Saturday, March 02, 2024

Girl 27: The Patricia Douglas Story

Although it came out seventeen years ago, the documentary “Girl 27” is still shocking. It begins with a passage from Luke 8:17, which perfectly sets the tone. Writer/director David Stenn made public the tragic story of the 1937 rape of Patricia Douglas at the hands of an MGM exhibitor/salesman, David Ross. As Stenn told Vanity Fair, “I managed to find old newspaper coverage, previously unseen photos, damning studio documentation, long-forgotten legal records, privately shot cinematographic evidence hidden in an MGM film vault, and, most amazing, Patricia Douglas herself. I tracked the reclusive invalid down and eventually persuaded her to break her 65-year silence.”

Hollywood’s most glamorous studio, Metro-Goldwayn-Mayer, invited exhibitors to come to Hollywood to stay at the Ambassador Hotel and attend a wild party at the Hal Roach Studio’s ranch. Over a hundred young girls (many underage) were hired for what they thought was a film. Louis B. Mayer told the exhibitors that anything they wanted would be provided to them during their visit.

One of those exhibitors was David Ross from Chicago. What a charmer.

A natural-born dancer, Douglas drifted into movies “just for something to do.” Since she was supported by her mother, Douglas had no need to work. So when a casting call came on the afternoon of Sunday, May 2, 1937, she demurred at first, but later agreed to show up. “They never mentioned it was for a party,” she recalls. “Ever. I wouldn’t have gone! Oh God, oh God, I wouldn’t have gone.”

The call sheet with the name of Pat Douglas, aka Girl 27. What did the girls receive for their “role”? What they thought was a shot at stardom, hot meal, and $7.50 for the day at the remote Culver City ranch, aka “Rancho Roachero.”

The exhibitors who had been partying all day assumed the professional dancers were theirs to do whatever they wanted to. Isn’t that what Louis B. Mayer told them upon arrival? The girls were trapped at a location with no phones or transportation and had to fend for themselves. Douglas ended up being violently raped, losing her virginity to a man she had no interest in. With guts rarely shown by women at the time (for fear of repercussions), Patricia went public and pressed charges against her rapist. “I did want him punished,” she recalled. “I couldn’t get him out of my mind, because he took my innocence, because I was a virgin, and he left me with horrendous memories of my first time. And believe it or not, it affected the rest of my life physically. I was a frigid woman, and I never changed. I believe that I was about thirty-five when I stopped dating. But you can never miss what you never had.”

Stenn’s compelling documentary shows his journey of how he uncovered the facts of the case, long buried or destroyed many years ago. Here he is with USC archivist, Ned Comstock, as he first looks at the file from Patricia’s case, full of papers not seen since the 1930s.

Stenn also sought out Douglas herself. “I was furious when I heard from David. Imagine, sixty-five years nobody knowing what happened to you when you were young, and here comes some young fellow from out of the blue, and wants to talk to me about the case. I didn’t care about the story being told; I kept it a secret for sixty-five years. Why not die with it? Who would care?” Stenn did, and he patiently chipped away at Douglas’ reluctance. Eighty-six at the time, she finally agreed to tell her story.

David asked her, “Have you ever been in love?” “No,” she replied. “I have never been in love, and I have never known what it is to love somebody.” Pressing on, David asked, “Do you think that was taken away from you by what happened at the MGM party?” “Yes, because I believe no matter how much I feel towards a man, I don’t trust.”

In a touch of irony, while a rape victim was crucified in the press, a movie star was completely protected. The documentary reveals how Loretta Young and Clark Gable (married at the time to Ria Langham) had a child out of wedlock but covered it up by telling the public her biological daughter had been adopted.

As her daughter, Judy Lewis, tells the camera: “Hollywood knew the true story; I was the only one that didn’t.” The contrasting story shows how Hollywood treated people according to their earning potential.

Make sure you see “Girl 27.” You won’t regret it. See more Classic Movie & TV photos at my main website.


Melissa said...

Loretta Young was raped, too. The encounter that resulted in her daughter with Gable was not consensual.

Daveland said...

It isn't discussed in the documentary, but yes - that's what Loretta finally said. I don't believe she even discussed it until close to her death. She also did not want her daughter telling her grandkids the truth, either. One many consequences. Truly sad.

Fifthrider said...

What's worse is this still goes on today. I have friends in the business and when the topic comes up, they tell me it's all just a crazy conspiracy theory that Hollywood is full of rapists and pedophiles. They think it's all conjecture based on things in the past. The people who work in the industry and know it, turn the blindest eye they can, even when I confront them with "You know so-and-so and here they are in the news saying so-and-so raped them." They just shake it off. I've never seen an industry so established on falsehoods, but enamored with so much power. I can only be thankful that Shirley seems to have navigated those waters with better results.