BOOK (1965)

Rewind book: 'Hollywood Babylon' (1965) by Kenneth Anger

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2012, 4:38pm

Hollywood Babylon
by Kenneth Anger
Straight Arrow Press


The brutal murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends in 1969 were seen by many as the incident that heralded the end of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood.

When Charles Manson's insane posse burst through the door of that mansion in the hills and destroyed those lives, it was as though the modern world and all its harsh realities came crashing down on the fantasy that Tinseltown had worked so hard to build since the 1920s.

The international coverage that incident received heralded a change in the way the world perceived the lifestyles of the stars it had idolised on the silver screen. After that, intrusion became the name of the game with the public lapping up every juicy morsel of gossip and innuendo.

Four years earlier, Kenneth Anger, sometime child star and filmmaker, had pointed out the shape of things to come. He gathered together what he had heard - and quite a lot of what he had imagined - and sought a publisher for this nasty little collection of sordid sensationalism.

And it has been many people's dirty little secret ever since, tucked away on the bookshelf beside the publications we are actually supposed to read.

Anger was in trouble from almost the moment the first edition was published. It was quickly pulled as the subjects who were still alive lined up to see what legal action could be taken. It took a decade before it reappeared - with Tate's misfortunes added, of course - but word had by then spread and copies flew off the shelves.

So what was all the fuss about? Sex, mainly, and lives cut short by tragedy. Anger gives his take of the lives of some of Hollywood's superstars, such as Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino, we are fed photos we may wish had never been seen, including the infamous shot of a dead Jayne Mansfield. But for the most part the fascination lies in the fringe-dwellers, stars whose names had long faded from memory by the time the book was released and so were pretty much left open for Anger to write what he liked.

It can be argued Hollywood Babylon paved the way for the treatment celebrities still face from some sections of the press today. Just how that makes you feel will influence whether you can look people in the eye after you tuck your well-thumbed copy of Hollywood Babylon back on that shelf.