You’ve seen The Aviator, yes? If not, maybe you know that it’s about Howard Hughes? Yes- the Spruce Goose guy. Yes, the keep on failing upwards guy. Yes, the “keep your pee in jars” guy. We’ve all heard or seen at least a little bit about Howard Hughes. His reach was wide and heavy, and he swept away businesses, careers, and entire studios in his wake.
Karina Longworth, author of Seduction and podcaster extraordinaire, covered Howard Hughes’s Hollywood during a whole season of her phenomenal podcast a few years back. The podcast, You Must Remember This, is a dishy and thoughtful examination of the olden days of Hollywood. If you have any interest in Tinsel Town history, you have to make it a must-listen. It’s also jam packed full of American and media history in general, and the production levels are always very high. Longworth is a pro; she is always spinning many plates, and she never lets them drop.
So why read Seduction if Hughes was already covered on You Must Remember This? Well, Hughes may be in the title, and his exploits provide the framework, but Seduction digs much deeper through his mythos and offers up the stories of the people – mostly all young women – that he trampled on his way to the top. Hughes was a user and abuser of women for his entire life. He was controlling, vindictive, violent, and exploitative. He was, in many ways, the distillation of all terrible male behavior in Hollywood. Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be released from his control.
Many women were wrapped up in his marionette strings for his decades in power; he courted, promoted, created, stalked and/or controlled Jean Peters, Billie Dove, Ginger Rogers, Ida Lupino, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Jean Russell, Jane Harlow, and Ingrid Bergman – just to name a few. In this review they exist as a list; which is frequently how they show up in accounts of Hughes’s life. Longworth gives them time and space to breathe and exist beyond his grubby hands. Longworth looks back with history on her side to tell the real- and frequently unfair- stories of these women. Who they were, what they wanted, who they loved, and what they could be.
I highly recommend that you check this out if you are interested in anything surrounding Hollywood in the first half of the 20th century, and I must insist that you listen to the audio- which is of course performed by Longworth herself. If you aren’t feeling the Howard Hughes angle- which I totally get, dude was King Creep, please do check out her podcast none the less! The series on Charles Manson’s Hollywood gives so much perspective beyond just Helter Skelter, and her recent series on P0lly Platt was a revelation.