Netflix's Hollywood: 8 Facts vs. Fiction

Oh, what a great show Hollywood is! One with a lot of secrets behind the scenes, too. How long did Rock Hudson hide his intimate preferences for? Was Dylan McDermott’s Ernie based on two real people? And what does show creator Ryan Murphy think about his version of Hollywood? Find out all the details in our article.

1. Was Rock Hudson a Bad Actor?

A lot of characters in the new Netflix mini-series were entirely fictional. But a few were real actors who lived and worked in the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, the characters are fictionalized versions of these celebrities - with quite a few major biographical changes.

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In real life, Rock Hudson, portrayed in the show by Jake Picking, didn’t become famous before 1954, but in the series, he’s already gaining popularity in the 40s. Of course, there are some similarities to how Hudson was portrayed and how he was in real life. Hudson is clumsy and nervous in the show - very much like the actual actor was.

But there was a significant difference between the star and his fictionalized version. And this is his attitude towards his sexual preferences. In real life, Hudson remained closeted for most of his life because Hollywood at that time wouldn’t accept an openly gay actor.

He even arranged a marriage to his secretary which lasted for a few years! The truth was revealed only in the 80s when Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis became public. Meanwhile, in Murphy’s series, we see a version of what could happen if the actor came out at the beginning of his career and if the public accepted him.

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Oh, and here’s one more thing about real-life Hudson: he was a terrible, terrible actor - at least at the beginning of his career. When he landed his first role in Fighter Squadron, he needed 38 takes to deliver a single line! The line was “Or we’re gonna need a bigger blackboard,” and Hudson somehow kept saying “backboard” …Geez!

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2. Did Henry Willson End Differently?

Whoa! How unusual is it to see Sheldon Cooper as a gay talent agent in Hollywood's Golden Era? But we have to get used to it because it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see Jim Parsons as the obnoxious yet charming physicist again. Anyways, Henry Willson is another man who actually existed and worked as a talent agent.

As he proclaimed himself, he wasn’t only a star, but also a star-maker because he propelled multiple beloved Golden-Age actors to stardom. In real life, as in the show, Willson created new names with a more masculine sound for his clients. Among others, it was thanks to him that Roy Scherer became Rock Hudson.

Having played a large role in popularizing the “beefcake craze” in the 50s, this man definitely loved young, attractive actors and helped groom them to stardom. He was also known as a casting-couch agent, meaning that he slept with many of his clients in exchange for roles.

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When Willson’s homosexuality became publicly known, most of his clients, both gay and straight, left him out of fear of being associated with the agent. Because of that, the star and star-maker sank into oblivion. By the end of his life, Willson was alone, struggled with addiction, and had paranoia.

But his life in the Netflix series had a much, much better outcome. After Hudson’s coming out, he stopped abusing his clients and even made the first romantic gay movie ever! How sweet!

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3. Did Anna May Wong Lose to a White Actress?

Here’s another actress who was real but had a much happier life and career in Netflix’s show. In real life, Wong, portrayed by Michelle Krusiec, began her career as an extra and by 17 she had already landed a main role in a silent film. It seems like a good start, right?

Well… it actually didn’t bring the fruits she deserved. Despite her talent, Wong wasn’t cast as anything but stereotypical Asian characters for a very long time. As shown in the series, the actress was always vocal about this problem.

“How should we be, with a civilization that’s so many times older than that of the West?” the actress said to Film Daily in 1933. “We have our own virtues. We have our own rigid code of behavior, of honor. Why do they never show these on the screen? Why should we always scheme, rob, kill? I got so weary of it all…”

Things got even worse for Wong when the movie industry adopted a code that prohibited showing relationships between people of different races. However ridiculous it sounds, it’s something that was a real thing in Hollywood! 

Since there were almost no Asian male leads at the time, Wong's chances of getting a female lead role were zero. Probably the last straw for Wong was when a white actress was chosen for a Chinese character in a well-known film The Good Earth.

After a long break from acting, Wong finally managed to make history in the 50s after becoming the first-ever Asian lead in a US TV show. But, unlike what is shown in the series, she never became the first Asian actress to win an Academy Award.

4. Dylan McDermott’s Ernie Was Also Real… Sort of…

It’s best if we say that this character was loosely based on the real-life Scotty Bowers, a World War II veteran, and Hollywood pimp. In fact, his memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars was turned into a documentary: Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, three years ago. And it was also one of the primary sources for the Netflix show!

Just like Ernie in the series, Bowers had a gas station where he and his male and female friends serviced many Hollywood A-listers of that time. Even though the list of his clients included some of the most famous actors of the Hollywood Golden Age, Bowers remained discreet for most of his life and never even kept a book of client names.

He revealed the truth only after most of them were dead. As he said himself, “The truth can’t hurt them anymore.” Another real-life personality that inspired Dylan McDermott to play Ernie was Clark Gable, the star of Gone with the Wind.

