if it was that simple. Why didn’t someone do this in 1947? You know, it just makes it seem like there was nothing on the other side there. That entire institution is just just a paper tiger.
S6: There’s a moment in this story where Mean Washington, the actress goes to visit Hattie McDaniel, who is in real life the first person of color to win an acting Oscar. And Hattie McDaniel says, well, it tells her this whole story, which is not entirely true. But the idea is basically sound, saying, well, when I was nominated for an Oscar, you know, the hotel was segregated and they wouldn’t let me in the door. You know, security, like, turned me away, you know. And it was only when the word kind of got out that I had actually won that they, like, snuck me in the back right beforehand so I could go up and accept it. Patti System. Camille, look at that happen. Don’t make the mistake I made. Basically, look, it happens to you. Like, don’t let them do that. And so, sure enough, Camille is nominated for an Oscar. She goes to the ceremony and security at the door tries to turn her away.
S4: And she just goes, no luck. If you don’t let me in, I’ll scream. And they kind of look uncomfortable and then they go to go. She was really, really great. Okay, I’ll just let you in. And it’s basically it is just like fantasy. Like, what if these people were decent and new? And what if those security guards knew on some level that they were doing the wrong thing and they just had to be called out on it and they would kind of give in to that sense of shame. But it inadvertently also conveys this idea that like, well, why didn’t Hattie McDaniel do that? Like, it’s I guess it’s her fault for not like standing up for herself. And it just you. No, I feel like there’s no understanding of like, you know, Hattie McDaniel went through, like, shit that like none of us can imagine. Now she’s just like, you know, broke down these barriers, like, you know, went through these, like, trials just like, you know, sweated blood, gave so much to, you know, to play these roles that now a lot of it looked like pretty horrific, these kind of, you know, comic, you know, domestics in, you know, movies in the 30s and 40s, that any similar stuff is like painful to watch. But it was like it was that simple. It’s really like hard fought and difficult to achieve and to sort of insinuate even by accident, that she, if you’d like, just tried a little harder. She could have done better is just. That makes me insane.
S1: It’s kind of interesting if you look at the way that she tells that story of what actually happened with Hattie McDaniel, because it does sort of stand in the way that Murphy is kind of changed the way the stuff seems to actually have worked. Because what what really happened with having danos of that kind of award ceremony is the Ambassador Hotel was segregated, but there was no one at the door who was like, oh, no, Hattie McDaniel is. I mean, they knew how to McDaniels was nominated for this thing. Selznick arranged with the hotel for her to be allowed into the ballroom. That was all set up in a day. And she was given a separate table away from her white co-stars or whatever. There was a compromise. But all of that was done. That was out of Hattie McDaniel’s hand. And there was no moment where they were like, oh, she won. She has to come in because she’s just so good at acting like this movie in Hollywood is just so good that it raises racism. It was all stage managed event. That was never a possibility because it was all been arranged well in advance.
S5: This is Hollywood. I mean, they they know the optics.
S1: Yeah. There isn’t the moment where the one person can say, yes, now this changes and it just does. I mean, that that system had been arranged to make sure that Hattie McCanles was not presented with that moment.
S4: So we want to circle back like we know. We mentioned Rock Hudson a little bit before. And I feel like he is one of the truly know, kind of fascinating and complex characters in this story, albeit I don’t. He kind of really I don’t feel like he really like entirely gets us doing this. But he’s such an interesting figure. There’s a great sort of, you know, seminal work of new queer cinema called Rock Hudson’s Home Movies by Mark Rapaport. It’s on Amazon Prime now, possibly among other places. And that sort of has basically has its kind of a textural reading of these clips from all these, you know, like Doris Day and Douglas Sirk movie is that Rock Hudson made with an actor playing Rock Hudson, kind of narrating over them. If you want to have your mind blown for like 50 minutes, I suggest going and looking at through the reviews of that on Amazon Prime. Because it’s like a one and a half star rating, like 70 percent of the rooms are people like these are not Rock Hudson home movies. How dare you? And then there are there’s one person who called it homophobic. And then there was another person who said like, well, look, Rod Harrison may well have been gay, but I’m just like, why? I feel like this is settled law at this point.
S5: He is one of those characters who I think, I mean, is genuinely, you know, like troublesome to a modern sensibility because he had his entire career as a closeted man.
S4: And it gets really difficult to wrestle with that in 2020 and to kind of make excuses for that. But I mean, what do we make of how he’s portrayed in this?
