There was a time when homosexuality, drug use, infidelity, and a Communist past were considered scandalous. In Eisenhower’s America any one of the above was enough to get your face pasted in the pages of a tabloid tell-all called Confidential. And if you weren’t careful, the coverage could ruin your career. In a media culture dominated by the likes of TMZ and Gawker, those sorts of “indiscretions” can still seem to be quite scandalous. And, with the exception of perhaps homosexuality, all are potential career wreckers. But Confidential was there first, and they were there when things were most titillating.
Indeed, back in the ’50s Hollywood’s press machine was forever trumpeting pretty little stories about its stars, and to the readers of rags like Photoplay and Look, those white-washes were taken as gospel. For every happy marriage Hollywood heralded, Confidential would find its unhappy correspondent – and more often than not the subjects were one in the same. Take the case of Desi Arnaz. One month he and Lucille Ball were what Look deemed “TV’s Favorite Family.” The next ol’ Desi was a “duck-out daddy” with a string of paramours placed all around Los Angeles. And it was Confidential which blared the cold hard truth.
Naturally, unhappy homes weren’t the only thing Confidential was interested in wrecking, and they had an army of paid informants stationed all over the country feeding them the dirt on the likes of Joan Crawford (“Back Street Romance with a Bartender!”), Kim Novak (reportedly kept by a “romp-loving Rumanian munitions baron”), Lizabeth Scott (whose name was found in a call-girl’s call book), and Robert Mitchum (a very tasty incident involving ketchup). And on the rare few occasions when Confidential didn’t have the dirt, it made mud out of whole cloth (“What Makes Ava Gardner Run for Sammy Davis, Jr.?”).
Inspired by James Ellroy‘s L.A. Confidential, which followed the exploits of a tabloid called Hush-Hush, Henry E. Scott’s Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential tells a very shady tale filled with rats and turncoats and anyone else out for the proverbial buck. “I think Confidential’s strategy of exploiting American fears is flourishing today on television, in certain print publications, and certainly online,” Scott explained in a recent interview. “As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The only difference is Confidential‘s editorial formula is now found everywhere.”
Confidential‘s back story is salacious, it’s scintillating, and it provides the basis for a lot of what we all now hold most dear: scandal.