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Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, "America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine" Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 19, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Q&A with Author Henry E. Scott

Question: Shocking True Story is a full, behind-the-scenes look at the original scandal magazine that started it all--Confidential. You first came to this story, as you share in your acknowledgements, through another title, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. How did that book start everything, and where did it take you?

Henry E. Scott: I picked up James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential at an airport bookstore before boarding a flight several years ago from New York City to Istanbul. I was so captivated by Ellroy's book that I spent my first two days holed up in my hotel, finishing L.A. Confidential, before venturing out to explore exotic Istanbul. When I got back to New York, the one thing I wanted to know more about was Confidential magazine, which had a small supporting role in Ellroy’s tale. To my amazement, I couldn’t find a book about Confidential. I couldn’t imagine anything more fun than writing one.

Question: In telling the story of Confidential, Shocking True Story is populated with over-the-top characters--private eyes, movie stars, politicians, moguls--and of course scandal and intrigue of every kind. In all of this, two figures stand out--Robert Harrison, the publisher, and Howard Rushmore, one of the magazine’s most important editors. What were they like and how were they drawn in to this world?

Henry E. Scott: Harrison, Confidential's founder and publisher, and Rushmore, its best-known editor, fascinated me because they were such complete opposites. Harrison was the son of immigrants--Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms of the 1890s; Rushmore bragged that his family traced its ancestry to the Pilgrims. Harrison was a social butterfly, out at clubs with chorus girls on his arm; Rushmore had few friends. Harrison was part of a big family, while Rushmore was an only child. Harrison reveled in the celebrity and notoriety that Confidential brought him; Rushmore appreciated the size of the magazine’s audience, but much of its content embarrassed him. What they had in common was both were on a quest for fame that led to a collision that ultimately destroyed Confidential.

Question: Confidential featured pieces on all of the major movie stars of the time--Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and so on. As you mentioned earlier, these weren’t stories planted or approved by the movie studios, but written in defiance of those studios and the often false images of their stars that they were trying to promote. Among all these stories was there any Confidential piece that shocked you?

Henry E. Scott: I was quite surprised to discover that "outing,” or disclosing that someone was gay against his will, was a common practice at Confidential. Most of us think of outing as something that started in the '90s, when gay activists exposed the sexual orientation of those closeted gays who they thought opposed gay rights. But Confidential, sometimes bluntly and sometimes by suggestion, wrote about the gay lives of people as varied as Tab Hunter, Marlene Dietrich, and Walter Chrysler Jr., heir to the automobile fortune.

Question: You have worked at the New York Times and continue to work in the media today--do you look at our current media moment any differently after learning all you did about Confidential? Where do you see us heading?

Henry E. Scott: I think Confidential’s strategy of exploiting American fears is flourishing today on television, in certain print publications, and certainly online. The wacky idea that the health care bill proposed "death panels" is something I could see Confidential writing about. And the sexual indiscretions of conservative Republican congressmen would have been a major Confidential cover story. As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The only difference is Confidential’s editorial formula is now found everywhere.

Question: The book features many original articles from the magazine--what was your favorite one?

Henry E. Scott: I think my favorite story is "The Real Reason for Marilyn Monroe’s Divorce." I love the idea of several of America’s best-known men hanging in the shadows outside a house where they thought Monroe was hidden with a lover. I wish I could have been there and seen the looks at their faces when they burst into the house and discovered what really was going on. I’ve driven by that house in Los Angeles several times--it’s still there--and I always smile at the thought of that so-called "wrong door raid."

(Photo © Joyce Ravid)

From Booklist

Scott concentrates on ur–scandal rag Confidential proper more than mercurial publisher Robert Harrison (so see also Samuel Bernstein’s Mr. Confidential, 2006) in a short, punchy book replete with pictures (not, apparently, reprints from the mag) of the celebs tarred in its pages. Scott presents excerpts from the likes of “Why Joe DiMaggio Is Striking Out with Marilyn Monroe” and “How Rita Hayworth’s Children Were Neglected” and discusses their background and how they affected their subjects and Confidential’s circulation and legal affairs. Salacious many stories were (e.g., “What Makes Ava Gardner Run for Sammy Davis, Jr.?”), but since Harrison insisted on rigorous fact-checking, there was usually a modicum of truth in the claims made. Obsessed with miscegenation, homosexuality (“Lizabeth Scott in the Call Girls’ Call Book”), and Communist affiliations, Confidential also managed to do consumer-interest stories (“The Big Lie about Filter Cigarettes”). The last couldn’t pay the rent by themselves, as Harrison found out after being induced to give up celeb scandals. Circulation plummeted. An excellent wallow in the pop-cultural swamps. --Mike Tribby

