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Hollywood Flashback: In 1957, The ‘Confidential’ Trial Scandalized Hollywood


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Some 65 years ago, long before TMZ turned the internet into a minefield of celebrity gossip and bad behavior, Confidential magazine traded in the sordid lives of the rich and famous.

Launched in December 1952, the quarterly quickly caught on with readers who couldn’t resist stories like “Why Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be ‘Mad About the Boy!’ ” and “Robert Mitchum … The Nude Who Came to Dinner!” By 1957, fed-up stars enlisted California State Attorney General Pat Brown to intervene. During Brown’s investigation, a grand jury heard from witnesses like Maureen O’Hara, Mae West and Liberace himself — and returned an indictment on conspiracy to publish criminal libel; conspiracy to publish obscene material; and conspiracy to disseminate information in violation of California’s business code (for running ads for “male rejuvenation” and abortion).

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The Hollywood Reporter on Aug. 15, 1957

The Hollywood Reporter

For the trial, Confidential publisher Robert Harrison hired famed defense attorney Arthur Crowley. Crowley pledged to subpoena 200 celebrities and grill them about their personal lives, sending studio heads into conniptions and stars fleeing the state. (Lana Turner was served her subpoena at LAX.) What followed was one of Hollywood’s most sensational trials. (An example: Ronnie Quillan, an escort Confidential coined “the Soiled Dove,” described being paid $1,500 for her story about meeting Desi Arnaz in a Palm Springs cocktail lounge and going back to his hotel room.) After a record-long 14-day deliberation, the jury emerged split 7 to 5 and a mistrial was declared. By 1958, Harrison announced the magazine was “quitting the area of private affairs for the arena of public affairs.”

Circulation plummeted from 5 million to 200,000, and in May 1958, he sold the publication for $25,000. Harrison died at 73 in 1978, the same year the final issue of a much tamer Confidential hit newsstands. Meanwhile, Crowley went on to represent Lana Turner, Robert Evans and other boldface names in custody and divorce cases, and died in 2010 at 85.

This story first appeared in the March 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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