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Plenty Of 'Big Love' For HBO Star Chloe Sevigny

Actress Chloe Sevigny is known for her fashion sense, but she doesn't mind wearing a prairie dress for her Golden Globe-winning role as a wife in a polygamous family on HBO's Big Love. Sevigny explains how she prepared to play second wife Nicki Grant -- and remembers her other film roles.


Other segments from the episode on March 2, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 2, 2010: Interview with Chloe Sevigny; Interview with Henry Scott.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Plenty Of 'Big Love' For HBO Star Chloe Sevigny


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The season finale of the HBO series "Big Love" is this Sunday. My guest, Chloe
Sevigny, won a Golden Globe in January for her performance in the series.

Ms. CHLOE SEVIGNY (Actress): To everyone at Playtone and everyone at HBO, thank
you. To Will and Mark, our creators, I can't even imagine what inspired you to
cast me as a Mormon fundamentalist polygamist. I remain eternally confused and
forever grateful. Thank you.

GROSS: Casting Sevigny was an inspired, but definitely a surprising choice for
the role of a polygamist in a prairie dress who's cut off from much of the
world. Until "Big Love," she was best known for her roles in "Kids," about
skateboarders, and "Boys Don't Cry," in which she falls in love with a person
who's transgendered.

In "Big Love," Sevigny plays Nikki, one of three wives in a polygamist family.
Nikki grew up on a compound whose polygamist members consider themselves the
true Mormons, even though the group is and never was affiliated with the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mormons abandoned polygamy over 100 years

Nikki's father was considered the prophet of the compound. Not long after he
was murdered, Nikki's mother was assigned to marry the man - or as they would
put it, to be sealed to the man - who was Nikki's first husband, the man Nikki
was forced to marry when she was about 14. In this scene, Nikki's daughter from
that marriage, Cara Lynn, is visiting Nikki's mother at the compound when Nikki
calls, outraged about the impending marriage. Nikki's mother is played by Mary
Kay Place.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Big Love")

Ms. SEVIGNY: (As Nicolette Grant) How are things going?

Ms. MARY KAY PLACE (Actress): (As Adaleen Grant) We're having a fabulous time
getting to know one another, and I've just been assigned my new marital

Ms. SEVIGNY: (As Nikki) I asked you: Please do not discuss that with me.

Ms. PLACE: Fine. I'm just saying my new room adjoins Cara Lynn's. We share a
toilet, just like sisters.

Ms. SEVIGNY: (As Nikki) Look, you are not sisters.

Ms. PLACE: (As Adaleen) I know that. We're painting fluffy clouds, and I've
sewn us matching outfits.

Ms. SEVIGNY: (As Nikki) Please don't wear matching outfits.

Ms. PLACE: (As Adaleen) Well, she needs something. She's taken a bit to
dressing like a whore. And after my sealing, I will be one of her mothers.

Ms. SEVIGNY: (As Nikki) Oh, no you won't. I am her mother. You are my mother.
You are her grandmother. Don't push me.

Ms. PLACE: (As Adaleen) You need to find peace with my pending remarriage. I
want your blessing.

Ms. SEVIGNY: (As Nikki) Mama, just please have her back on Sunday.

(Soundbite of beep, phone hanging up)

GROSS: Chloe Sevigny, welcome to FRESH AIR. I really enjoy your performance on
"Big Love" so much. It must be so odd to play a character like Nikki because,
you know, she lives - she grew up in the compound. She lives in a world where
you share your husband with other wives. She has, like, two other women she
shares her husband with. What did you have to do to feel like you could
possibly comprehend her? Did you spend any time on a fundamentalist compound?
Did you go to Utah? Like, what did you do?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I wish I'd had that sort of opportunity, but no. I read as much
literature as I could find, from "Under the Banner of Heaven" to "Escape" by
Carolyn Jessop to "Growing Up in Polygamy," and there's so much many titles
that go on and on and on, just trying to wrap my head around that world and
where these people are coming from and their beliefs.

I tried to read the Book of Mormon, which I didn't get very far into. But I
just wanted to approach the character with respect for her and her beliefs. And
so I tried to do as much research on my own as I could, but most of that was
through different television expose shows and/or, you know, literature,
magazine articles, et cetera.

GROSS: So many of your previous roles were, you know, like "Last Days of Disco"
or "Party Monster," which is about, like, the alternative club world. And, you
know, "Kids" which is about skateboarders. I mean, the scenes that you were
part of in the movies are so absolutely contrary to everything that the
characters in "Big Love" stand for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: I know. And I think that all of my performances in those films -
because I'm more intimidated by the big screen, I often keep my performances
much smaller and much more natural and subtle. And, of course, on "Big Love,"
it's so big, and the stakes are always really high and there's always so much
going on that I can't imagine what they saw in earlier performances that they
would think oh, Chloe can really - she's got - she can run with this. Do you
know what I mean?

