When my grandfather served in the Marine Corps with Hollywood star Tyrone Power back in World War II, they made a surprising discovery: the two men were related.
Grandpop Quinn was the most direct, “no bull” kind of guy you ever saw. He was always the first person to call a story “nonsense,” and his favorite line was, “That’s nonsense – talk sense!”
I can hear him now, using that line on Tyrone Power when first he heard they had a relative in common named Quinn, possibly a John Quinn, if I’m recalling the story I was told as a child correctly. Grandpop must have said something along the lines of its being nonsense, or at least, highly improbable, since Tyrone had to send home to someone for a copy of his family tree in order to prove it to Grandpop that they were related. Such was the force of the personality of Grandpop that a movie star would have had to get the documentation for him in order to prove it. Ha, I’m that way myself about documentation, so I get where Grandpop was coming from.
I’d give anything myself for a copy of that family tree.
Meanwhile I’ve been reading a really wonderful, though shocking and sad, history of Hollywood called THE FIXERS: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine by the fabulous author E.J. Fleming. This is one of the best Hollywood books I’ve ever seen because it deals with not what the public was told was happening with the stars’ personal lives but with their actual stories. It talks of hit-and-run accidents that the studio paid to cover up, including one involving Clark Gable. It goes in depth into the murder of Paul Bern by his disturbed common-law ex, which was made to look like a suicide so that the story wouldn’t (somehow) imperil the career of his then-wife, Jean Harlow. There are all manner of bizarre situations described in this well-researched, impossible to put down book: “lavender” marriages to cover up homosexuality, “white” (unconsummated) marriages for the same reason, abortions, payoffs, corrupt D.A.’s in the studios pockets, mobsters, gamblers, Joan Crawford and Jeanette MacDonald’s past history of prostitution, and all manner of strangeness, wild living and corruption. If you don’t mind having your jaw involuntarily drop to the floor every other paragraph, it’s a fabulous read.
But then I came to the story about Tyrone Power’s affair with Judy Garland – and MGM’s ridiculous plot, actual, honest-to-goodness plot, that stopped it.
Tyrone Power. My relative, though I have yet to figure out the particulars of how we’re related. And Judy Garland. One of the most beloved entertainers of all time. Suddenly, it’s not just Hollywood history any more. It’s personal.
I have never been so mad in my life from reading anything as I became today, reading about this thwarted affair. MGM had assigned Judy a “publicist,” Betty Asher, whose actual job, believe this or not, was to spy on the young actress. She was still a teenager when this viper was assigned to her, just eighteen years old. Judy thought this horrific Betty Asher was her “best friend.” She didn’t realize that she was reporting every move she made back to the Powers That Be, Eddie Mannix and Louis B. Mayer at MGM.
Right there, I was getting steamed on Judy Garland’s behalf as I read it. While I do get it that the studio had an investment in Judy’s career, still – employing a spy? What kind of people would need to do this to a teen? Then Tyrone Power entered the picture, and oh my God. He loved her. She loved him. She became pregnant with his baby. The studio didn’t like any of this. He had a wife. It would hurt Judy’s “image” if she married him and had the baby. So Asher deliberately prevented Power, who was trying to call Judy, from reaching her on the phone – then lied and said Power was reading her love letters to his service buddies “as entertainment.” It devastated Judy completely. It also worked. But none of it was true! It was all a lie, perpetrated by this Asher character to break up the duo’s relationship. Poor Judy was led, by Asher, who was lying like a rug, to believe the “best” thing she could “ever” do under the circumstances was to abort his baby….
I cannot even begin to formulate the words to explain exactly what I think about Betty Asher, though my blunt grandfather could have come up with quite a few, and easily. Are there even words in our language, or anybody’s, to describe someone as base as this? Oh, the usual ones pop up – like “Judas,” or “treacherous,” or “scheming,” or “untrustworthy,” or “false friend” – but can any term like those do any justice to this? To Asher lying to deliberately destroy not only this affair but the life of the couple’s child – and to further cripple the already damaged self-esteem of a child-woman like Judy Garland, too, into the bargain? How could anybody do that for the sake of an “image” or a studio? What image or studio is worth manufacturing lies like that to force the hand of a beautiful young girl like Judy Garland – without realizing she was helping to destroy her? In the long run, I don’t think any less of Judy Garland for having had an affair with a married man that produced a baby, but I’m heartsick for her over the actions of Betty Asher as directed by Eddie Mannix and Louis B. Mayer. Yes, MGM produced spectacular movies, but the place was run by a dictatorial nut job who ordered, encouraged and allowed all of this insanity, lying, spying, drugging and destroying a young star, her lover and child. Oh, if only Grandpop were here! Better yet, if only Grandpop had been at MGM. I could just see him roaring at those people, nice and loud, “That’s nonsense – talk sense!”