Cast & Crew
H. R. Manley, owner of Real Truth tabloid scandal magazine, lives with his mother in an upscale Manhattan apartment enjoying the wealth he has acquired since the magazine's inception, only two years earlier. Mrs. Manley, however, rarely leaves the house, embarrassed by the nature of the tabloid. At a Real Truth staff meeting after legal consultant Homer Crowley announces the magazine's falling distribution totals, Manley threatens to fire his reporters unless they can stimulate circulation by uncovering more lurid and revealing secrets about public figures. When the magazine's printer, Harry Walsh, demands to know why Manley is choosing a new printing company, Manley states that, far from disapproving of his work, he simply hates Walsh. Walsh reminds Manley that he fronted the money for the first edition when the publisher was just a poor man with an idea. After Walsh leaves, Homer suggests Manley apologize to him to buy time to pay off a $100,000 debt he owes Walsh. Instead, Manley demands that his writers produce an extraordinarily sensational issue targeting movie star Mary Sawyer and orders them to follow up on the only lead, Sawyer's childhood friend, Scott Ethan Martin, a floundering marionette entertainer. Meanwhile, Scott, thanks to the hard work of his agent, Seth Jackson, has just secured a spot on a televised children's show. That afternoon, when Manley's mother informs him that once again she has been refused service at the upscale La Toire because of Real Truth , he orders his reporters to write an article ruining the restaurant owner's career. Later that night, Evening Globe newspaper publisher Frank Grover appears on the television show What Do You Read and accuses Manley of "dirtying" the publishing world, prompting Mrs. Manley to tell her son how ashamed she is. Manley, however, insists he is giving the country the "truth" and suggests that she is an ungrateful drunk afraid to leave the luxury he provides her. After only five days on the air, Scott's show is a tremendous success, affording him and his wife Connie the hope that they might be able to provide a better life for their son Joey. Soon after, Manley calls Connie and asks her to his office, where he shows her copy for an article about Scott, revealing her husband's prior conviction for armed robbery. Connie admits that she knows of her husband's past, but explains that Scott served four years for the crime, which he committed as a teen to try to help his ailing mother Mrs. Doyle, but Manley only laughs at her attempts to dissuade him from running the article. Later at the Martin apartment, just after Seth tells Scott that television executive Charles Orrin Sterling has prepared a lucrative contract for him, Connie shows the men the story, explaining that Manley will drop it if Scott will reveal secrets about Sawyer by Sunday. When Scott expresses his reluctance to destroy Sawyer's career to save his own, Seth warns him that the contract offer will be revoked if his past is revealed. That night, after Scott refuses to divulge any information about Sawyer to Connie, fearing that she will try to save him by telling Manley, a betrayed Connie gives Scott an ultimatum: he must choose between Sawyer and his own family. Scott replies that Manley has already destroyed his family without printing a word. On Sunday, Homer warns Manley that they need an exposé about Sawyer, not an article about Scott, to generate sufficient profit to pay the debt. Later, Scott tells Manley he will not reveal Sawyer's secret, rebuking the publisher for already destroying what was most important to him, his wife and son, who have left him and moved to his mother's apartment over the dilemma. When Manley threatens him, Scott punches the executive and leaves. After Sterling is informed of the situation and warns the entertainer that disillusioning the kids is "bad for business," Scott goes to his mother's apartment to carefully explain his criminal past and express his regret to Joey. Scott cautions the boy that his friends will chide him at school when the article comes out, but Joey tells Scott that he is the "greatest dad." Once the article is published, thousands of parents protest Scott's show, forcing Sterling to cancel it. Meanwhile, Connie, realizing she no long has anything to fear, blames herself for failing her husband in his time of need. She then decides to pick Joey up from school and reunite with Scott. As school lets out and dozens of children taunt Joey about his "jailbird" father, the boy flees the schoolyard into the street, where he is hit and killed by a car. After learning of his son's death that evening, Scott rushes to his mother's and finds Connie hysterical. Soon after, Seth tells the grief-stricken father that Frank Frederick, the host of What Do You Read , has invited Scott to share his story that night on the air in hopes of setting the record straight. Scott at first blames himself, but then looking at Joey's picture, realizes that Real Truth must be stopped. Later that evening, when Mrs. Manley visits Connie to ask if there was any connection between her son's actions and their son's death, Connie blames Manley for the tragedy. Meanwhile, at the What Do You Read taping, Scott tells the audience what joy Joey had brought to him and Connie and then proceeds to argue that anyone who bought Real Truth contributed to his death, even if unknowingly doing so. Scott hopes that the next person the readers "poison" will not be their loved one. At the Manley house, after mother and son watch Scott's address, Manley excitedly explains to Homer over the phone that Scott's plea will generate more publicity and thus the necessary sales to save the publication. Watching her son's contemptuous joy, Mrs. Manley pulls a gun from a desk drawer and kills him. When Seth finds Scott and Connie walking home later that night and tells them that the public is upset and will not be buying the magazine, Scott shrugs and replies, "maybe."