GROSS: Well, it's so funny. Like, you're known, among other things, as an icon
of fashion, of always being, like, a step ahead of what the fashion industry's
doing and putting together your own very unusual outfits from thrift stores.
And on "Big Love," you are stuck in one of those, like, prairie dresses most of
the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: I know. It's funny, because it's kind of - was always a fantasy of
mine. Growing up, my favorite program was "Little House on the Prairie." So I
always wanted to wear this look. When I was a child, I wouldn't let my mom put
me in anything but calico dresses, and now, what do you know? Every day, I'm in
a calico dress, practically. So it's kind of funny.

GROSS: That's very funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's funny that you wanted to wear it as a kid, too.

Ms. SEVIGNY: I did. I even slept in one of those white, cotton nightcaps. I was
obsessed with "Little House on the Prairie."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So describe how it feels to be in one of those prairie dresses and how
it helps you with the role when you're wearing it.

Ms. SEVIGNY: Well, the look is so particular, especially the hairdo. And every
time I'm sitting in the makeup trailer and, you know, we begin the poof, it
just - the character takes over. And the clothes are very modest, but also very
fitted. So it gives me a certain posture and a certain attitude, I think, just
because I stand up taller, and, you know, I have this height in my hair. So I
feel like I'm even - I am taller, you know, with the hair and whatnot, and it
just gives me, I don't know, a certain sass.

GROSS: Now recently on the show, when you rescued your oldest daughter, who is,
I think like 14, from being sealed, married, to a man decades older than her,
you kind of - you had to find her first, because you knew she was being married
off, but you had to find where she was. And describe what you were wearing,
which is totally out of character. You've never dressed like this in "Big

Ms. SEVIGNY: Well, I show up at La Esperanza Hotel, where they're performing
several sealings on several different young women, and I'm having to run around
through different rooms to find her. And I have on a very, very short skirt -
crotch-grazing, practically - super-high heels, which I was, like, should I
pretend that I don't know how to walk in heels? Because I don't think Nikki

So we had to, like, do a couple practice runs with me kind of wobbling, but
kind of not, because I can actually run faster in heels than flats. And I had a
big, like, side ponytail on the side of my head, and lots of makeup, eye
makeup, lipstick, and a very revealing top. And I think it was just, like,
Nikki's rebel moment. She wanted to show up and upstage everybody and just be
like the rebellious teen that she never got to be.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite storyline from "Big Love"?

Ms. SEVIGNY: A favorite storyline? I haven't really been watching this season,
because I don't - ironically, I don't have a television.

GROSS: You don't have a television?

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How come you don't have a television?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I - well, I was in this long-term relationship, and we watched a
lot of TV, and I love TV and I totally get sucked in. And we broke up and he
moved out, and I was like, you know what? I'm going to get rid of the TV or
else I'm never going to leave the house. I have to hit the streets, get out
there, ring them bells, like Liza Minnelli says. So I got rid of the TV.


Ms. SEVIGNY: I really miss it, too, because I really like "American Idol."

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Chloe Sevigny, and she's one of
the stars of the HBO series "Big Love."

Let's talk about some of your movies. Let's start with the first, "Kids," which
was made in 1995. And this is about a group of, I don't know, teenager -
teenage, I guess, skateboarders whose lives revolve around, like getting high
and having sex. And the boys in this have absolutely no regard for the girls
they have sex with.

And you're - you start off, you've been a virgin, and you have sex with the
main character, Telly, and you get AIDS from him, and you spend part of the
movie just trying to track him down.

So at the time you were - or just before making this movie, you were hanging
out with a lot of skateboarders. How was that connected to getting cast in the

Ms. SEVIGNY: Well, Harmony Korine, the boy who wrote the film, hung out with
the all the skaters, too. We were, like, just a bunch of kids that hung out in
Washington Square Park. And one day, Harmony met the director, Larry Clark, and
Larry was shooting pictures of the skaters with a Leica camera. And Harmony
said, oh, is that a Leica? And they started a conversation, and Larry said, you
know, I'm really interested in making a film about the skate culture and about
teens in America today, especially in New York City and sort of this culture.

And Harmony said, well, as it so happens, I'm, like, you know, at NYU right now
studying film, and I'm a writer. So they got together and, you know, hashed out
this kind of storyline or outline, which was more or less Larry's, and Harmony
just kind of filled it in. And most of the characters in the film were played
by themselves.

So they were written for the people that played them. Like, Harold was Harold,
Hamilton was Hamilton. You know, most of the characters - I think mainly Telly
and Casper were kind of more fictional.

GROSS: In the period that you made "Kids" and before that, you were known also
for your street fashion. You were - you had done some modeling. You were in
some magazines. How did clothing, fashion become important to you?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I guess it was just always a way of expressing myself. I was never
very good at drawing. I couldn't play any instruments, and it was just a way to
be creative and outrageous. And, you know, I lived in a community - it was a
very small community where everybody dressed the same, and I guess I just
wanted to be different.

And so I pored over old Vogues that, you know, they had in the library at our
high school and going to the thrift store and sewing them on my sewing machine
and just coming up with, you know, crazy outfits. And it was just - it was also
a way of identifying with other kids that were into weird stuff like I was.

GROSS: Now, you shaved your head when you were in high school.

