Warning: Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s Hollywood season 1. Those who have watched Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix show, Hollywood, may be curious to know how much of it is fiction and how much of if it is fact about Los Angeles’ real history. Is Hollywood on Netflix based on a true story? Well, the answer is complicated.
Hollywood, which premiered on May 1, follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers in post-World War II Hollywood as they try to make it in Tinseltown. The seven-episode series examines how race, sexuality, gender and privilege can affect one’s career and the opportunities one is afforded, especially around the hot new film, Peg, which every character in the show wants a part in.
According to reports, the show is loosely based on the experience of Scotty Bowers, a young ex-marine who owned a gas station in Hollywood in the 1940s. Vanity Fair reports that Bowers was famous for using the gas station to arrange for discreet encounters between his handsome male attendants and Hollywood stars, some of whom were closeted. There was also a 2017 documentary about Bowers, titled Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, in which he explained how his business came to be. In Hollywood, Bowers inspired the character, Ernie, the manager of a gas station that Jack Castello, an aspiring actor, works at. After he’s hired, Jack learns that the gas station isn’t a real gas station but a business for Ernie to pimp out his employees, who are young handsome men, to clients, many of whom are big wigs in Hollywood.
But Bowers isn’t the only real person to inspire a character in Hollywood. Read on to find out about the other real people who inspired Murphy’s characters.
Jake Pickling plays Rock Hudson (who was born as Roy Harold Scherer Jr.), a famous heartthrob actor in the ’50s who was closeted and was one of the first celebrities to die of AIDs. In Hollywood, the character is introduced as Roy Harold, an aspiring actor who meets screenwriter Archie Coleman at Ernie’s gas station. Roy hires Archie for sex, and explains to him that he can’t be seen with a man in public, otherwise it will end his career. Roy’s name is changed to Rock Hudson by his agent, Henry Wilson, who knows that he’s gay and tells him that he must change many characteristics about himself to succeed in Hollywood. In the end, Rock and Archie fall for each other and become boyfriends. They go public with their relationship at the Oscars, at which Archie is nominated for his Meg screenplay, which angers Henry. Rock doesn’t care, however, as he would rather live his life as an out man with his love. In the final scene of Hollywood, Archie writes a movie about his relationship with Rock, in which Rock plays a man who works at a gas station and falls for one of his clients.
Jim Parsons plays Henry Wilson, a Hollywood agent in the ’50s who was known for starting the beefcake craze. Along with Rock Hudson, Wilson also represented actors, such as Tab Hunter, Chad Everett, Robert Wagner and Nick Adams. Wilson, a gay man, was also known to sexually harass his clients and coerce them to do sexual favors in order for him to sign them. When his sexuality became public, many of Wilson’s clients distanced themselves from him to not be associated with a gay man. In Hollywood, Wilson is Rock’s aggressive agent, who also sexually harasses him. In another episode, Wilson also sexually harasses Jack after promising to sign him as one of his clients. Wilson is unlikable for most of Hollywood, until the final episode where he apologizes to Rock and asks Avis, ACE Pictures’ CEO, if he could produce a film about a gay love story.
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong is played by Michelle Krusiec in Hollywood. Wong is considered as one of the first Chinese American actresses to be a Hollywood movie star. She starred in films like Daughter of Dragon and Daughter of Shanghai, but since her success, there have also been reports about the racism Wong faced as one of the only Asian actors in Hollywood at that time. In Hollywood, Wong is introduced as a veteran actress who is now retired because of how Hollywood treated her. An ACE Pictures executive later tells a story about how Wong was the best actress for a role that would’ve won her an Oscar, but she was turned down because the studio wanted a white actress instead. Raymond Ainsley, the director of Peg, tells her that he’s written a script for her, which she’s excited about. Wong becomes disappointed, however, when Raymond’s script is rejected because the studio doesn’t want an Asian lead. In the end, Wong is cast as Caroline Lee in Meg, a Hollywood actress who gives Meg advice. At the end of the show, she wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.
Hattie McDaniel, played by Queen Latifah, became the first black actress to win an Oscar in 1940 when she won the Best Supporting Actress award for Gone With the Wind, in which she starred as Mammie. At the Oscars, McDaniel was seated far away from the main stage because of the color of her skin. Her character references this in Hollywood, when Camille Washington, the black lead in Meg, is nominated for an Oscar. McDaniel calls to congratulate Camille on the part and later has lunch with her, where she tells her to force her way to the front row. When Camille is denied entry at the Oscars because of the color of her skin, she heeds McDaniel’s advice and takes her rightful seat. In her lunch with Camille, McDaniel also tells her about how the roles she expected didn’t come after Gone With the Wind, despite her Oscar.
Vivien Leigh, played by Katie McGuinness, was a famous Hollywood actress in the ’30s and ’40s who won two Oscars for her roles as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. In Hollywood, Leigh is seen as one of ACE Pictures’ most successful actresses and is invited to many events by the studio as an honored guest. She is also one of the presenters at the Oscars who presents awards to the cast of Meg.
Harriet Harris plays Eleanor Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife and the First Lady of the United States at the time. Avis has lunch with Eleanor at the time she decides whether to cast Camille or a white actress as the lead of Meg. When Avis tells Eleanor this, the First Lady encourages her to cast Camille and even asks to visit ACE Pictures in person to tell the studio how much of a history-making move that would be. Eleanor serves as one of the main reasons that Avis casts Camille.