14 Old Hollywood Scandals That Rocked Tinseltown
America is the land of opportunity and Hollywood is the place where dreams come true for those with a passion for the entertainment world. The bright lights of Tinseltown lead to a path of fame and fortune, but pull back the curtain and you’ll discover Hollywood has many murky secrets and scandals that have plagued the industry over the years. While the current media climate means any misstep or indiscretion from a celebrity will be on social media within minutes – just look at Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears, and OJ Simpson as examples – many of the old Hollywood scandals have remained lesser known.
The dark side of the early days of Hollywood includes everything from drugs and infidelity to murder and jail time. Many big stars from that era, such as Joan Crawford and Judy Garland, found themselves caught up in scandals that would have derailed their careers in the modern age. From Charlie Chaplin’s love of younger women to Marilyn Monroe’s affairs, here is a look at some of the most salacious scandals from the old Hollywood days.
14 Old Hollywood Scandals That Rocked Tinseltown
1. Joan Crawford Did Porn
The headline might be clickbait, but ever since she made it big in Hollywood rumors have persisted that Joan Crawford starred in an adult movie. Entitled The Casting Couch, the film is believed to feature several Hollywood wannabes involved in sexual acts, with Crawford starring as an actress willing to do anything to get into the business, which is pretty much what she did while starring in this movie.
While there is no evidence the movie even exists, Crawford’s brother reportedly blackmailed her threatening to release the sex tape while Crawford always remained tight-lipped about the video.
2. Robert Mitchum Went To Jail for Smoking Weed
Marijuana is sold legally in almost 40 states these days, but back in the old Hollywood era, it was considered a gateway drug. The authorities came down hard on anyone caught smoking weed and decided to make an example out of classic Hollywood actor Robert Mitchum in 1948. The star of Cape Fear and The Night of the Hunter was busted along with several friends at the home of actress Lila Leeds for smoking a joint.
The police had been surveilling Leeds’ home for many weeks and chose the moment when Mitchum rocked up to conduct a raid. Mitchum received a one-year jail sentence that ended up being two months on a prison farm with probation. While it could have been a career killer, the public didn’t seem that bothered by Mitchum smoking a little green and he continued acting right up until his death in 1997.
3. Ingrid Bergman Had an Affair
Actors and actresses having an affair is a common Hollywood scandal these days. Brad Pitt is rumored to have cheated on Jennifer Aniston with Angelina Jolie. Ben Affleck got it on with the nanny while married to Jennifer Garner. Even Jay-Z got caught slipping with Beyonce. When Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman decided to leave her marriage and take up with Italian director Roberto Rossellini in 1950, it almost sent the press into meltdown.
Bergman was caught up in a whirlwind of hatemail and scandalous tabloid gossip as movie theatres refused to screen her films. The vitriol was so intense that Bergman left the United States when everything went down and didn’t return until nine years later in 1959. By then the tide of public opinion had turned after she won her second Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1956 movie Anastasia.
4. Maureen O’Hara Caught Necking
Maureen O’Hara was a big star in the 40s and will be forever remembered for her appearance in Miracle on 34th Street. She found herself the talk of the tabloids in November 1953 when the gossip magazine Confidential ran a story about O’Hara necking (kissing) someone while watching a movie at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The magazine even claimed O’Hara and her mystery fella were kicked out for getting a little too handsy.
Known for her clean-cut image and not wanting this disrupted, O’Hara joined up with the State of California, who were also after Confidential for their style of reporting, and took the magazine to court in 1957.
O’Hara produced her passport which showed she wasn’t even in the country when the necking incident apparently took place, but the jury couldn’t decide on an outcome and a hung jury was declared. It didn’t impact O’Hara’s career, which continued to flourish, but it was the beginning of the end for Confidential, which declined in readership over the years before the final issue was published in 1978.
5. Charlie Chaplin Liked Them Young
Many credit Charlie Chaplin for being one of the major influences on cinema, with his silent films helping push the industry toward the mainstream. What most people don’t realize is that Chaplin, while being accused as a Communist sympathizer, also had an obsession with young women.
A boastful ladies’ man who claimed to have slept with 2,000 women, Chaplin began to date younger women around the time he hit it big at 26. His first high-profile romance was with 19-year-old actress Edna Purviance. That might not seem too bad, but four years later he was chasing 16-year-old child actress Mildred Harris. When she announced she was pregnant, they married, but it turned out to be a false alarm and the two soon divorced. After that, there was a cavalcade of young women that shared the bed with Chaplin.
He bedded 15-year-old child actress, Lita Grey, got her pregnant, married her, and then divorced her. Then came actress Paulette Goddard who was at least of age (22), although Chaplin was well into his 40s. After many more conquests, he eventually met 18-year-old Oona O’Neill, daughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, when he was 54. The two married (his fourth) and had eight children together.
Most try to paint Chaplin as a lad who enjoyed himself before finally meeting his special person and living happily ever after. In reality, he was a controlling narcissist more concerned with his own ambition than those around him. He saw women as disposable, and while he did eventually settle down, O’Neill looked after Chaplin with “an almost geishalike deference,” according to Joan Collins in Jane Scovell’s Oona: Living in the Shadows.
