The film ‘Hail Caesar!’ looks back to the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, when stars looked like untouchable icons up on the screen, and what access their fans had to them was rare and fleeting.
Behind the gates of the gilted community, however, these glamorous beings were leading lives that were anything but impeccable, and it was down to real-life fixer Eddie Mannix to clean up the mess they often left behind.
As the general manager and later vice president of MGM studios during the period, Mannix had people all over Los Angeles on his payroll, from members of the police, to doctors and even coroners, which meant he could spin a story whichever way he needed to.
He worked very closely with MGM’s head of publicity, Howard Strickling, who influenced how the press reported on the studio’s films and stars. While Strickling distracted the media, it was Mannix’s job to make the scandalous stories disappear...
Mannix kept megastar Clark Gable out of trouble so often he considered Eddie one of his closest friends. In 1933 Gable was reported to have run over and killed actress Tosca Roulien, and it is alleged that Mannix paid off MGM screenwriter John Huston to take the blame. Luckily, Huston was never charged due to lack of evidence. One year later, Gable allegedly sexually assaulted Loretta Young, his co-star in 'Call of the Wild', and she fell pregnant. To prevent a scandal – and echoing a plotline of 'Hail, Caesar!' - Mannix helped Loretta to ‘adopt’ her own daughter publicly before her second birthday.
Joan Crawford was constantly surrounded by rumours and scandal; that she lied about her date of birth to make herself appear older to join MGM Studios, that her freckles and red hair were masked by makeup and she even changed her name from Lucille Fay LeSueur. Nothing was more scandalous, however, than the pornographic film Joan starred in during her pre-fame years. Mannix allegedly tracked down every last copy, and paid $100,000 of the studio’s money to buy the original negative.
George Reeves played the eponymous hero in the 1950s TV series 'Adventures of Superman' and was believed to have committed suicide in 1959 by shooting himself in the head. However, rumours persist that Mannix allegedly ordered a hit on Reeves when he found out his wife, Toni, was having an affair with the actor. This mystery surrounding Reeves' death made it to the big screen in 2006’s 'Hollywoodland' where Reeves was portrayed by Ben Affleck. The rumour was never confirmed– but it's also never been dismissed.
In 1932 Director Paul Bern married the studio’s biggest star, Jean Harlow, despite already having a wife in New York. One night, neighbours heard a man and woman arguing in the Hollywood Hills. There was a sound of breaking glass and then a gunshot. Bern lay dead in his bathroom with a bullet through his head. Mannix arrived and knew instantly what had happened; Bern’s first wife was in town and when they argued, she ended up killing him. The scandal would have ruined Jean Harlow and the studio, so with the help of the police (who were on Mannix’s payroll) they staged the murder as a suicide and it was never questioned. Here's Jean being helped away from his funeral.
Mannix did all he could to protect the top Hollywood studio at the time. In 1937, one of the studio’s young actresses called Patricia Douglas answered a casting call requesting that she show up at the studio lot on 5 May. On the lot Douglas and a number of other girls were given cowgirl outfits that showed plenty of leg and full camera-ready hair and makeup. They were promised $7.50 for a day’s work, but it wasn’t until 300 salesmen and executives arrived that the women realised they had been hired to provide a female element at a private party. The night sadly ended with Douglas allegedly being raped, and when she tried to take legal action Mannix went into damage-control mode. The studio allegedly paid for statements from the other guests saying Patricia was “uncontrollably drunk” and when the court date arrived, no lawyers turned up. A federal judge was finally forced to dismiss the case.
HAIL, CAESAR! is available to own on Digital HD™ now and onBlu-ray™ and DVD from 11 July, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).