First of a five week series on The Paparazzi & Gossip Industry.
By Open Book
We’ve written about tabloid and gossip from different vantage points here on LIH. In previous articles Hollywood Spin Doctor: Part 1 & Part 2 and The Future of Gossip we reviewed some of the key players today. However, we wanted to look back at the tabloid and gossip industries origins to get an even better understanding of how it all works today.
Believe it or not reading British obituaries is how it all started. Back in the 18th century the most popular sections of newspapers and magazines were the obituaries of unusual people according to Dr. Elizabeth Barry, from an article on Science20.com called Modern Gossip Magazine Culture Began with Celebrity Obituaries she states;
“People from all walks of life could now become famous for being eccentric, rather than for historically momentous achievements. She added: “This period also witnessed a change in attitude towards fame that recognized the significance in a newly commercial environment of popular tastes and appetite.”
The period she’s referring to is the Romantic Movement, which began out of people’s enmity toward the rigidity of social structures and materialism. In poetry, novels and paintings this movement saw suicide as a sign of artistic affirmation. This may be the reason obituaries were so intriguing at the time, add to that, scandal and the rest is history.
Let’s fast forward to the 1950’s, gossip, sleaze and Confidential Magazine. Confidential Magazine started as a semimonthly New York magazine by Robert Harrison. It featured racy stories of homosexual weddings, pictures of women in their underwear etc…. all of which was fictional and fabricated by Harrison in his New York Apartment in the early 1950’s. But Harrison appetite for sleaze was about to get even sleazier after the Antitrust rulings of the 1950’s.
Decades before Confidential, The Motion Picture Production Code defined Hollywood’s image according to Henry E. Scott in a book called Shocking True Story he states;
“No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it,” the code stipulated. In the service of that principle, it stipulated that “passion should be treated in such manner as not to stimulate the lower and baser emotions.” Its earliest versions demanded moral retribution for every sin, including sex out of wedlock. Thanks to its strictures, abortions and illicit drug use were as rare on the screen as were homosexuality and miscegenation.”
To make a long story short many believed the immoral lifestyles of the 1920’s caused the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Therefore movie studios created “The Code” to legitimize an industry started in the crime ridden slums of America. In the 1930’s in the contracts of all movie stars there were moral clauses to insure the public that movie stars private lives mirrored their wholesome movie images. Yet, the clauses did not protect the studio system and in the 1950’s the Golden Age came crashing down due to the Supreme Court in 1948 Antitrust rulings which, forced the five largest studios MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and RKO to vertically disintegrate and separate production and distribution from exhibition. Leading ladies and men were free to pursue other ventures outside the studio system but that meant they would no longer be under the protection of the studios, which paid them regular salaries and for publicist. Due to this change Confidential Magazine was quickly chipping away at Hollywood’s innocent, moral image studios worked so hard to create.
Inside The Tabloid Engine:
In the 1950’s and 60’s the outlandish stories of celebrities was almost entirely fictional. Writers would sprinkle their stories with some truth to make the stories seem believable. Add to that sources and experts tabloids make up to confirm just about anything. The majority of stories tabloids thrive on is Celebrity News. A large portion of celebrity news actually comes from celebrities themselves via publicist. In an article on How Tabloids Work written by Ed Grabianowski explains,
“Some stars build a working relationship with a tabloid, offering inside stories in exchange for the free publicity. At other times, the tabloid will accept inside stories while agreeing to avoid running harsh or negative stories about a certain star. The studios even leak information about upcoming movies or the scripts for the new season of a TV show to get publicity for the show.”
The history of tabloid and gossip is a vast one and seems to be even more popular today with the internet. Do you think celebrity gossip today is similar to the 1950’s and 60’s? What are your thoughts?