Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Hollywood.
You're cordially invited to a George Cukor party, courtesy of Netflix's new series Hollywood. In the third episode of the Ryan Murphy series, which offers a revisionist look at the golden age of movies, Hollywood's up-and-coming stars get invited to the legendary director's weekly Sunday night bash. And as wild as it appears onscreen — the show's writers referred to it as the "night of a thousand dicks," in a recent chat with The Hollywood Reporter — they might not have been nearly as wild in real life.
Cukor, who directed 50 films in his career including The Philadelphia Story, was known as a "woman's director" for the ways in which he challenged gender stereotypes in his films. He was also known for his Sunday afternoon pool parties, which were "all-boy affairs," according to The Los Angeles Times.
Cukor would invite over “the chief unit,” those friends and colleagues he knew he could trust not to out him. He told Architectural Digest in 1978 that his Mediterranean style villa was the party house. "The best times of my life I remember having here — in my own house," Cukor said. "It's been an intimate part of my life, my work, my friends — a great many friends indeed. As a matter of fact we used to work six days a week, and usually on Sundays, I don't know how I managed it all, but we had lunch here."
However, once the sun went down the parties would reportedly become something different. “Mr. Cukor has all these wonderful parties for ladies in the afternoon," his friend Baroness d’Erlanger once said. "Then in the evening naughty men come around to eat the crumbs!”
On the show, Cukor's party includes closeted Hollywood folks, movie stars like Tallulah Bankhead (Paget Brewster) and Vivien Leigh (Katie McGuinness), and members of the USC football team. The latter are described as looking for their big break and willing to do whatever it took to get it.
By Hollywood's account, after 10 p.m. the pool parties turned into sex parties that allowed closeted members of the film industry to let loose including Cukor, whose homosexuality was an open secret. At the time, being openly gay would have cost him his career so it was easier for him to be queer in the privacy of his own home.
The fact that Cukor's parties were a place to hide leaves the question of whether this was really a safe space. On Hollywood, the parties appear rife with sexual misconduct with powerful men making advances to young man with little power to refuse. After all, who could these young men go to for help if they're not even supposed to be there?
In real life, Cukor reportedly tried his best to keep everything on the up and up. "George would be very angry if anything untoward occurred," one attendee told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. "If Cole Porter fancied a guy, he would very gradually take him aside and give him a phone number to call."
Others have also refuted reports that Cukor's parties were orgies. Robert Trachtenberg, who directed the 2000 PBS documentary On Cukor, said it was a party scene from the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, in what is supposed to be Cukor's house, that started this rumour. "It was really an inaccurate portrayal of him and hammered in this legend of his having orgies, which is completely untrue," Trachtenberg said.
While Cukor's parties might not have been the all out ragers Hollywood portrays them to be, Angela Lansbury might have given us the most accurate picture of what these parties might have been like. She told The New York Times in 2000 that Cukor "had a lot of wonderful-looking gay men around" and "waiters running around with champagne and people diving in the pool and people wandering in and out of the house talking in klatches."
Way less boys gone wild, but it sounds like a pretty good time.