WASHINGTON • Nearly two decades ago, while researching a book about Judy Garland, biographer Gerald Clarke stumbled on an old gossip column noting that the actress was working on a memoir for Random House.
This piqued his curiosity, he later told Entertainment Weekly. No memoir had ever appeared. He sent his research assistant to Columbia University's library, where the publisher stores its archives, to see if there were any letters about the project. There were 30 - and also the memoir itself, incomplete - just 68 pages.
But Clarke was startled by what he discovered in those pages - that Garland, one of the world's most famous actresses, was groped repeatedly by Louis B. Mayer, the famed producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.
With the world fixated by sexual harassment allegations against some of the biggest names in Hollywood - Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Dustin Hoffman - it is worth remembering that this behaviour has been tolerated in show business as long as there have been bright lights.
The historical victims include Marilyn Monroe, Beverly Aadland, Joan Collins, and Shirley Temple.
"Everyone knows about the Hollywood casting couches," Clarke said in an interview with ABC News, "but nobody thought that Judy had been subjected to any sexual pressure from the higher-ups at MGM."
It started around the time Garland was playing Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz (1939). Clarke wrote in Get Happy: The Life Of Judy Garland: "Between the ages of 16 and 20, Judy herself was to be approached for sex - and approached again and again. 'Don't think they all didn't try,' she said."
Top on the list was Mayer himself. "Whenever he complimented her on her voice - she sang from the heart, he said - Mayer would invariably place his hand on her left breast to show just where her heart was. 'I often thought I was lucky,' observed Judy, 'that I didn't sing with another part of my anatomy.'"
That scenario was repeated many times until, grown up at last, Garland told him to stop - and he cried.
"How can you say that to me, to me who loves you?" he asked Garland, who described her scorn for him in her unpublished memoir, writing that "it's amazing how these big men, who had been around so many sophisticated women all their lives, could act like idiots".
If Mayer was the most persistent, he was not the most vile, Clarke wrote. Another executive, whom Garland did not identify, demanded that she had sex with him and threatened her when she refused. "I'll ruin you and I can do it," he screamed.
Garland died in 1969 of an apparent accidental overdose of barbiturates. She was 47.
There is an ironic coda to Clarke's discovery of the abuse Garland endured. In 2009, about a decade after the biography was published, the Hollywood trade journals were abuzz after the book was optioned for a movie - Garland would be played by Anne Hathaway.
The movie has not yet made it into production, and it seems even more unlikely now. The producer is Weinstein.