patricia douglas

The Pioneer of the #MeToo Movement

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, better known as MGM, is responsible for film classics like Gone with the Wind and The Gorgeous Hussy. As one of the older American movie studios, they helped pave the way for massive success of many actresses. However, despite the bright lights and glittering history of the studio, it has a darker underside that it’s still haunted by to this day.

While the studio certainly had connections to unleashing glamorous movies and using new technologies to keep up with the times, they were also responsible for unleashing one of the earliest pioneers of the #metoo movement.

Patricia Douglas managed to boldly fight her way into headlines across America before vanishing, shrinking into the grim shadows of Hollywood. Her rape, caused directly by trickery from MGM, had become a spectacle, broadcasted as she underwent extreme efforts to snatch at justice for herself.

The 1930s was a difficult decade. Full of economic turmoil, the studio managed to persevere and adapt to new budgets and compete with other major film studios. By 1937, MGM had not only managed to maintain their success, but also reap in huge financial rewards that helped to keep them popular. To celebrate this achievement, they sponsored a large party for the men involved in maintaining their legacy, where over a hundred women were taken to a remote location to serve as entertainment.

A scheme had been developed to hire a large group of women under the premise that they would be working as dancers and extras on a movie set. The location was at an isolated ranch, and the women soon realized their dangerous predicament as they were stranded with no way to contact the outside world for aid.

They had been delivered to this set after sitting through dress and make up and were left for hours before the men eventually showed up. Quickly inebriated after their arrival, the men descended like a swarm of locusts.

Sexual assault and harassment, as always, has been a difficult subject in media. Often, victims become further victimized. In the more recent years, though, media has allowed for people to support victims in rape cases, allowing for more encouragement and bringing awareness to the issue. In the 1930s, however, more archaic beliefs of assault ran rampant, making it extraordinarily difficult for any woman to step forward and demand justice.

This party saw many men harass the women tricked into attending. Women attempted to swiftly flee the wandering hands and lewd comments by hiding in bathrooms or darting away. Nevertheless, Douglas was not lucky enough to find safety.

Photo from the Everett Collection

Photo from the Everett Collection

Intentionally humiliated by men forcing alcohol down her throat against her will before a man by the name of David Ross managed to drag her away and rape her. She was underage and publically a teetotaler. Douglas had trusted MGM for honest work as an extra for a film and instead she had been tossed into a pit of snakes.

In the chaos of the aftermath, Douglas had been brought to a hospital for a medical exam, that had been arranged by MGM, that claimed that no intercourse could be proven. No follow up police report was ever filled out, which allowed Ross to slip back into his life comfortably and left Douglas with no support.

Most women would have vanished quietly. Some might have sought out money from the guilty party in exchange for their silence, but instead of remaining passive, she led a charge for justice.

Her career was wrecked with this crusade. Publically proclaiming her rape at the hands of Ross, Douglas suffered the humiliation of being forced into the same room with the man and also from the attempts of a smear campaign against her. Detectives, hired by MGM, failed to pinpoint any loose behaviour from her character, as she was an underage girl who publicly identified as a teetotaler. They found limited ammunition to use against her.

Despite their limits, the case did wither and collapse in court before it was dismissed. Douglas swiftly followed up with a lawsuit that was aimed at the men who arranged the party and for women to be hired under false premises. This was eventually dismissed as well, but Douglas was not a woman to roll over and accept defeat.

By connecting her assault to a violation of her civil rights, she managed to make her case a federal one. This was the first time any woman took rape to a federal level, which paved the way for future assaulted women. Douglas was fighting for visibility and justice, and she is the reason why the #metoo movement has managed to flourish in the past year. Without her first voice, the hashtag would have been caught in limbo.

This was the unfortunate final end, though, to her public campaign for her rights. With a dismissal at the federal level, she was left stagnant and without options. Her career had suffered from collateral damage because of this public crusade, but it had also become meaningless to her. Douglas accepted the stigma that was to drown her social standing and run her out of the Hollywood movie industry.

Why had Douglas failed constantly in her legal battles? It was an uphill battle against MGM, who refuted evidence and tried to undermine her by buying false witnesses. They refused to attend court and leave her standing alone, underrepresented and faltering beneath the pressure from the outside world. Their arrangements with the hospital after her rape saw that the medical exam was botched, and they failed to contact the police. Douglas was fighting against a powerhouse from the very beginning of her journey, and the odds were very much not in her favour. MGM had been intent on dismantling any evidence.

It wasn’t just the men at MGM that failed Douglas, but also journalism. Her public demand for justice made headlines nationwide, thrusting her into the spotlight. However, the word “rape” was censored in print, and other words would be used in its place, such as “ravished”. Very few headlines would feature the word “assault”. Her identity was completely exposed in these articles, as even her home address was included in the text. No one was protecting Douglas.

MGM was responsible for many great hits that make up such a huge part of pop culture. Fantastic movie classics, however, cannot compare to their efforts to demolish Douglas. She suffered from not only from the rape, but the aftermath as the film studio attempted to figuratively murder her. By promoting unsavoury lies about Douglas’s character, and purposely preventing the case from gaining any traction by refusing to cooperate, they are entirely responsible for this woman’s overnight vanishing act.  

“We had her killed,” the studio’s general manager allegedly said decades later, in regards to whatever happened to Douglas. She lived, stubbornly, for decades in isolation after the desperate bribing of witnesses, dismantling of any support she could have found, and the failure of the justice system.

When headlines swivel to Harvey Weinstein and other men of his kind, attention should be focused on the long line of transgressions that have brought us to this era. MGM taught us that not only do men have the ability to put women in dangerous situations, but certainly in this case they believed that they had the right to ridicule them in the aftermath. This is the generation that allows the use of lace panties as proof in a courtroom to deny rape, but it is also the generation that is finally letting victims reach out and support one another. We can thank Douglas for our ability to come forward and join hands.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.