Ms. SEVIGNY: I did, I did, between junior and senior year. Yup.

GROSS: Were you horrified at the shape of your head? I mean, like, some people
shave their head, and there's all these, like, bumps they didn't know they had
and ridges and things like that.

Ms. SEVIGNY: No, it's so funny, too, because before that, I had hair, like,
down to my waist - really long, blonde hair, and it was always in my face. And
when I shaved my head, my mother was so thrilled. I thought she was going to
freak out, and she loved it more than anybody else. She was like: I can finally
see your face, Chloe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: She loved it. She was crazy for it. It's hilarious. I just, I
always felt like I just was so identified by this hair, this long, long, long
hair. And then I actually went and sold it to a Broadway wigmaker - didn't get
very much, unfortunately.


Ms. SEVIGNY: But I remember walking into this, like, little sweatshop studio
they had, and these women were sewing these wigs with, you know, strand by
strand - because it was virgin hair. It was blonde, and it had never been dyed.
So it was, like, it was kind of rare to find that. And yeah, I sold it, a bag
of hair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How much did you get?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I don't think very - I think maybe like $150. Not very much. But
then, you know, to a 17-year-old kid in '92 or whenever that was, it seemed
like a lot to me.

GROSS: My guest is actress Chloe Sevigny. More after a break. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Chloe Sevigny, and she stars in
the HBO series "Big Love." Now, you were in two films about the club scene.
There's "Last Days of Disco," and then there's a film that takes place a few
years after that, "Party Monster." And the film centers around Michael Alig -
this is based on a true story - who created this, like, alternative club scene
and ended up just getting, like, so addled by drugs that he killed somebody and
has since been in prison.

So were you familiar with this scene? Did you know the people in this scene
when you made the movie?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I did. I knew almost all the people in the scene. I did not know
the girl that I played, Gitsie, even though my character wasn't fully her. She
was kind of more, kind of a mix of a few different people.

But I knew Michael. I knew Freeze. I knew James St. James. I knew all of them.
I was intimidated by most of them, but some of them that aren't featured in the
film were my close friends, like Walt Paper and some of the other big club

And as a young person, you know, coming to the city from Connecticut and going
to these big clubs and seeing these outrageous characters and these costumes
that were so creative and so mindboggling, I was really inspired by the scene
and just the wildness of it.

But yeah, Michael - Michael was always a little intimidating to me. And I was
more a part of the rave scene, and he was the club scene. I think the old club
guard was kind of threatened by the ravers, because they were taking over the
scene, you know. It was ridiculous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What was the difference between the rave scene and the club scene?

Ms. SEVIGNY: The rave scene was a lot younger, and the fashion was very
different. It was kind of the '90s grunge look that was made famous in, like,
fashion magazines like The Face and I.D. and kind of heroin chic, and I was
kind of going for that.

GROSS: When you say heroin chic, you knew a lot of people who were actually
addicted to heroin.

Ms. SEVIGNY: I did, sadly, and I lost a lot of friends over the years. And the
drugs, they were a really big part of the scene, and luckily for me, I was
never good at taking drugs. Like, I was always really frightened, frightened by
them and what I saw. But I got very close to a lot of people who used, and I
think just being around it was enough. You know, I could kind of see them and
see how it was affecting them and be, like, this is, you know, too much. I
can't - I wouldn't be able to handle that.

But, you know, it ruined a lot of people's lives and ruined the rave scene for
sure in New York, 100 percent, because in the beginning, there wasn't a lot of
heroin. It was other things like acid and ecstasy and, you know, young-people
things. And then it got very dark towards the end.

GROSS: Wasn't it hard, in some ways, to be really close to people who were high
all the time or addicted to cocaine or heroin or whatever? Because they're
operating in, like, a different dimension when they're that high than you would
be if you weren't.

Ms. SEVIGNY: They were. But I think I also had this thing of, like, of the
caretaker, of looking after them a little bit. So I always had a more maternal

GROSS: Did you feel like that was part of who you were in that scene, you were
the maternal person and the person who could stay straight and sane and take
care of the people who weren't?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I think I was, yeah, and especially, like - God, I can't even
remember the name of this one drug that would take, but they would go in a K-
hole. I can't remember what it's called. And then people were totally, just,
they could not function.

And I remember, I would always be the one that wasn't participating. And kids,
they were crazy back then with the drugs. I remember, like, when River Phoenix
died, this group of kids I knew got together and rented a bunch of his films
and decided to, like, use the drugs that he used, that he had OD'ed on. I mean,
these kids were crazy.

GROSS: Now, from what I read, you grew up Roman Catholic, in a pretty strict
Roman Catholic home. So...

Ms. SEVIGNY: I wouldn't say we were so strict, but my mother's parents were
Polish. So she grew up in a very strict Catholic environment. So she was a
little looser on us. But we had to go to mass every Sunday and, you know, CCD
and all of that.

GROSS: So how much guilt did you feel during your early days...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...when you going - when you were doing a lot of things that the church
would not approve of?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: I don’t know. I think that I was always a good person. I mean, I
always kind of - even though I was kind of living a little, I don't know,
crazy, I felt like I was still a good person and not really hurting anybody
else. So I didn't feel that much guilt.

