Emmy-winning producers John Watkin and Eamon Harrington have taken E!’s wildly successful series “E! True Hollywood Stories” and elevated the concept a notch with this fast-paced docu. Rather than recount endless scandals, “Dish: Gossip in Hollywood” explores Hollywood’s long-standing love/hate relationship with the press and draws a connection between the social and political climate over the decades and the public’s fascination with fame.
In the early days of Hollywood, the movie studios artfully controlled the images of its stars. Magazines such as Photoplay and Modern Screen were tools of the establishment that further mythologized the ideal life of a film star.
With the death of Rudolph Valentino in 1926 and the ensuing mob scene at his funeral, it was obvious that the public craved more from their stars, including scandal. Walter Winchell is credited here with whetting the public’s appetite for gossip, but Watkin and Harrington, who wrote and directed the docu, maintain that legendary Hollywood gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons refined it to an art.
Hopper and Parsons were put in place by the Hollywood establishment and fed stories in the hopes of controlling information. In exchange, the two women were expected to bury the more salacious stories.
As these two women gained more influence, they would turn against the studios and start an unprecedented reign of terror. It’s amazing to see the likes of Lauren Bacall and Janet Leigh talk about how frightened they were of these women, who could make or break a career with one column. According to “Dish,” when Hopper moved into a new house, she had Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell carrying moving boxes. Hopper, it is said, referred to her new home “as the house that fear built.”
“Dish” delves into the genesis of scandal sheets beginning with the granddaddy of them all, Confidential magazine. Confidential, which employed sophisticated surveillance techniques, was much more vicious and tantalizing than anything printed before; in 1957, the California attorney general’s office indicted the magazine for publishing obscene and objectionable material.
Confidential later folded, but there were others to take its place, including the National Enquirer. Columnist Mike Walker talks about covering Elvis Presley’s funeral, to which the Enquirer sent 40 reporters — who called themselves “the wrecking crew” — to Graceland. The barrage of press paid off when the tabloid ran a cover picture of the King in his casket and made publishing sales history.
“Dish” takes a brief look at the few stars who have tried to stand up to the tabloids as well as the recent backlash against the paparazzi. But overall, there is too little of a debate over the rights of privacy vs. the price of fame. Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, who wrote a book on the subject, would have made a much more credible interview than say, Rona Barrett.
Tape reviewed lacked final technical credits, although editors Adam Wilson and Harry Watson do a nice job with the archival footage and stills collected for the docu. Unfortunately, the very prominent graphics for “Dish” are rather sophomoric.