Right now is the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the forgotten crimes perpetrated in Hollywood, and Patricia Douglas deserves to be avenged.[TW: This essay contains discussion of sexual violence] Ten years ago, Girl 27 went to Sundance. The film should have made a bigger splash than it did, but I suppose it makes perfect sense that it didn't garner as much recognition as it deserved, given its subject. Girl 27 is a documentary that tracks the forgotten story of Patricia Douglas, a film extra and dancer who was raped at an MGM studio stag party thrown by Louis B. Mayer in May of 1937. She was lured there under the false pretenses of a casting call. With 120 young women and girls in total, she was listed as number 27 on the "call sheet." David Stenn uses his quaint film to deliver an account of the entire story in gruesome detail, an extension of his exposé written for Vanity Fair in 2003. There were four separate police departments represented at the party that night — the LAPD, the State Police, Culver City Police, and MGM’s own private police and watchmen. None of them filed a report about the rape. When Patricia bravely took her story public with a lawsuit, the other young women and girls who worked as extras in the industry were given a questionnaire about her with questions like, “Have you ever seen Patricia Douglas intoxicated, before or after the party?” They were asked to “state in detail what you know about Patricia Douglas’ past reputation for morality.” The Pinkertons surveilled her and the doctor who first examined her was asked to create false records to show that she'd previously contracted a venereal disease. All of this was done in an effort to paint her as a drunken, loose woman. Patricia's lawsuit (seemingly the first known federal rape case) was dismissed by the court after collecting dust for three years for “lack of prosecution.” Her lawyer had failed to appear in federal court on any occasion. He went on to become elected as District Attorney of LA County, and David Stenn suspects that it was thanks to the support of MGM. Patricia's own mother—appointed her Guardian ad Litem—was paid off by MGM and let the case die. [caption id="attachment_48575" align="alignnone" width="220"] David Ross in L.A. for a grand-jury inquiry, June 16, 1937.
From the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library/Corbis[/caption] Metro Goldwyn Mayer was home to the brightest Hollywood stars at the time. Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in the nation and the biggest name in the film industry. Patricia never stood a chance against the most powerful Hollywood executives at the most powerful movie studio on the planet. What happened to her was almost completely wiped from the record. Her rapist, David Ross, was never served, arrested, or charged. But Patricia did inspire a young singer, Eloise Spann, to come forward about her rape by an MGM executive. Her case was mishandled in the same way and she never received any justice. She stopped singing, became depressed, and died by suicide many years later. Peggy Montgomery worked as a film extra during the same time as Patricia and Eloise. In Girl 27, she speaks of how she was sexually harassed on the casting couch and of the culture of misogyny rampant throughout the industry. Men using their powerful positions to coerce, pressure, manipulate, and force young women and girls into uncomfortable sexual situations was common, expected, and even encouraged. “At sixteen, I went to work for MGM, and I considered it was a windfall. There was an air, a constant air of being pursued. All the men tended to try to break women down. These were very aggressive men. Twice, I was asked to go to be interviewed, and the guy got up and said, ‘Well, let's see your legs,’ and you'd pull up your skirt and he’d say, ‘Turn around, Honey. Pull it up higher.’ And then he'd say, ‘Let's see how you feel, ‘ and then he'd walk around the desk and grab you. You couldn't go to the Citizen's News and say, ‘You know, Mister So-and-so did this to me at MGM.’ No way! Because the studios owned Hollywood. I mean, this is no exaggeration. It was one of a laws I learned very early on. Even the adults were afraid. Everybody seemed to be afraid of something. Except the men that were pursuing girls, you know. That was the one thing that nobody seemed to have any compunction about.” [caption id="attachment_48576" align="alignnone" width="220"] Patricia Douglas identifies her attacker, David Ross, from a stack of photographs.
From the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library/Corbis[/caption] Patricia's devastating account was only brought to light when David Stenn was researching his Jean Harlow biography, Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow (1993). The same week that Harlow died in 1937, the story of Patricia Douglas hit the papers, but after that, it disappeared. Girl 27 and David's investment in her experience allowed Patricia to truly be heard and believed for the first time, more than sixty-five years after she was raped. She describes how she was lured to the party, how she was literally forced to drink a mixture of champagne and scotch by two men there, how she was attacked and violated by David Ross in a field behind the barn where the party was held, how she had been a virgin before that night. For the rest of her life, Patricia struggled with physical and emotional intimacy. She experienced insomnia, depression, agoraphobia, and isolation.
Patriarchy prevents society from realizing that abuse broken down is a power dynamic that defeats the right of choice, which only harms everyone involved. By Barbara Muhumuza “People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your
Sexual predators prey on the powerless in order to exert control, and use sex as a means to do so because the connections between sex and power are palpable. Weinstein is no anomaly.[TW — This essay contains discussion of sexual violence] Harvey Weinstein has fled to Europe. Supposedly, he now seeks treatment for sex addiction—if you can believe this excuse. This sudden retreat conveniently comes after a growing number of women have come forward about their experiences of sexual violence with the seasoned film producer. From forcing a reporter to watch him masturbate, to groping people's breasts, to aggressive propositioning, to rape. The accusations against him are rife with disturbing, heinous, and—unfortunately—familiar testimonies of sexual harassment and assault. Sexual predators prey on the powerless in order to exert control, and use sex as a means to do so because the connections between sex and power are palpable. Weinstein is no anomaly. Men in power using their dominant positions to intentionally and systematically sexually harass and assault people is an old song, and I'm tired of hearing it. We went through this last month following the death of Hugh Hefner, the irreverent pimp of the Playboy empire, and again with Andy Signore, the boisterous creator of Screen Junkies. Just as we have gone through this with Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby, and Jared Leto, and Louis CK and many, many others—to varying degrees. The horrors of the casting couch and the spaces akin to it are well-known in Hollywood and beyond. The pattern is undeniable, and sickening. Of course Donald Trump would say that he is not surprised about the accusations against Harvey Weinstein. And it follows that Weinstein would brag about not needing to drug women to rape them like Bill Cosby. And it’s decidedly unsurprising that Hugh Hefner did nothing to address Bill Cosby’s atrocious behavior at the Playboy Mansion. And it’s fitting that Jared Leto has been cast to play Hugh Hefner in an upcoming biopic. This would all be laughable if it weren’t so damn infuriating.
Two incredibly talented men have been accused of sexual misconduct -- and found themselves on a short list of potential Oscar nominees for Best Actor: Nate Parker for Birth of a Nation and Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea. Two