GROSS: Were you still going to church then?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I wasn't. I actually started going to mass again. I did a play
off-Broadway called "Hazelwood Junior High," which was a true crime story about
these girls that murdered one of their friends. And the character that I played
was a Satanist, and she was very dark, and every night on stage, we had to
murder this little girl.

And I had, you know, a book on the true story, and there were these crime scene
photos. And I just started getting very disturbed by, you know, the material
and performing this, you know, on stage every night. So I started going to mass
again and - just for some sort of quiet, and you know, whatever I wanted to
take from mass and communion.

GROSS: Kind of an antidote to what you had to do on stage?

Ms. SEVIGNY: I think so. Yeah.

GROSS: Before you made your first movie, before you made "Kids," Jay McInerney,
the writer, wrote an article about you in the New Yorker and about how you were
the downtown girl of the moment and always a beat ahead of the fashion
industry, how people followed you. What was the impact of that article on your

Ms. SEVIGNY: Well, my mother got a life subscription to the New Yorker, she was
thrilled about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: And I got a red rubber Helmut Lang dress that I really wanted. He
promised me if I did the article, he'd buy me this Helmut Lang dress.

GROSS: Wait a minute. What are the journalistic ethics of that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: I know. I mean, I don't really know what the repercussions were, I
mean, other than the label it-girl kind of sticking and still being there for
me, which I always had a problem with. But I don't really feel like it changed
things that much.

You know, I was on this course that I was on, and I was attracted to, you know,
people that were doing stuff. And I was doing videos and being in photo shoots,
you know, whether they were published or not, you know, just to be around
people that I thought were creative and that were creating something and doing
something with their lives, and that was always a very attractive attribute to
me. So it felt like I was on this path regardless of whether that article had
come out.

GROSS: Now, I read that you had childhood scoliosis, which is curvature of the
spine. Was it treated when you were young?

Ms. SEVIGNY: It was never treated. I can't remember why. I feel like we went to
a specialist upstate, and they said, well, you can get a brace, but it was very
expensive. And I think for some reason, it never happened, and they gave me all
these certain exercises.

They said, you know, that the curvature wasn't strong enough to have to have
the operation, which I know a few girls that have a metal rod in their back.
But to me, now, it's like - I still - every time I see myself on film, I see
it. That's all I see. And I - and even in photographs, I'm just - to me, it's
like - my ex-boyfriend used to say when I'd get really drunk, I'd come home and
cry and be, like, I'm so crooked. It's my one thing that, yeah, that I still
have a hard time with.

But I've been doing a lot of yoga, which has been helping. It makes me feel
like it's straightened me out a little bit, but yeah, on "Big Love," I see it
all the time, especially with those outfits, because they're so form-fitting. I
see myself walking, and I'm like...

(Soundbite of squeaking sound)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: I have one hip, and not one...

GROSS: I don't see that.

Ms. SEVIGNY: Well, good. Well, you're probably not looking, either. It's funny,
because Ellen Burstyn, she was playing Jeanne Tripplehorn's mother on the show.
And she came in, and I walked up to her, and the first thing she said to me:
Oh, you have scoliosis. She's a very perceptive woman.

GROSS: Huh. Have you ever had formal acting training?

Ms. SEVIGNY: No. I remember after "Kids," I was kind of thinking about it, and
I was talking to different people I knew in the industry and different
filmmakers, and - don't, don't, don't mess with your natural talents. You know,
they always say that kind of thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEVIGNY: But I've read some books like Uta Hagen's "Respect for Acting" and
things like that, where I've learned a few tricks, but I have never studied
with anyone. I don't know. It's something that I think about, though. I'm not
sure if it would make me more self-conscious. Like I - you know, there are some
actors on the show who studied, you know, at Julliard and whatnot, and their
methods are very different from my own. And sometimes I get frustrated with
certain performers and their methods, and they get - they're obsessed with
props or this or that. They always have to have something they're doing, and
you know, I'm always like my main acting philosophy is don't act, react. So I
try and keep it simple.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. SEVIGNY: Thank you.

GROSS: Chloe Sevigny is one of the stars of the HBO series "Big Love." The
season finale is Sunday. You'll find a link to the full text of Jay McInerney's
1994 New Yorker profile of Sevigny on our Web site,, where
you'll also find clips from "Big Love."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Confidential: The National Enquirer Of The 1950s


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. For decades, Americans have reveled in
celebrity gossip eagerly reported in supermarket tabloids and now on Web sites
like TMZ. Our guest, Henry Scott, is going to take us back to a time in the
1950s when a new magazine called Confidential was blazing the celebrity scandal

Behind its lurid red and yellow cover, Confidential had stories of Robert
Mitchum putting on an obscene display at a dinner party and Rita Hayworth
neglecting her children. And there was the tale of Frank Sinatra joining Joe
DiMaggio and his friends to kick down an apartment door in search of Marilyn
Monroe. More on that one shortly.

