In his new limited series on Netflix, Ryan Murphy tells the story of Hollywood. Well, sort of.
In a revisionist take, the mega producer tells the story of a Hollywood that could have been. Centering queer characters, characters of color, and women — as well as characters who sit at the intersections therein — Murphy and his team of collaborators that include Janet Mock as well as Ian Brennan, explore Tinseltown reimagined. This is Hollywood.
At the center of Hollywood's eight-episode narrative are a handful of queer characters. Here, we look at a few of them and the actual people they were inspired by. Spoiler alert: Darren Criss is not playing a gay character as some people wondered in our Instagram comments.
Played by Jake Picking, Rock Hudson was one of the leading men in Hollywood during his time. Though he was almost omnipresent, his sexuality was only something known to those in the industry until his death. Hudson was the first major celebrity in Hollywood to die of AIDS-related complications.
In Hollywood, Hudson is at the beginning of his career. He meets his agent Henry Wilson who bullies him into the closet, helping to quiet rumors about his sexuality. While on the show he is allowed to explore his sexuality, in real life he married Phyllis Gates in a union that lasted three years
A bit of a power broker in Hollywood, Henry Wilson was a talent manager. He kept a bevy of Hollywood's hottest actors on his roster and helped to shape their personas, pushing them to be the bastions of masculinity. As revealed in the series, this was likely a result of Wilson's own internalized homophobia.
The role is likely to be Jim Parsons' most villainous yet. On the series, the script plays into pervasive rumors that Wilson was a sexual predator, coercing those he signed into sexual acts. He did this while also pushing them to untold heights in their careers. While history and unseen forces are mostly depicted as the antagonists in the show, Wilson comes out as the single embodiment of these forces.
People consider Anna May Wong the first Chinese American Hollywood movie star but was widely seen as robbed of her just due during her life. She was a fashion icon, once named World's Best-Dressed Woman whose legacy lives on through today — Asian drag queens like Année Maywong from Drag Race Thailand still source her for inspiration — and appeared alongside the likes of Marlene Dietrich. But it wasn't just films, Wong was a star of the stage, radio, and even television. In 1951 she became the first Asian-American lead of a U.S. show. There were rumors that she was bisexual and the star never married but did publicly have relationships with men.
Michelle Krusiec plays May Wong in Hollywood. While we do see her fighting the stereotypes she was cast in onstage — as well as her extraordinary acting ability — her sexuality isn't explored. That said, Murphy did consider her bisexual. "Anna May Wong and Rock Hudson and Hattie McDaniel were all in the LGBTQ community. Rock was gay and Anna May and Hattie were bisexual,” he told The Advocate. “I thought it would be interesting to give them the happy ending that they deserved."
Though Hattie McDaniel's role in Hollywood is small, she stands sort of as a mother for the show's storylines. She became the first person of color to ever win an Oscar in 1940 for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. She went on to make history many times over and most historians agree that she lived her private life as a bisexual woman.
Our first introduction to Queen Latifah's McDaniel shows her, fresh off of sex with a both a man and a woman. Though that may seem salacious, she goes on to become a mentor to one of the show's principals, imparting pivotal advice that we can all still use today.
Though she's another character with not the biggest role in Hollywood, Tallulah Bankhead was also rumored to be bisexual. She maintained a career, mostly onstage but also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat — in 1972 she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. In her personal life, people have connected her to the likes of McDaniel as well as Libby Holman, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and more. These secret relationships with these women went alongside marriages to Larry Williams, James Lloyd Crawford, Howard Hickman, and George Langford.
In the series we meet her, as played by Paget Brewster, having a bit of hedonistic fun at a late night party, and then engaged with McDaniel.
While he was named Ernie on the show, the man who supposedly turned tricks and furnished Tinseltown with escorts was Scotty Bowers. Like Ernie, Bowers was indiscriminate about gender and recruited people he knew to help out. While Bowers didn't own his gas station, he did help out at parties, operating as a bartender-for-hire with a little something extra. Bowers died at the age of 96 last year.
And yes, sometimes he did work out of a custom trailer.
Though Jeremy Pope has a pretty stunning turn as the Black, gay screenwriter who takes work as an escort to make ends meet, his character isn't known to be based on anyone specifically. Instead, it seems to be based on what a Black, gay man might have to do to make it in Holywood: push against pigeon-holing, engage in sex work, find themselves at the mercy of others. There are no doubt touches of Langston Hughes and Oscar Micheaux in the character — the latter is known as the first Black director of the United States – but there's also a large helping of others.
Dick Samuels, like Archie, isn't based on any one character in particular, but instead was an amalgamation of various behind the scenes figures. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly though, Murphy said that Samuels does contain parts of Irving Thalberg within him. Thalberg was a film producer called the "Boy Wonder" as he was able to identify and create massive film successes at a young age. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even gives out an award in his name, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, periodically to producers who consistently turn out high quality films.