Was Dick Samuels real? Fact vs. fiction in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood

Dick Samuels is a closeted gay studio executive in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, but is he based on a real person?

Ryan Murphy’s revisionist vision of 1940s Hollywood is full of characters both real (Rock Hudson, Anna May Wong, Henry Wilson) and fictional (Jack Castello, Claire Wood) and those that fall somewhere in between, inspired by real legends but with names and backstories all their own (Avis Amberg, Ernie West).

Dick Samuels falls into that last category.

In a press kit, Netflix describes Dick, who is played by Joe Mantello, as follows:

The long time executive at Ace Studios whose experience and taste is the secret behind much of the company’s success. As a closeted gay man, he becomes determined to help break boundaries for the underrepresented in film.

According to The Hollywood Reporter:

Murphy had written him as a closeted studio executive.

‘He has a bottom-line mentality because he exists within a system where that’s rewarded,’ says Mantello. At the same time, the character has a real awareness of talent and evolves dramatically over seven episodes: ‘This man who has made a series of agreements with himself in order to keep his place in the business starts to follow his own instincts and heart and gradually becomes a more authentic version of himself and brings that to his work.’

Murphy told Entertainment Weekly that Dick has “parts of legendary MGM producer Irving Thalberg in him.”

Irving Thalberg was a producer who came to prominence and power in the 1920s, helping to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and becoming head of production of MGM in 1925 when he was just 26 — earning the nickname “Boy Wonder.”

He is credited with “creating” a number of Golden Age stars and their screen images, including Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo. He married one of those stars, Norma Shearer.

Dick Samuels, the character inspired in part by Thalberg, is notable in Murphy’s story for being closeted and ultimately motivated to produce and shepherd a more inclusive and boundary-breaking Hollywood. Which then does raise the question: Is Thalberg also believed to have been a closeted gay man?

According to EDGE Media Network, Thalberg “was comfortable around gay men” and used his influence to “get charges dropped and kept out of the press” when another director was arrested for soliciting sex from a policeman. But there does not seem to be any evidence or rumor that Thalberg himself was gay — and by now, especially after the 2012 release of Scotty Bowers’ memoir, the record of who was gay in the Golden Age is far more open.

So it would appear that while his producer prowess and power is indeed a nod to Hollywood legend Irving Thalberg, that is where the similarities end for this Ryan Murphy character.

Watch Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood on Netflix

Title: Hollywood

Series Length: 7 episodes

Release Date: May 1

Stream: Netflix

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