Darling, please don’t shoot my agent… film noir, noir fiction, or the facts of Hollywood history?

Heavens, such a lot of hub-bub recently about a flattened affect actress and her middle-aged married lover… Let me tell you a cautionary tale.

In 1951 this Producer, whose illustrious career spanned the eras from Valentino’s “The Sheik” to Elizabeth Taylor’s “Cleopatra” had a horrible fit of jealousy. I present Walter Wanger:

walter-wanger

He was married to the incandescent, Joan Bennett.

joan-bennett-scarlet-street

 

Joan Bennett had a rep named Jennings Lang who was high in the strata of MCA, a talent agency that happened to be located across the street from the Beverly Hills Police Department. Wanger, on December 13th, was watching/tailing/stalking his wife and suspecting the worse saw her return to her car parked at the agency accompanied by her agent. Mr. Jennings was leaning in toward the driver’s side window still in conversation with his client as she turned her key in the ignition. At that point Wanger rushed up, shot his wife’s agent in the balls, and tossed the gun into the open car window. Here we have Jane Wyman walking Mrs. Jennings out of the hospital where her husband was admitted for treatment.

mrs-jennings-jane-wyman

 

Remember my dears, this was in 1951. In a brilliantly orchestrated strategy devised by none other than Jerry Giesler (see earlier post) Mr. Wanger waived his right to a trial by jury and threw himself on the mercy of the court. And, merciful they were – he served a total of four months at the Castaic County Honor Farm. Thereafter, he returned to a more than decent living. He and Joan Bennett remained married, although, while he continued to prosper her roles dwindled to nearly nothing. Finally, in 1965 they divorced. In later years she had this to say about the shooting and its devastating impact on her career, “I might as well have pulled the trigger myself.”

Originally this post went up in the first few months of Beguiling but, someone recently asked me about the “noir” aspects of the novel and I began to think about the stories I grew up with… Beguilers, I just don’t know how I could have avoided it. And, if any of you with long memories brings up my tirades (Write what you know…and then grit your teeth and publish.) I’ll just say, some of the novel may be based on reality, but in the defense of fiction, and a little rigmarole that goes like this:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, & incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

yes—bearing all that in mind—I really did let loose.

Cheers! V

11 Comments »

  1. “Shot his wife’s agent in the balls…” OUCH! And I guess I mustn’t say anything about the shooter being Walter *Wanger* because that’s too cheap and vulgar an observation…
    Ms Bennett’s career took a dive while WW’s continued to thrive. Ugh. It reveals a lot about sexism and Hollywood. And it doesn’t say much for Wanger’s fragile ego that when his pathetic “manhood” was threatened he shot someone nor does it say much for the jurors who let him off. Yeeuch!
    You really capture this side of Hollywood with IIHK, Vickie, though your characters tend to be slightly nicer, even the vile ones! Plus, you make it funny!

  2. Ye Gods what a story.Awful but fascinatingly awful.There are some stories like that.You are quite right George a fragile ego.I have always had the impression that Hollywood is fragile ego town though so perhaps a normal person in that context.

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