Hollywood is covered with glitz and glamour, fascinating everyday folk with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Celebrities are idolized, and regular people aspire to be as beautiful and talented as the faces in magazines. However, with the rise of social media, we created a “cancel culture,” which essentially destroys someone’s Hollywood career because of one small mistake or a huge newsworthy scandal. But what were the Hollywood scandals before the Internet took over?
Before celebrities shared their lives with Instagram followers and got into public Twitter feuds with fellow stars, Hollywood scandals were kept more private. Hollywood directors protected their starlets’ secrets, but it usually came with a sexual price. Before the MeToo movement, many powerful men in the industry took advantage of their young starlets. From betrayal and abuse to cheating and love babies, here are some of the craziest scandals from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Back in 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the biggest Hollywood stars. He made a hefty $1 million paycheck a year. Arbuckle went to San Francisco’s ritzy St. Francis Hotel, where he attended an elite gala to celebrate Labor Day. An actress named Virginia Rappe was also at the party. Suddenly, guests heard screaming, and when they went to check out what was going on, they noticed Arbuckle leaving the area.
Arbuckle’s friends said when they came in, the actress was fully dressed. However, her friends stated that Arbuckle had raped her. Although they couldn’t find any evidence of sexual assault, Virginia Rappe died the next day from a ruptured bladder.
Arbuckle denied all allegations, but the press and public didn’t believe him. Everyone thought he was guilty and didn’t want him to get away with such a vicious crime. After two mistrials, he was eventually tried a third time and was somehow acquitted. Unfortunately for the actor, the damage had already been done.
Arbuckle was pretty much blacklisted from acting for almost a dozen years because the public shunned him. In 1933, he was offered a new contract, but he died from a heart attack before starting the project. Clearly, this was way before the MeToo movement.
After her iconic performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the world fell in love with Judy Garland. The new multicolor technology made everything on-screen appear magical, but things were much darker behind the scenes. MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer abused the actress, resulting in lifelong scars for the young actress.
He pressured a growing and developing Judy Garland to lose weight to appear more “childlike.” In addition to giving her Adderall, he only allowed her to consume coffee, chicken soup, and cigarettes. She also suffered emotional abuse from Mayer, who called her “my little hunchback.” Rude!
While she was filming the movie, Garland was at the young and impressionable age of 16. The demands to stay skinny took a toll on Garland, who was constantly being compared to beautiful MGM actresses like Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor.
The mental and emotional abuse led to low self-esteem and triggered unhealthy behaviors. After Mayer put her on Adderall, Garland got addicted to pills. She took them to maintain her weight, stay awake, and go to sleep. Her addictions ultimately resulted in several mental breakdowns and her inevitable, untimely death at age 47 from a drug overdose.
Loretta Young and Clark Gable starred in the 1935 film The Call of the Wild, and their characters have a steamy love affair, which very possibly sparked their extramarital, off-screen affair. At the time, Gable was married to Marian Langham, so when Loretta Young found out she was pregnant with the actor’s baby, she knew it would be a scandal if anyone found out.
To avoid the press and protect her career, Young ran away to Europe. She didn’t want to break apart Gable’s marriage and wanted to keep her unborn daughter safe.
After she gave birth, Loretta took the baby to an orphanage but then adopted her when she was 19 months old. Young stuck to her story that she adopted the baby. Gable never acknowledged that the child was his.
The love child didn’t even find out that Clark Gable was her biological father until she was 31. She revealed her scandalous parentage in her 1994 memoir. After keeping the secret hidden for years, Loretta was angry that her daughter publicized it. She didn’t speak to her for three years after the reveal.
Australian born American actor, Errol Flynn, was known for his work on films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood. The hunky heartthrob was the “big man on campus” during Hollywood’s Golden Age and had a wonderful reputation as a cultured and charming man.
Unfortunately, that all changed when he found himself in a situation that would threaten his marriage, career, and freedom. Two girls accused him of statutory rape. To make matters worse, they were both just 17 years old at the time of the alleged assault.
Peggy Satterlee accused Flynn of seducing her on his yacht, and Betty Hansen claimed he seduced her at her friend’s house. These scandals happened during World War II, so the fact that he was a foreigner made him more suspect to Americans.
