Darwin Porter – Can we believe what he writes?


Image result for darwin porter

Darwin Porter (1937 – )

I doubt if there are many more controversial contemporary writers than Darwin Porter. His supporters believe he is telling the real story of Hollywood in its so-called Golden Age; his detractors consider him to be little more than a peddler of sleazy gossip. I do not know the man, but I imagine an accurate assessment rests somewhere between the two extremes. With that in mind I thought it might be of interest to look at his origins, especially in regard to his myriad tales of behind-the-scenes Hollywood. Where do they come from? What are (or were) his connections to the stars he writes about? So, here is a brief list of the individuals who he says helped him to gather information over the course of his life. It is not a definitive list by any stretch of the imagination. Hundreds of lesser lights have contributed a recollection here, an anecdote there, all of which he inevitably recorded in his journals. Whether we believe the man or not, he appears to have enjoyed a long association with an extraordinary number of people in the movie business. How much of what he claims they related to him is true is for you to decide.

Shortly after Darwin’s father was killed at an early age, the family moved to Miami Beach where his mother landed a job working for Sophie Tucker, the ‘last of the Red Hot Mamas’. All the big stars visited Miami Beach in those days and young Darwin was present much of the time when they paid their almost obligatory call on Sophie. He overheard most of the personal conversations between Judy Garland and Sophie, as well as the musings of Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Martha Raye, Bing Crosby, Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Lana Turner and Ronald Reagan, to name but a few. From the very beginning he recorded his recollections of what he had overheard in his journals.

Image result for sophie tucker

Sophie Tucker

Darwin’s mother was an attractive woman who caught the eye of actor Richard Widmark who managed to get her a job on the set of a film he was making called Slattery’s Hurricane in 1949. Her twelve year-old son soon found himself on the set of the movie, sitting in the trailers of its female stars, Linda Darnell and Veronica Lake, as his mother befriended them. Linda and Veronica would compare notes about their lover Howard Hughes. Darwin went home and wrote down whatever he could recall from their chats.

Several years went by and Darwin enrolled in the University of Miami. He began working for a gossip columnist, a man with a drinking problem who often hired him to make the rounds of the parties and entertainment events he was supposed to cover. Darwin would gather information, taking notes all the time for his journal, and the column would run the next morning in The Miami Herald. In those days columnists never wrote anything unfavourable about the stars, so he was privy to all kinds of personal information and anecdotes from stars used to having their private lives kept private. They knew he was a reporter but they also knew their studios controlled the media. He quickly learned that the images created by the studios were illusions only. Stars, both male and female, were rarely what they were projected to be.

Image result for tennessee williams

Tennessee Williams

Commissioned by The Miami Herald to open a news bureau in Key West, Florida, Darwin was invited to meet Robert Frost and Tennessee Williams. He would become a friend for life of the latter, a connection that led to meeting a plethora of entertainment folk. Stanley Haggart, the former ‘leg man’ for columnist Hedda Hopper, became another friend and would provide Porter with a mass of data from the Silent Era. He in turn introduced him to the irrepressible Tallulah Bankhead and she, too, would remain a lifelong friend and confidante. Both Stanley and Tallulah knew secrets. Scores of them. And neither felt obligated to keep them.

Image result for tallulah bankhead

Tallulah Bankhead

Darwin was invited by Stanley to manage his television studio in New York. He accepted at once. Part of the job involved designing sets for Pepsi Cola commercials and a re-connection with Joan Crawford who was on the company’s board of directors. As with Tallulah, he had found another friend for life. Haggart’s mother had arrived in Hollywood way back in 1910 when there were less than 4,000 people in the town. She began her own journals and handed on the habit to her boy. They lived next door to Hollywood columnist Adela Rogers St. Johns. Mother and son recorded everything they heard or saw and Adela filled in the gaps. Another of their journal-writing friends was Anais Nin. She knew Gore Vidal, Jackie Kennedy and Truman Capote. Capote, especially, had stories to tell about everybody.

Image result for ludlow ogden smith

Kate Hepburn & Ludlow Ogden Smith

Another of Stanley’s close friends was Ludlow Ogden Smith, Kate Hepburn’s husband. Consequently, he was privy to material about Kate, Howard Hughes, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott and Laura Harding. It was Stanley who first told Porter about the bisexuality of both Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. As Porter became friendly with Kate it was only a matter of time before he would meet her pals Garson Kanin and his wife Ruth Gordon.

Image result for anderson lawler    Image result for kenneth mackenna

Anderson Lawler                                                  Kenneth MacKenna

Close association with Kate meant access to her closest confidantes, in particular Anderson Lawler and Kenneth MacKenna who contributed vast amounts to Stanley’s unpublished Hollywood Journals. An actor himself, MacKenna was also story editor at MGM. His final screen appearance was a minor one playing a judge alongside Spencer Tracy in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Lawler was her closest confidante. As Kate often said, ‘Andy is the only person in Hollywood I can have girl talk with.’ He was considered to be the best-informed source about Hollywood ‘After Dark’ in all of Tinsel Town. Kate and Darwin clearly believed what he told them right up until his quite early death in 1959. He was known to spare no-one and even attempted to pen his own memoirs. At the time they could not be published because of libel issues. Little wonder.

