When we think about Old Hollywood, we think about glamour, fashion, and amazing life of wealth and celebrity.
However, that’s now really how it works. Back in the golden age of, major studios used to rule Hollywood.
They had control of every starts, from who they live to who they choose to marry. Studios forced men to cover up their sexuality with fake marriages.
Child actors were forced-fed uppers to keep them lively, then given shames to make them sleep.
Actors having ethnic names or backgrounds were forced to make up entire new identities.
Movies were middle class, low-brow diversion, whereas theaters were respected as the art of wealth.
Under the studio system, everything actors did was under the control of the media moguls they worked for. Mickey Rooney and July Graland were appointed by MGM to keep track of their behaviors and report to the studio.
Rooney had known about the spy very early, yet Garland took years to realize that her close friend and rumored lover, Betty Asher was hired to spy on her.
When the truth came out, Graland was quoted as “She gave a report to the studio office every week on the people I saw, what I ate, what time I came at the night and what time I got in the morning and all”.
Mickey Rooney had a wholesome, all-American boy image at the peak of his career. When he announced his plans to marry Ava Gardner, Louis B. Mayer called him into his office and said, “I forbid it”.
Later, argument took place, which Rooney won when he threatened to leave the studio. Another actor, Jean Harlwo, was another star at the mercy of MGM.
There was a rumor at Hollywood that her contract forbade her from getting married due to her image in the media as a sex symbol.
In the golden age of Hollywood, having a gay actor was worst for the movies and for public image. So, in the case of actors being gay, the movie studios arranged marriages for them to hide their sexuality in front of public.
Two of Judy Garland’s six husbands were closeted gay men. One of them was an actor and director Vincente Minnelli and the other was Mark Herron.
Vincente Minnelli got married to four women throughout his life, whereas, Mark Herron maintained a relationship with fellow actor Hery Brandon before, during, and after his marriage to Garland.
In the golden age of Hollywood, black actors were typecast as slaves and servants. During that era, Lena Horne became the first African-American actress to land a studio contract. But MGM went as far as they could to make her embarrassed.
They weren’t about to give her the roles or recognition she wanted. Her film roles were restricted to just a couple of minutes on the screen. Even if she filmed a bigger role, her scenes were cut so that theaters in the south would screen the films.
In the golden age of Hollywood, the actors were not allowed to get pregnant as it would create a negative image in front of the public. Old Hollywood took it a step further by forcing their actresses to get abortions.
Actresses including Judy Garland, Jean Harlow, Dorothy Dandridge, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Joan Crawford were the victim of the situation.
All the procedures regarding abortion was kept secret in the studio. Harlow checked into a hospital under a different name for abortion whereas, Garland’s two abortions were arranged by her mother.
When Judy Garland signed on to MGM studio when she was 13 years old, Louis B. Mayer immediately began controlling on her diet system. All the executives kept strict notes of Judy regarding what she ate every day and took her food away once she consumed a certain amount of calories.
They kept a very close eye watch on her. By the time Judy was 18, she was only consuming black coffee and chicken soup and required to take diet pills to keep her appetite under control.
The actors had no choice when it came to which film they worked on or who they worked with once they were under contract.
Executives made all the decisions for the actors. Louis B. Mayer, co-founder of MGM Studios, is believed to have used this authority to disruption the career of legendary film star John Gilbert, who he’d never gotten along with.
There was a situation in Hollywood when Gilbert’s movies started losing money, where Mayer had purposely cast him in films he knew would bomb. When Gilbert tried to discuss the issue with Mayer, he manipulated the sound system making Gilbert the culprit.