Henry Scott says Confidential was published by an eccentric New Yorker who
loathed Hollywood and paid a network of cops, hookers, and even mainstream
journalists for tips and stories.

Henry Scott is a former magazine publisher and now a media and executive search
consultant. His new book is called "Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of
Confidential, America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine." He spoke with FRESH
AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES: Well, Henry Scott, welcome to FRESH AIR. This magazine,
Confidential, feasted on the lives of Hollywood celebrities. But its publisher
Robert Harrison didn’t live in Los Angeles or particularly like it. Tell us a
little bit about him.

Mr. HENRY SCOTT (Author): Bob Harrison was the consummate Broadway playboy at a
time when that meant something. He thought everything was all about the Great
White Way, you know, hanging out at the 21 Club. He absolutely distained
Hollywood, didn’t see why anybody would go there, went once and found it very
small town, very pedestrian. He did, however, after publishing a couple of
issues of his magazine, realize that Hollywood would sell and decided to take
advantage of that.

DAVIES: And this came at a time when the movie industry was struggling. The
studio system was sort of breaking down. You know, they used to control these
stars and starlets. Box office was declining. This was the early 50s. I mean
television was in a lot of homes. There were other forms of recreation. Did
that make movie industry leaders even more protective of their stars' images?

Mr. SCOTT: Yes, I think so. The industry, as you point out, really was in
decline, and nobody quite knew what to do about it. Industry revenues had
fallen sharply after World War II. Americans were not only watching television,
they were moving to the suburbs and going bowling and playing miniature golf.
There were lots of other opportunities. So in some ways that alarmed the studio
executives and made them want to protect what they still felt they could
control in some ways.

And then you also had something that had never quite gone away, and that was
the specter of the anti-communist investigations of what was going on in
Hollywood as well as other parts of the country, and that continued to alarm
these folks.

DAVIES: Bob Harrison launched Confidential in 1952? Is that right?

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah, that's right. Absolutely.

DAVIES: Right. Right. And learned - he learned early on when he did a story
about Rita Hayworth, the, you know, the actress of the '40s and how some of her
children were not being so well cared for, and what a sensation that story was,
that Hollywood gossip would be great, but he didn’t live in Los Angeles and so
I gather he developed a network of sources to feed them information. Who were
some of these people that fed the magazine tips and information?

Mr. SCOTT: There were some very glamorous and exciting people. There was Ronnie
Quillan - Veronica Quillan, known as the Soiled Dove. Ms. Quillan was a madam
and a prostitute herself who had been involved with several Hollywood
celebrities, was known for being pretty skilled with a knife. She managed to
cut people up when they crossed her and he recruited her as an uncover
operative. She also was fairly high tech for her day. She was armed with a
wristwatch with a microphone in it, which allowed her to tape some of her

Then you had Francesca de Scaffa. Miss de Scaffa described herself as being
born of royalty. And depending on the day you talked to her, she was either
Italian or Spanish or Lithuanian, or who knew what. But pretty indisputable
that she had had an affair with the Shah of Iran, consorted with various
Mexican playboys, and made most of her living by leaking stories about those
relationships and others to Confidential magazine.

And then you had a really fascinating guy who wrote a book of his own at one
point called Fred Otash. And Fred had been a detective with the LA Police
Department, had fallen out with the department, and became the go-to private
detective in Hollywood. If there was a scandal, both sides tried to hire Fred.
The guy involved with the scandal hired Fred so the other side wouldn’t hire
him. He knew everything. What he didn’t know he could quickly find out, and
Confidential became one of his biggest clients.

DAVIES: Could you think of an example of a story that one of these prostitutes,
Ronnie Quillan or Francesca de Scaffa, got for the magazine?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, a great story was a story about Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.
The very month that Life Magazine came out with Arnaz and Ball and their
children on the cover portraying them as the prototypical wonderful American
family, Confidential came out with a story alleging that Ronnie Quillan and
Desi Arnaz had had an affair. It was a pretty dramatic story because it put the
lie to what Life magazine was doing and it really pointed up the dramatic
difference between Confidential's approach to news about celebrity and the
mainstream media, if you will, the mainstream media's approach to news about

DAVIES: So Desi Arnaz, the husband from all those "I Love Lucy" episodes, was
shown in this magazine to be having an affair with a prostitute?

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah. And the interesting thing was - and this was the pretty nasty
thing about Confidential - this affair had happened a number of years earlier.
And if you were in Hollywood, what was really scary was you might well have
thought that something that was unsavory in your past, with so many years
behind, you'd never have to think about it again. But Confidential had a habit
of reaching back into time and digging things up, and that was the case with
this particular scandal.

So the liaison had happened many, many years before. And as it happened, Desi
Arnaz and Lucille Ball were briefly separated at the time. But nevertheless,
they printed the story. It caused a big, big stir and it came at a time when
there really was some strife in their marriage. Lucille Ball was very shaken by

DAVIES: And how did Ricky react?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: That's to say, Desi Arnaz.

