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Howard Strickling’s phone was always ringing. First it might be Jean Harlow, panicking that William Powell had gotten her pregnant. Then it might be a security guard, informing him that he’d removed a belligerent Spencer Tracy from yet another bar. Once it was Marlene Dietrich, distraught after discovering John Gilbert’s dead body.
As the head of publicity for MGM, Strickling “handled” all these potentially scandalous affairs for the studio’s stars. From the 1930s through the 1960s, he worked with MGM general manager Eddie Mannix to maintain the carefully curated images MGM had built for each of its movie stars. That meant keeping damaging stories out of the press—or, if it was too late, making those stories disappear.
Mannix - Strickling - Team - Mannix - Thug
Mannix and Strickling were an unlikely team. Mannix, a thug who hung out with mobsters, first caught the eye of film-executive brothers Nick and Joseph Schenck while working construction at their amusement park in Fort Lee, New Jersey. (Josh Brolin plays a loose version of him in Hail, Caesar!) Strickling was a “dapper former journalist” who transitioned over to MGM publicity in 1919. But together, they quashed almost every type of tabloid item imaginable, as detailed in The Fixers by E.J. Fleming.
When Harlow, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, and countless other MGM actresses found themselves pregnant out of wedlock, the two men procured hasty abortions. (They covered up the visits with false names and even false ailments. Jeanette MacDonald had an “ear infection.”) Well aware of Tracy’s alcoholism, Strickling assigned an entire “Tracy Squad” ambulance team consisting of a driver, a doctor, and four “attendants” who were really security guards.
Stars - Help - Mannix - Fixers - Qualms
When “difficult” stars refused the help of Strickling and/or Mannix, the fixers had no qualms about throwing them under the bus. After closeted actor Nils Asther refused to keep up his sham marriage to vaudeville actress Vivian...
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