Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hollywood Reporter Bares All to Report on Nudists--in 1953!

Aline Mosby: Montana’s Hollywood reporter

Dressed or not, Aline Mosby wrote truthful accounts of movie stars from the view of a small-town Montana girl working in Hollywood

UM School of Journalism

Aline Mosby’s reporting on a nudist convention gave her national fame.

by Anne Sundberg Siess

Would you do anything to get a story? How about getting naked ... completely naked?

As a young Hollywood columnist for the United Press wire service, Aline Mosby bared it all — with only a pencil and notebook in hand — to cover a 1953 convention of nudists outside Los Angeles.

The 1943 University of Montana School of Journalism graduate got naked to report on the story and two legendary actors — one known for the phrase, “Come on in, Pilgrim” and the other for being Playboy magazine’s first playmate — would not let her forget it.

After her story on the nudists went to print, John Wayne hung a sign over his dressing room door that read “Wayne’s Nudist Camp.” When Mosby came to talk about her new movie, Marilyn Monroe asked her if the flies bothered her.

Mosby using her interviewing skills with Ava Gardner.

Mosby detailed these experiences and many other Hollywood reporting adventures in an autobiographical account titled “The Perils of Aline” for Collier’s magazine in 1956. “I think I have a more truthful attitude toward Hollywood, working as a newswoman for a wire service,” Mosby wrote in a letter trying to persuade a publisher to transform her Collier’s article into a book.

“Most of the stories and books written about Hollywood have been by gossip columnists or fan magazine-y writers who have a different viewpoint — one that I, for one, think the public is tired of. My point of view is more of a journalist’s — and of a young girl from a little town in Montana working in this wacky community.”

Mosby bequested The Perils of Aline article to the UM School of Journalism upon her death in 1998.

Learning the beat

Interviewing movie stars was not what Mosby had in mind when she started at the United Press Los Angeles office in 1945. She landed the job after the regular Hollywood columnist became pregnant.

The beat was not easy to master, according to Mosby. In the beginning, she found the Hollywood mega-stars intimidating and had to tour the movie studios by bus, because she was too poor to buy a car.

She recalls an interview with actor Humphrey Bogart (“The African Queen,” 1951) where she sat timidly halfway across the room.

“Lissen, kid,” she recalled Bogie as saying. “Actors are just like people. Look ‘em in the eye and bark back.”

Even as an experienced celebrity reporter, Mosby wondered how she survived life in Hollywood. She wrote of being tongue-tied in the presence of Clark Gable (“Gone with the Wind,” 1939) and not knowing Arlene Dahl (“Slightly Scarlet,” 1955) from Rhonda Fleming (“Gunfight at the OK Coral,” 1957). During interviews, she recalled actor John Carroll (“Hi Gaucho!,” 1936) insisting that his head be in her lap. She remembered actor Rod Steiger (“In the Heat of the Night,” 1967) murmuring, “Your eyes keep saying ‘Please!’” Mosby wrote that she was actually just sleepy.

In addition to putting up with the likes of Carroll and Steiger, she learned to deal with more subtle celebrity quirks. Mosby wrote that it was a challenge to understand the sophisticated silence of Marlene Dietrich (“Morocco,” 1930), the meaning behind thank you notes from Joan Crawford (“Sudden Fear,” 1952) and the need to talk about clothes to get information out of Jennifer Jones (“The Song of Bernadette,” 1943).

Fearless nude reporting

Mosby wrote that her boss lamented that no female reporter had ever reported on a nudist camp in native attire — and she was “ordered to the front.” She was not the least bit hesitant of the assignment, but she did detail the repercussions of the experience.

First, she wrote of getting sunburned in all the wrong places and then bumping into a Los Angeles Times columnist and several photographer colleagues — all in their birthday suits.

“And I had thought the rest of the press had covered the convention days before!” Mosby wrote. “We all laughed weakly, taking care to keep our eyes skyward.”

“Many reluctant interviewees aren’t particularly shy, but followers of the theory that the press invades privacy,” Mosby wrote.

“These actors — often from the Actor’s Studio in New York — have accepted the philosophy of ‘I’ll talk about my work but not my personal life.’ At first this awed me. But later I decided they should stay out of show business if they don’t want the public, which gives them their living, to know about them. How many actors beg us reporters to write about them when they are beginners — but when star billing arrives they shut the door in our faces!”

