Art History in “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” by Anne Helen Peterson

Out of curiosity, I listened to the audiobook edition because hey, I like a little gossip.  As the audiobook neared the end, I observed a theme coming into being. Most of the people Peterson profiles acted as though they stayed away from Hollywood.  While Peterson profiled actors such as Montgomery Clift and others as a new crop of thespians who went against the Hollywood establishment, actors she analysed before that then new era also showed disdain for the famed section of California.

Now, there were art history references, and they were found in the profile on Mae West.  Such as her achieving goddess status by physically imitating the Venus de Milo.

As Peterson explored a theme of performance versus authenticity and recounted how the public wanted constant reassurance that actors were more moral than the characters they played on screen, she described Wests’ living space as “Rococo”.  A name associated with decadence and fake objects. I found the accidental parallel amusing.

Other art history references revolved around photography.  The only one of substance recorded an account of Richard Avedon being captivated by Montgomery Clift.

I enjoyed Peterson’s research and ambition that led to the writing and publishing of this exploration of Hollywood from its birth to the 1950s. So if you’re interested in a book that analyzes, investigates (and often debunks) Hollywood’s mythological reputation and the people who worked there, go ahead and find a copy.

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