The casting couch in Hollywood, as depicted by Hollywood

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Interesting:

Then I read the original reviews of the movie and began to doubt my understanding of what I’d seen. To critics at outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor, this was not a story of women subjected to predatory men. Many of the reviews don’t even mention the producer, focusing instead on the rivalry between Rogers and Hepburn, the remarkable dialogue, and the superiority to the play. When Menjou comes up, it is quite briefly, as though he barely figured in the plot. Even stranger is how he’s described.

The character is said to be “suave,” “amorous,” and “gay.” He “has a way with the ladies,” and “a weakness for dimples and knees.” He “changes his affections with bewildering rapidity but is always polite and always ready with his little book of telephone numbers.”

Some descriptors are more negative, including “sly and wily fellow,” “roué,” and “lowlife producer.” The most common label is “philanderer.” None of it suffices.

Reviewers simply didn’t see how pernicious the character is. The Christian Science Monitor calls him a “semi-villain.” The New York Times review calls him a “villain” but for the wrong reasons, saying, “the villain of all serious acting fledglings is the Broadway producer who is too busy to look and listen.” But it’s his attentions that are the bigger problem.

A piece in the trade journal Hollywood Spectator gets at why they all so eagerly miss the mark. In praising Menjou’s performance, the piece says, “There is no hero in Stage Door, no romance, and Adolphe is the nearest approach to a villain it has. The real villain is life, fate, the refusal of the wheel of fortune to stop at the right number; but Adolphe, who plays a theatrical producer, controls a spoke or two in the wheel, so to him the blame for its heartless stoppings.” The reviewer casts Menjou as another kind of victim, as though, once placed in his position of power, he has no control over how he operates—as though there is no other way to operate in that position.

The critics would have the movie as a fable of the human condition, of how we all suffer under the vicissitudes of fortune. They take the casting couch as understood, not a scourge but a spoke in the wheel of fate, an open secret but only in the way that death is an open secret—something we abhor but must nobly accept as inevitable.

It’s a painfully wrong reading, but not necessarily unintended. The film’s censorship records reveal changes seeking to obscure the theater world’s sordid undercurrent. Head censor Joseph Breen demanded Patrick’s character be presented as “a golddigger rather than a ‘kept woman’.” The latter puts a degree of moral opprobrium on the man, the former all on the woman. A corrupt woman is more palatable than a corrupt system. The earlier scripts were less vague about Menjou’s dark past too, with references to a diary he sought to suppress, an allusion to the previous year’s scandal entangling Stage Door co-writer George S. Kaufman.

Finding the fruits of Thackrey’s excursions into the Studio Club “replete with loose, and suggestive, dialogue” the censors demanded heavy changes. A complaint about a handsy date had to go, along with phrases like “on the make,” “facts of life,” and “nuts to you.” So did a reference to mirrors above the producer’s bed and anything else that hinted at the casting couch. Menjou’s declaration, “It’s guys like me that make dames like you” was rejected, along with repeated references to actresses who only perform offstage: “Did you say producers?” “They produce taxi fare and dinner—and the girls produce as little as possible.” “Officially, she’s an artist’s model. But all her posing is done in apartments.”

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