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah, Ricky denied it all. And basically, as is often the case with
men in these situations, Ricky wasn’t willing to comment on it. Lucy actually
wanted to get a copy of the magazine but was afraid to go out and buy one
herself and had to send someone out to get it for her. And this, you know, she
was a few years older than him. She was getting older. He had a drinking
problem. He was attracted to younger women. She was feeling somewhat insecure
in the relationship, and this couldn’t have come at a worse time for her.

DAVIES: Now, when Confidential was writing stories like this about in many
cases beloved American stars, they must've worried about lawsuits. How did they
protect themselves?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, but one thing Confidential did that was really amazing was it
vetted every story to a tremendous degree. So Confidential hired people - one
of Otash's big jobs was actually fact-checking, going out and interviewing
people who were going to be mentioned in a Confidential story or who were
sources and obtaining affidavits attesting to the truth. So Harrison felt like
this would protect him, number one, from being sued. It also added value to the
magazine in the eyes of the readers because these were, you know, pretty
scurrilous stories. But at the end of the day they could be proven to be true.
So this was one of the things he hinged the magazine's reputation on.

DAVIES: Yeah. I mean the subhead under the title Confidential was: Tells the
facts and names the names. You know, with perspective of time, does it appear
that these stories were in the main sleazy but accurate?

Mr. SCOTT: The stories were absolutely sleazy and absolutely accurate. Near the
end of Confidential's prime period, it began making mistakes, but those
mistakes were more a matter of time and date when they alleged various things
happened rather than mistakes about the facts themselves.

Confidential had another interesting tactic that Bob Harrison's lawyer told me
about. Confidential deliberately printed somewhat less than it knew. So if
Confidential ran a story saying a man was having an affair with a woman not his
wife, it might choose to not mention the fact that she - this woman was 14
years old. And then if the man came forward and said I'm going to sue you,
Confidential would say great, we'll go to trial, you'll cost us a lot of money
and we'll bring up that this young woman was a minor. So Confidential always
published somewhat less than it knew, and that was - provided a little bit of
margin of safety.

DAVIES: And when you were doing your research, did you hear of occasions where
Harrison the publisher or others had conversations with, you know, the lawyers
of celebrities and they let them know what else there was that they didn’t want
to hear or read about?

Mr. SCOTT: Yes. Al Viscafano(ph) told me that it was not uncommon...

DAVIES: That was the attorney for the magazine, right?

Mr. SCOTT: This was the attorney for the magazine, not uncommon for him to hear
from someone who knew a story was coming, and Al would simply say, well, you
know, here's what we're not going to print, and that was often just enough to
have somebody hang up and walk away.

DAVIES: Yeah. Can you think of an example of that?

Mr. SCOTT: There was in one case in particular involving Tab Hunter, the
magazine published a story just as Tab Hunter was appearing in a movie about
the Korean War being, you know, the tough guy leading a Korean War Marine unit,
I believe it was, they published a story that many, many, many years ago when
he was a young actor he'd been arrested at an all-male pajama party in Los
Angeles, when all-male pajama parties presumably weren't well thought of.

And Confidential was interesting. It often alluded to certain things without
coming right out and saying them. So it didn’t say that Tab Hunter was gay, but
it made enough sort of references to homosexuality to lead a reader to think
that. And this was a case where Confidential said to Hunter's lawyer, well, you
know, we have additional information about Tab Hunter, and Hunter decided to,
you know, drop the suit.

DAVIES: You know, I'm glad you mentioned that about the references - the
indirect way that the magazine often wrote about its subjects. One of the fun
things about your book is that every chapter begins with an actual article.

And you can see how these were - this was a publication in the '50s writing
about sex when people didn’t talk explicitly about sex. And I was just going to
read just a bit from one of these articles, and this was about how Frank
Sinatra had such stamina in the bedroom because he ate Wheaties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: And the writer writes, as he's describing an episode with Frank
Sinatra: Back at the house he tore into the kitchen, wolfed down a big bowl of
those nourishing flakes, then led her - his partner - to the boudoir. The
frolic that followed was as nice a little ad for Wheaties as you could ever
want, General Mills, but that was only the beginning. While the tootsie was
catching her breath, Frankie excused himself and padded back into the kitchen
for a refill of that breakfast of champs. The girl was still wondering what was
going on when he came charging back into the playroom humming "I’m in the Mood
for Love" and then proceeded to prove it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: There was an art to writing about this stuff in such a revealing but
indirect way, wasn’t there?

Mr. SCOTT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, when Confidential wrote about
Elizabeth Scott, her name being found in a call girl's call book, Confidential
didn’t say Elizabeth Scott was a lesbian. Confidential said she preferred the
company of baritone babes. And it used these wonderful allusions and it also
was kind of the king of alliteration. Harrison loved alliteration and whenever
he could use a term like baritone babes, he insisted on putting it in the

An interesting things about his approach to editing was he believed that the
way a story sounded when read aloud was very important, so one of the final
things that happened when a story was being edited was someone was brought in,
often an elevator operator, to listen to the story being read aloud and had to
decide if they listened to that sort of man on the street, if you will's,
opinion of how the story sounded.

