The true stories behind the real life characters in Netflix’s Hollywood
In Netflix’s Hollywood, there are true stories behind the real life characters. Its mastermind, Ryan Murphy, is considered to be one of the best creators in all of Hollywood, according to ScreenRant – and it’s easy to see why. His work as a writer and producer includes some seriously big-name shows, including Glee, American Crime Story, and The Politician, as noted by IMDb.
Murphy’s dramatic miniseries Hollywood, which is streaming on Netflix, rewrites stories from Hollywood’s golden age by intertwining real life and made-up character and scenarios. The show also gave real life characters who were marginalized at the time — due race, age, gender, and sexual orientation — the happy ending they might have had if their stories played out in the 21st century.
Though the miniseries is well-paced and showcases incredible costuming, it does have some downsides. These include a few narrative issues, as well as the fact that some difficult plots were resolved a little too cleanly and quickly, as noted by Variety. Despite these shortcomings, the blurring of reality and fiction sets an interesting backdrop for the exploration of the experiences of Hollywood’s real-life characters.
The Rock Hudson storyline in Netflix's Hollywood sadly didn't occur in real life
Imagine: Rock Hudson, who is played by Jake Picking in Netflix’s Hollywood, came out as gay to the world, and then attended the Academy Awards with his boyfriend. Sadly, while this happened in the series, Hudson wasn’t able to do this in real life; though his sexual orientation was an open secret, he never officially came out publicly. “I was just obsessed with the idea of giving Rock Hudson this happy ending,” Hollywood creator Ryan Murphy shared with Vanity Fair.
In reality, Hudson shielded his private life from the public for the duration of his life, even going so far as getting married to a woman. “What was tragic was the fact that he felt that he had to hide or keep part of himself a secret,” Picking told Vanity Fair. “I read somewhere that a secret isn’t real unless it’s painful to hold onto. And I feel like that’s the weight he was carrying.”
One thing Hollywood did re-enact somewhat accurately was the way Hudson’s agent, Henry Wilson, gave Hudson a makeover and trained him to be more “masculine” in his day-to-day life.
Irene Mayer Selznick inspired this real life character in Netflix's Hollywood
Patti LuPone played the role of Avis Amberg in Netflix’s Hollywood, a housewife-turned-studio-owner who lives quite the colorful life. Though some of her storylines seemed stranger than fiction, it appears her character was inspired by a real life Hollywood personality.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy told LuPone her part was loosely based on Irene Mayer Selznick. Selznick was born to Hollywood businessman Louis B. Mayer, and she later married Hollywood producer David O. Selznick. The Jewish Women’s Archive reports that she worked as an executive at her husband’s company, which produced the original A Star Is Born as well as Gone With the Wind – which has a messed up truth – in the 1930s.
Selznick divorced her husband in the late ’40s, and went on to build herself a glittering career in theatre production. She spearheaded productions including Heartsong and A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947. “When she produced Streetcar and other plays, she worked hand in glove with the playwright in insuring that the work was seen absolutely to its best advantage,” drama critic Mel Gussow penned in an article in The New York Times.
Camille Washington's real life character in Netflix's Hollywood is based on this African-American star
In Netflix’s Hollywood, the character of Camille Washington started out as just another actress at Ace Studios, who often played the role of the maid. But she worked hard to establish herself as a credible actress, and eventually became the first Black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Played by Laura Harrier, Camille was based on real life actress Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. “I drew from [Dandridge] and watched interviews with her and watched as many of her films as I could,” Harrier shared in an interview with Refinery29. “I wanted to pay homage to her with Camille.”
Though she eventually became the first African-American actress to gain true Hollywood success, the laws of the time weren’t on her side; Hollywood films weren’t able to depict couples of different races under the Hays Code. Thus, Dandridge did not receive the opportunities her fictional counterpart in Hollywood did. Dandridge passed away at the age of 42, under mysterious circumstances.
Peg Entwistle's story wasn't just folklore — she really did jump off the Hollywood sign in real life
Netflix’s Hollywood‘s main narrative follows the characters and their involvement Meg, a movie inspired by the tragic story of a Hollywood hopeful named Peg Entwistle. According to Bustle, Entwistle was in fact a real life person.
Born in the UK, Entwistle began acting on Broadway at the tender age of 17, as noted by Harper’s Bazaar. She eventually started working for the New York Theatre Guild, but longed for more serious roles. “I would rather play roles that carry conviction,” Entwistle told the Oakland Tribune in 1929.
