Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Celebrity: The Casting Couch

(Selwyn Ford, 1990, Grafton Books)
Selwyn Ford is the pseudonym of two (dead) stalwarts of the English exploitation scene of the 60s & 70s: director Derek Ford, who died of a heart attack in 1995, and the agent Alan Selwyn, who fell to cancer in 2002. As a director, Ford was responsible for such fondly remembered trash as Groupie Girl (70), The Wife Swappers (70) and Sexplorer (75). He supposedly filmed the X-rated inserts for the overseas releases of his films in his garage. Were it not for Quentin Tarantino’s vocal endorsement of Sexplorer, Ford would surely be a forgotten name today — much like Alan Selwyn and so many others working in the outer-peripheries of film. (Selwyn, by the way, produced a direct-to-video “documentary” film based on and named after the book in 1995 with director John Sealey, but the film is seemingly no longer available.)
The Casting Couch is the second book that Ford worked on after he stopped directing films in the 80s. Dedicated to all the "faceless unknowns" who failed to make it in the motion pictures and on Broadway, The Casting Couch is an entertainingly sleazy read, purporting to be a history of the use and abuse of the legendary casting tradition in Hollywood but actually much more simply another narrative of the industry’s scandals, reading like a better researched and written Hollywood Babylon but lacking the latter’s bilious undercurrent of sadism, Schadenfreude and hate.
Starting with Fred Karno, a sleazily misogynist British stage producer and supposed discoverer of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel who tended to screw every woman who worked for him, and ending, for the most part, with yet another unnecessary chapter on the murder of Marilyn Monroe, Ford narrates many an interesting tale and more than one Urban Legend, some well-known, others less so, rarely indicating the sources but forever holding all as the undisputed truth. With the exception of a brief interlude narrating the weirdly pathetic antics of Peter Bogdanovich in regards to his murdered Playmate of the Year girlfriend Dorothy Stratton (stuff already found in one form or another in Bob Fosse’s Star 80 or Bogdanovich’s book The Killing of A Unicorn), the fear of slander and libel suits probably kept “Sewlyn Ford” from giving any real attention to modern Hollywood.
Nonetheless, the exclusion or incomplete narration of certain oft told “true” stories is odd, particularly such as that of the death of Latin Spitfire and party girl Lupe Velez, which Ford narrates omitting her headlong dive into the toilet to drown in her own vomit. Such omissions are somewhat un-understandable considering that he is so willing to include many an other equally “true” but distasteful story, such as Carol Landis’s psychopathic nymphomania, William Ince’s “true” end, Louise Brooks’ slow fall into prostitution or Clara Bow’s love for football teams, to name but a few. Still, in a scandal book like this one, nitpicking misses the general point of the publication: the puerile desire to know the misfortune of others, and a chance to revel in the mistakes, disasters and foibles of those more successful and famous than we can ever hope to be, revealing to ourselves that even the perfect not only fuck up or can be fucked up, but that they can be so much more so than we.
A few more pictures would have been nice, as would a bit more identification of the “factual” sources, but all in all The Casting Couch is a fun read despite some noticeable— primarily masculine, though more than one man in Hollywood probably had to do his time on a couch somewhere as well—names missing. A detailed index makes quick perusal easy, and almost every well-known and forgotten female star of historical importance can be found.
Now if only I had a copy of the Joan Crawford’s initial foray into movies, The Casting Couch, a silent porno film from her early days before she got reduced to playing in bad horror films.

(All taken from the web and from

Above: Fred Karno, an early practitioner of the casting couch.

2: A murdered Marilyn Monroe lying on the morgue table.

3 & 4: Carol Landis, before and after her overdose.

5: Lupe Velez's suicide as presented in Jim Osborne’s classic (and wonderfully sick) one-shot underground comic D.O.A. Comics....

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