"Whatever happened [to] my friend Corey Haim?" The Thrills (2004); (song here; lyrics here). Image Source: Cynema via J. Haim.
There has been a lot of Hollywood retro around of late. There was this post on Joan Crawford and this one on Crawford and Garbo; and there was this post on Hollywood turning surreal in the 1940s.
I recently read James Hutchings's The Case of the Syphilitic Sister, a pulp Minutemen-esque story at Jukepop Serials. His metahuman reworking of the 30s' mystery thriller is a fascinating Millennial mash-up. It is not set in Hollywood, but the cultic tone of Hutchings' work reminded me a bit of the Black Dahila and the unfortunate celebrations after Whitney Houston's death last year.
The rise and fall of today's stars eerily repeat parties, scandals and deaths of yesterday. It is almost as though the stars of each new generation become doubles of the ones who came before; they face the same highs and dangers.
I generally don't follow Hollywood gossip unless something remarkable happens like Britney Spears shaving her head and chasing after paps with an umbrella. But lately, the huge success of Justin Bieber has reminded me of the appeal of the Gen X teen heartthrob, the late Corey Haim. It is a compelling story: a Canadian teen carries some northern magnetic secret south in an intrepid bid to win American hearts, and succeeds. That secret might be genuineness, honesty, innocence, and hope from a land similar enough to be familiar, but actually quite different; whatever it is, it is a secret forgotten and lost in America's heart of darkness. The Canadian kid who goes to California to make it big was a central trope in David Lynch's neo-noir "poisonous valentine to Hollywood," Mulholland Drive (2001).
For some time, I've noticed lingering efforts to get Haim a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (one online petition is here). I have always thought (80s' nostalgia aside) that Haim was an actor who had a great deal of talent that was misdirected through formulaic vehicles in his stellar youth. Then, due to sexual abuse by his Hollywood minders, he became mired in drug addiction.
He lost the magical light in his acting that would have brought him more serious roles as an adult. Could he have regained it? He still had charisma in roles just before his death, especially when he played against type, as in Crank: High Voltage (2009). But the drugs - and what they masked - had nearly sucked out his soul. He never matured into a DiCaprio. And he was never allowed to pull a no-holds-barred Mickey Rourke comeback. I do not know whether Haim could have managed what Rourke did in Sin City (2005) if he had stayed clean and kept working into his forties.
There was nothing, looking at Haim's original promise, which said he could not have done either. After his breakthrough role in Lucas (1986), Roger Ebert famously anticipated both Haim's promise and sad fate:
Lucas is played by Corey Haim, who was Sally Field's son in Murphy's Romance, and he does not give one of those cute little boy performances that get on your nerves. He creates one of the most three-dimensional, complicated, interesting characters of any age in any recent movie. If he can continue to act this well, he will never become a half-forgotten child star, but will continue to grow into an important actor. He is that good.
What would Haim have become, had he not been, as Alison Arngrim put it: "corrupted in every possible way" by his Hollywood guardians? It is a little tricky for his fans to ask Tinseltown for recognition, since the silence around Haim's death is evidently bound up with the dark side of Hollywood - and entertainment in general. One would think in the wake of the Savile scandal in Britain (mentioned in this post), that Hollywood would do more to recognize victims like Haim to make amends for its own ugly history of paedophilia. Perhaps giving Haim a star would publicly open that can of worms, and force some quarters to account for crimes committed. Perhaps, as in the Savile case, Haim's ruined talent (and the miseries of other victims) will only be acknowledged in Hollywood after the perpetrators are dead.
One blog commenter points out that paedophilia in Hollywood is hinted at in the famous movie, The Godfather (1972):
If anything, Hollywood's silence about Haim's death at the Oscars and SAG awards might confirm what his friend and co-star Corey Feldman claimed: that the industry is sitting on a terrible open secret that it does not want to acknowledge. That, and the industry is filled with callousness.In The Godfather, they briefly referred to this vile behavior - with parental approval. Producer "Jack Woltz" has the birthday party for a very young actress at the studio (even gives her a pony), then later at his home when he's having dinner with "Tom," you see the little girl at the top of the stairs, crying and disheveled. Her mother takes her back into the bedroom.
Web rumours have it that the late Julia Phillips, who wrote the notorious 70s-80s Hollywood tell-all, You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again, described an affair with one of the Lost Boys actors, possibly Haim; an online forum commenter speculated:
After recounting her 1974 Oscar win, Phillips's book opens with her anecdote about her attempted seduction of actor Brooke McCarter, who was assigned as one of Haim's minders. She described Haim in her second book. She felt that Haim was rather more in control of his surroundings than he appeared: "Mixed feelings about Corey. Love him. Detest him too, or at least the manipulative part that knew how to make people twice his age snap to. Are you really only eighteen? Who writes your dialogue?"In that book, she talked about having an affair with one of the actors from Lost Boys. She was in her forties, and a big big druggie, and he was young, 16, 18? She was one of the original cougars, and she went into great detail about the affair....it was very disturbing, I found her very predatory. She didn't name names, but I always thought this was Cory Haim.
Rather than read her book through, I thought I would go back to the beginning first, and start looking at Hollywood from the 1920s and 1930s to see how and where the darkness started. I picked up Kenneth Anger's trashy 1975 book, Hollywood Babylon. It is not a work to be proud of by any means, but it gives a fast, splashy overview of Hollywood's nastiest moments from the Silent Era to the 1960s.
Thelma Todd. Image Source: Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans.
Near the middle of his book, Anger describes the mysterious death of Thelma Todd, who was found dead in her car in December 1935. While apparently not involved, Todd's ex-husband saw her on the night of her death, and later was present at the strange murder of another actor, Ted Healy. Todd was also the mistress of Roland West, another suspect. Conspiracy theorists believe that Todd was murdered elsewhere and then moved to her car to make her death look like a suicide. Wiki:
Reminds one a bit of Natalie Wood, does it not?Some conspiracy buffs have suggested that Todd was really murdered by West aboard his yacht, the Joyita. This theory states that he then planted her body in her garage to be found later and staged the scene to resemble an accident. The Joyita would gain further infamy in 1955 when her entire complement of 25 passengers and crew went missing in the South Pacific.
Natalie Wood with her husband Robert Wagner in 1959. Her mysterious death remains an open case with the L.A. coroner. Image Source: Associated Press via CBC.
Is there something about this horrific trail of beautiful bodies in the real world that speaks to the creative process in Hollywood? From real destruction comes this fake light? Souls consumed, not just once, but over, and over, and over? Maybe there is a real price paid for dark imaginings which audiences, no doubt nursing their own demons, find so fascinating.
An example: Roland West, who later became entangled with Thelma Todd, had in 1930 directed what Anger called "one of the most extraordinary thrillers ever filmed": The Bat Whispers. It was noted by Bob Kane as an influence in the 1939 pulp creation of DC Comics' the Batman. The plot: "A master criminal terrorizes the occupants of an isolated country mansion." See it below, and consider it as the possible product of the mind of someone who, five years later, was suspected of murdering his mistress. Whether he was innocent or not, after Todd's death, West's "life changed instantly. He went from being a fairly high-profile director to never making another film again."
The Bat Whispers, Part 1. Video Source: Youtube.
The Bat Whispers, Part 2. Video Source: Youtube.
The Bat Whispers, Part 3. Video Source: Youtube.
The Bat Whispers, Part 4. Video Source: Youtube.
The Bat Whispers, Part 5. Video Source: Youtube.
The Bat Whispers, Part 6. Video Source: Youtube.
The Bat Whispers, Part 7. Video Source: Youtube.