Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hollywood the Golden Years: The RKO Story

I just watched the first three episodes of Hollywood the Golden Years: The RKO Story. I can't believe how much I didn't know from reading the other books about the studio and star autobiographies. What I especially liked was episode 3: A Woman's Lot. It followed the RKO contract years of both Ginger and Katharine Hepburn, featuring interviews from both. While very informative, it also showed how different their experiences were because of their different approaches for fame.

I love Ginger to death and beyond, but let's all admit that she was a little more than full of herself. There are plenty examples of it in this show, namely the contrast between Katharine's view of the studio as a big family that knew what was going on with every body. Meanwhile, Ginger says that she never met most of the people at RKO, and that maybe some technicians went from movie to movie, but she never interacted with them. Kate on the other hand begins to name many people from the cutting room to wardrobe, to electricians. It's obvious that while Kate entered the RKO gates and socialized, getting to know her colleagues and making great friends with them, Ginger maintained the "secluded star" ideal, with Lela in tow making her decisions. I can't say that this is the approach I would take to showbiz, but I can't knock her because she made it work. Or did she? I wonder if at least a little smidge of the difference between Kate and Ginger's legacy is their approach to their craft and the connections they made with their fellow technicians.

The complete RKO Story episodes are available on most BitTorrent websites as a download. I don't know why TCM doesn't air it (besides the fact that it was a BBC production). They should definitely look in to securing the rights and airing it frequently.


  1. ...been wanting to see this one, although I think I have seen a few of the Ginger interviews on youTube or somewhere...
    ...It's pretty obvious that Lela created an 'Us Two against the World' type of situation for Ginger, and it probably did result in her being somewhat 'aloof', shall we say, in regards to her relationship with the studio (see the 'feathers' incident, for example...) ...but there are typically prior events which determine an eventual situation - like her contract negotiations for more $$$...once that line is crossed between a performer and their boss, the relationship is a bit less 'jovial'...
    Even tho I have this 'ideal' vision of VKM just being the perfect actress who got along with everyone all the time, the reality is a bit different... but she seemed to be pretty 'decent' to everyone - maybe she was a bit more 'introverted' than her 'character' indicated.
    At any rate, I could yak about this all night... but there is a fine line between 'confidence' and 'cockiness'... to me, she generally seemed to fall on the former side more often than the latter...

  2. I agree. Although Lela did help her immensely and is to thank for her career, she never learned to let go of her and Ginger never learned to step away. I couldn't imagine having a "momager" for that long, or even to have my mom around longer than I did, it would have driven me nuts!
    And the contract negotiation thing is very true too. Kate went in to RKO as a "star" and demanded 1500 a week, which gradually rose according to plan each year. Ginger signed with them as a bit player and never got the monetary promotion until she demanded it.

    Another interesting thing: Pandro Berman says that Ginge refused to do Bachelor Mother until he took her off payroll for 3 weeks. I always thought she seemed a little tired in that movie, and now I understand why.

  3. ...overall, She was pretty loyal to RKO, since she worked up from a 'base salary' player to one of the top RKO draws, if not THE top in the late 30's-early 40's...but she made more concessions salary-wise than she should have...due to the 'inequality' of females in that era.
    She was quite the workhorse for them, too... she cranked out on average 3-4 RKO movies a year from '35 to '40...hard to see any current actors/actresses doing that, unless they were given the moon, salary-wise...