Ultimately, the actor got away with his horrific behavior. He was acquitted in both cases. I guess there is no way to know what really happened, but I think the trials might have gone differently if something like this had happened in 2020. Guilty or innocent, Flynn’s career and reputation were eternally damaged.
Ingrid Bergman is an old Hollywood actress best known for her performance in Casablanca. The Swedish starlet was at the height of her career when she met and fell in love with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. The pair quickly got entangled in a romance, but there was one little problem.
When she began her affair, Bergman was already married to neurosurgeon Petter Lindstrom. So, as you can imagine, when she found out she was having Rossellini’s baby, she knew the news wouldn’t be well received. After all, she was a married woman. After giving birth to their child, Bergman split up with her husband and married Rossellini in Mexico a week later.
People in the United States were enraged! Their frustration was so great that the scandal even made its way to the senate. Senator Edwin Jackson referred to the actress as “a powerful influence for evil” and said Rossellini was a “Nazi collaborator inspired by cocaine.”
The senator also demanded that the couple would not be allowed to “set foot on American soil.” After finding out that she was no longer employable (“canceled” in today’s standards), Bergman didn’t return to America for many years. She actually got an acting opportunity six years later because the movie was filmed entirely in Europe.
If there is one thing Elizabeth Taylor is known for, it’s her eight marriages to seven different men. The glamourous actress had her share of romances with the Hollywood elite, and it kept people gossiping. However, none of her relationships were as scandalous as her affair with Eddie Fisher.
Eddie Fisher was a singer married to America’s favorite “girl next door,” Debbie Reynolds. The affair began shortly after Taylor’s third husband, Mike Todd, died. If that wasn’t bad enough, Reynolds and Taylor were friends, so the public wasn’t happy when the media got ahold of this story.
The press immediately labeled Taylor “a homewrecker” when the news of her betrayal came to light. Reynolds released a statement at the time saying that “Although I didn’t want to find out the truth, I had to face up to it. It left me shattered.”
To further fuel the scandal, Taylor, and Fisher tied the knot, but their marriage only lasted five years. As for the friendship between the two actresses, they went years without speaking. They eventually put their differences aside and tried to repair the damage when they happened to run into each other on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner.
In the 1940s, Lana Turner was the definition of a classic Hollywood bombshell. She proved she wasn’t all looks when she showed off her acting chops in films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice. However, her morals came into question when she got involved in a relationship with Johnny Stompanato.
Stompanato wooed the actress with flowers and sweet talk while she was shooting The Lady Takes a Flyer. What Turner didn’t know is that her new boyfriend was connected to the mob. Let’s just say everything went downhill when his reputation caught up to him.
Turner was terrified when she found out that Stompanato had a habit of stalking Hollywood actresses. Even though she immediately ended the affair, Stompanato and Turner were tangled in a heated argument in their home on a fateful April evening in 1958.
When he started threatening to kill the actress, her daughter, Cheryl Crane, came to her defense with a kitchen knife and killed the mobster. Crane was arrested and charged with manslaughter, which caused a media frenzy since Turner was the only witness. Although her daughter was acquitted, the media circus followed Turner for months on end.
Tallulah Bankhead was born into a prominent, political family in Alabama before becoming a member of the Hollywood elite. But her time in the industry welcomed controversy and scandal. Since she was born into wealth and privilege, she didn’t need a lead movie role to prove her extravagance.
In fact, she couldn’t care less what anyone thought of her, including her father, who was a two-term Speaker of the House and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Tallulah was open about her how much she loved to party and her many romances with both men and women. She was Hollywood’s true rebel without a cause.
Tallulah was very public when it came to her drug and alcohol consumption. When she was asked if she was worried that she might get addicted to coke, she said: “Cocaine isn’t habit-forming, and I know because I have been taking it for years.” She was also proud of her sexual conquests and told the press that she took a movie role so that she could sleep with Gary Cooper.
The actress was also linked to romances with famous women, including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Hattie McDowell. Given the time, these relationships were considered disgraceful. Although she never had children, she did have four abortions at a time when the procedure was illegal and considered immoral.