Image result for patricia peardon     Image result for george cukor

Patricia Peardon                                               George Cukor

Porter dated Patricia Peardon, Hepburn’s closest female pal who also happened to be the best friend of Kate’s long-time lover Laura Harding. Patricia and Porter intended to write a book about Kate, ‘but only after she dies’, but it never happened because Kate outlived Patricia. Porter also befriended George Cukor and was invited to many of his dinners and parties. There he met Spencer Tracy who lived in a cottage on the grounds. According to Porter, Cukor’s stories about Kate were the best in Hollywood. Needless to say, he recorded them all.

Porter is quick to point out that he had help from hundreds of others down the years as he gathered information from any number of sources. Co-workers at RKO, MGM and other studios all contributed. As far as Hepburn was concerned, he says there was never a shortage of stories. Anyone and everyone who came in contact with her seemed to have an anecdote. The over-riding question, of course, regarding all of the above-mentioned sources is – how much of what they said is truth and how much is embellished, sensationalized, simply gossip or rumour, or just downright lies? Porter’s penchant for ‘recreating’ dialogue gives his work a dime novel look that, from an historian’s point of view, is annoying and anything but convincing. Frankly, without it he might be more credible. Then again, for all we know, he might not care a fig about gaining credibility, only book sales. We already know how the studios happily lied to the public about their stars. We can only hope that writers such as Darwin Porter are less liberal with the truth. I guess only time will tell.


  1. Porter and my Uncle Stanley Haggart were partners for many years. I have tried to correspond with Porter over the years about my grandmother’s journals that were apparently the basis for many of his books, but he would never respond. My uncle Stanley was definitely gay, but I am unsure that my fervent Episcopalian grandmother Maria Jane Haggart was writing journals. She was an excellent correspondent with her four sons and lived with Stanley before she died. Anyway. I always suspected that Darwin had no access to journals and that is why he never would write back. If you can shed light contact me at peterhaggart@moscow.com ==== thanks

    • I appreciate you contacting me, Peter. Unfortunately, I have no information regarding Mr. Porter or his sources. I am as much in the dark about this as you. Thanks again for your note.

  2. plain and simple, I don’t care what stories he’s heard, he makes up a lot of them. Case in point: he reports in a story about Elizabeth Taylor the following: 1) she was abused by first husband Nicky Hilton; this I think is pretty well known though I haven’t researched it. In the beginning of 1950, she and Nicky took a ship to NYC and stayed at the Plaza Hotel. Elizabeth went off to visit Montgomery Clift, and she and one of Clift’s friends took him to rehab. I doubt very much that happened in 1950 – as most of Clift’s drug and alcohol problems happened after his accident – and also, according to Clift’s friend and mine, Jack Larson, this is false information.

    But it gets SO much better. When Elizabeth came home from helping Monty, there was her husband with Tyrone Power and they were both in their underwear. Now, I can prove this is complete bull. In August of 1950, Tyrone Power was doing Mr. Roberts in London, as he had been since July, and previous to that, he was doing American Guerrilla in the Phillipines, where his wife Linda lost a baby, and previous to that, he was in Morocco making the Black Rose. I have letters from Henry Hathaway’s wife to prove all that, and in another letter, Power said he was out of the country for 2 years. He was. In the letter, he was on his way to have dinner with Jack Hawkins and his wife.

    Porter goes on to claim that Nicky and Ty wanted to have a threesome with Liz but she wouldn’t go for it. I know I’m not Liz, but I can tell you, I would be pretty uncomfortable going to a party given by a man who wanted a threesome with me – as she did Tyrone’s Christmas party some time later – and comfortable talking with him as a friend, which she did.

    He then says that Liz reconciled with Nicky who was beating her up, but found him with Marilyn – for readers unfamiliar with Darwin, Tyrone and Marilyn are two favorite subjects of his and he is constantly making up dialogue about them. Marilyn told Elizabeth, “I’m sorry to steal your husband, but he prefers me to you. I’m sure you’ll meet someone else.” At the time, Marilyn had met Arthur Miller and there was an attraction, though not acted on then, because he was married – and she was seeing Elia Kazan.

    So for all of you who want to believe one effing word that comes out of this man’s writing, be my guest. But do yourself a favor – do a little research. As with Charles Higham’s books, it won’t take much to realize he’s lying.

    • correction – the incident at the Plaza allegedly happened in August of 1950, I said at the beginning – not so.

