Old Hollywood is known for its glitz and its glamour, but a lot of shocking things went on behind the polished facade.
These Old Hollywood scandals give another insight into what life, love and illicit liaisons were like for yesterday’s biggest stars of the stage and screen. Some of these scandals have been all but forgotten, while others live in infamy to this day.
Was life really easier for celebrities before the days of TMZ, photoshopping and social media? You decide.
‘Fatty’ Arbuckle’s Manslaughter Charge
Possibly the first big Hollywood scandal took place in 1921. Comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was at a party with an unknown actress, Virginia Rappe, and they ended up in a hotel bedroom together. After guests heard screaming from the room, they rushed in and found Rappe writhing in agony. A few days later, she died with a ruptured bladder, and her friend accused Arbuckle of raping and accidentally killing her. The funnyman was charged with manslaughter but was eventually cleared after three trials.
When Walt Disney Welcomed A Nazi
Walt Disney has long been accused of anti-Semitism, and the insinuation isn’t entirely baseless. In 1938, he invited Nazi propagandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to Walt Disney Studios in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, also known as “the night of the broken glass,” a Nazi government terror campaign that saw synagogues burned, Jewish shopkeepers’ windows smashed and Jews murdered by Nazi youths throughout Germany. It may be going too far to label Disney an anti-Semite, but there’s definitely evidence that he at the very least admired Riefenstahl.
Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin
Jerry Lee Lewis had already been married twice before he wed his cousin, Myra Gale Brown, in 1958. The big scandal wasn’t that they were related but that he was 22 and she was 13. Okay, so technically she was his first cousin once removed (she was the daughter of Lewis’ cousin J.W. Brown), but it was enough to make the singer’s career hit the gutter.
“It was something that marked Jerry for life,” Myra told Cuepoint. “We kept thinking every year, every six months, that it was going to go away, they’re going to stop talking about it, and it just didn’t happen. But it brought me and Jerry very close, and we had ten incredible, wonderful years together after that.”
Clark Gable Had A Secret Child
When he starred in 1935’s “The Call of the Wild” with Loretta Young, leading man Clark Gable got a little more than he bargained for. Their extramarital affair (Gable was married to Maria Langham at the time) produced a daughter, Judy. Young tried to hide the baby by leaving the country as soon as she started to show, then giving birth in California, taking the child to an orphanage and “adopting” her.
Judy, who died in 2011 at the age of 76, was 31 before she learned the full truth about her parentage. Gable never publicly acknowledged that Judy was his child.
Charlie Chaplin Married Much Younger Women (Several Times)
Back in the day, it certainly wasn’t uncommon for Hollywood stars to marry much younger women. But Charlie Chaplin did it more often than most. He married two 16-year-old girls (Mildred Harris in 1918, after a pregnancy scare, then Lita Grey in 1924). In 1936, he married 21-year-old Paulette Goddard. Then, in 1943, when Chaplin was 53, he married 18-year-old Oona O’Neill, the daughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill.
Charlie Chaplin Was Exiled From America
Another scandalous headline involving Charlie Chaplin came after he was scorned by U.S. Attorney General James P. McGranery, who believed Chaplin was anti-American. McGranery subsequently banned Chaplin from re-entering the country following his 1952 visit to the U.K. to promote his final movie, “Limelight.” Chaplin eventually surrendered his permit for re-entry, settled in Switzerland and refused to return to the United States until he received an honorary Academy Award in 1972.
Lana Turner’s Boyfriend Was Found Dead In Her Home
Mobster Johnny Stompanato began an abusive relationship with actress Lana Turner in the mid-1950s. In 1958, he was stabbed to death by Turner’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, who said she did it to protect her mother from Stompanato’s violence. Cue an international media frenzy and much speculation: many suspected that Turner herself was responsible and Crane took the fall. In the end, it was ruled a justifiable homicide.
An Actress Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign
Struggling Welsh actress Peg Entwistle failed to hit the big time in Hollywood, scraping by on minor roles in the depths of the Great Depression and experiencing a run of bad luck. Her career disappointments, combined with the breakdown of her marriage and ongoing mental illness, lead to her tragic death in September 1932. Entwistle took her own life by jumping off the “H” on the Hollywood sign.
