Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood
(Custom House, $30)
“Depending on whom you listen to, Howard Hughes was a villain, a genius, a madman, sometimes all three simultaneously,” said Sheila O’Malley in the Los Angeles Times. But in Karina Longworth’s fascinating look at the actresses who crossed paths with the Texas-born mogul during Hollywood’s studio era, he also emerges as something else: a proto–Harvey Weinstein. Longworth, a film critic and the host of the podcast You Must Remember This, doesn’t accuse Hughes of sexual assault or pretend that all 10 women she profiles were traumatized by their interactions with the celebrated director, producer, and “playboy.” But she shows how he used his power to make woman after woman beholden to him, and through that lens she delivers “a vibrant history not just of Hughes but of Hollywood itself.”
Longworth’s Hughes embodies the way the men of Hollywood treated women as commodities, said Carrie Rickey in Film Comment. Studio big shots traded actresses like baseball cards, and Hughes made full use of his wealth advantage. Longworth describes him paying $350,000 to effectively buy actress Billie Dove from her husband. When linked to Ginger Rogers, he surrounded her with a coterie of minders to ensure her fidelity. But though we also see him pushing Jane Russell to expose more skin to drooling male fans, he was capable of chivalry. After his affair with Katharine Hepburn, he bought and granted her the film rights to The Philadelphia Story, allowing her to restart her movie career. And he assisted Ida Lupino, another former lover, as she turned herself into one of Hollywood’s few female directors.
Longworth has done “a staggering amount of research”—and includes a little too much of it, said Michael Lindgren in Newsday. But Seduction does tell a powerfully sad story. Though some of Hughes’ paramours were able to move on, others withered. One attempted suicide. Hughes himself sank into mental illness, of course, and Longworth treats his 1976 death with a wry wistfulness. At his funeral, she notes, “No actresses were in attendance.” ■