6. Walt Disney Was a Nazi
While it’s never been 100% confirmed, it’s pretty clear Walt Disney had some horrible convictions. He was accused of being anti-Semitic on several occasions and this was almost certainly confirmed when he invited Nazi propagandist filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to Walt Disney Studios in 1938.
Not only were people up and arms about this, but Disney did so not long after “the night of the broken glass,” an evening when the Nazis destroyed Jewish property in Kristallnacht and locked up anyone they suspected of being Jewish.
7. Mae West Starred in a Sex Show
When you think of golden age Hollywood actresses, Mae West immediately springs to mind. The American stage and screen icon was a megastar whose career was often controversial due to her sex symbol status. One of the major scandals of her career occurred when she wrote and starred in the play Sex. Although it featured no nudity or sex, the play was lambasted for its sexual politics, with people unable to look past West’s sexuality and at the deep themes in the play.
One particular evening after playing to a sold-out crowd West was arrested by police backstage. Sentenced to jail for ten days due to “corrupting the morals of youth,” West was out in eight after having two days knocked off for good behavior. The incident did wonders for her career, with West milking the controversy for all its worth.
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8. Studio Forced Abortions
The Hollywood bombshell emerged in the 30s and 40s and titillated moviegoers while horrifying conservatives. While studios loved the publicity these women created, they also wanted their female stars to be seen as respectful women who weren’t having sex out of wedlock or entering into any other kind of unlaw activities. They wanted to capitalize on their stardom as long as they could, meaning when many top stars became pregnant, the studios would advise them to get an abortion for the benefit of their career.
Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, and Lana Turner were just some of the many actresses persuaded to have an abortion to keep their film careers on track. Most were organized by the studio which did its best to keep these events out of the spotlight.
9. Judy Garland’s Cigarette Diet
Judy Garland appeared to be living the dream when she was signed by MGM as a 14-year-old. But things quickly took a turn for the worse when she was bullied to lose weight for her first role in La Fiesta de Santa Barbara. To aid in her weight loss, the studio put Garland on a diet of chicken soup and black coffee, with Garland also taking up smoking and popping diet pills.
While it may have worked in the short term, there was no doubt this had a major impact on Garland in later life. Throw in sexual assault allegations blamed on MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer and constantly being sexualized as a child and it’s no wonder she got involved with drugs and alcohol. Garland struggled to control her urges and ended up passing from a drug overdose at 47 in 1969.
10. Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin
“Great Balls of Fire” singer Jerry Lee Lewis took Hollywood scandals to the next level when he married his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown in 1958. While marrying your cousin has to be questioned, it was the 22-year age gap that upset most. It’s something that stayed with Lewis throughout the rest of his career. At one point the new savior of rock and roll, people could not get over the fact he married a child and his career never recovered.
“It was something that marked Jerry for life,” Brown 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.”
11. Marilyn Monroe and JFK Affair
The original blonde bombshell, Marylin Monroe used her sexuality to her advantage throughout her career. While it brought her fame and fortune, it also caused much controversy, especially when it came to men. Monroe was married to baseball player Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller while also having several affairs with well-known personalities, including the President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy.
Rumors of the affair began when Monroe sang the Commander in Chief happy birthday at his 45th birthday bash. At that stage, Monroe’s personal life was in tatters. She had been through three marriages and was indulging in drugs and alcohol. Her movie career wasn’t faring much better. It was claimed Monroe was also having an affair with not only John but his brother Robert. Some say she was planning a press conference to come clean about the affairs when she was found dead from a barbiturate overdose in Los Angeles in 1962. She was just 36 years old.
12. Clark Gable’s Secret Child
At the height of his career, American cinema great Clark Gable engaged in an affair with Loretta Young while on the set of Gone With the Wind. Young fell pregnant but as Gable was married to Maria Langham, they kept the news secret to avoid a scandal. Young left the country when she began to show and only came back to have the baby, which she then gave up for adoption and adopted herself, hoping people wouldn’t realize.
It seemed to do the trick, as the child, Judy, didn’t find out Gable was her real father until she turned 31. Gable never publicly recognized Judy as his daughter during his life.
13. Superman Can’t Escape a Bullet
Hollywood star George Reeves was famous for playing Superman, but unlike the comic book hero, he wasn’t impervious to bullets. Reeves was found dead in his Hollywood home with a gunshot to the head in 1959 at the age of 45.
Ruled a suicide by authorities, there were many strange findings in the investigation, such as a lack of Reeves’ fingerprints on the gun, three shots being fired but witnesses only hearing one, and unexplained bruising about Reeves’ head and neck.
Conspiracy theorist point to Reeves being murdered. He had been having an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of MGM vice president Eddie Mannix shortly before his death. Mannix was believed to have ties to the mafia, with many speculating he had Reeves killed.
14. Mysterious Death of Thomas Ince
Movie producer Thomas Ince attended a party thrown on business mogul William Randolph Hearst’s private yacht in 1924. Suffering from stomach pains, he left earlier and was dead within days. Natural causes were said to be the reason, as Ince had several health complaints, but rumors abounded that Hearst had actually shot him in the head. Charlie Chaplin was said to be having an affair with Hearst’s wife so he wanted him dead, but instead of shooting Chaplin, he hit Ince in a case of mistaken identity.
While it makes for good gossip, there is no proof that any of this happened, with both Ince’s widow, Elinor Kershaw, and Hearst himself denying the whole thing.
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