“I dutifully trotted behind the irritated Sinatra and asked him the Forbidden Question — was he going to marry Ava Gardner? His fist stayed in his pocket but he leaped into his chrome-trimmed, fin-tailed horseless carriage and charged into us reporters, scattering us like pencil-holding chickens. I nearly had a souvenir imprint of Frankie’s fender to remember that story by.”

“The beautiful blonde and I were sitting in the 20th Century Fox studio commissary with a publicist and chatting about Marilyn’s controversial tight dresses. She wound up the discussion by showing me how she tucks a fresh flower in the plunging neckline.

“Then I put my pencil away and asked about that nude calendar the Hollywood grapevine whispered she had posed for. Marilyn, erroneously thinking she no longer was talking for print, confessed all in her wonderful breathless voice. (Later she told me that after the first horrified gulp she was glad the story finally was officially printed because ‘some people thought the calendar was bad or something.’)”

“The late Jimmy Dean was reluctant to be interviewed from the minute he arrived in Hollywood. I was allowed on the set where he was working on ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ because I promised to do a serious interview.

“He stood with head bowed, occasionally peeking up at me like a wistful puppy dog who would like to be friends but doesn’t know how. While I was floundering for words to warm him up, Dean fortunately spotted my MG sports car parked outside the studio. Jimmy, then at the peak of his racing career, hopped into the driver’s seat and immediately became talkative. We tore around the curves of a nearby park at 70 mph, while I tried to scribble his quotes in my notebook. Unfortunately the notes were undecipherable. But later he agreed to chat — in unmovable chairs over lunch.”

“One Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis interview was utter chaos. They tied a rope around me, stuffed sugar cubes between by teeth and left me sitting while they had a battle with water pistols. Another trick of theirs during restaurant interviews is to make a sling-shot out of a napkin and pelt the other patrons with pats of butter.”

With her high expectations, Mosby had to suffer the wrath of angry readers. A mad actor, she wrote, is “worse than eyeing those grizzly bears in Montana.” Yvonne de Carlo (“The Ten Commandments,” 1956) refused to speak to Mosby after she quoted a young police officer as saying de Carlo was too old for him.

Bette Davis (“Dangerous,” 1935) extended the silent treatment by objecting to Mosby’s attendance at a party. Davis claimed Mosby misquoted her in a story. Mosby wrote that this Hollywood-talk usually translates into, “I wish I hadn’t said that.”

Mosby wrote about the sad departures of Hollywood, as well as its accomplishments. She covered the funerals of Al Jolson, Carole Landis and Lionel Barrymore and, even though she rarely knew the deceased, wrote that it was hard not to feel sad. She added that publicists did not help the situation.

“It’s always a shock to go behind those beautiful flowers at a Hollywood funeral to find the telephones, mimeographed press releases and cases of soda pop that mortuary publicists leave for the press,” she wrote.

After admitting that press agents can give a reporter story leads, she noted that there is more hate than love in the press-agent-reporter relationship.

“They’re on my phone trying to get me to talk to their clients all day long — nights, Sundays, when I’m in the shower or on a desperate deadline,” Mosby wrote.

“They bombard us reporters with gifts, give cocktail parties, haul us off to movie previews and nightclub openings and leave us crawling, limp and with circles beneath our eyes, to the typewriter.”

She wrote that most columnists would write the same stories without the mink-trimmed whisky jiggers, live pigeons, 43 personalized ceramic ashtrays and other presents they received.

In the beginning of the Perils of Aline, Mosby wrote, “Journalistically speaking the show business capital is, in my opinion, the most colorful and adventurous beat in the country.”

But Mosby’s Hollywood stint was only the beginning of her career. In 1959, she left Hollywood for Moscow and Beijing, becoming one of the first female foreign correspondents. In her book, “The View from No. 13 People’s Street,” she contradicted her earlier opinion of the show business capital.

“Pounding out stories on Warsaw Pact meetings and dogs and men whirring around the earth is more glamorous to me than all the interviews I’ve had with stars like Elvis Presley and Debbie Reynolds put together,” she wrote.

Stories about Cold War spies, the KGB, nuclear proliferation, Khrushchev, and censorship make a Los Angeles nudist convention look like nothing.

Anne Sundburg Siess has her undergraduate degree in computer information systems and is currently working on a master's in journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in business journalism and to one day work for CNBC.


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