S7: I mean, when he first showed up at Dreamland, which is the gas station, I didn’t know who the character was going to be. I was like, oh, this is some idiot from Iowa. I texted Enga actually, and said, is this people to judge? And then, of course, it turned out to be Rock Hudson. And so I got a laugh at that. But his whole story through this has been interesting because it is kind of like the closeted gay man from the country coming in to the big city, figuring out like what form of like sexuality is safe for him and not. And he ends up with Henry Wilson, who sexually abuses him for a number of years during their professional relationship. That happened in real life. And we see that play out at times like at George Q Cause party. George Cukor is a real person. Now, you wrote about him in your piece. Going through the fact and fiction of this show. So if anyone wants to know about that check, they’re in the show. That’s the moment where like Rock Hudson realizes. I want to have a boyfriend. And so he, like, puts down his claim on his boyfriend, Archie, who’s the screenwriter. And it’s just a very weird depiction of closeted homosexuality, at least from my understanding of it at that time, because, yeah, there were like these types of parties that happened. I think they’re still like modern versions of this. But the whole story of Rock Hudson as this like heartthrob who is closeted and is sexually abused really ends on one of the most disappointing notes, I think, of the whole series for me. As we unpack the ending, I think we should touch on him because of how his and Jim Parsons character, Henry Wilson’s like relationship, kind of plays out in the end in ways that made me really uncomfortable.
S4: Ryan Murphy has had one of his motivations for this was I wanted to give you happy endings to people who didn’t have them. So Enemy Wong died on the eve of what could have been her comeback vehicle. She gets to be in Magg and she wins a best supporting actress Oscar. But you know Rock Hudson’s happy ending. Is that like his boyfriend? Thanks him from the stage at the Oscars. And then it’s kind of like left out. Well, because he’s not a movie star in 1947 and it’s like like does that. Happen at all, because he’s still like just a terrible actor who. And this is based on fact. I mean, you can’t get through a one line appearance without needing, like 48 takes. But that seems like a very weird like his happy ending as he has a boyfriend.
S7: Yeah. I got to say, my big question about this whole series is, do I need to watch a Rock Hudson movie?
S1: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
S7: OK, I mean, not never serious, but. Yeah. OK.
S1: Yeah. Watch my name. An obsession there. Yeah. He’s great. He’s, he’s. He’s an actor who can be very well used. I guess I would say he’s not. I don’t think anybody can say he’s a great actor, but there are some things he did. Well.
S7: Yeah, I think that’s probably something you would say about a lot of the actors of that time as they were of use. Yeah. Cool.
S1: Well, I, I think showcases are no, they’re definitely worth checking.
S4: Ed and Matthew, like Azara, kind of, you know, Hollywood historian and expert in this. What do you think of. I mean, Rock Hudson specifically. But, you know, we’re into the way any of the other historical figures are portrayed in this.
S1: I mean, I think that they deal with repression and social pressure and all of that stuff, all in much more interesting ways than Hollywood did. You know, look, it’s very interesting to me. I really do enjoy seeing people wrestling with that kind of like what they can do in the system in which they’re living. I find that to be very fascinating. There is a way in which this could’ve been that, but it really wasn’t.
S4: Maybe this is just intentional and, you know, snake swallowing its own tale ish. But there is something so very not italic Hollywood about italic Hollywood’s way of resolving these questions. I mean, it’s just like it all comes down to like individuals making choices and like taking the stand and standing up for themselves. And that’s just like very rarely like how real change happens. Like, we love to, you know, in trying the story of, like, Rosa Parks sitting down on the bus. But we don’t like to say like that. Rosa Parks was like an activist who was part of an organization who knew exactly what she was doing that was deliberately provoking this boycott. She wasn’t just like a woman who made a decision one day. But we don’t like the story of, like, organized social change because that sort of goes against our whole idea of American individualism or something.
S1: Part of it is that, like, as long as you believe that all you have to do to throw over these systems is have one person sit down on the bus or one person make one movie or whatever, then to the extent the system still exists, it’s just. Well. You know, if they wanted this to change, they would’ve changed by now.
S7: Yeah, I’m just tired of Ryan Murphy’s savior complex. One other thing before we like wrap up the whole story is the ending with Henry Wilson and Rock Hudson, which to me was kind of a betrayal of like. The type of progressiveness that this show wants to nod toward, I feel because Henry Wilson spent the whole show sexually abusing Rock Hudson and then in the end, he’s basically like, you know what? I’m sorry I feel so bad that I did this to you. Can you forgive me? I messed up. Bubble, bubble, blah. And Rock Hudson just forgives him and everything’s fine. It feels like there’s this. Lack of either understanding of the trauma that was caused or a lack of willingness to acknowledge that there was trauma in that experience. And this is not the series equipped to handle trauma like that, of course. I don’t know if any Ryan Murphy series ever is. But when you create something like this that is so toxic and to then just wash it away with. I’m sorry. Oh, it’s okay. Really sat wrong with me.
