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Rae Nudson

Karina Longworth on the Women Caught in Howard Hughes’ Hollywood Web of Gossip

Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn in "Stage Door" (1937), Getty / Howard Hughes, Associated Press / Collage by Katie Kosma

Rae Nudson | Longreads | November 2018 | 13 minutes (3,545 words)


Listening to Karina Longworth’s conspiratorial drawl on her podcast “You Must Remember This” feels like you’re about to hear some really great gossip at a party. It’s my favorite podcast, partly because I love stories about old Hollywood, which she studiously researches and shares, featuring legendary figures like Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. But mostly I love it because of the way Longworth critically views each of her sources and dissects old studio narratives to discover the story closest to the truth.

Her new book, Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood, takes that sharp critical thinking and applies it to pilot turned filmmaker turned hermit Howard Hughes and the women he groomed and abused during his lifetime. Step by step, Longworth illustrates how Hughes created and maintained his millionaire playboy image, often at the expense of the careers and well-being of the long line of women he used to prop up his lifestyle. Hughes’ actions are sometimes so horrifying it sounds like an urban legend, told to would-be starlets to warn them of the horrors of men and Hollywood.

Hughes basically held women hostage, stealing years of their lives and careers by keeping would-be actresses off the screen and in his debt. He kept a staff of people to spy on and manipulate young women, like Billie Dove, Ginger Rogers, and countless others. He held meetings with censors where he calculated just how much of Jane Russell’s breasts he’d be able to show on screen in the film The Outlaw. One woman, a 19-year-old named Rene Rosseau, attempted suicide a few months after arriving in Hollywood, saying that Hughes keeping her from working was partly to blame. She survived, but her career didn’t. Read more…