Entwistle eventually moved to L.A, but struggled to find success. Her only credited role was a supporting part in Thirteen Women, which was edited down to just 15 seconds. On a September night in 1932, she left home, telling her uncle she was meeting a friend. Sadly, several days later, a hiker came across clothing and a purse containing a suicide note just below the Hollywood sign. Entwistle’s body was found nearby.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Ernie West's character was likely based on this real life person
In Netflix’s Hollywood, Dylan McDermott plays Ernie West, the owner of a gas station that famously doubles as a brothel and escort agency. Though the character didn’t exist in real life, he was inspired by a colorful young ex-Marine name Scott Bowers. Express revealed that Bowers and his actor pal, Walter Pidgeon, owned a Hollywood gas station that was frequented by well-known Tinseltown personalities in the late 1940s. In case you were wondering, this real life gas station, named Richfield Oil station, also doubled as a brothel for Hollywood stars.
Bowers published a memoir entitled Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars in 2012, in which he said he had intimate relations with actors for very little money, and set up lesbian encounters for Katharine Hepburn hundreds of times in 50 years.
Bowers passed away in 2019 due to kidney failure, at the age of 96.
The Anna May Wong storyline in Netflix's Hollywood accurately reflected what happened in real life
Did you know that Anna May Wong, who was an important minor character in Hollywood, was a real life person? Played by Michelle Krusiec, she was something of a Hollywood icon, and was considered the first American film star of Chinese descent, according to Harper’s Bazaar.
Born in the Chinatown area of L.A., Wong was sadly subjected to racism at school. But she found solace in films, and eventually decided to become an actress. She appeared in her first film, The Red Lantern, at just 14, and played the lead role in Toll of the Sea at 17. In 1951, she became the first American of Asian descent to nab the lead in a television series. And as depicted in Hollywood, Wong was passed over for the lead role in The Good Earth, thus dashing any hopes of winning a Best Actress Oscar.
Though Wong acted in dozens of movies, she was mostly cast in “sensual or subservient roles” that sometimes exoticized her appearance. Frustrated by racial profiling, Wong moved to Europe to pursue better opportunities. Wong passed away in 1961.
The real life character played by Queen Latifah is a Hollywood icon
Silver screen legend Queen Latifah portrayed a real life Tinseltown icon in Netflix’s Hollywood: Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American person to win an Oscar. Born to parents who attained freedom from slavery, McDaniel performed in a comedy troupe prior to settling down in L.A., where she took on jobs as a maid and cook while pursuing acting and radio broadcasting, according to Harper’s Bazaar.
McDaniel is rumored to have auditioned for her Oscar-winning role in Gone with the Wind in a genuine maid’s uniform, and went on to exceed expectations. The film’s producer submitted her for the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Mammy, for which she received the accolade. As touched on in Hollywood, McDaniel was not allowed to sit with her fellow Gone with the Wind actors at the awards ceremony. This was because The Ambassador Hotel, where the Academy Awards were held that year, had a “no Blacks” policy at the time. McDaniel was instead seated at a small table away from the center of attention, and made the long walk to the stage to accept her award. McDaniel passed away in 1952.
Vivien Leigh from Netflix's Hollywood was a dazzling celeb in real life
Vivien Leigh, who’s played by Katie McGuinness in Netflix’s Hollywood, is perhaps one of the most recognizable Hollywood icons of her era; that’s thanks to the real life actress’ roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, as noted by The Oprah Magazine. According to Nine Honey, Leigh was born to British parents, and was cast her first acting role at age 3. After getting married when she was 18 years old, Leigh began taking acting classes at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts — though her then-husband preferred for her to attend to her wifely duties.
Gone with the Wind’s producer searched for the perfect Scarlet O’Hara for two years, and sat through 1,400 auditions before he met Leigh, who arrived on set as his brother’s guest. Leigh was chosen for the part, and the rest is history. She became the first British actress to be honored with the Best Actress Academy Award, catapulting her international celebrity.
Leigh was also known to have struggled with bipolar disorder throughout her career. Sadly, Leigh passed away from tuberculosis at the age of 53.
Did you recognize Eleanor Roosevelt in Netflix's Hollywood? Here's her real life story
Eagle-eyed viewers of Netflix’s Hollywood might have spotted former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who is played by Harriet Sansom Harris. In real life, Roosevelt was a fan of the film industry, and was opposed to censorship, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The film industry is a great industry, with infinite possibilities for good and bad,” she shared in 1947 (via George Washington University). “In a democratic country I do not think the public will tolerate a removal of its right to decide what it thinks of the ideas and performances of those who make the movie industry work.”
The National First Ladies Library details that Roosevelt was born in New York City in the late 1800s, and was orphaned by the time she was 9 years old. Her uncle was Theodore Roosevelt, one of America’s coolest presidents. At age 20, she married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and went on to give birth to a daughter and five sons. Her husband eventually became President; they remained the White House for twelve years, covering the turbulent period from the Great Depression through World War II.
