Last week, director and show-creator Ryan Murphy announced his latest series collaboration with Netflix. Titled simply Hollywood, the anthology series is set to be in the vain of the successful Feud: Bette and Joan, focusing on stories set in the world of studio-era Hollywood. Murphy hasn't announced any specifics beyond that, but based on his past works with Feud, the first season of American Horror Story, and his upcoming show, Fosse/Verdon, it's obvious Tinseltown is close to Murphy's heart. So here are five suggestions for Old Hollywood stories Murphy might want to consider for his new show.
The Story of Lupe Velez
Lupe Velez was one of the most criminally underrated actresses ⏤ as well as the most misunderstood ⏤ who lived during the studio era. Lambasted by Kenneth Anger after her death (Anger penned the notorious Hollywood Babylon book series) Velez was one of the foremost leading comediennes of the time, doing it all as a Latina.
Velez was commonly referred to as the "Mexican Spitfire," inspired by the series of movies she starred in. The Mexican Spitfire features were akin to works like The Thin Man where, in this case, a Mexican-born bride (Velez) is thrust into the world of American domesticity. The films are painfully dated and reliant on stereotypes, but at the time it was rare for a Latina like Velez to be given her own series of films.
Were Murphy to use this story, he could certainly look at Velez's career as she struggled to get out from under the "Mexican Spitfire" label and be taken seriously as a star. Because she was a powerful woman in Hollywood, there was studio-manufactured competition between Velez and another prominent Latina star, Dolores del Rio, who was considered the classier Hispanic woman. Velez was also known for her tempestuous relationships with a string of leading men, including Gary Cooper and Tarzan star, Johnny Weissmuller. In the '40s, Velez was a sexually provocative woman and there are some hilarious stories about her romantic escapades worth showing on-screen (and because it's Netflix this could be sexy as hell). Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez looks a lot like Velez and has a relationship with Netflix already in case Murphy needs casting suggestions.
The Death of Peg Entwhistle
This is one of the most famous suicides in Hollywood history, and yet no one has attempted to tell a story about Peg Entwhistle's life. Entwhistle was a Welsh immigrant who started her career on the stage, receiving good reviews but she felt typecast as a comedienne. In 1932 she traveled to Hollywood and received her first and last on-screen role in the female ensemble feature, Thirteen Women. Theories abound as to why Entwhistle ended her life. Her failed marriage and stagnant career could have potentially contributed to her mental health. Either way, Entwhistle decided she'd had enough of life and climbed to the newly erected Hollywoodland sign where she jumped off the "H," immortalizing this as the most famous suicide in Los Angeles.
Since Murphy has a deep interest in the darkness that lies under Hollywood's glittering facade, the Entwhistle story would be familiar territory for him. Unlike Bette and Joan, there's enough unknown about Entwhistle that Murphy's penchant for exaggeration would be warranted. Certainly no one would sue him for false representation.
Feud: Miriam and Bette
If you're a die-hard classic film fan, then hearing about Feud: Bette and Joan must've been eye-roll inducing. Their names were iconic but their feud was created more by the studio than anything genuine. If you want a lengthy, knock-down, drag-out feud for the ages you have to look to another infamous rival of Bette Davis': Miriam Hopkins.
Miriam Hopkins isn't a household name today, but throughout the '30s and '40s, the blonde-haired, doe-eyed actress was a serious leading lady. She sailed through comedies and dramas with ease, and like Bette Davis, infused plenty of grand dame stardom in less than stellar movies as she aged (though Miriam, tragically, didn't live as long as Bette). Davis and Hopkins made two movies together, hating each other every step of the way. Why, you ask? Well, it turns out Miriam believed Bette was having an affair with her husband, director Anatole Litvak. Davis never admitted it, but the rumor alone, coupled with both ladies' strong wills and penchant for dramatics, created a long-standing feud.
Want an example? In the 1943 movie Old Acquaintance, starring both women, there's a scene where Davis has to strangle Hopkins' character. Davis said she quite enjoyed performing the scene. Even the marketing campaign for Old Acquaintance featured Hopkins and Davis in a boxing ring, ready to strike. If Murphy wants to retain name recognition, but tell a story not many know about, here it is!
The Ramon Novarro Murder
I'd be remiss not to include one of the most shocking Hollywood murders in Tinseltown history. Novarro was a Mexican-born stage star who got his start in silent features. In 1925 he became the first Hollywood star to play Judah Ben-Hur and became the next wielder of the "Latin Lover" title after the death of silent film icon Rudolph Valentino. Novarro was also gay, a fact he beat himself up about internally as he was raised a staunch Roman Catholic. In 1968 Novarro was brutally murdered by two young men after soliciting them for sex, leading to a firestorm of information (and rumors) about the star.
Novarro's life was incredibly tragic, but it showed how homosexuality had to be gravely hidden during that time. This isn't new territory for Murphy to tread. In fact, during the first season of American Horror Story Murphy briefly highlighted the death of Sal Mineo, the homosexual star of Rebel Without a Cause who also saw a tragic end.
The Romance of Clark Gable and Loretta Young
Last year Murphy announced plans for a #MeToo-based series called Consent. It was inked in the wake of criticisms over his plans for a series about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal (which he's since shelved). The story of Clark Gable and Loretta Young would seem to bridge the gap between his desire to look at the #MeToo movement and Old Hollywood. Gable and Young were two huge stars of the '40s who, in 1935, made the feature Call of the Wild.
The same year as the film's release, Young had an illegitimate daughter named Judy ⏤ the offspring of what was touted as an affair with Gable. Because the shame associated with illegitimacy could destroy a career, Young was forced to secretly place her daughter up for adoption and go through the process of "adopting" her own child (though people didn't know any of this at the time).
It was common knowledge that Gable was Judy's father, though Judy wouldn't find out until adulthood. Judy Lewis passed away in 2011 and just last year it was revealed by her granddaughter that what was presumed to be an affair was actually acquaintance rape. This article goes in-depth into the whole thing, but suffice to say, the nature of consent was all but invisible in 1935 and Young was left to deal with the aftermath of a relationship she never wanted to get into. This is a fascinating story that, if Murphy were to get female screenwriters and directors, could be a biting look at the absence of consent in the studio system.
Whatever stories Murphy ends up telling they'll certainly bring out more classic film knowledge to the masses. In a world where the golden era of Hollywood remains a niche market to major studios, regardless of Murphy's penchant for exaggeration it's still wonderful that he enjoys the actors and movies of a time gone by.