S4: So just to get to bring our discussion of the plot to the close, there is a point Meg finally gets made. It’s going to be this big, you know, groundbreaking, you know, history making, taboo shattering movie. You know, this Emberg, this Patty Lipponen, the temporary studio head is convinced her husband after he gets out of his coma to get behind it. Everything’s going fine. He has a heart attack and dies all of a sudden. You know, this is the all this lost moment. The new head of the studio who are just complete moneymen. They decide that they’ve needed the southern theater owners back on their side. The best way they do that is to completely destroy Magg. They burn the only copy of the film. That’s it. It’s all over. That’s all she wrote. But then it turns out that the editor from the silent era, who knows the word creatives, tend to dupe of the negative in his car trunk because he worked on The Wizard of Oz and he remember when they tried to burn that I didn’t want to let it happen to this movie. So hurray. The movie’s back. Somehow they don’t have the exact same problem. Releasing that copy over that, they would have the copy that they previously burned. So, yes, they put the movie out. The market speaks. The market says this is what we want. The Oscars say, well, if the market wants it, we want it to. Everybody wins Oscars. Hurray! Racism is over the end.
S7: Well, the end. Except that. Then we find out a year later that they start production on love.
S1: Sign me. You were asking earlier what would become of Rock Hudson in this timeline. And that seems to be it. At the end, they begin like a movie about the service station.
S7: And so apparently it becomes a movie about Hollywood, you know, series we just watched one of the extraordinary things that.
S4: Yeah. We should mention this is the jumps. Every year we find out that Dick Samuels, the character played by Joe Mantello, has died. And we find out that Dylan McDermott character, the pimp who’s been, you know, sort of setting it up for closeted Hollywood actors and directors to have, you know, secret trysts with male prostitutes on the shutting down his business, because since one screenwriter got up on stage and thanked his boyfriend at the Oscars, gay men are no longer ashamed of their sexuality. And that being the only reason they would ever go visit sex workers, his business has bottomed out and he is just getting out of it. That’s sort of the cherry on the Sunday there. I mean, the idea that, like, shame is over because one thing happened at the Oscars and then instead of the end, it actually is like the beginning question mark.
S7: Well, shame is over. And literally, every single person gets a happy ending. Even the dead people like Dylan McDermott ends up with Holland Taylor, which that is a great straight version of the Holland Taylor Sarah Paulson relationship. Samarrah weaving ends up with David Corn Sweat, who plays Jack Costello, who earlier in the series had a wife and got her pregnant. But it turns out that she was pregnant with this other guy who she gets to be happy with. So they’re off on their own. Even when Joe Mantello dies, like he died with a man still loving him, that he had met a few years, a few like months before his death and got to live openly gay as well. So, like every single person gets this tight little bow on their story that, like, there is no sadness in Hollywood, there’s only happiness. Everything works out as it should in the lake. To me, the most offensive way possible is someone who is like knows any story about Hollywood ever. Like, I don’t know. I kept wanting to see the BoJack Horseman treatment of this or something.
S4: Oh, my God. I would love the BoJack treatment of this story so much.
S1: Well, that ends the minute that the Production Code Authority finds out that this thing made. It’s a very short series.
S4: Truly, because we’ve been pretty down on it kind of as a group. I mean, is there an aspect of this like a, you know, storyline and performance or something that you actually do like or would recommend or should we just go watch Tiger King again?
S1: You know, the thing that it reminded me of after took its turn was something like Inglorious Bastards or whatever. You know, like I don’t think there’s something inherently wrong with being like. But what if it all went, you know, what if the slot machine kind of sevens or whatever at one point? What what happens then? But. It just didn’t work. Everything was just so written in 20, 20 language, everyone understood themselves in 20, 20 language. So. No, I guess is my answer. No, there’s nothing like Mendham except for, again, the Schwab’s drugstore set. Exquisite.
S7: Yeah, I think for me, the only way that I could imagine recommending it is from a camp approach where you just pluck out things like Jim Parsons, Mira Sorvino, Paget Brewster as these just like random characters. Paget Brewster played Tallulah Bankhead at one point as just these like random performances, maybe untethered from the rest of the piece. But on their own are these like beautiful artifacts.
S5: Some of those performances are so kind of bad and like badly cast that they do they do sort of a certain, like, camp value. And then I do think, like Holland, Taylor and Powderly pone, you know, Joe and Teller are actually like really great.
S4: But there’s not enough of them to really justify sitting through seven hours of it. If this thing possibly drives people to watch, you know, Rock Hudson movies or learn more about Hollywood in 1947 or certainly to kind of discover enemy Wang, that’s fantastic.
S7: I just worry that they’ll stop here.
S1: Exactly. If this is like your introduction to a bunch of stuff, you then look into. Fantastic. But if this is your understanding of what Hollywood was like in the 1940s. No, it wasn’t.
S4: So I will just say to our listeners that if you are interested enough in this show to listen to us talk about it for almost an hour, please go and watch. Anyway, Wang Whitby’s Picadilly is streaming online now. Watch him. You know, Rock Hudson movies. Those are great and super enjoyable and I think you’ll get a lot out of them. And I hope that you do.
S8: OK. That’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate spoiler special podcast feed. And if you like the show, please write and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcast. Few suggestions for movies or TV shows, feature spoiler or if you have any other feedback you get to share. Please send it to spoilers. Slocomb Producer as Rosemary Bellson from Matthew DSN. Daniel Shrader. I’m Sam Adams. Thank you for listening.