When it comes to the #MeToo movement, Karina Longworth, author of the just-released "Seduction, Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood," is surprised. But not in the way you might expect.
“I’m more surprised that people seem to think everything has changed with a snap of a finger,” Longworth says.
“Centuries of institutionalized sexism can’t be fixed that cleanly or easily. Especially in Hollywood — although you don’t have to look further than our national daily political drama to see that toxic and dehumanizing ideas about women are still the rule more than the exception.”
To tell the stories of Hollywood and its famed casting couch, Longworth chose oil magnate, inventor and movie producer Howard Hughes as a way to link the exploitation of women then and now, by providing a group portrait of 10 actresses who were romantically and/or professionally involved with Howard Hughes, from the late 1920s through the end of the 1950s.
“Howard Hughes is remembered as one of the great playboys of the 20th century, and when this is discussed, a seemingly endless list of actresses is breathlessly unfurled,” Longworth says.
“Reading such lists, I became interested in exploring the very full lives and careers each actress had, and what role being one of Howard Hughes’s girls played in their stardom. I decided to use Hughes as a kind of Trojan Horse through which I could tell the stories of 10 actresses, both still famous and forgotten, whose lives and careers were impacted by his interest in them."
Her research was extensive and turned up some interesting documents, including a memo Howard Hughes once drafted about actress Jane Russell’s breasts, a subject he was a fanatic about, so much so that he designed a bra to showcase them.
Longworth, the creator and author of "You Must Remember This" podcasts about the scandalous secret history of 20th-century Hollywood, which has hundreds of thousands of listeners, also is the author of books about George Lucas, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.
She’ll be in Chicago on Jan. 14 for a book signing as well as the screening of "Outrage," a 1950 movie directed by the sultry actress Ida Lupino about a woman whose life is almost destroyed by rape.
“ 'Outrage' deals with a uniquely female situation in a uniquely empathetic way,” writes Longworth about the movie.
“After such a violation, it asks, how could a woman learn how to be around men again, to trust them, to let them touch her?”
Another goal in writing her book was to create an interest in the actresses on the list of Hughes’s conquests, many of whom are forgotten.
“I hope readers are moved to watch the movies starring some great actresses, fine stars and fascinating women,” she says.
“If they seek out Ida Lupino’s directorial efforts, lesser-known Hepburn films like "Christopher Strong" or "Morning Glory," or the movies of Jean Peters and Terry Moore, I’ll have done my job.”
If you go
What: Karina Longworth will join the Chicago Filmmakers for a special screening of the 1950 film, "Outrage," as well as a talk and book signing.
When: 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 14
Where: Chicago Filmmakers, 5720 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago
Cost: The ticket-only option to the screening is pay what you can, though a donation is encouraged. For a book and ticket, the cost is $37.22 w/service fee. To order, brownpapertickets.com/event/3914967
FYI: Women & Children First is putting on the event. For more information, 773-769-9299; firstname.lastname@example.org or womenandchildrenfirst