In order to chase his acting dreams and try to provide for his family, Hollywood‘s Jack Costello begins working as an attendant at a gas station that’s really just a front for a male brothel. By Episode 2, he has a regular customer in Patti LuPone’s character Avis, who later reveals that she’s the wife of the head of Ace Studios — a fact that eventually makes her a groundbreaking figure in the show.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, series creator Ryan Murphy based Avis very loosely on Irene Mayer Selznick, who was the daughter of a movie magnate and wife of a film producer. Per the Los Angeles Times, she was just a teen when her father moved their family from Brooklyn to Hollywood and founded MGM Studios, which he ran from 1924 to 1952. She married producer David O. Selznick in 1930, and together they became Hollywood royalty. Selznick was a top executive in David’s company, and encouraged him to release more meaningful films like A Star Is Born and Gone with the Wind. "Movies were like a great cause to us," she wrote in her memoir A Private View. "We had one romance with each other and another with the movies."
By 1948, however, their romance had fizzled out, and they divorced after 18 years together. "I wasn’t looking for independence or freedom. I preferred protection; I had had it all my life," she wrote in her memoir — a sentiment Avis echoes to Jack in Hollywood.
Still, Selznick’s divorce did encourage her toward some independence, and she become a theater producer in her own right. Her first production was Heartsong in 1947, followed by Tennessee Williams’s highly successful A Streetcar Named Desire. She went on to produce several more plays, but voluntarily ended her new career after a few years. ”I see now that I’ve had three lives – one as the daughter of my father, another as the wife of my husband. The theater furnished me with a third act," she wrote in A Private View.
Though Avis is meant to follow Selznick’s career trajectory — just in film rather than theater — many of the details surrounding her life are fictional. Her beginnings are more akin to silent movie stars like Vilma Banky, Mae Murray, and Norma Talmadge, who couldn’t make the transition to talkies. "I had one screen test, and they told me there wasn’t a place in talkies for ethnics," Avis says. "A little ‘Jewey’ was the word they used. I politely informed them that Jews built this town and was shown the door."
She explains that she met her husband at a bar after storming out of that meeting, and he said the best she could hope for was to be a script reader girl. So, she quit the acting business and got married, watching as her husband grew to become the head of Ace Studios — conveniently, the studio Jack wants to be employed by. Avis has an icy relationship with her husband, but she isn’t sure she can make it on her own. If the character is anything like Selznick, though, she’ll soon figure out she can.
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