REVIEW: "Confessions of a Star Maker" By Luke Yankee; Cal State Fullerton Drama

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

"The Hyper-Facade of Hollywood's Dark Side"

The dark underbelly of Hollywood in the 1950's is revealed through the world of Nick Ralston, a closeted, gay, talent agent in an era where it was illegal to be "out." Nick will stop at nothing to promote his clients, including revealing everyone else’s dirty, little secrets ... before they can reveal his.

“Confessions of a Star Maker,” a live film noir radio play by playwright Luke Yankee, is produced by Cal State Fullerton and students from the Department of Theatre and Dance. Originally written as a TV pilot and later adapted as a radio play, it is available now on Vimeo from November 27th thru December 13th.

This "live" radio play, with the look and feel of old Hollywood’s Golden Age, depicts what someone had to do to succeed in Tinsel Town long before the #MeToo generation. As the radio announcer so aptly recounts: “it tells a story of guts, glamor and the true price of fame.”

Let’s say you’re young and full of dreams and one of your dreams is to break into the movies. So, where do you go to make your aspiring acting dreams come true? That’s right! Hollywood. The question is, how does one become a Hollywood star? It all depends. What are you willing to do? Or should I say sacrifice? Hollywood movie stars have influenced the world until this day. However, not everything was peaches and cream for a lot of budding stars, especially in the early days.

The dawning of the nineteenth century brought with it a new era for entertainment—Vaudeville, until the popularization of the silent film. Soon, the stars of the Vaudevillian stage migrated to working in movies. Audiences were instantly enthralled and captivated by the stars of the silent screen, many already recognizable with fan clubs. But those early days of Hollywood were not only full of glamour but also a newfound decadence. The real people behind the glamour and spotlight of the public eye, however, were far different than the “stars” that audiences grew to know and love, and much like Hollywood today, their lives were often full of scandal, debauchery, deceit and intrigue.

Mr. Yankee’s “Confessions of a Star Maker” is a fascinating insight into the largely unspoken (at least before Harvey Weinstein), sometimes reprehensible history of La-La-Land, exploring how its intriguing, glitzy veneer developed in tandem with “closeted” studio moguls, talent agents and directors preying on and exploiting the vulnerable novice actor, be they male or female, using power-play tactics for sexual favors, with promises of contracts, prospective starring roles and even fame. It was as if the exec was simply closing a sale, many times manipulating and sinking the gudgeon into the lowest depths of perversion as their targets squirm and acquiesce to get ahead in their career. Who, oft-times, will go to any lengths to get it.

Old Hollywood was also very apathetic toward people who identify now as LGBTQ—in fact, it was considered downright illegal at the time. Gay honchos in power, still in the closet, feared losing all their success and livelihood due to their non-hetero orientations. This, in a day when sexism, Me Too-situations and racism was the norm, and when speaking up was simply not done. In the movie industry in those days, whether gay or hetero, if you were a young rising star looking for a big break, exploitation was as common as getting a cup of coffee. And as disturbing as that sounds, it became a cold reality for many actors and actresses trying to get ahead. Indeed, it was a golden era of movie classics. But it was also a windfall time for very shady studio heads and people of influence to victimize its clientele.

Under the all-controlling studio system of the era, five movie studios known as the “Big Five” dominated: Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM and Paramount. The smaller studios, including Columbia, Universal and United Artists, quickly rose in prominence within a decade. There were plenty of powerful people in Hollywood, but one name that struck fear into Tinseltown was Hedda Hopper (here played by Solange Marcotte). A failed actress, she began writing a gossip column in 1938 and quickly found success, commanding a readership of 35 million. Hopper was not shy about throwing her weight around. Calling herself “the b—ch of the world,” she took delight in ruining careers and marriages with just a few sentences.