This post includes some difficult — but I think very necessary — subject matter regarding sexual assault.
As decades of alleged abuse by one of Hollywood's most powerful men slowly unravels in front of the world, we’ve been understandably shocked… but not surprised. What makes these appalling crimes even worse is the network that formed itself around Harvey Weinstein, preventing his sexual abuse from seeing the light of day until now.
But this kind of cover up operation isn’t new, and Harvey Weinstein isn’t the first.
This is a side of filmmaking that has existed since Hollywood's conception. Men like Weinstein have littered its history. Their victims are numerous and forgotten.
One man indicative of this age-old machine was Eddie Mannix.
Mannix worked as one of MGM's head honchos during Hollywood's golden age. Though listed as a producer, Eddie Mannix really worked as MGM's "fixer."
A softcore porn of Joan Crawford surfaced? Call Eddie. Jean Harlow's husband turns up dead? Call Eddie. Clark Gable sexually assaults his young co-star? Call Eddie. And covering Clark Gable’s attack (which Loretta Young’s daughter later called rape) was just the tip of the iceberg for Eddie. Ensuring history forgot this kind of abuse was just part of his day to day. It was rare Eddie came across a sexual assault case he couldn’t easily sweep under the carpet…
And then Patricia Douglas happened.
By 1937, Patricia Douglas had been working in Hollywood for five years. A dancer and occasional extra, Patricia had already appeared in a couple of Hollywood classics (you can see her in the chorus in Busby Berkley’s Gold Diggers of 1933). So when MGM asked her along for a casting call, Patricia didn’t have to think too hard…a chance to work for one of the biggest and most beloved Hollywood studios was surely a no-brainer!
(Just FYI…from here it gets pretty sexual assault trigger-ery)
On a hot June morning, Patricia headed to the MGM lots. There she was outfitted in a short cowgirl outfit and — along with 120 other young women — shipped off to a remote desert studio set. When they arrived, Patricia noticed that there weren’t any lights, cameras or crew. But what could she do…this was MGM! And so she and the other women stayed, waiting to see what they were there for.
Their use suddenly became very clear when a horde of drunk MGM salesmen burst through the studio doors. The men had spent the day being plied with hundreds of crates of champagne and scotch, but that was just the starter.
The women, so kindly provided by MGM, were to be the main course.
In town for a five-day sales conference, the men had been that day been promised a debauched Wild West "stag affair" as a reward for their hard work. And so, when they arrived at the studio, they naturally assumed these cowgirls must be their prize.
Patricia couldn’t escape and was soon cornered on the dance floor by David Ross, a salesman from Chicago. She turned him down, but David wouldn’t take no for an answer. Together with another man, he held Patricia down and poured alcohol down her throat until she was sick.
Patricia fled outside, but David Ross wasn’t finished. He grabbed her from behind and dragged her to a parked car, crowing, "I’M GOING TO DESTROY YOU." Then he brutally raped her, slapping her throughout to ensure she was awake.
A bloody and bruised Patricia arrived at a hospital immediately after; she explained what had happened and was quickly seen by an MGM-paid doctor and then dropped home in an MGM car. That was it.
But Patricia wasn't going to let this happen to other girls.
She reported the rape to the MGM casting agent and they ignored her, only offering her the $7.50 she had earned for that night.
Patricia went to the police. When they didn’t do anything, she threatened to go the press. The police still refused to act. So Patricia picked up the phone and called the papers.
That's when MGM called Eddie Mannix.
The sudden press attention forced the DA (by the way, a good buddy of Louis B. Mayer) to act and David Ross was put in front of a grand jury. But MGM wasn’t out. They hired a private detective to get dirt on Patricia, but only uncovered that she was a virgin who didn’t drink.
MGM sunk lower. They paid off and bribed any witnesses.
The doctor who examined Patricia that night claimed there was no sign of rape, and having immediately cleaned Patricia with water douche, any evidence of rape wouldn’t exist anyway. One parking attendant had actually seen David Ross flee the scene, but after being promised a job for life, he quickly changed his story. An actor who had literally punched several salesmen at the party out (after seeing their treatment of the women) retracted his statements when his MGM contract was put in jeopardy.
Even Patricia’s own testimony was pulled apart. Forced to recount her rape on the stand — in front of her rapist — Patricia broke down as David Ross’s lawyer turned to the jury and jeered, "LOOK AT HER. WHO WOULD WANT HER?"
The case ended. David Ross a free man.
But Patricia got back up. She sued MGM...and in return, they destroyed her.
They convinced Patricia’s attorney that continuing this case would destroy his career. MGM even went so far as puppeteering events so that Patricia’s attorney would fail to turn up to court enough times that the case was eventually thrown out. The studio paid budding starlets and friends of Patricia to give interviews to press, portraying her as a desperate, wanton alcoholic.
By the time they were finished, Patricia was a joke. Friendless, in debt and with no hope of working in Hollywood ever again.
Patricia Douglas was now nothing but a warning: What happened to girls who spoke out.
Decades later, when asked what MGM had done to silence Patricia, Eddie Mannix smiled and said, "WE KILLED HER."
They might as well have.
This was interesting, where can I find out more? There's a fantastic documentary on this called Girl 27, made decades after Patricia and her story were long forgotten. I urge you to dig it out and give it a watch.
Note from F Yeah History: This post was different from the normal content we post. But sometimes tackling a horrifying subject like this is necessary. Men of power using their positions to abuse and assult others is nothing new, and it’s important to talk about how these systems establish themselves so we can dismantle them.
This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted with permission.
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Written by Natasha Tidd, Sara Westrop, and Helen Antrobus, F Yeah History is dedicated to unearthing history that's just too good for history class. From historic hangover cures to unsung historic heroes, all told with a healthy does of gifs and somewhat terrible jokes, it's history...just not as you know it. Follow F Yeah History on FYeahHistory.com and on Twitter @F_yeah_history.