18 Examples of Old Hollywood Sexism
18 Examples of Old Hollywood Sexism

18 Examples of Old Hollywood Sexism

Larry Holzwarth - August 20, 2019

18 Examples of Old Hollywood Sexism
Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1953, around the time he reportedly raped aspiring actress Selene Walters. Wikimedia

18. Hollywood protected male actors guilty of less than gentlemanly behavior, including one who later became President of the United States.

The Hollywood system presented the escapades of male actors – both onscreen and in real life – with a decided boys will be boys attitude, which was more a reflection of the public mores of the time than a direction offered by the filmmakers of the day. The proclivity of the gentlemen of Hollywood for patronizing brothels was kept hidden as brothels were by then considered immoral by mainstream America, which nonetheless recognized that real American men were driven by masculine desires towards certain behaviors, often as not the result of being led on by women. Errol Flynn’s sexual conquests were often viewed by women through eyes glistening with lust; by young men with eyes glittering with envy, and the expression In Like Flynn was coined to describe the star’s effortless good fortune.

Other stars took advantage of the moral standards of the day, and when things went too far they could count on the studios’ financial muscle to protect them. Starlet Selene Walters, (who never enjoyed much of a film career, though she later claimed some fame as a Hollywood columnist) later informed an interviewer that actor Ronald Reagan’s romantic overtures were unwelcomed by her in the 1950s, and that the actor was insistent to the point of an actual rape. She revealed the story after Reagan’s presidency, and when conservatives recoiled at the image of Reagan as a rapist and denounced the story as utterly false, others stepped forward with similar tales. Among them was actress Piper Laurie, who claimed that she was seduced by the married Reagan (she did not claim rape) while still a virgin and while she was making a film with him in which he was portraying her character’s father. In both instances, the accusations were silenced by the actions of studio moguls, and Reagan’s character remained untarnished.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Casting-couch Tactics Plagued Hollywood Long Before Harvey Weinstein”. Thelma Adams, Variety. Online

“Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies”. Christel Schmidt. 2012

“Charlie Chaplin and His Times”. Kenneth S. Lynn. 1997

“What Women Want: The Complex World of Dorothy Arzner and Her Cinematic Women”. Donna Casella, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media. 2009

“Hollywood’s Bathing Beauties”. Anne Helen Peterson, Lapham’s Quarterly. August, 2013

“Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer”. Scott Eyman. 2005

“How Judy Garland was forced to starve herself for the screen”. Bee Wilson, The Telegraph. August 29, 2014. Online

“The Great Garbo, Part 2: Greta’s Haunted Path to Stardom”. January 17, 1955

“My memories of the Golden Age of Hollywood”. Pauline Wagner McCourtney, Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. April, 2010

“The monster of MGM: How Louis B. Mayer terrorised Hollywood’s women long before Harvey Weintstein”. Alice Vincent, The Telegraph. October 10, 2017

“Onetime home of Rudolph Valentino’s ex fetches a buyer in Hollywood Hills”. Lauren Beale, The Los Angeles Times. April 22, 2019

“Hollywood’s First Gay Marriage: Did William Haines choose his husband over stardom at MGM?” Karina Longworth, Slate. October 16, 2015. Online

“Tippi Hedren: Alfred Hitchcock sexually assaulted me”. Alan Evans, The Guardian. October 31, 2016

“The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson”. Robert Hofler. 2014

“In 1956 a Fan Magazine Published a Four-Part Casting Couch Expose. It Didn’t Go Well”. Matthew Dessem, Slate. October 13, 2017

“Classic Hollywood’s Secret: Studios Wanted Their Stars to Have Abortions”. Marcie Bianco and Merryn Jones, Vanity Fair. July 15, 2016

“Toy Monster”. Jerry Oppenheimer, New York Post. February 22, 2009

“Presidential Rape Allegations”. Donald Jeffries, American Free Press. August 21, 2018