DAVIES: We're talking with writer Henry Scott. His new book is called "Shocking
True Story." It's about the scandal magazine Confidential, which was published
in the '50s.

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is writer Henry Scott. He's
written a new book about the magazine Confidential, which was a scandal
magazine which broke all the roles in the 1950s. The name of the book is
"Shocking True Story."

I want to talk about the content of the magazine in some detail here.

Mr. SCOTT: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: One of the consistent themes was exposing homosexuality. What was the
fascination with homosexuality here?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, as one of Harrison's editors said, he's queer for queers. And
no one quite understood that. He seemed to have an outsized interest in
homosexuality and in exposing gay people who were passing for straight. He was
interested in exposing all sorts of what he regarded as hypocrisy - black
people passing for white, communists passing for non-communists, etcetera. But
gays he was particularly worked up about. Some people have raised some
questions about Harrison's own sexuality - not entirely clear what he was about
sexually. He had an affair with - a long-time affair with a woman who
represented herself to be his wife, she was not. He did also date a woman who
had been a burlesque dancer who I interviewed, and she claimed that he had
somewhat kinky taste. He liked being dominated and she was turned off and
repulsed by that. And in the many months that they actually went out they never
had a sexual relationship. So it's a little unclear what drove him to this.

Basically, however, what motivated him was a desire to sell copies of the
magazine and he did that very artfully by playing on pretty much all the
insecurities in postwar America.

DAVIES: And, of course, I mean in some ways the best story about a closeted gay
man in Hollywood he didn’t write, which is Rock Hudson, right?

Mr. SCOTT: Absolutely. And it was a story that he had everything he needed to
write. Interestingly enough, Fred Otash had been hired by Rock Hudson's wife...

DAVIES: That's the private detective who was so active here, right?

Mr. SCOTT: The private detective. He actually wired their home. She was
considering a divorce and she wanted to gather all the information she could to
get a maximum settlement. He wired their home and in a separate book that he
wrote, he disclosed the conversation word for word. However, in that book which
he published in the '60s, he never named the actor. He just said a very
prominent Hollywood actor. But everyone has come to understand that was Rock
Hudson. So Fred Otash, who worked for Confidential, had access to an amazing
conversation where Rock Hudson confesses to his wife Phyllis that he had had
sex with a man just weeks after he and she had gotten married and talked at
great length about his gay life.

What happened was the studios finally prevailed on Confidential not to do the
story and said we'll give you something else. And one of the things they gave
Confidential magazine was the story of Rory Calhoun. And Rory Calhoun had not
been gay but he was a small-time criminal many years earlier, had been
arrested, and Confidential wrote the story about his secret criminal life.

Now the odd thing was that instead of hurting Rory Calhoun, this somehow made
him look like a tough guy and his popularity soared, wasn’t hurt at all.

DAVIES: One of the most remarkable stories in the magazine, and one which
generated a lot of controversy, involved Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Frank
Sinatra and somebody breaking down the door of somebody's house. Tell us what

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah, this was a wonderful story. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe
had divorced, much to his dismay. He stilled loved Marilyn but Marilyn was not
willing to be the homebody - the homemaker that he wanted her to be. She still
wanted a career. So he is sitting one night at a restaurant club where he's got
a friend who is the manager and he's drinking heavily and he's steaming because
he has reason to believe that Marilyn has been having an affair with her voice
coach. And he knows where the voice coach and Marilyn, he thinks, are shacked
up - this is a home where a friend of hers lives.

So he finally decides in a drunken state that he's going to go over there and
bust the door down and scare the hell out of them. So he tells his buddy, who
runs the restaurant, who gets worried, and his buddy picks up the phone and he
calls a private detective who's a friend of his and they call Frank Sinatra,
who's a friend of all of them. And they all decide they’ve got to take care of

So they all pile in cars - they can't stop Joe. And they go over to the house
and they decide they’ve got to do something. So DiMaggio is convinced that he
needs to stand outside and just keep watch. The rest of them decide to break
into this house. They have the private detectives with cameras and those big
old-fashioned flashbulbs and they're going to break into the bedroom and catch
Marilyn and her voice coach in the act. They go banging through the door and
are stunned to find an equally stunned person, a Miss Florence Kotz, who is
frightened out of sleep by this group of strange men, including Frank Sinatra,
who she recognizes, and men with cameras taking pictures.

It was known as The Wrong Door Raid. It was buried for a while.

DAVIES: So they literally broke down the wrong door. We don't even whether

Mr. SCOTT: They broke down the wrong door. We don’t even know if Marilyn was

DAVIES: Yeah. Okay.

Mr. SCOTT: Absolutely. And they manage to cover it up. The LA police were
easily bought off and they covered up the story for quite a while. But
eventually, one of the private detectives who had a drinking problem and needed
some money, he heard that this magazine, Confidential, would pay for
interesting stories so he managed to pull the file out of a filing cabinet and
take it to Confidential magazine. It was an enormously successful story and
drove circulation up to new heights - embarrassed Joe DiMaggio, embarrassed
Frank Sinatra. It actually provoked a hearing in the California State
Legislature about the behavior of private detectives.

