Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dreams, by Brett L. Abrams

On the cover: Alla Nazimova in a still from "Eye For Eye" (1918)

On the cover: Alla Nazimova in a still from “Eye For Eye” (1918)

From the publisher’s book description:

Between 1917 and 1941, Hollywood studios, gossip columnists and novelists featured an unprecedented number of homosexuals, cross-dressers, and adulterers in their depictions of the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle.

Actress Greta Garbo defined herself as the ultimate serial bachelorette. Screenwriter Mercedes De Acosta engaged in numerous lesbian relationships with the Hollywood elite. And countless homosexual designers brazenly picked up men in the hottest Hollywood nightclubs. Hollywood’s image grew as a place of sexual abandon.

This book demonstrates how studios and the media used images of these sexually adventurous characters to promote the industry and appeal to the prurient interests of their audiences. Illustrations, notes, bibliography and index.

Reader reviews on Amazon:

The Wilder Side of Early Hollywood
In this comprehensive overview of the development of Hollywood (particularly between 1917-1941), author Brett Abrams demonstrates how those who crossed the boundaries of the society’s sexual norms had a unique role to play in creating the image we have today of Tinseltown. Today most people’s image of Hollywood is one of a laissez faire, “anything goes” town dedicated to the movie business. Yet it wasn’t always that way.

Cross-dressers, gay and lesbian actors and actresses, as well as those who engaged in adulterous affairs all challenged the societal norms of early Hollywood, and in many ways, those attitudes remain unchanged even now. Yet these individuals helped to form Hollywood into the city it is today, known around the world for its daring, exciting milieu of glamour and stardom.

This outsider behavior allowed the middle class to get a glimpse into the exotic, then retreat back to their comfortable world. It began with “slumming,” when average folks would visit the highly charged nightclubs of early Hollywood, enjoying the titillation of seeing these “sexual deviants” from a distance, then returning to the safety of their homes. This exposure to performers, wrapped up in the glamorous veneer of clubs like the Coconut Grove or hotels like the Ambassador, gave ordinary citizens a chance to be daring without truly altering their own life styles. In fact, there was even a popular guidebook called “How to Sin in Hollywood” that served as a Fodor’s to these very Hollywood hangouts.

Movie stars and studios similarly used this daring lifestyle (if not outwardly endorsing such outlandish behavior) to gain attention for upcoming movies or make stars’ lives into more dramatic (and attention-getting) activities than they might otherwise be. Coupled with coverage in movie magazines, industry newspapers, and eventually TV coverage, it all helped build an image to sell the Hollywood product.

In his book, author Brett Abrams has done an incredible job of laying out the story of early Hollywood and detailing just how sexual transgression (whether through homosexuality, adultery, or other taboo behavior) helped to challenge society`s boundaries and build an image for the movie business of excitement and daring.

As an archivist at the National Archives, Abrams’s research for this book is impeccable, with 35 pages of notes and bibliography alone. From White House inaugurations to newspapers’ society pages to the cross-dressing stars of early Hollywood, he has painted a fascinating portrait of an industry (the movie business) and city (Hollywood) that most of us take for granted. It’s a stunning effort to go inside a historical experience rarely covered by the general media, one that can be enjoyed by all.

— Christine Zibas, Book Pleasures

Hollywood’s less kept secrets
This is a fascinating book about the bohemian lifestyle and how it was accepted,embraced and promoted in Hollywood between the wars. It is a very well documented look at the major part bohemians had in creating the glamorous Hollywood legend. Most of America looked on Hollywood as a sinful, sexy, wild place and most of America wanted to go out there for a personal look at all that hell-raising. Hollywood became known as the film capital of the world and Hollywood stars known as more than just people-maybe mega-people is the right term. I know that ever since I was a kid I’ve thought of Hollywood as a place I wanted to see for myself and Mr. Abrams has explained why. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the Hollywood dazzle and that includes just about everyone, I think.

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