‘Love Is a Crime’: A Man Pushed to the Brink

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The Hollywood Blacklist was an era in which persecution reigned and any communist sympathies in the film business were snuffed out. “One of the people who felt those reverberations was one of the men who voted to make the Blacklist happen: Walter Wanger,” Love Is a Crime cohost Karina Longworth explains in this week’s episode, “Conspiracy!” This period would exacerbate “the personal, political, professional, and financial problems that brought Walter Wanger to the brink.”

Longworth and cohost Vanessa Hope (Bennett and Wanger’s granddaughter) explore the flurry of factors that led to Wanger’s actions on a December night in 1951. Fearing an investigation from the House Un-American Activities Committee, given his habit of imbuing films with progressive ideals, Wanger joined a right-wing organization. But instead of clearing the producer of suspicion, as Love Is a Crime notes, the plan backfired, leading to an FBI investigation.

Wanger’s strife wasn’t helped by his wife Joan Bennett’s public feud with notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. After publishing unflattering items about Bennett’s friend Joan Fontaine, the actor allegedly delivered Hopper a snide valentine, complete with a live skunk. Bennett may have earned points for her fearlessness, but Hopper’s tight friendship with J. Edgar Hoover gave the FBI plenty of reason to target Wanger. 

This wasn’t the only hardship facing the once-mighty producer. Wanger’s professional status had deteriorated, forcing him to pitch TV shows to Jennings Lang—the agent with whom his wife was having an affair. When those ideas were rejected, he signed a contract with Monogram, a B-movie studio specializing in exploitation films. To top it all off, Bennett had asked Wanger for a divorce. “I loved my wife and family and had no desire for any change,” Wanger wrote at the time, according to his biographer Matthew Bernstein. He admitted that the “marriage had entered a new phase and a dire one. I did not want to see this change occur and was ready to do all I could to stop it.”

Listen to the episode above, and be sure to tune in next Tuesday, September 28, for the next chapter in Bennett and Wanger’s Hollywood love story gone awry. Subscribe at listen.vanityfair.com/loveisacrime or wherever you get your podcasts.

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