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 Reprint edition (January 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421396
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,077,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Todd Bartholomew VINE VOICE on February 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Before National Enquirer, Star, People, and other celebrity-driven tabloids there was the granddaddy of them all, Confidential. Purveying to the prurient nature in people with a mix of innuendo, lurid details, gossip, and splashy headlines, Confidential was THE dishy magazine to read in the 1940s through the 1960s. Scott traces the magazine's trajectory, from its rise in the postwar era of the early 1950s, its meteoric rise in the late 1950s as the studio system's power began to wane, and its inevitable wane in the 1960s as the countercultural revolution took hold, changing societal norms. At its peak the mere whiff that Confidential was about to publish an expose was enough to end careers. Initially the studios and stars were reluctant to fight back; Confidential had overnight changed the paradigm that existed where media served the studios and the stars, now the tables were turned. Along the way Confidential garnered major scoops, like Desi Arnez's affair that ended his marriage to Lucille Ball. The uncovered other stories such as Rock Hudson's and Tab Hunter's homosexuality; stories that wound up being buried as studios provided other equally salacious stories as sacrificial lambs to the power that was Confidential. As Scott points out, history has proven that many of the stories Confidential printed turned out to be true, proof of the undoing of the cozy relationship between the studios and the media that existed before that time.

But eventually Confidential got sloppy on its fact checking, and as it turned out, they could be bought off. Studios lost their fear of Confidential and stars started to contest stories as Confidential started to play fast and loose.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While CONFIDENTIAL was not a textbook example of good journalism, it was pretty interesting for its time. A forerunner of today's tabloids, it was the first publication that bucked movie and personality magazines that saturated the newstands with 'happy' stories that were fashioned by the movie studios to promote their personalities in a very favorable light. One might say that Confidential's primary function was to buck the studios and tell the most salacious truths to a scandal hungry public willing to plunk down a quarter. During its heyday, Confidential managed to make a lot of $ while pandering to the public's baser instincts.
While the book's title is fairly ridiculous and implies a lot of silliness, the story of Confidential can be pretty serious at times. It came out of nowhere and exerted a lot of force against the movie studios. In its prime, it could decimate a career. It made celebrities and politicians squirm. At times, things got so bad that studios would sell out one celebrity to save another who was deemed more 'bankable'. Confidential played on the country's greatest fears (communism, homosexuality, promiscuity) and managed to do fairly well for a time until the magazine fell victim to its own meteoric success. Articles were published without verification of facts, stories were manufactured, and the victims began suing the magazine for libel.
The author Henry Scott has done a credible job in telling the story of Confidential's meteoric rise and rapid freefall. Rich in detail, I was amazed at the sheer number of potentially damaging stories published by Confidential that fell into oblivion almost as quickly as the magazine. Included in that eventual oblivion was publisher Robert Harrison who masterminded the magazine and Howard Rushmore its most influential editor.
This was a very interesting read. I'm glad Scott managed to assemble this story before it, like Confidential, was completely forgotten.
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Format: Hardcover
With today's stars fighting for time on the TV talk show couches to capitalize on the skeletons they've unleashed from their own closets, hard to believe there was once a time when celebs cowered over the innocuous tidbits that for several years made Confidential the most notorious magazine in the country. But practically anyone remotely interested in celebrity journalism history and/or Hollywood pop culture of the Fifties is already well aware of the mag's lurid backstory, which was actually a lot more interesting than most of its "exposes" (in reality, often little more than smarmily-worded anecdotes, many of them excerpted here).

Kenneth Anger handily recapped Confidential's history in Hollywood Babylon 35 years ago and in the years since there have been any number of magazine articles, chapters in Hollywood tell-alls and at least one other entire book mining the same subject. As such, this is a well-researched read for the presumably very few scandal mag buffs who've somehow never heard of Confidential. But the real audience for this book (schlock culture hounds who are already very familiar with Confidential's skanky past) is bound to be disappointed--despite his best efforts, author has come up empty while digging around for much significant new dirt on this famously sleazy rag.

An index, references, several rarely-seen photos of the principals and great cover design are a plus, though.
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The book was engaging if not a bit redundant at times. Also it's comprised of many other books' information and the references at the back indicated this.

But one of the more enjoyable parts was finding out that "America's Sweetheart" back in the day was a trashed-out homewrecker. (You'll have to read it to find out who it was). Bottom line: if you like gossip, and you like "karma-blowback", then you'll like The Shocking True Story!
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