Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan have created a seven-part miniseries surrounding the lives of several aspiring actors, writers and directors, and their attempts to revolutionise the attitudes towards the Hollywood film industry. However, what many people don’t realise is the characters of the series are mostly based on real-life people; their stories transformed in an effort to reimagine a more satisfying end to a hard-struggled reality. Following Rosa Todd’s review of the show, I decided to dig into the depths of these characters’ backstories and see how true-to-life the Netflix series is.
Rock Hudson (played by Jake Picking), born Roy Harold Scherer Jr., was the one of the first actors to share his homosexuality with the world, while also revealing an AIDS diagnosis. In real life and in the show, he was discovered by talent scout Henry Wilson. The biggest difference between reality and the show is the presence of Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope), a gay African-American screenwriter that Rock falls in love with. Archie is said to be inspired by all the male partners Rock had through his life. This means that, although the public reveal of their relationship to paparazzi in episode seven (A Hollywood Ending) was heart wrenchingly beautiful, it didn’t exist in real life.
Archie Coleman isn’t the only character that exposes the discrimination that ethnic minorities faced in post-WW2 Hollywood. Camille Washington, played by Laura Harrier, was inspired by the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, Dorothy Dandridge. The alternate reality in Netflix’s Hollywood sees Camille win the Oscar, six years before Dandridge was actually nominated, and 54 years before Halle Berry won the best actress in a leading role award (making her the first black woman to win that Oscar in 2001).
Another character not based directly on a real person of the time was half-Filipino film director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss). Instead, Ryan Murphy took inspiration from present American film producer, director and screenwriter Steven Spielberg. Criss said that “Ryan, early on, was recommending I watch interviews of early Spielberg, which obviously wasn’t from the ‘40s, but there’s a classicism to him and his resolve and drive and ambition that are pretty similar to all the other great filmmakers of that time.”
David Corenswet also portrays a character based on an accumulation of real past actors. The character of Jack Castello, an aspiring actor who dreams of big screen success, is a mixture of James Dean, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift – three revolutionary actors who shifted expectations of masculinity in Hollywood.
A few honourable mentions of characters based entirely on real people include Henry Willson, a homosexual talent agent played by Jim Parsons, who was as controversial in real life as he was in the show, and Anna May Wong, who’s career suffered race-based abuse in reality, but was given a more satisfying resolution by actress Michelle Krusiec.