Back in the 90s, O.J. Simpson was a famed football star and an incredibly popular figure in America. Aside from being a professional athlete, O.J. was a broadcaster, actor, and even an advertising spokesman. He seemed to be on top of the world and at the peak of his career before that fateful night in 1994.
O.J. who was also known as “The Juice” was charged with the horrific murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. After a televised car chase throughout Los Angeles, O.J. was finally arrested and charged with murder. His trial is still considered “the trial of the century.”
After spending 15 months in jail awaiting trial, his infamous court case was watched all over the world. The celebrity was notoriously acquitted of both counts of murder. The case took a turn when his attorney asked him to try on the glove that was found at the murder scene. When it was way too small to fit O.J.’s hand, his lawyer famously told the jury, “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Although he was found not guilty in a court of law, the case left a dark shadow over O.J. and his career. He was eventually found responsible for the deaths in the civil trial. Many people believe he is a murderer and were pleased when he was sent to jail 13 years after the trial. But ironically, he was convicted of robbery and kidnapping and sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Back in 1916, Mary Pickford was perhaps the most powerful woman in Hollywood, allowing her little brother, Jack, to flaunt his playboy ways all over town. Since he was such a ladies’ man, he contracted syphilis, which, at the time, was treated with incredibly toxic mercury.
After their father abandoned the family, all three Canadian-born Pickford kids took to the stage and began working as child actors. Jack had his eyes on the beautiful former Ziegfeld Girl, Olive Thomas. She was considered the most gorgeous girl in the world. The two walked down the aisle and maintained a strained long-distance relationship.
Jack and Olive met in Paris in the summer of 1920 for some much-needed alone time. On September 9th, Jack realized that his wife had taken a large dose of his mercury, and he immediately called the doctor. That night, the starlet died in great pain. That’s when rumors started to swirl about what really happened.
Some people believe that Olive accidentally took his medication instead of hers. Others think she took it to commit suicide after discovering that Jack had syphilis. But Mary’s disdain for Olive was public knowledge, so, naturally, people suspected she was behind the death. Despite all the scandalous assumptions, Olive’s death was ruled an accident.
William Taylor was a prominent Hollywood director between 1915 and 1921. But he had an unfortunate reputation as one of the first directors to seduce women via his “casting couch.” Sadly, he wasn’t the last. Even with his extracurricular activities, he managed to sustain his relationship with starlet Mabel Normand.
On February 1st, 1921, Taylor invited Normand over, but he was found mysteriously dead the next morning. The Los Angeles police did a horrific job, and instead of bagging evidence, they helped the dead director and got rid of any clues connecting him to the underaged actress.
Since the police contaminated the crime scene, the media started speculating about who had committed this murder. The suspect list was laughable. There was one tip accusing a gay Englishman of having committed the crime, but the gentleman in question was neither gay nor English.
Other tips claimed it was a fellow director and Normand’s ex who did it. But most people seemed to believe that it was the mother of one of his underage conquests. Since his girlfriend dabbled in cocaine, it was suspected that mob-related drug dealers might have been involved. Ultimately, the murder was never solved, and the mystery has been grandfathered into Hollywood gossip.
The Hollywood sign is quite possibly the most famous landmark in America. The symbol represents hope for aspiring actors all over the world. But in the 1930s, it was the place where an actress who had lost all hope ended her life.
During her career, Peg Entwistle became miserable and discouraged and jumped off the H of the Hollywood sign. At the time, the actress had just completed filming 13 Women, directed by David O. Selznick. However, when she found out that her part was cut out of the movie, she wrote a suicide note and tragically took her own life.
When the industry found out about her desperate demise, they threw her an elaborate funeral that was attended by various celebrities. As the media tried to sensationalize reports of her death, they publicly spoke of her talent. Although her death wasn’t a scandal per se, it did cause a stir in Hollywood.
The film community finally brought suicide prevention to light, an issue that was considered taboo at the time. Her death is still talked about, even in the 21st century. A group of 100 movie fanatics gathered in Hollywood in 2014 for a viewing of the movie 13 Women in order to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention. Ultimately, the film included four minutes of her.
In 1941, Katherine Hepburn was in a serious relationship with Howard Hughes, and Spencer Tracy was a married man. But that didn’t stop the pair from getting together and starting an affair that would last 27 years. Tracy presented himself as a devout Catholic. Therefore, divorce was out of the question.
