Vice editor Rocco Castoro interviewed the 85-year-old Magus of American cinema, Kenneth Anger at the ritzy Cicada restaurant in downtown Los Angeles:
VICE: Looking back at the films of the silent era, the way they were shot and cut make it seem like everyone was snorting massive lines right up until the director yelled, “Action!”
I find film style reflects it, particularly the Mack Sennett [the director largely responsible for the popularity of slapstick] comedies. And my research proves that they were taking cocaine. You can see a sort of hyper-influence there.
VICE: There are lots of tales that make reference to “joy powder” in Hollywood Babylon, which makes it seem as innocent as taking one of those 5-hour Energy shots. Another phrase you use in the book, in the first few pages, is the “Purple Epoch.” What is that? It sounds nice.
That was when there were very talented people who also had extravagant tastes and money. It was the 1920s, a reflection of the Jazz Age. And the Hollywood version of that was pretty wild.
VICE: Another topic you cover early on in the book is the circumstances surrounding the death of Olive Thomas, which is perhaps the first instance of “Hollywood scandal” as we know it. You write, and it’s long been rumored, that she was very fond of cocaine, which was apparently a fatal flaw when combined with alcohol and ingesting her husband Jack Pickford’s topical syphilis medication.
She was one of the earliest beautiful stars to die in grim circumstances. And so her name became associated with lurid [behavior]. Things going on in Hollywood.
VICE: Her death also seemed to pull the wool from everyone’s eyes. Olive Thomas’s image was so sweet and pure. It caused Hollywood’s reputation to snowball into something far darker than how it was previously perceived. People must have thought, “If Olive’s doing it, everyone else must be too.”
There were other ones too, like Mary Miles Minter [who was accused of murdering her lover, director William Desmond Taylor, at the height of her success]. She was a kind of version of Mary Pickford [Jack Pickford’s sister], but the great stars like Pickford were never touched. These scandals swirled around, but there were certain stars that weren’t implicated in any way by this sort of thing.