“If you are a member of the media, you belong to the public. You’ve made that Faustian bargain with your public. Take me - all of me - I’m yours.” Kenneth Anger.

Hollywood Babylon - one of the best and most interesting books of all time - was written by one of the best and most interesting men of all time. Filmmaker, writer, actor and deviant Kenneth Anger was born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemeyer in 1927 to a disabled mother and an electrical engineer father in Santa Monica, California. He has lived the kind of life that you would hope 83 year old man with ‘Lucifer’ tattooed on his chest would have lived: he’s lived all over the world, bunked up with a member of the Manson Family, (Bobby Beausoleil soundtracked some of his films, let Anger be his sugar daddy, then joined the Manson Family and killed Gary Hinman), engaged in Black Masses, witnessed countless flying saucers and once claimed to be “somewhere to the right of the KKK”, which is adorable. Among his best pals were Dr Alfred Kinsey, Jean Cocteau, Anton Levey and Tennessee Williams.

Hollywood Babylon is a book about early Hollywood filled with rumour, intrigue, dildos and murder, so would have been a great read whether it was written by a committee of hacks working to a deadline (like so many imitations have been) or a brilliant lunatic. If the hacks had written it, it wouldn’t have been ‘favourite book’ material, but because it was written by my fucking hero, I love this book, so I’m going to tell you a little about the guy behind it…

Anger’s fascination with Hollywood stems from his (pretty tenuous) brushes with fame in his youth. As a child, he hung out with Shirley Temple (imagine a ‘Parent Trap’ era Lindsay Lohan of the 30s). His big claim to fame is that he appeared as a child star as the Changeling Prince in Warner Bros’ 1935 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, even though the studio’s records show it was a girl called Sheila Brown. The actor Mickey Rooney, however, supported Anger’s claim, saying that Sheila Brown was in fact Anger dressed up as a girl by his mother. Huh? None of that makes sense, but it’s part of the legend.

He went to Beverly Hills High School (is that where 90210 is set?) and got into Aleister Crowley’s writings there. Aleister Crowley, if you weren’t sure, was an occultist who was known as The Great Beast, which is the greatest and best nickname of all time. He founded a religion called Thelema, based around a 3 part poem he wrote called The Book Of The Law, which he claimed had been narrated to him by his Guardian Spirit, the devil-god Aiwaz, while he had been on a retreat in Egypt. Thelema was a big influence on Anger for his entire career, and he made a lot of films along the themes of its teachings.

As is the case with any artist worth a damn, at some point in the mid forties Anger got arrested in a case of ‘homosexual entrapment’ (whereby a policeman asks to see your dink then arrests you for getting it out, which seems a little unfair – poor old George Michael befell the same fate one April morning fifty years later). He moved out of home, went to film school and made Fireworks in 1947. It was a film starring himself and dealt with his love of other men’s dinks and bottoms in a barely concealed, pretty sexy kinda fashion. In the 14-minute movie, he gets stripped naked and beaten up by naval officers, which is a pretty hot thing to happen to you if you’re into dinks and bottoms. Back in 1947 dink and bottom fun was still off the menu, legally speaking, so he got into a bit of trouble for it, until the Supreme Court of California ruled it to be art rather than pornography.

He went on to make many films that trod that thin line between those two things until his retirement in the eighties, mainly focusing on his favourite themes, homosexuality, popular culture and the occult. Some classic Anger movie moments include Puce Moment, Rabbit’s Moon, Scorpio Rising (which Anger described as ‘a death mirror held up to American culture’ – which is pretty necro), Invocation Of My Demon Brother (which was soundtracked by Mick Jagger) and Lucifer Rising, of which Anger said:

“[Lucifer is] a teenage rebel. Lucifer must be played by a teenage boy. It’s type-casting. I’m a pagan and the film is a real invocation of Lucifer. I’m much realer than von Stroheim. The film contained real black magicians, a real ceremony, real altars, real human blood, and a real magic circle consecrated with blood and cum.”

How fucking cool is that? Here’s one of my favourite Anger moments:

Making those kind of movies and living the kind of lifestyle he did didn’t come cheap, however, and for a lot of his career he was close to bankruptcy. At some point in the late 50s he wrote a book called Hollywood Babylon in order to make some cash. It told untold stories of early Hollywood and had to be published first in France because the US weren’t ready in 1959. When it was published in 1965 it was banned ten days later. It’s written in wonderfully catty, snide prose and shows little or no respect for any of the characters he assassinates. That quote at the top of this page is what the book’s all about. Some fun stories in the book include:

-Heartthrob Rudolph Valentino married two lesbians to disguise the fact he was into fellas, but then sent Mexican silent movie star Ramon Novarro a black lead art deco dildo embellished with his signature in silver, which Novarro kept as part of a shrine to Rudolph after his death. Novarro was found some years later dead with said dildo rammed down his throat.

-In 1927, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst shot and killed a film producer called Tom Ince during a party on Hearst’s motor yacht. He’d been aiming for Charlie Chaplin, who he suspected of doing the sex with the young starlet he was in love with called Marion Davies. He covered it up pretty good by bribing cops and owning the press, but in Tinseltown his yacht was forever known as William Randolph’s Hearse. That’s basically like Rupert Murdoch shooting Jerry Bruckheimer because Jim Carrey was fucking Lindsay Lohan. Weird.

-In 1936 MGM Bigwig Paul Bern was found naked, dowsed in his wife Jean Harlow’s perfume with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and a suicide note bearing the line “you understand last night was only a comedy”. This was because the night before Bern had tried to fuck his wife with a prosthetic phallus and she’d realized it wasn’t a real one. He couldn’t get it up, or maybe he didn’t have a very big dick? Either way, he was so ashamed that he ended it all.

-In the teens, Hollywood was so awash with ‘joy powder’ that the frenzied Keystone Kop silent comedies were at the time known as ‘cokey comedies’. This included one gem called The Mystery Of The Leaping Fish starring Douglas Fairbanks, founder of United Artists and host of the first Oscars Ceremony, as Coke Ennyday - a yayo’d up detective. Here he is injecting some coke into his arm and having a great time (ignore the music):

-This guy, Erich Von Stroheim:

Check him out! He directed movies with orgy scenes featuring real European aristocrats in 1917! If you did that now you’d still be considered a maverick of considerable proportions, back then he may as well have been the actual devil.

-And there was that thing that Fatty Arbuckle did too.

There’s loads more of this solid gold gossip in the book, which also serves as a satisfying overview of the moral attitudes of the time, including an in-depth report on the Hays Office, Hollywood’s first censorship board. Hatred and vitriol directed at censorship runs through the whole book, it’s Anger’s pet peeve.

Anger is still alive (he’s 83), Hollywood Babylon 2 exists and Hollywood Babylon 3 has been written but remains unpublished because, according to Anger, “I [have] a whole section on Tom Cruise and the Scientologists. I’m not a friend of the Scientologists.”

Start on the first one though, I implore you. Look, here it is. Buy it! Take it to the beach and read it. You won’t regret it.

PS – did I just start a Platform book club? I think so.