“It’s all true! It’s all true!”
I have been pacing about, tugging my hair, muttering “It’s all true it’s all true it’s all true” for days now. That is what happens when you alternately watch I Am The Night, listen to the accompanying podcast, Root of Evil and, read Hollywood Godfather all in the same week: you realize you’re not paranoid; there really are evil conspiracies behind every palm tree in Tinseltown.
“… capable of anything…”
So far, TNT’s limited-series, I Am The Night, has been oddly slow and obtuse considering the alarming and lurid reality upon which it’s based. [SPOILER ALERT: I am about to give away what a 5-minute Google search will tell you, but skip to “Hollywood Godfather” if you don’t want to know the facts before watching/listening.]
This Much is True: Dr. George Hodel, a famous gynecologist and a prominent Angeleno, held glamourous orgies and practiced incest in the name of art and free-thinking. He might also have been the Black Dahlia killer.
I Am The Night, directed by Patty Jenkins, is fictionalized and comes at this mystery from the point-of-view of Hodel’s granddaughter, Fauna, who was given up for adoption at birth. Unlike I Am the Night, the Root of Evil podcast is a documentary in which Fauna Hodel’s daughters go through the notes and tapes their mother made, over years, trying to piece together the dark secrets of her estranged family.
Meanwhile, Hodel’s son, Steve Hodel, a former police officer, has published three books over the past decade building the case against his deceased father, under the Black Dahlia Avenger title. I’m expecting a mini-series based on these — perfect Netflix or HBO documentary material.
What’s creepiest to me is that even if Dr. Hodel was not the Dahlia killer, his many other despicable deeds were open secrets. One can’t help but wonder who was doing what at his big parties, and if in keeping their secrets he insured his own. John Huston and Man Ray were among his best buddies. (Hodel married John’s ex-wife!) And, oh yeah, that infamous plot line in Chinatown, played out by Huston and Faye Dunaway, is based on Hodel’s relationship with his own daughter, Tamar (Fauna’s birth mother), which led to an incest/rape trial of which he was acquitted because his attorneys smeared 14-year-old Tamar as an unstable and ungrateful nymphomaniac.
There’s also a crazy racial twist in there, but I’ve said enough already. The fictionalized part of the series is Chris Pine’s character who is relatively a bore, superfluous, and in the way. Sorry, Chris. The podcast, on the other hand, is absolutely riveting.
When you saw that title, who popped into your head? Marlon Brando? Mickey Cohen? Jack Warner? No, no, no. This guy wielded BIG power. He invented Vegas, Hollywood glamor, and the Hollywood Blacklist – at least according to his son, who is not bragging, but writing with equal measures dread and awe.
The man is W. R. “Billy” Wilkerson, the founder and publisher of the Hollywood Reporter. This might sound vaguely familiar as the son, W. R. Wilkerson III, issued an apology for his father’s behavior in the Reporter in 2012.
I just started listening to the audiobook version of III’s Hollywood Godfather: The Life and Crimes of Billy Wilkerson, which came out last year. I’ve only just started it and am already depressed and aghast. After having dabbled in film distribution and exhibition, and operated half-a-dozen glamourous and prosperous speak-easies, Wilkerson Sr. set his sights on setting up a movie studio. If you ask me, he was just too darn late, arriving in Tinseltown in the mid-late 1920s. Apparently, though, he felt the (Jewish) film industry heads were unfairly not “letting him in” and set upon a life-long vendetta. Thus was born The Hollywood Reporter, and not long after The Cafe Vendome, Café Trocadero, Ciro’s and The Flamingo Hotel in Vegas. Oh yeah, and the mob. One big good time, so long as your name didn’t appear in Billy’s editorial. I’ve only just started the book!
While I am sure there’s no single, all-powerful, cabal controlling Hollywood (aaah-Producers-Association-choo!), one does envision a Venn diagram of circles of secrecy, corruption, and control that have been regenerating and festering here for nearly a hundred years… well, I suppose those are everywhere, but Tinseltown has its very own breed of insidiousness.