Alfred Hitchcock Harassed Tippi Hedren
Decades before #MeToo, Hollywood was a playground for men who lorded their power over vulnerable women. In 2016, actress Tippi Hedren accused director Alfred Hitchcock of harassment, claiming that he grabbed her, tried to kiss her and had a secret door installed between his office and her dressing room. In Hedren’s autobiography, “Tippi: A Memoir,” she wrote that Hitchcock would “find some way to express his obsession with me, as if I owed it to him to reciprocate somehow.”
Hitchcock’s long-reported obsession with Hedren was the central plot of the 2012 movie, “The Girl,” which didn’t portray the famed director in a positive light.
Pola Negri Hosted A Photo-Op At Her Boyfriend’s Funeral
It’s not only today’s social media devotees who’re obsessed with setting up the perfect photo opportunity. Silent movie star Pola Negri gave photographers everything they could ask for at the funeral for her lover, Rudolph Valentino. Negri fainted not once, not twice, but three times — the second time onto Valentino’s coffin, where she dramatically declared that he had proposed to her and called herself his widow. Her final blackout took place in front of the $2,000 flower arrangement that spelled out her first name in red and white roses.
Ingrid Bergman Had A Scandalous Affair
When wholesome actress Ingrid Bergman started an affair with director Roberto Rossellini, she was married to doctor Petter Lindström. Despite the couple divorcing so the “Casablanca” star and Rossellini could be together, the public couldn’t get over the scandal, which was intensified when Bergman had a child with Rossellini out of wedlock.
A Colorado senator even called Bergman “a powerful influence for evil.” Meanwhile, Rossellini didn’t get off lightly; he was named a “Nazi collaborator inspired by cocaine.” Their romance even spurred some government officials to try to start a system where actors would be banned from working if they engaged in illicit activities. Can you imagine if they’d been successful?
Jackie Coogan’s Parents Took All His Earnings
Jackie Coogan, who starred alongside Charlie Chaplin in “The Kid,” made 19 films before his 18th birthday. But of the estimated $4 million he earned from them, his parents refused to give him a cent. Coogan sued them for the money in 1938, but after he paid his legal fees, he was left with only $126,000. However, his case was instrumental in the creation of the California Child Actors’ Bill, which protects some of a child actor’s earnings until they turn 21.
The Bulletproof Man Got Shot
The death of George Reeves, who’s best known for playing Clark Kent/Superman in the 1950s TV series, was ruled a suicide. But it remains shrouded in mystery to this day. Reeves was found dead in his California home with a gunshot wound in his head, not long after he had broken off an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of infamous MGM “fixer” Eddie Mannix. Mannix was known for making problems disappear — is that what he did with Reeves?
The story was the basis for the 2006 film, “Hollywoodland,” in which Reeves was played by Ben Affleck.
Producer Thomas Ince’s Mysterious Death
In November 1924, movie pioneer Thomas Ince attended a party on business mogul William Randolph Hearst’s private yacht. His early departure from the festivities had, on the face of it, a simple explanation: an upset stomach. Things took a serious turn when Ince died several days later, reportedly by natural causes. However, the Hollywood rumor mill quickly generated other ideas, the main one being that Hearst, who suspected his wife of having an affair with Charlie Chaplin (who was also onboard the yacht), accidentally shot Ince instead of Chaplin.
Joan Crawford Starred In An Adult Film
The most persistent rumor to plague legendary “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” actress Joan Crawford throughout her career was that she starred in a sex tape when she was starting out in Hollywood. Apparently, in 1935, film company MGM was blackmailed into paying $100,000 for the footage, following which the single existing copy was destroyed.
According to IMDb, the film, known as “The Casting Couch,” showed aspiring actors and actresses at a Hollywood party, where they act out scenes from different movies. Crawford played an amateur actress named Gloria. The story was used in an episode of FX’s show “Feud,” which was about Crawford.
Judy Garland Was Forced To Starve Herself
Playing Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz” made her a teen superstar but things were far from perfect behind the scenes for Judy Garland. The pressure on young women actors like Garland to become (and stay) thin was intense and often left a lifelong, devastating legacy. Garland’s treatment at the hands of MGM’s studio head, Louis B. Mayer, (she was reportedly allowed only black coffee and chicken soup, plus 80 cigarettes a day and a cocktail of pills) triggered an eating disorder and arguably contributed to her death, at age 47, from an accidental drug overdose.
Errol Flynn Was Charged With Statutory Rape
Once quoted as saying, “I like my whiskey old and my women young,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” actor Errol Flynn was accused of having sex with two 17-year-old girls, charges which he denied. A jury found him not guilty, potentially swayed by Flynn’s star power. One of the alleged victims was quoted as saying, “[The jury] just sat and looked adoringly at him as if he was their son or something.”
Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich Were Rumored To Have Had An Affair
In the 1920s (and for a long time after), bisexuality was a dirty word in Hollywood. To refute rumors of an affair, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich denied having ever met each other. Both Garbo and Dietrich were major stars, being nominated for Oscars in the 1930s. But intensive research by author and film historian Diana McLellan uncovered evidence of a possible affair during the filming of the 1925 silent German film “The Joyless Street.”
Joan Bennett’s Husband Shot Her Agent
Actress Joan Bennett starred in 1933’s “Little Women,” alongside Katharine Hepburn, and married the film’s producer, Walter Wanger. In 1951, Bennett found herself at the center of a scandal after Wanger witnessed her chatting to her long-time agent, Jennings Lang. Overcome with jealousy, Wanger reportedly started firing a gun at Lang’s groin. Lang recovered in the hospital, Wanger served four months in jail, and Bennett’s career took a nosedive.
Elizabeth Taylor Had An Affair With Debbie Reynolds’ Husband
The media labeled Elizabeth Taylor a “homewrecker” when she started dating her close friend Debbie Reynolds’ husband, Eddie Fisher, shortly after her own third husband, Mike Todd, died in a plane crash.
“I was the last to find out about the affair,” Reynolds told the Daily Mail in 2010.
“Although I didn’t want to find out the truth, I had to face up to it,” Reynolds said. “It left me shattered.” Taylor and Reynolds went several years without speaking to each other, but salvaged their friendship after meeting by chance on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner in 1966.
Actresses Were Forced To Have Abortions
In case you hadn’t noticed, Old Hollywood was a dark place behind the scenes. The film studios controlled every aspect of the actors’ lives, with women suffering even more than men. Sex symbols were all discouraged from getting married, and getting pregnant was a definite no-no. If it did happen, they were put under extreme pressure to get an abortion. Many actresses, including Bette Davis (pictured below), Lana Turner, Judy Garland and Joan Crawford, reportedly had abortions after studio bosses turned the screws.
Three People Died On The Set Of One Movie
Tragedy struck on the California set of “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” During a scene set during the Vietnam war, a helicopter hit a stunt explosion and crashed, killing actor Vic Morrow and the two child actors he was working with, Renee Shinn Chen and Myca Dinh Le. The film’s co-director, John Landis, and four other men working on the Steven Spielberg-produced film, including the special-effects coordinator and the helicopter pilot, were charged with involuntary manslaughter.
It was the first time a film director had faced criminal charges for events that occurred while making a movie. All five defendants were acquitted in 1987 following a 10-month trial.
Natalie Wood Died Under Mysterious Circumstances
By the time Natalie Wood was 25, she had three Oscar nominations under her belt. But she may forever be best known for drowning under mysterious circumstances. Wood, age 43, was on a boat ride with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and her “Brainstorm” co-star and rumored lover, Christopher Walken.
Her 1981 death was initially ruled as accidental, but after new evidence about an argument between Wood and Wagner the night she died came to light, the case was reopened. During a press conference in February 2018, the Los Angeles sheriff’s department said they were “still working” on the case.
Carol Brady’s Date With Her ‘Son’
Let’s lighten things up with the time that Carol Brady dated her son. Except she didn’t, really. Florence Henderson, who played Carol in the beloved 1970s TV show “The Brady Bunch,” went on a date with Barry Williams, who played her eldest son, Greg, on the show. In his 1992 autobiography, “Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg,” Williams revealed that he was infatuated with his TV mom.
When he was 16 and she was 36, they went to a restaurant for dinner. However, it’s worth noting that the “date” ended with a peck on the cheek, at which point Henderson went home to her husband and four kids.
“I had no idea that his intentions were to ‘date’ me,” Henderson said. “It made for a good story, though!”
John Lennon Outraged Religious Americans
For some reason, despite far bigger scandals being attached to John Lennon (both during and after his lifetime), the one that people seem most concerned with is his statement that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.” It didn’t cause that big a stir when it was first published in the London Evening Standard in March 1966, but after it was reprinted in the teen magazine Datebook four months later, things got really heated. Some American radio DJs smashed Beatles records live on the air and urged listeners to send their Beatles records and paraphernalia to the station to meet the same fate.
Meanwhile, when Lennon later sang about a fantasy world with “no religion” in his song, “Imagine,” it nearly topped the charts and became a classic.