What Price Hollywood?

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What Price Hollywood?
What Price Hollywood window card.jpg
Theater window card
Directed by George Cukor
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
David O. Selznick
Screenplay by Gene Fowler
Rowland Brown
Ben Markson
Jane Murfin
Story by Adela Rogers St. Johns
Louis Stevens
Starring Constance Bennett
Lowell Sherman
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Charles Rosher
Edited by Del Andrews
Jack Kitchin
Distributed by RKO-Pathé Distributing Corp.
Release date
  • June 2, 1932 (1932-06-02)
Running time
88 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $416,000[1]
Box office $571,000[1]

What Price Hollywood? is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film directed by George Cukor and starring Constance Bennett with Lowell Sherman. The screenplay by Gene Fowler, Rowland Brown, Ben Markson, and Jane Murfin is based on a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns and Louis Stevens.


Brown Derby waitress Mary Evans (Constance Bennett) is an aspiring actress who has an opportunity to meet film director Maximillan Carey (Lowell Sherman) when she serves him one night. He is very drunk but is charmed by the young girl, and he invites her to a premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Adhering to his policy of living life with a sense of humor, he picks her up in a jalopy rather than a limousine and then gives the parking valet the car as a tip.

Max takes Mary home with him after the event, but the next morning remembers nothing about the previous night. She reminds him he promised her a screen test and expresses concern about his excessive drinking and flippant attitude, but he tells her not to worry.

Mary's first screen test reveals she has far more ambition than talent, and she begs for another chance. After extensive rehearsals, she shoots the scene again, and producer Julius Saxe (Gregory Ratoff) is pleased with the result and signs her to a contract. Just as quickly as Mary achieves stardom, Max finds his career on the decline, and he avoids a romantic relationship with her for fear she will be caught up in his downward spiral.

Mary meets polo player Lonny Borden (Neil Hamilton). He genuinely loves her and, although he is jealous of the demands made on her by her career, he convinces her to marry him, against Julius and Max's better judgment. Lonny becomes increasingly annoyed by the dedication of his movie star wife to her work, and finally walks out on her. After their divorce is finalized, Mary discovers she is pregnant.

Mary wins the Academy Award for Best Actress, but her moment of glory is disrupted when she's called upon to post bail for Max after he's arrested for drunk driving. She takes him to her home, where he wallows in self-pity despite her encouragement. Later, alone in Mary's dressing room, he stares at his dissolute image in the mirror and compares it to a photograph of himself in earlier days. Finding a gun in a drawer, he kills himself with a bullet to the chest.

Mary becomes the center of gossip focusing on Max's suicide. Hoping to heal her emotional wounds, she flees to Paris with her son and reunites with Lonny, who begs her to forgive him and give their marriage another chance.


Lowell Sherman, Neil Hamilton and Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood? (1932)


The film's original title was The Truth About Hollywood. Adela Rogers St. Johns loosely based her plot on the experiences of actress Colleen Moore and her husband, alcoholic producer John McCormick (1893-1961), and the life and death of director Tom Forman, who committed suicide following a nervous breakdown.[2]

Producer David O. Selznick wanted to cast Clara Bow as the female lead, but executives at RKO's New York offices were hesitant to invest in a Hollywood story because similar projects had been unsuccessful in the past. By the time Selznick convinced them the picture had potential, Bow was committed to another film.[3]

Four years after the film was released, Selznick approached Cukor and asked him to direct A Star Is Born. The plot was so similar to What Price Hollywood? that Cukor declined. RKO executives considered filing a plagiarism suit against Selznick International Pictures because of the obvious similarities in the story, but eventually opted not to take any legal action. Cukor later directed the 1954 musical remake starring Judy Garland.[4][5]


In a review published on December 31, 1931, Variety called the film "a fan magazine-ish interpretation of Hollywood plus a couple of twists" and added, "George Cukor tells it interestingly. Story . . . has its exaggerations, but they can sneak under the line as theatrical license."[6]

In the 21st century, TVGuide.com rates it three out of four stars and comments, "Though the conclusion is a pat romantic ending, this is a strong drama that shows the real Hollywood behind the glamorous facades."[2]

According to RKO records the film lost $50,000.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

Adela Rogers St. Johns and Jane Murfin were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Story but lost to Frances Marion for The Champ.


  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p39
  2. ^ a b TV Guide review
  3. ^ Behlmer, Rudy, Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: The Viking Press 1972
  4. ^ McGilligan, Patrick, George Cukor: A Double Life (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991) ISBN 0-312-05419-X
  5. ^ Levy, Emanuel, George Cukor: Master of Elegance (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994) ISBN 0-688-11246-3
  6. ^ Variety review

External links[edit]