Ms. Barbas paces her terrific story well, and the book ends with her cogent analysis of Confidential’s larger significance. The magazine, which shuttered in 1978, 'precipitated a historic shift in American life fostering the jadedness, skepticism, and loss of innocence that would increasingly define the world in the 1960s and beyond.' 'You couldn’t put out a magazine like Confidential again,' Harrison told young journalist Tom Wolfe as early as 1964. 'You know why? Because all the movie stars have started writing books about themselves! . . . They tell all! No magazine can compete with that.' Perhaps. But as today’s #MeToo movement shows, the powerful in Hollywood (and elsewhere) still like to keep their secrets.
In its heyday it was the biggest-selling magazine in America, read by 16 million people, including many celebrities, though few would admit to reading it. Confidential was a raunchy rag, a sleazy scandal sheet, and it pretty much launched the celebrity-gossip brand of journalism ... Although a highly publicized lawsuit in 1957 rendered the magazine toothless and essentially irrelevant, its impact still resonates through popular culture and the world of Hollywood. A fascinating, highly detailed study of a precursor to today’s celebrity-obsessed media.
Historian and law professor Barbas traces the creation, heyday, and demise of Confidential, a celebrity scandal magazine published by Robert Harrison ... Harrison was not content with promoting the whitewashed images of stars put forth by studios. Instead, he gathered gossip from sources including hotel and restaurant workers, celebrities’ friends and enemies, hairdressers and bartenders, prostitutes and lovers, film crews, close and distant relatives, and 'disgruntled maids and butlers.' ... Despite a veneer of cultural analysis, Barbas plays into the same desire for sleaze that fuels contemporary exposé publications by reprising in detail the magazine’s lewd revelations that shattered marriages, ruined careers, and shamed many individuals ... A thoroughly researched history of a lurid publisher and Americans’ lust for scandal.