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Tales from the Casting Couch in Hollywood’s Golden Age UK News

Well, spring has arrived and I enjoyed meeting my first bee and my first butterfly in my garden. It used to be that I used to be excited to attend a royal film premiere in Leicester Square, but today I can sit in my garden anytime. In fact, the last premiere I attended was actually at the Royal Albert Hall for a James Bond anniversary film that I can’t remember. As I left the event, I remember running into Roger Moore and an American actor who was a big-toothed giant who had been invited as guests. The Giant had been a Bond villain, but frankly, after Sean Connery left the role, I lost interest. I think Madonna sang at the event and Daniel Craig was the star.

Ironically the Bond movies are associated with Pinewood but originally they were for MGM studios in Borehamwood, only the studio head hated the director of Dr No so that didn’t happen. Few people know that. I wonder who said that before me?

This time I reflect on the darker side of the film industry at the time, although who knows what is still going on behind closed doors. It was called the casting couch and was considered acceptable as a way to get into the business. Even in the 1920s and 1930s, future stars like Joan Crawford and Clark Gable used the method to their advantage. Fortunately, 20th Century Fox head Darryl F Zanuck is long dead, but he used to set aside time most of the time to “audition” young girls in a room adjoining his office. In fact, most “Golden Age” studio heads let themselves go, and by today’s standards, they would all be serving long prison sentences. Even agents take advantage of people and Tab Hunter told me that his agent was famous for “laying down” his male discoveries, including Rock Hudson. Tab was gay and had to come to terms with it or his career as a teen idol would be over.

Elstree Studios was not immune to such occurrences. Take the case of young actress Carole Lesley, who dreamed of becoming a star in the 1950s. several movies. She was even sent on a seven-day trip to Cannes to fly the flag, although a major film magazine said that after one day she had exceeded all possible value. Carole has been described as a “sexy bottle blonde”, but can you imagine giving such a title to a young actress today? By 1962, the studio or board member had lost interest, so his contract was voided. In 1974, aged just 38, she ended her life with a drug overdose at her home in Barnet.

There is a side of the business that we call show and I was taught 50 years ago not to tell the public what you find out because your job is to make a glamorous business out of it. So, I can’t tell you about a Hollywood star who once asked me if I could recommend some ladies of the night that he could invite to his dressing room at Elstree studios. It goes with me to the grave out of respect for his memory. Personally, I find it horrible to exploit young people in this way, but knowing human beings, I’m sure it hasn’t gone away. Alas, Matron just arrived with a cup of Bovril or something, until next time, take care and be happy, and sterilize your throat with vodka because Covid is still with us.

  • Paul Welsh MBE is a Borehamwood writer and historian of Elstree studios

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This notice was published: 2022-04-03 17:00:00

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