Hepburn was also a well-respected starlet and came across as a proper girl from good New England stock. Their affair was pretty much an open Hollywood secret, thanks to the help of the MGM monster (and their employer), Louis B. Mayer, who kept the happily married charade going strong.
The pair is now considered a legendary cinematic couple on and off-screen. The duo starred in nine movies together, and their affair lasted up until Tracy’s death. Despite their deep love affair, they didn’t live together until Tracy’s health started to decline.
When Tracy passed away at Hepburn’s home, she notified his wife and then slipped back into the shadows so that she wouldn’t embarrass her at his funeral. Tracy was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and his wife, Louise, was laid to rest beside him when she died years later, in 1983.
The Hacienda Arms Apartments on Sunset Strip was a little different back in the 1930s. It happened to be one of the most elite brothels in Hollywood, with a string of clientele that looked as if they were ready to walk the red carpet.
Rich and famous men, including Errol Flynn, Clarke Gable, and Spencer Tracy, were frequent guests of the establishment. Leading ladies such as Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Harlow, and Barbra Stanwyck also hung out there often. The list of celebrities that spent time reads like the credits of a blockbuster film.
Madam Lee Francis operated the Hacienda Arms and took pride in her work. She also went to great lengths in order to protect the confidentiality of her elite clientele. She even had bouncers on-site that would escort customers out who were overly boisterous.
Not only that, but Francis reportedly also ensured their safety by bribing authorities with 40% of her income, as long as they warned her in advance of a raid. The brothel stayed in business up until 1948. That’s when Los Angeles got rid of corrupted officials and operating an elite brothel wasn’t as easy.
The Black Dahlia is one of the greatest Hollywood scandals and one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in America. A woman and her daughter went for a walk on the morning of January 15th, 1947, when they came across a woman’s mutilated body. Law enforcement was called to the grisly scene and started investigating this heinous crime.
The woman was found dismembered and gutted. It was such a surreal sight that the woman who found her initially thought she was a mannequin being used for shock factor. The shock factor was certainly apparent when they realized this was a real person. Upon investigation, police determined that she had been dead for 10 hours, and they identified her as Elizabeth Short.
When the press got wind of the story, they sensationalized it, referring to the victim as The Black Dahlia. While a full investigation was proceeding, the list of suspects continued to increase. Suspects included actor and director Orson Welles and The Los Angeles Times’ publisher, Norman Chandler.
A Los Angeles physician named George Hodel was also a man of interest. He was suspected by his own son, detective Steve Hodel. Gangster Bugsy Siegel was also implicated in the crime. Unfortunately, the unfathomable murder was never solved and is still the subject of several cold case investigations.
Just like Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Harlow wasn’t scared of a little scandal or controversy. In fact, she flaunted her sexuality purposely, on and off-screen, in order to attract attention. She was involved in an affair with a married actor which resulted in a pregnancy and illegal abortion.
Her husband at the time was helpless and had her wrapped around his finger, and she often shared that fact with her Hollywood associates. She openly hung out with known gangsters, specifically Bugsy Siegal. She also had a heated affair with Clark Gable and shared their private, intimate moments with the media.
At a certain point, her husband got sick and tired of his wife’s disrespectful behavior and ended his own life. As you can imagine, there was speculation about whether Harlow was involved in his suicide or not. However, the media frenzy didn’t last long because Harlow died shortly after from kidney failure at the age of 26.
Howard Hughes took the starlet under his wing when she began her career. At such a young age, the actress was romantically linked to Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Baer, Hughes, Louis B. Mayer, Franchot Tone, Paul Burn, Lee Tracy, James Stewart, and women such as Tallulah Bankhead, Clara Bow, and Joan Crawford.
Even though Thelma Todd isn’t a household name, the actress starred in more than 70 Hollywood movies, like The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and Buster Keaton. But even with her impressive resume, she was better known to law enforcement for her horrendous driving record, which included several car accidents.
Todd walked down the aisle twice, but both marriages were dysfunctional and gave the tabloids fuel with stories of alcohol-induced fights with her husbands. Her choice to go into business with the notorious gangster, Lucky Luciano, was her downfall. Todd agreed to invest in multiple restaurants that were used for money laundering.