George Cukor from Netflix's Hollywood loved a good party in real life
The third episode of Hollywood takes viewers inside one of iconic Hollywood director George Cukor’s (played by Daniel London) legendary parties. According to Refinery 29, not only did Cukor exist in real life, he was also known for his weekend bashes. However, his real-life parties were perhaps less wild than the one portrayed on the miniseries.
Cukor directed around 50 movies in his lifetime, and was known for questioning masculine and feminine stereotypes in his films. His parties were often filled with colleagues and friends from the film industry, who would come over to his lavish home to engage in fun and frivolity. “The best times of my life I remember having here — in my own house,” Cukor told Architectural Digest in 1978. “It’s been an intimate part of my life, my work, my friends — a great many friends indeed.”
Cukor’s soirees were rumored to kick it up a notch when the men arrived at sunset; Cukor’s queerness was an open secret, and it’s believed that his parties helped other closeted queer men in the industry explore their sexuality.
As it was in Netflix's Hollywood, Tallulah Bankhead's real life story was interesting
Though Tallulah Bankhead, played by Paget Brewster in Netflix’s Hollywood, was only a minor character in the miniseries, her life was incredibly interesting. You might remember that in episode 5 of the series, she and Hattie McDaniels were depicted as lovers. That narrative arc was inspired by real life rumors that the pair were a closeted item — though the rumors was never actually proven to be unequivocally true. “I was obsessed with Tallulah Bankhead, because she was so ballsy and out there, and also felt never seen and never appreciated,” creator Ryan Murphy told Vanity Fair.
Though Bankhead was notable in the circles of Tinseltown greats, Joan Crawford shared with Vanity Fair that they were all a little terrified of her. She was thought to be a “sexual provocateur,” and was alleged to have slept with hundreds of people. According to The New Yorker, she once introduced herself as a lesbian, but later brushed the claim off as a joke.
Henry Willson's storyline in Netflix's Hollywood is quite similar to real life
Henry Willson, who was played by The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons in Netflix’s Hollywood, was something of an antagonist. He was quite abusive to several other characters in the series, and acted quite sinister at times. According to Elle, while Willson played an important role in influencing Hollywood’s culture in the ’50s, the portrayal of his character in the miniseries was also quite accurate.
Rock Hudson was one of Willson’s most high-profile clients in real life. Willson shaped Hudson’s career by convincing him to adopt a stage name, fix his teeth and posture, and take speech and singing lessons. He was also known for surrounding himself with good-looking clients, not unlike Hudson.
Sadly, working with Willson wouldn’t have been easy on his clients, as he was rumored to have used “threats and blackmail” to ensure they follow the rules he set out for them. Wilson was eventually fired by many of his clients, subsequently falling victim to addiction and losing his fortune. He died of liver disease at 67.
Noel Coward, who made an appearance in episode 3 of Netflix's Hollywood, attained knighthood in real life
Noel Coward, who was played by Billy Boyd of Lord of the Rings fame, appeared in episode 3 of Netflix’s Hollywood as an attendee of George Cukor’s garden party. According to The Oprah Magazine, Coward was well-known for his prowess in the written and dramatic arts in real life, as well as his high-brow comedy.
Born in 1899 in a village near London, Coward focused on the arts from a very young age. He was a favorite of London theater professionals after his professional debut at the age of 10, and he continued to work in theatre throughout his teens. He eventually moved to the US part-time to further his career, finding fame on Broadway and in TV shows. Additionally, The New York Times details that the British creative was known to have written lyrics and composed music for 281 songs; directed, produced, and acted in his own films and plays; and dabbled in cabaret as well. A few weeks after his seventieth birthday, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Sadly, he passed away following a heart attack a few years later.
Jeanne Crandall's real life character in Netflix's Hollywood was inspired by Lana Turner
Remember Jeanne Crandall, the actress on contract at Ace Studios who struggled to secure lead roles, as directors passed on her for younger actresses? Her character was played by Mira Sorvino in Netflix’s Hollywood. Though Crandall wasn’t a real life person, her character was loosely inspired by the life and experiences of Lana Turner, according to Refinery29.
Turner, who was under contract at MGM, appeared in over 30 movies during the first two decades of her career. She was also a pin-up model, and was considered to be extremely popular. As she grew older, however, her career trajectory changed. After she turned 40, the studio began choosing younger actresses instead of her for roles she would have previously been considered perfect for. During this time, she was also struggling with a host of personal issues, alcoholism included. The New York Times reported that though she has throat cancer, she died naturally at the age of 75.
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