    • Thankyou for your in-depth comments, Pietra. A first-hand response is always welcome. I am no fan of Mr. Porter but am prepared to at least look at his assertions, albeit with growing incredulity. Your words clearly ring true. The biggest problem facing historians regarding Hollywood is the plethora of untruths churned out by the studios, a practice that compels us to examine the writings of sources such as he, in desperation to arrive at some measure of truth. Thankyou again for clearing the air somewhat.

    • Exactly. He either makes up or repeats the nastiest stories about Golden Age stars, and conveniently most of his quotes or references are from the dead. His books need to be picked up with tongs. You need a shower after reading. Simply the worst.

  3. Just reading his Howard Hughes book. A real pity that hardly a source can be described as reliable. Most sources were dead and can’t refute anyway. I found this book to be trash really, with wild accusations made about many male stars as being gay that just aren’t referenced anywhere else. Still he does write well to give him credit and except for the gross deniability of his claims the Hughes book does have a bit of interest of what Hollywood was like in the 30’s in particular.

    • I am certainly no fan of Mr. Porter, Paul, but (like me), he mostly writes about stars who have since passed away, so finding sources gets a little tricky. He (we) must rely on finding material previously unearthed by others who, in many cases, have also since died. My concern with Porter is his obvious embellishments from time to time. He doesn’t seem to be able to stop ‘spicing up’ everything.

      • I agree completely with the fact that it is nearly impossible to prove his “facts” – but why have none of his claims found voice elsewhere. All of these stars regularly attending gay bars etc, yet no one thought they could make money from this by blackmail or through the press. Astonishing. Checks on, eg Wikipedia, on many of those accused of being primarily gay, or at least 50/50, have nothing whatever to say about Porter’s claims. EG Spencer Tracy – I have never seen that one before. The list goes on.

        • I suppose it is the age old historian’s problem, Paul. We look at sources and must decide what sounds ‘right’ and what seems suspect. As far as Hollywood history goes the problem is even worse than usual because the studios lied and covered up all kinds of indiscretions. For example,everybody and his dog knew that Rock Hudson was gay, that Dietrich and Hepburn (Kate) were bisexual, but they were huge money-spinners so money exchanged hands (or career-wrecking threats were made) and their secrets were kept in-house for decades. Perhaps, Tracy was another such cover-up. His alcoholism was legendary, but the public knew nothing of it while he was making the studio a packet. I mean, if Porter had written that Bill Cosby was drugging and assaulting women for FIFTY YEARS we all would have accused him of muck-raking and outright lying. Yet we would have been entirely wrong. The only thing keeping Cosby out of prison is his billions of dollars and battery of lawyers paying off plaintiffs.

          • I wouldn’t have accused him of muckraking about Bill Cosby. I knew from someone who toured with him what a pig he was years ago.

  4. Darwin Porter is a bottom feeder who has no credibility . I know a lot about Hepburn and have read extensively about her and have read a lot of historical material . Most of what Darwin Porter claims can be disproved by anybody with a passing knowledge of Hepburn . A good example of this is the fake honeymoon story where Porter claims that Laura went on Hepburn’s honeymoon . In fact Hepburn and Laura barely knew each other in 1928 and anyway Laura was on a boat to Europe when Katharine got married . The New York Times confirms this because Laura Harding was mentioned as taking a trip to Europe during this time . Anyway feel free to ask me any questions

  5. Alan, I’m glad you posted this.I read some from one of his Bogart “bios”? on internet,
    until I had my fill of mental sex. Many reviewers had read his other books along same line
    and don’t give them much weight. DIALOGUE: Bogart’s mother, Maud Humphrey Bogart
    tries to stop her son from seeing “that Jewess.” Bogart, according to Porter, says to himself, “Jewish pussy is as good as Gentile pussy.” Sounds like Porter trying to be
    creative. Quite curious about Kenneth Mackenna; married Bogart’s ex, Mary Philips.
    Stanley Haggart [Taggart?] That family knew Bogart’s parents. I think they had info. on
    Bogart, as did Mackenna, according to Porter.

    I’m sure the truth, what there is of it, is somewhere in between. Embellishment is a
    tempting thing to do, especially if notoriety and money are the goals.

    The “Jewess” who Bogart was seeing until Maud wrecked it was Lenore “Lee” Strunsky,
    Mrs. Ira Gershwin, who spoke of Maud’s anti-Semitism, while living in Hollywood.
    The Bogart’s became close friends of the Gershwin’s. Humphrey exclaimed re. “Lee,”
    “she was my first girl friend!” [“Bogart,” Sperber & Lax.]

    • I am sure you know more about Bogart than I do, Sheila. As for Darwin Porter, his writings frustrate me. He seems to have had connections EVERYWHERE, but his penchant for ‘creating’ melodramatic, cheap and nasty, dialogue simply undermines his credibility right down the line. As for all that anti-Semitism, I have NEVER been able to appreciate why these people seem to be detested by just about everyone. I just don’t get it, anymore than I get why people are hated for their skin color. Neither makes an iota of sense to me and never will.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.