DAVIES: And were Frank or Joe or any of the principles forced to tell their
story in public?

Mr. SCOTT: They absolutely were. And Frank Sinatra had to appear at the hearing
and had to testify. It was deeply humiliating for these people and great fun
for Robert Harrison.

DAVIES: Henry Scott's book about the magazine, Confidential, which was
published in the '50s is called "Shocking True Story." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, we're speaking with writer Henry Scott. He's
written a book about one of the half-breaking scandal magazines of the 1950s.
It's called "Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, America's
Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine."

The Waterloo, in effect, of Confidential was an incredibly well-publicized
trial in Los Angeles. Explain what happened here.

Mr. SCOTT: It was a trial that I like to describe as the O.J. Simpson trial of
its time. It was on the front page everyday of The New York Times, the Los
Angeles Times. It was covered by the Times of London. It was covered by Le
Monde - an enormous, enormous event. And what it was about was the studios
finally said we’ve had enough. They went to Pat Brown, the attorney general of
California who at that time was planning a run for the governor's position, and
they said we're not going to support you unless you do something about this

So Pat Brown came up with a charge that many people think was fairly specious
and that charge was conspiracy to commit criminal libel. So he filed charges
against the magazine and he was not able to bring Robert Harrison to Los
Angeles to stand trial because those charges were charges filed in California
and he could not be extradited from New York. However, Harrison's dear niece
who he loved tremendously, Marjorie, and her husband, were running the
Hollywood research bureau in Los Angeles. So the charges...

DAVIES: That was essentially the sort of tip gathering and fact gathering thing
that fed stories to the magazine, right?

Mr. SCOTT: Absolutely. It was the magazine's source of Hollywood information.
And it was an enterprise that Harrison himself underwrote. So this was this
enormous trial and Harrison's lawyer - his niece's lawyer - announced his
strategy early on. And his strategy was to bring - subpoena everybody who had
been written about in the magazine, get them on the stand and have them testify
as to whether what had been written about them was true or not.

DAVIES: In other words, bring the celebrities in and put them under oath?

Mr. SCOTT: Absolutely. And they were terrified. Suddenly, Hollywood emptied
out. You could not find a star in Hollywood.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCOTT: Frank Sinatra managed to anchor himself on a boat off the California
coast. Various other people fled to Mexico to Nevada. Everyone tried to duck
subpoenas. There were a few sad cases. Poor Tab Hunter was in his pajamas and
answered the front door when he was handed a subpoena. So enough celebrities
were subpoenaed and realized they were going to have to show up and confess to
the truth of these stories.

DAVIES: And what happened?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, Hollywood was pretty frightened when they realized what
Confidential's strategy was because Hollywood suddenly thought, oh my God, what
have we done here? This may be more trouble than it's worth. The Hollywood
powers that be then went back to the court and secretly lobbied to try and kill
this proceeding but they weren't successful in doing it. The trial went
forward. Very few of the celebrities actually ended up being called. One of the
things that did happen, however, that was very dangerous for - damaging for
Confidential was they brought Howard Rushmore, the former editor to the stand
and he wanted to destroy this magazine.

He at this point hated Harrison, who had fired him. So he testified as to the
secret sources and he named these people. And these were people who were, you
know, humiliated by being named. They lost friends. They lost jobs. And
suddenly the confidential network of Confidential, if you will, had been
destroyed. And this was what all but destroyed Confidential magazine.

The jury came back with a finding of guilty on a minor charge. It didn’t look
like that was going to stand up. But Harrison was so nervous. He'd spent so
much money on lawyers, so nervous about what might happen to his niece that he
was willing to negotiate a settlement and that settlement required him to stop
writing scandal stories about Hollywood.

DAVIES: So in effect, he backed out. He'd lost his sources, his distributors in
California had been intimidated, and it just wasn’t going to work to do this

Mr. SCOTT: Absolutely. And his circulation fell in the course of a year from
five million copies on average to 200,000 copies. And what that proved was what
America wanted to read was scandal stories about Hollywood. But Hollywood
wasn’t out of the woods. Hollywood had killed Confidential but during
Confidential's boom years, a number of other magazines had seen what was going
on and decided that this was a field that they wanted to get into.

So it was as if a giant oak tree had been chopped down and suddenly all these
little acorns that had fallen from that tree and were laying in fertile soil
underneath had room to grow. And so Hollywood's never the same. Lots of other
magazines cropped up and the studios realized there was nothing they could do
about this. There was a new cynicism about Hollywood and they couldn’t change

DAVIES: Well, Henry Scott, I want to thank you for talking with us.

Mr. SCOTT: Thanks very much. I enjoyed it.

GROSS: Henry Scott spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Scott's new
book is called "Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential,
America's Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine."

You can see a slideshow of Confidential magazine covers from the 1950s on our
Web site:, where you can also read an excerpt of Scott's book
and download podcast of our show.

(Soundbite of song, I'm In the Mood for Love")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Singer, Actor): (Singing) I'm in the mood for love simply
because you're near me. Funny but when you're near me, I'm in the mood for

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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