Todd’s lifeless body was found in 1935, in the driver’s seat of her car. The tragic event once again depicted how corrupt the LAPD was. Her Lincoln was parked in an area surrounded by dirt and mud, but her shoes were completely spotless. Yet, the police ruled her death a suicide, influenced by Luciano.
Ironically, the gangster took control of the restaurants. Witnesses reported that Todd said that would only happen over her “dead body.” Luciano’s incriminating response was, “That can be arranged.” Todd was just 30 at the time of her devastating death.
When it comes to the history of rock and roll music, Jerry Lee Lewis was a pioneer with hit songs like Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls of Fire. It didn’t take long for his career to skyrocket. He had a thriving career until his British Tour in 1958.
A news reporter at London’s Heathrow Airport named Ray Berry found out the truth about the singer’s third wife, Myra: She was his first cousin twice removed. If that wasn’t juicy enough to sell to the tabloids, he also discovered that she was 13 years old when she married 22-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis.
The public was shocked and outraged. His career started to crumble, and the scandal forced him to cancel concert dates. Being married to your 13-year-old cousin is one way to get yourself “canceled.” According to Myra:
“It was something that marked Jerry for life. 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.”
Before the MeToo movement put Hollywood monsters like Harvey Weinstein behind bars, powerful Hollywood moguls were free to use their power to manipulate desperate, vulnerable actresses. Apparently, iconic director Alfred Hitchcock was no exception. In 2016, actress Tippi Herden told her story… and it’s pretty disturbing.
The star of the horror film, The Birds, came forward and claimed that Hitchcock was obsessed with her. She said that in addition to grabbing her and trying to kiss her, he had a secret door installed between her dressing room and his office.
In her autobiography, Tippi: A Memoir, she described how the director would “find some way to express his obsession with me as if I owed it to him to reciprocate somehow.” His inappropriate behavior didn’t go unnoticed, and it became the subject of a 2012 movie The Girl.
The movie portrays his obsession with the actress as well as the trauma she endured while filming The Birds. It also depicts how desperate she was to escape the director while being trapped in a contract that stated he was the only director she could work with. She essentially ended her career to get away from him.
George Reeves was a star in the 1950s known for his performance as Clark Kent/ Superman in the television show. Although he had superpowers on-screen, his off-screen death remains a mystery. On June 16, 1959, between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., a gunshot came from the bedroom of his Benedict Canyon home.
Reeves was found lying on his back in his bed. His untimely death was ruled a suicide; however, many people believe that there was more to the story. Specifically, that there was foul play involved. His friends and family just couldn’t believe that he would take his own life.
Sure, no one wants to believe that a family member killed themselves. But a close friend told a reporter that “No one in Hollywood believed the suicide story.” It’s been suggested that Reeve’s affair with Toni Mannix angered her husband Eddie Mannix, and this was retaliation.
Eddie Mannix was the vice-president of MGM, and he also had ties to the Mafia. It honestly isn’t a stretch to suggest he ordered the hit. The film Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck, was inspired by the mystery. The storyline depicts three possible scenarios: an accidental shooting, murder by a hitman (requested by Eddie Mannix), and suicide. Unfortunately, we may never know the truth.
Joan Crawford was a magnificent starlet in Hollywood’s Golden Age, but she was no stranger to scandals, especially after Mommy Dearest was released. Still, there was one story that plagued her for many years.
Legend has it that when Crawford was just getting started in the entertainment industry, she was involved in a sex film called The Casting Couch, where she portrayed an aspiring actress named Gloria. Unfortunately, this sex film wasn’t far from the reality of Hollywood at the time: sleeping with the directors in order to get work.
Many people believe that her brother Hal Le Sueur had the tape and was threatening to leak it to the press. Crawford offered to pay him for his silence, but it didn’t work. He continued threatening to expose his sister until he died in 1963.
Crawford wasn’t the only one trying to keep the blackmailer’s mouth shut. MGM studios knew the damage a scandal like this could cause, and in 1935, they offered to pay him $100,000 to stop the film’s release. It should be noted that Crawford herself denied all these allegations. But her first husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., said she told him all about it.