Harold J. Stone
John M. Kennedy
William A. Horning
Harold J. Marzorati
Dr. Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
In Slander, made in the heyday of Confidential magazine and other early examples of tabloid journalism, Blyth plays Connie, the distraught wife of struggling puppeteer Scott Martin (Van Johnson), whose sudden success on a television children's show is threatened by a "scandal sheet" called Real Truth. In a storyline that seems somewhat inspired by a 1950s Confidential exposé of actor Rory Calhoun's conviction for armed robbery, we learn that Martin once served four years for the same crime -- though, in Martin's case, it was to provide for a poor and sickly mother.
The smarmy publisher of Real Truth, H. R. Manley (Steve Cochran, in more debonair mode than usual) is desperate to boost sales because he has fallen into debt and is searching for a blockbuster scandal. He's less interested in Martin himself than in a famous Broadway star with a pristine image who happens to have been a childhood friend of Sawyer. There's something shady in her past, too, and Martin knows about it. If he doesn't inform on his old friend, Manley tells Martin, the front page story in the next Real Truth will be about him. Again, there's some veracity in the situation; Confidential was known to have traded one celebrity scandal for another in real life, having pursued the Calhoun story in exchange for not going after Rock Hudson for his homosexuality at the height of his fame as a romantic leading man. And the concept of friends and colleagues informing on one another was a familiar one in this time of the McCarthy hearings.
Martin refuses to knuckle under and fights back, leading to tragedy involving his and Connie's young son (Richard Eyer) as well as Manley's alcoholic, disapproving mother, to whom he seems inordinately attached (Marjorie Rambeau, in a strong performance). Also in the supporting cast are Harold J. Stone, Lurene Tuttle and Philip Coolidge. The puppets used in the film were designed and operated by Bil and Cora Baird, who later fashioned similar puppets for "The Lonely Goatherd" number in The Sound of Music (1965).
Slander is based on a teleplay by Harry W. Junkin, Public Figure, which was broadcast on the CBS-TV drama series Studio One in 1956, with James Daly and Mercedes McCambridge in the roles played by Johnson and Blyth. The film's screenplay was adapted by Jerome Weidman, with direction by Roy Rowland, whose other noir-flavored films include Scene of the Crime (1949), Rogue Cop and Witness to Murder (both 1954). The cinematography, by Harold J. Marzorati, is a little glossier, in the MGM style, than the usual film noir -- and, despite the cynicism of some of the characters, the film doesn't quite capture the genre's atmosphere.
The movie's title is something of a misnomer since the term refers to malicious false statements, and the damaging stories about the characters in the film apparently are true. Also, technically speaking, "slander" refers to the spoken word, while the correct word for malicious falsehoods in print is "libel." Interestingly, Van Johnson himself had personal brushes with the perils of tabloid journalism. A few years before the release of Slander, Confidential had done stories questioning his sexual orientation and had reported that the star had revealed his homosexual tendencies when he was called before the draft board in 1941. Johnson later claimed to have rid himself of this "abnormality."
Confidential had declared at its launch, "The Lid Is Off!" Soon afterwards the magazine was running such titillating stories as "Why Liberace's Theme Song Should Be 'Mad About the Boy'," "Gary Cooper's Lost Weekend with Anita Ekberg" and "Wife-Beating Champ Curt Jurgens, World's Number One Heel!" As some celebrities began fighting back with lawsuits and the mainstream press began routinely "reporting" gossip, the magazine gradually lost its power.
In the film, the ironic motto of Real Truth is "For Ye Shall Know the Truth and Truth Shall Make You Free." Cochran's character puts it a little more bluntly: "I know that if I dig deeply enough, no matter who the person is, I'll find something rotten... There's something dirty in everyone's past."
By Roger Fristoe
Slander was based on a 1956 teleplay by Harry W. Junkin entitled Public Figure which was broadcast on the CBS dramatic television series Studio One, starring James Daly and Mercedes McCambridge. The title Public Figure was also used as a working title for Slander, in addition to the title Pattern of Malice. A February 20, 1956 Hollywood Reporter article noted that producer Armand Deutsch sold the teleplay, which he had purchased from Junkin, to M-G-M on the condition that Deutsch be hired to produce the film version. Although a March 5, 1956 Daily Variety article states that M-G-M hired Allen Rivkin to write a script entitled Pattern of Malice from the teleplay, he was not credited onscreen and no further information has been found about his participation in the film. According to a July 31, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M changed the film's title to Confidential Slander in response to a conflict with Sam Baer, who had registered the title Slander for a film; however, the conflict was apparently resolved prior to the film's January 1957 release under the title Slander.
The 1950s saw the beginnings of a new tabloid format embodied in "scandal sheets" like Confidential, which featured stories about Hollywood film stars' private lives. Although the December 22, 1956 Motion Picture Herald review claimed that the magazine and its publisher portrayed in Slander were based on a real magazine and publisher, no information as to the identity of either has been found.
A August 23, 1956 Hollywood Reporter article stated that Lewis Martin replaced actor Theodore Newton in the role of "Charles Orrin Sterling" when the latter became ill during production. Additional Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Richard Deacon, Jeanette Nolan and Eleanor Grumer. Nolan and Deacon were not in the released film and the appearance of Grumer could not be determined. The December 17, 1956 Hollywood Reporter review notes that Jack Shafton and Allan Henderson designed and created the marionettes Van Johnson used in the film as "Scott Ethan Martin" the host of a televised puppet show. A modern source adds Patricia Winters to the cast.