Anne Helen Petersen's Scandals of Classic Hollywood series (and other writings on fame) have been wowing the entire Internet for awhile now. Now she's finally come out with a book of essays on the same subject. Some of the subjects have had writeups online before, others appear to be new for the book and not covered online yet. She has them grouped thematically. There are romances (Pickford and Fairbanks and how they handled getting divorces and remarrying in early Hollywood, Gable and Lombard, Bogie and Bacall), falls (Fatty Arbuckle, Wallace Reid, Judy Garland, Dorothy Dandridge, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando), short-lived idols (Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, James Dean, Jean Harlow), and the awesomeness of Mae West. We should all learn from Mae West.
The author compares how celebrity is currently handled to how it was in the studio era, when teams of people were dedicated to covering up and conspiring about the portrayal of the famous. (If Mel Gibson was older, he'd still have a career.) "In the golden age of Hollywood, scandal was a roadblock, but rarely an endgame." She also points out that the bigger the star, the more meaningful they become to the public--and thus more likely to be scandalous when truth emerges. Scandal comes from violating the status quo in some way--and things have changed in how one violates status quo. But if you do something that goes against your image, that's really where things get vicious. If the star repents, they could perhaps be redeemed and restored--and that's what the author is discussing: history lessons of what it meant to be those people at those times. And of course, they're addictive page-turners that just happened to really exist. She discusses stars you think you know and those that have been mostly lost to time (who was Wallace Reid, anyway?).
Way back in the day, when Mary Pickford was getting a divorce from her first abusive husband, she claimed that she thought her divorce was "of no interest to anyone but myself" and that while the public was interested in her career, they shouldn't be so interested in her personal life. But "I have learned now that I do not belong to myself." True dat. Pickford and Fairbanks are an example of an affair where the parties involved were so likeable that their fans would forgive them. On the other hand, stars who violated the norms such as well, being fat like Fatty Arbuckle...well, people wanted to believe the worst of him even when he was proven to not be a drunken rapist and murderer.
My favorite, I think, is Mae West, who based her image on being herself, and always being herself, ribald and sexy. (And yet, still managing to portray herself as vague on details and relatively "clean" in her personal life despite her talk.) She didn't quite act like her characters IRL and avoided the Hollywood scene, and it worked. Even when the Hays Code limited her films, she went back to the stage and is one of the few relatively happy endings/characters in here. So yay for Mae. Clark Gable had a similar sort of thing going on, portraying a "masculine" image of a guy who was out wood chopping and not so much flirting with the ladies. O RLY? His wife Carole Lombard was known as an wesome fun prankster girl, which won hearts all over.
Some folks pretty much lived in the moment, conscious-wise. Valentino stood out in the moment, but probably would have faded from popularity in the way that Clara Bow did had he lived on. Images of celebrities need to be able to change with the times, which some people could do and some couldn't. And some people had more allowances or less depending on the times they lived in. Dorothy Dandridge's career in particular was hampered by that.
Honestly, it's great analysis. Anne Helen Petersen is an amazing writer and you should not only get the book, you should go read all of the links I posted along with this. She has so much research and thought into how images are constructed AND she keeps it interesting and dishy and juicy--god knows no sociology book I ever read did that. Long may her career go on.