Rethinking the Golden Age of Hollywood

The Golden Age of Hollywood is regarded as an idyllic time, but with its culture of abuse is it time to rethink our view of it?

Elizabeth Meade
25th November 2021
Image Credit: IMDB

Content warning: sexual assault, death, rape, sexism, racism, antisemitism and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people

Film star Natalie Wood's sister, Lana Wood, has recently confirmed rumours that Kirk Douglas sexually assaulted Natalie when she was a teenager. Lana's new book, Little Sister, also includes her belief that Natalie's husband Robert Wagner was responsible for her death in 1981. Knowing what we do now, is it time to stop romanticizing the Golden Age of Hollywood?

Beyond the direct abuse of women, sexism was common in the film industry in general. Women were expected to look and behave a certain way both on and off-screen.

Hollywood's Golden Age is defined as an era roughly between the 1910s and 1960s. It’s seen by many as a glorious, idealistic time. However, knowing what we do now about the assault of Wood and other film stars, that view comes into question.

The behaviour of powerful men in Hollywood is notoriously harmful. In the past few years, many people have come forward about assault, harassment, and violence they have faced in the industry. While many in Hollywood during the Golden Age are retired or no longer living, much of today's industry is built upon their work.

Beyond the direct abuse of women, sexism was common in the film industry in general. Women were expected to look and behave a certain way both on and off-screen. They rarely got to direct films or make major creative choices, and didn't have the same power as male actors and filmmakers.

Lana Wood alleges Kirk Douglas assaulted her sister. Image Credit: IMDB

The industry also held a narrow view of what to present in film. Relationships between two people of the same gender, or of different races, were not allowed to be portrayed on-screen from 1934 to 1968. This was due to the Motion Picture Production Code, a self-censorship initiative. While some likely disagreed with these rules, these ideas were not uncommon among people in power and the white, heterosexual target audience of the time.

Beyond Hollywood, these same issues pervaded the US. Laws, mandating segregation and outlawing interracial marriage until the late 1960s when they were declared unconstitutional. Abortion and contraception weren't fully legal until after the 1970s and marital rape was only outlawed in 1993. The reality for white men was vastly better than that of anyone else, and LGBTQ+ people still face many barriers in the 21st century.

Natalie's sister Lana Wood. Image Credit: IMDB

The Cold War compounded matters. From 1947, anyone suspected of being a Communist or sympathizer were often denied employment or experienced barriers to their work. Jewish people were often targeted, as were those producing anti-war films and members of groups deemed subversive such as the Congress of American Women. Although this eventually ended, it was clear for a time that only people with certain views were given a voice in the industry.

While the Golden Age of Hollywood produced a lot of memorable films, it's not a period that should be romanticized or seen as a bygone ideal state. The same could be said of the time period as a whole. In an age where many long for an idealized past, it's important to recognize the negative side of history and how these issues continue to impact our modern world.

Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A `Cause. Video Credit: Warner Movies on Demand
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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
Science sub-ed and Chemistry major. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking.

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