Hollywood, Ryan Murphy’s latest feel-good limited series, tells the story of a group of actors, executives, and other figures trying to thrive during the Golden Age of film. Multiple stories intersect as all the characters, from ingenue Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) to director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss), become involved in the groundbreaking movie Meg.
Although Meg is fictional, some of Hollywood’s characters aren’t Ryan Murphy creations. For example, Camille was inspired by Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black woman to ever nab a Best Actress Oscar nomination. And Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) and Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) were both actors in the 1940s, although their Netflix personas were given the kinds of happy endings they weren’t afforded in real life. Was Mira Sorvino’s character, Jeanne Crandall, based on a real Hollywood actress — or, like David Corenswet’s Jack Costello, was she more of a composite character, inspired by many B-film contract actresses?
The answer: a bit of both. There was a real actress named Jeanne Crandell in the 1950s, but she wasn’t the inspiration for Sorvino’s character. “She’s a Lana Turner kind of character,” Sorvino told Rolling Stone. She also told Interview magazine that she read up on Turner while preparing for the role of Jeanne.
Turner, a pin-up model and MGM contract actor who appeared in about three dozen movies in the 1940s and 1950s, was one of the most famous actresses of her time, though her looks were often praised over her talent. Once she entered her 40s in the 1960s, MGM started passing her over in favour of younger actresses. At the same time, Turner was coping with problems in her personal life, including alcoholism.
In Hollywood, Jeanne doesn’t battle exactly the same issues that Turner did, but she does struggle with her career trajectory in a similar way. “I think my character is stuck in a rut, as [were] many people of her time,” Sorvino told Interview. “She is of a certain age and has been on these B-movies that are filler for the studio, doing roles where she isn’t recognised for having any true talent.”
Jeanne’s storyline starts with her affair with producer and studio head Ace Amberg (Rob Reiner). Though Hollywood doesn’t explicitly imagine an earlier equivalent of the #MeToo movement, the show also doesn’t shy away from shining a light on how powerful men have always abused their power. Rock is coerced into sleeping with his agent, Henry Willson (Jim Parsons), and he eventually stands up to him; Jeanne is presumably with Ace as a means of getting ahead, and she ultimately comes clean about their relationship to his wife, Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone). “It’s an affair but has a power dynamic issue to it. She isn’t happy and wouldn’t have chosen this path,” Sorvino told Interview.
It’s a storyline that was all too real for many women in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and also women today — Sorvino included. Sorvino has spoken about getting assaulted by a casting director as a teenager, and in 2017, she came forward about an encounter with producer Harvey Weinstein. She recalled ending up in a Toronto hotel room with Weinstein, and she had to fend him off after he got aggressively physical. Later on, he continued to make sexual advances. She was scared of speaking up, she explained, because she felt she owed him “gratitude” for her early success as an actress. Weinstein denies the accusations of unwanted sexual activity against him that were not prosecuted.
Although Jeanne’s story isn’t the same as Sorvino’s, it points to a longstanding issue that has only recently been publicly addressed. “If you look at [the 1940s], I would say that an enormous percentage of the actresses who were able to keep working and have some modicum of success, so much of their survival was pending their continued relationships with powerful men,” Sorvino told Parade. “That is not fair. It is not right, but it’s a situation that this character found herself in.”