When Joan Collins was asked what, in her opinion, was the best way of negotiating the infamous Hollywood casting couch, she referred back to when she was a young ingenue trying to make it big in Tinseltown in the Sixties.
“Kick him in the balls and run out of the door,” advised Joan. “I have done that. That’s why I didn’t get Cleopatra,” referring to the 1963 epic film which eventually starred Elizabeth Taylor. “Well, I didn’t do it literally. I just refused to go to bed with the head of the studio. I had tested for Cleopatra twice and was the frontrunner. He took me into his office and said, ‘You really want this part?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the Sixties for you know what. But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office. So I didn’t kick him in the balls but I should have done.”
We may have thought the days had passed of leering directors promising young stars glittering careers if only they would sleep with them first but the recent experience of Myleene Klass tells another story. The M&S model and presenter has just revealed how a married Hollywood star who she recently interviewed expected her to bed him and asked her to sign a “sex contract” so she didn’t reveal the details afterwards. He didn’t exactly say “sleep with me, babe, and I’ll make sure you go places Stateside” but that was presumably the inference he was banking on.
Myleene, who is pregnant with her second child with fiancé Graham Quinn, may not be as well known in the US as she is here but she is a level-headed lass and her reaction was incredulity.
She apparently thought: “Mate, which planet are you from?” and managed, through gritted teeth, to stay lunching politely with him through the main course and dessert before she kicked him into touch. And this unnamed actor is reportedly just one of three who have expected 32-year-old Myleene to have sex with them. So is her experience exceptional or actually all too common?
“The well-worn casting couch remains Hollywood’s guiltiest dirty little secret – everyone knows it exists but no one really talks about it in public,” says Sandro Monetti, a Hollywood-based showbiz journalist and author.
“Certainly no Tinseltown starlet would expose the sleazy practice of sex contracts as Myleene has done here. But these things happen all the time beneath Hollywood’s increasingly politically correct image.”
While many actresses might not think it in their best interests to reveal what goes on behind a casting director or leading actor’s doors, there are those who have angrily spoken up – from Raquel Welch and Helen Mirren through to Lady Victoria Hervey and Megan Fox, the star of blockbuster Transformers.
Just days ago Hervey, 33, the daughter of the Marquess of Bristol, who decamped to Hollywood seven years ago, explained: “There was a film I was supposed to do and the director made it very clear that I would need to sleep with him if I wanted the role. I walked out. A lot of girls get taken advantage of. There are a lot of conniving people in Hollywood. You need to stay on your guard.”
Fox, meanwhile, has revealed that since she’s become famous she has grown increasingly dismayed by Hollywood’s sordid standards, though she too has tactfully refused to name names, describing her propositioners as “Hollywood legends”.
“You’re going to meet them and you’re so excited, thinking, ‘I can’t believe this person wants to have a conversation with me’ and you realise that’s not what they want at all,” she complained last year. “There are some actors who have been in the business for a while who are very egocentric and have been able to sleep with a lot of girls and they think I’m going to be this Marilyn Monroe type who’s going to bat my eyes and be a receptacle for them.”
When it comes to the casting couch, Marilyn Monroe is an interesting example. Dubbed one of the earliest “bimbos” in the Fifties (on early film sets it stood for “body immaculate, brains optional”) the lush Monroe submitted to the casting couch to propel her from plain Norma Jeane Mortenson to international fame. She dismissed the trading of sex for stardom airily as “no big tragedy – nobody ever got cancer from sex” and added: “I’ve slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t.”
Other comments, however, suggest she wasn’t so laissez-faire about the whole business. When 20th Century Fox awarded Monroe the richest contract of any actress in 1955 she triumphantly declared: “It means I’ll never have to suck another **** again!”
She even warned Joan Collins about the lascivious “wolves” in Hollywood and revealed a particularly unpleasant experience with the notoriously lecherous Harry Cohn, one of the original kings of the casting couch who was head of Columbia Pictures from 1919 to the Fifties. Cohn apparently invited Monroe to an overnight cruise on his yacht where she was required to strip naked for him – but when she declined his advances (so she sometimes did) Monroe recalled, “I had never seen a man so angry.”
Cohn vies with Darryl F Zanuck as the man who invented the casting couch and it was said Cohn had the original one in a secret annexe off his office. Zanuck, meanwhile, was an enthusiastic womaniser and the head of 20th Century Fox from 1935. He was famously “in conference” with a number of aspiring actresses between 4pm and 4.30pm every afternoon.
One would-be starlet who was shown innocently into his office was rather shocked to find him half naked (from the waist down) and ready for action – which all rather suggests that the casting couch has been in existence for as long as cameras have been rolling.
Aviator and Thirties and Forties film mogul Howard Hughes may have had glittering affairs with the likes of Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers but he still kept a “secret” house near his LA home where he’d “interview” would-be starlets, Jane Russell among them, pretending he was playing at the golf club nearby. But many of these wannabes would never achieve fame. In fact, some of the greatest silver screen stars are the ones who refused.
Lauren Bacall has revealed how Hughes unsuccessfully attempted to get her on the casting couch while other great icons who have claimed knowledge of the practice – and declined – include Raquel Welch. “I never slept with anyone to get a part, although the offers were there,” she has declared.
I n 1991 Oscar-winning film producer Julia Phillips wrote a book called You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again in which she suggested the casting couch was still alive and well, while two years later Helen Mirren, Bacall, Jane Seymour and Bo Derek joined forces for a documentary entitled Sex For Jobs In Hollywood. “The casting couch was always thought of as a joke but women are now saying: ‘Well actually guys it wasn’t,’” Mirren revealed at the time. “We never found it very funny.”
Myleene Klass is in a position not to take her own indecent proposals too seriously but as Sandro Monetti adds: “There are different lengths that ambitious people will go to in order to further their showbiz careers.
“Myleene was prepared to chase stardom on a reality show. Others will go much further. But while such actions may get your foot in the door, only star quality and ability can keep you there long term.”