“There was a certain quality in him I wanted. His hair, his mustache, the way he carried himself, and his optimism, if you will,” McDermott said to Vanity Fair. “If Scotty Bowers and Clark Gable had a love child, it would be Ernie.”

Did you notice how Ernie actually resembles Gable? Because when you see it… you can’t unsee it!

5. Other Real Figures of Hollywood

A few other guest characters were also based on Golden Age actors. Among them was Hattie McDaniel, the first-ever African-American actress to receive an Oscar for her supporting role in Gone with the Wind. Portrayed by Queen Latifah, even this talented actress faced a challenge on the night of the Academy Awards. 

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Even though she was one of the nominees, McDaniel couldn’t enter the Ambassador Hotel because it had a “no blacks” policy.

“They told me I could wait in the lobby, and if I won, someone would come tell me, and then I could go in,” the actress recalled. “Somebody leaked that I was gonna win, so just before they announced my name, they shuffled me in the back and sat me in there.”

And even after the ceremony, all the other stars of Gone with the Wind went to celebrate at a whites-only club without her. Vivien Leigh, McDaniel’s co-star from the movie, was also a real-life personality and Golden Age star, as was the songwriter Cole Porter, and actress Tallulah Bankhead.

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And one more non-fictionalized character was the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Harriet Sansom Harris plays this prominent woman in Netflix’s series. Real-life Roosevelt, just like her character in the show, recognized the power of cinema and was against censorship. However, she wasn’t that involved in filmmaking and she certainly wouldn’t be so vocal in suggesting a black actress for the main role in a movie.

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6. Ace Studios: Is It Paramount?

Pretty much all the other characters of Hollywood, including Jack Castello, Camille Washington, Raymond Ainsley, and Archie Coleman, are fictional. But what about the studio where the action takes place? On the one hand, it was totally fictional and ruled by fictional characters, because no studio of that time would have had such a progressive policy and management structure.

But there are still quite a few similarities with the real-life Paramount Studios. First of all, it shows the Bronson Gate, where aspiring young actors gathered in the hope of finding work. Plus, they use a production slate that was also borrowed from Paramount. 

What’s more, a few movies mentioned that were supposedly made at the Ace Studios in the show are actually Paramount films. So it’s clear that even though the studio is fictional, its prototype is a real filmmaking agency. Isn’t it sad that no such open-minded studio existed in real life?

7. The 20th Academy Awards: Who Won?

The Oscar ceremony represented in the show was, sadly, also fictional, yet extremely progressive. In reality, Anna May Wong didn’t become the first Chinese-American actress to win the Best Supporting Actress award. It didn’t happen until Miyoshi Umeki won it for Sayonara almost ten years later.

Camille Washington in the show became the first black woman to win the Best Actress award, while in reality, it was only in 2002 that the statuette was given to Halle Berry in this category.

And finally, even though Hollywood’s Archie Coleman was the first black man to receive an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele became the pioneer only two years ago in real life. Just think about how the world would be if this had all actually happened in 1948! The show creator Ryan Murphy said that the whole crew was in tears after filming the award ceremony.

“It was very emotional to have these people get justice and to be seen and to have acceptance, which everybody should have and want. It was an emotional thing to give them the happy ending that they had been denied,” he shared.

But why did he decide to make his own version of Hollywood history?

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8. Imagining a Better Hollywood

Even though most of the story told in the Netflix series is fictional, it doesn’t make it any worse. It actually makes the show way better! 

As Ryan Murphy said in an interview with The Wrap, “I think with this show, I just wanted everybody who didn’t get a chance at their dream to get one.”

He described it as a “love letter” to Hollywood, but to a different Hollywood – one that never was, but could be. Focusing on the people who never revealed their true nature, the series shows how the world would be if race and sexual orientation didn’t define their career.

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It shows a black, gay screenwriter who gets to make a script for a movie, a black actress whose talent allows her to play way more than stereotypical roles, and a studio boss who’s brave enough to change the movie industry forever.

In this version of Hollywood, people aren’t afraid of being the first to do the right thing - making the industry and the country a better place. These people are anti-racist, feminist LGBTQ activists who don’t stigmatize anyone and rebuff casting-couch agents.

Despite all the challenges, they make a ground-breaking, hit movie Meg that receives a huge amount of Oscar nominations and changes the course of history. After the moviemakers embrace the racial and sexual diversity, the public follows their lead, and, as it’s said in the show, “racial protests across the country simply melted away.”

According to Darren Criss, one of the show’s lead actors, it’s like the 2020 consciousness was transferred to 1940s Hollywood! Too bad it was all fictional. But this “what if” scenario gives us a glimpse into what could happen if only cinema moguls took more risks.

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