“Everybody reads it but they say the cook brought it into the house.” ~ Humphrey Bogart
Before there was baby boomer-inspired People and US, before there was Star, even before National Enquirer, there was Confidential, the celebrity gossip/crime/scandal magazine that Newsweek called “sin and sex with a seasoning of right wing politics.”
Until it closed the toilet door in 1978, the pop culture peeper spread salacious innuendo of the rich and famous as “news” exposes.
“The Lid is Off!” declared the first issue in December, 1952.
Confidential, which “Tells the Fact and Names the Names,” was an overnight sensation, boasting a circulation of 4 million after only a few issues. As a brilliant merchandising ploy, the publishers placed the magazine at the checkout stand of the new and improved supermarkets of post-war America, where young baby boomers could get an eyeful when mothers sneaked it home.
Seeing such success, others rags rushed in to peek and peddle. At the newsstand, one could also pick up Hush-Hush, Lowdown, On the Q.T., Exposed, Side Street, Whisper and more. Confidential remained #1.
A socially repressive society makes scandal mongering very juicy indeed. This was years before the closet door was flung open, marijuana outnumbered cigarettes, and the sexual revolution virtually eliminated the blush.
The spiciest stories involved alleged communists, wife beating, drugs, and sex as in: homosexuality, out-of-wedlock and in strange places, prostitution, and miscegenation.
The situation got so convoluted that Hollywood would leak dirt to Confidential in return for not printing other, more damaging dirt. One well known instance involved feeding the magazine information that Rory Calhoun was convicted of armed robbery as a youth in exchange for leaving Rock Hudson’s gay sex life alone for a while.
Lawsuits against Confidential were problematical. There was typically a morsel of truth in the article surrounded by hearsay and distortion. Sorting all this out in court would draw even more attention to the allegations. Eventually, pressure by Hollywood execs and the cost of defending lawsuits forced Confidential to temper the format and content, which made it less attractive to a sensation-seeking public. Another factor led to its demise: by the 1970s, it was getting harder and harder to shock anyone.
Some successful lawsuits that put a crimp in Confidential’s style:
• In July 1955, Doris Duke, the socialite heir of a tobacco fortune, sued the magazine for $3 million, claiming libel when it wrote about a relationship with a “Negro handyman and chauffeur” whom she once employed.
• The July 1957 issue featured a cover story alleging that Liberace had a homosexual dalliance with a press agent in Dallas. He won in court by proving he was not in Dallas at the time.
• Actress Maureen O’Hara sued for a tale in the March 1957 issue accusing her of having sex in the balcony of Hollywood’s Grumman’s Chinese Theatre. A passport revealed she was in Spain on the date alleged. Her large settlement dealt a heavy blow to the magazine.
• Actress Dorothy Dandridge received damages for a lurid story titled “What Dorothy Did in the Woods.”
• Perhaps the most memorable “threat” came from Groucho Mark, who penned a letter to Confidential: “If you don’t stop printing scandalous articles about me, I’ll be forced to cancel my subscription.”
• In a 2010 expose of the expose, “Shocking True Story,” Henry Scott concludes that Confidential Magazine was “the start of the nastiest, most widely circulated hearsay in the annals of rumor mongering.”
Read the Los Angeles Times book review→ Click on: CONFIDENTIAL