‘1939: Secrets Of Hollywood’s Golden Year’ Episode 1: Recap And Review

In the illustrious annals of Hollywood’s cinematic history, there exists a year that stands out as a true gem among the glimmering stars: 1939. It was an era that indelibly left its mark on the world of film, shaping it into the modern marvel that we know and love today. It was a time when masterpieces such as Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, and Wizard of Oz graced the silver screens of every theater and charmed the hearts and minds of audiences everywhere. Truly, 1939 was a golden year that will forever shine in the collective memory of moviegoers and cinephiles alike. The latest series, dubbed 1939: Secrets of Hollywood’s Golden Year, goes behind the scenes to reveal the true story of Hollywood’s most glorious years. 

Spoilers Ahead


The Golden Positives & Negatives Of 1993

Lorna Luft, daughter of the iconic actress Judy Garland, who immortalized the role of Dorothy Gale with her nuanced and delightful performance, still recalls the overwhelming fear that gripped her after watching The Wizard of Oz for the very first time. The wicked witch and the flying apes in the movie left her trembling and traumatized. So much so that it drove her to reach out to her mother, expressing that she would never watch the film again unless her mother was by her side. Undoubtedly, the year 1939 was a monumental one for Hollywood, churning out an abundance of cinematic classics that were the envy of Sindbad’s treasure trove. The dignitaries of the silver screen, such as Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Betty Davis, John Wayne, and of course, Judy Garland, shone brightly in every theater and graced the front pages of newspapers. The fervor was so great that people queued up outside the studios just to catch a glimpse of these cinematic legends. During this golden age of Hollywood, few films could match the success of The Wizard of Oz, which broke new ground as the first movie to transition from black-and-white to Technicolor. Despite initial doubts and fears that the movie might flop, it ended up becoming MGM Studio’s biggest hit. At the tender age of just 16, Judy Garland underwent a significant transformation to secure the coveted lead role.  

The filming of The Wizard of Oz was no walk in the park. The production was fraught with challenges, with the studio cycling through five directors and ten screenwriters before settling on the final product. The filming itself was no less grueling, with cast and crew alike enduring a litany of injuries and setbacks.

Perhaps most famously, Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the terrifying Wicked Witch of the West, suffered painful burns to her hands during a stunt gone awry. To make matters worse, she also inhaled crushed gypsum, a hazardous substance that can cause serious harm if ingested. The costumes and makeup were no picnic either, with some actors being weighed down by heavy garments and cosmetics. Buddy Epsen, who was originally cast as the Tin Man, suffered a serious health scare after inhaling aluminum particles from his makeup. His condition was so severe that he had to be rushed to the hospital and eventually replaced by Jack Haley. Judy, who was just 16 at the time, became dependent on medication that the studios gave her to help her deal with stress and exhaustion on the set.  


The Tug Of War Of Control  

Despite the glamour and glitz of the silver screen, the golden era of Hollywood was not without its dark side. Studios held immense power and control over performers, often forcing them to sign exploitative and unfair contracts. The very idea of having an independent agent was laughed at and deemed absurd. The notorious Louis B. Mayer, the co-founder of MGM Studios, was particularly reviled by many, accused of being a liar and a fascist. Legendary actor Luise Rainer went so far as to call him the “Antichrist” – a sentiment shared by many who suffered under his iron fist. Studio moguls wielded immense power over the lives of their actors, but change was in the air. Judy Garland was one such victim. However, Bette Davis emerged as a fierce advocate for performers’ rights, challenging the status quo and paving the way for greater autonomy and freedom for actors in the industry. She fought for changes in her contract and began taking up arms for a much more sophisticated role, which in return won her multiple Academy Awards. Her hall-of-fame includes movies like Dark Victory, Hush Hush Sweet, All About Eve, and more. Unlike many, she dabbled with many roles, not didn’t just limit herself to playing a damsel in distress. There was no one else like Betty Davis; she was perfect in every way. However, by the time of Juarez, she reached her breaking point with Warner Brothers, and she eventually waved her goodbyes to MGM. 


The Curse Of Columnists

In 1939, Cary Grant made a bold move, severing ties with his studio and becoming one of the highest-paid actors of his time. It was a move that brought him great financial success but also left him vulnerable to the vicious gossip and speculation of columnists like Louella Parsons. Parsons was a powerful figure in Hollywood at the time, known for her extensive network of spies who fed her salacious details about studios and actresses alike. However, her reign was short-lived. In 1939, an article surfaced that exposed the darker side of her influence, effectively destroying her career and reputation. As Parsons fell from grace, another gossip columnist rose to take her place. Hedda Hopper, who had previously struggled to make a name for herself in the industry, found her niche in the cutthroat world of Hollywood journalism. The year 1939 was also a difficult time for gay actors in Hollywood, many of whom were pressured by their studios into engaging in “Lavender Marriages” – sham relationships with members of the opposite sex designed to hide their true sexual orientations. One high-profile example was the union between Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, both of whom were rumored to be homosexual. Other prominent gay stars of the time included Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. However, perhaps the most notable name on the list was Cary Grant. The actor was known to share a house with Randolph Scott, fueling rumors that the two were romantically involved. These rumors were stoked by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who wrote several articles about Grant’s alleged homosexuality. 

The success of movies in 1939 can be attributed to a variety of factors, but perhaps one of the most significant was the role that they played in providing an escape from the everyday realities of life. At a period when the United States was facing unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty, movies offered audiences a way to forget their troubles and immerse themselves in a world of glamour, adventure, and romance. From the sweeping epics of Gone With the Wind and Wuthering Heights to the whimsical fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, these films provided a much-needed respite from the stresses and anxieties of daily life., and 1939: Secrets of Hollywood Golden Year brilliantly explains it in vivid detail. 


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From the sweeping epics of Gone With the Wind and Wuthering Heights to the whimsical fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, these films provided a much-needed respite from the stresses and anxieties of daily life., and 1939: Secrets of Hollywood Golden Year brilliantly explains it in vivid detail. '1939: Secrets Of Hollywood's Golden Year' Episode 1: Recap And Review