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14 Scandalous Facts About Old Hollywood Stars

ACTION! We’re looking into the scandalous lives of Old Hollywood stars!

Is there anything more alluring than Old Hollywood? From the wide-eyed starlets of the silent era to the knockout bombshells of the 50s and 60s, the first half of the century was undeniably a fascinating era in Tinseltown.

But while Old Hollywood may be looked upon as glamorous, behind the scenes, things weren’t all that innocent. Although we see the glitz and glamour and the life of luxury of the early days, Hollywood could be surprisingly seedy and controversial.

People would be shocked at what went on when the director yelled “CUT,” and sometimes even when the film was still rolling.

Back then, things were expertly covered up since there was no social media and tabloids, and Old Hollywood could keep its charm and grace without anyone finding out what was happening behind closed doors.

Let’s look at 14 of Old Hollywood’s most shocking scandals and controversies.

Old Hollywood
Photos by Hayk_Shalunts at Shutterstock

James Dean’s Fate Was Sealed

On September 30th, 1955, James Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder at a high speed when he crashed into another car. He was 24 years old at the time, having only performed in three films, two of which hadn’t even been released yet.

He would receive two Oscar nominations after his passing, a record that nobody has beaten and one we hope no one ever does.

But what’s eerily strange about this story is that the Old Hollywood heartthrob met with British actor Alec Guinness, aka the original Obi-Wan Kenobi, and showed off his new car.

Guinness warned Dean, “If you get in that car, you’ll be found dead in it by this time next week.” His prediction proved horrifyingly correct when Dean died exactly a week later.

George Reeves’ Apparent Suicide

When George Reeves was found lying on the floor of his home on June 16th, 1959, after a headshot wound, the world grieved the loss of the iconic Superman star and couldn’t accept that he would take his own life.

While it was instantly ruled a suicide, there were questions about what ACTUALLY happened. They stemmed from the delayed reaction of the people in his home at the time to the evidence found when police arrived at the scene.

There was the controversial fact that the Old Hollywood star had reportedly been having a sordid affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of famed MGM “fixer” Eddie Mannix.

It was said that years later, briefly before her death, Mannix confessed to a priest that Eddie had hired someone to kill Reeves. While the Mannix story has caused doubt, her admission has never been believed because she had dementia before she passed away.

Many believe that Reeves took his own life because he couldn’t find work after playing Superman.

Mannix ALWAYS Fixed The Problem

While we’re on the subject of Eddie Mannix, let’s get into HIS shady past. An infamous studio “fixer” who worked for MGM, Eddie made countless scandals and misdemeanors go away and got Old Hollywood stars out of trouble by whichever means necessary.

And when he wasn’t paying off the victims of assault or car accidents, getting rowdy stars out of jail, or setting up abortions, he was calling ACTUAL gangsters to get his “dirty” jobs done.

One of his more notorious “fixes” allegedly had him tracking down and buying the negative of an x-rated film made by Joan Crawford before she became famous.

Hattie McDaniel Was Barred by Bigots

The epic movie Gone with the Wind premiered at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta on December 15th, 1939. Producer David O. Selznick was set to bring African-American actress Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy, to the premiere.

Yet, the film company MGM advised him not to do that because of Georgia’s segregation laws. McDaniel’s co-star, Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler, was outraged. He threatened to boycott and not go to the premiere unless she was also permitted to attend.

Hattie managed to convince him to attend anyway, and the premiere went on without her. On a brighter note, though, this Old Hollywood actress DID become the first African-American Oscar winner for her role in Gone With The Wind, getting Best Supporting Actress.

Alfred Hitchcock Was The Master Of Misogyny

We all know that Hitchcock was a genius when it came to making movies. But when it came time to shoot the horror flick The Birds, it turned out that the real monster wasn’t the birds for lead actress Tippi Hedren. It was actually the film’s director, Alfred Hitchcock.

He famously became obsessed with Tippi, stalking her throughout the production and separating her from the cast and crew while whispering profanities to her.

When she obviously didn’t take this kind of treatment kindly, the famous director sabotaged her career behind the scenes and beyond this movie.

Sadly, this kind of thing was all in a day’s work in Old Hollywood, and there was not much that actresses like Hedren could do about it.

Don’t Mess With Marlon Brando

There are quite a few documented instances where Frank Sinatra was being a temperamental jerk to his wives, valets, reporters, and friends. But we’ve got one involving another VERY well-known Old Hollywood actor.

And this time, Sinatra might have gotten what he deserved!

Acting opposite Marlon Brando in the 1955 musical Guys And Dolls, Frank Sinatra constantly made fun of Brando’s new method of working, saying it was “crap” and even nicknamed Marlon as “Mumbles” because of the way he talked.

But Brando had enough at one point and got his revenge by purposely blowing many takes in a scene where Frank’s character had to eat cheesecake.

This caused Sinatra to eat so much cheesecake that he had an angry meltdown, throwing his plate into the air and shouting at an assumably smirking Brando.

Old Hollywood
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Charlie Chaplin Was A Floozy?

While he was busy capturing the world’s attention with a never-ending string of classic pictures, Charlie Chaplin was also an Old Hollywood actor who was an infamous womanizer behind the scenes. He even boasted of having slept with over 2,000 women.

When he was asked once what his ideal woman was like, he joked: “I’m not exactly in love with her, but she’s entirely in love with me.” A bit gross if you ask us!

One thing Charlie Chaplin’s ideal girls did have in common was their youth. He first met and would be eventually engaged to Edna Purviance when she was 19. Later on, he moved to Mildred Harris, who was 16 when the 29-year-old Hollywood actor first met her.

He impregnated a teenaged Lita Grey, whom Chaplin had actually first become interested in when he’d met her at 12 years old.

And many incidents like these persisted until the 54-year-old Charlie Chaplin married the 18-year-old Oona O’Neill, with whom he finally had a proper marriage… and eight children. So we guess we can say that this Old Hollywood star eventually matured.

Jean Harlow’s Husband’s Death

It seems that Jean Harlow wasn’t exempt from scandal in those days, either. This Old Hollywood actress was one of the most infamous for being a pin-up of the 30s, and she also happened to be one of MGM’s biggest stars at this time.

But she took part in one of that period’s biggest mysteries as well… the death of her own husband. In 1932, producer Paul Bern was found deceased in their home of an alleged suicide.

While his bare body was found with a gun in his hand, he was also holding a note addressed to his wife that read:

“Dearest Dear, Unfortunately, this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I’ve done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation, I Love you. Paul. You understand that last night was only a comedy.”

Even though this was assumed to be a suicide note, no one actually knew what it meant, and Harlow herself didn’t want to speak about her husband’s death.

The only thing anyone was able to get from the Old Hollywood star was that she wasn’t there but rather at her mother’s home. This is another situation where MGM’s so-called “fixers” swooped in and saved the day, arriving at Harlow’s home the morning the body was found.

Things evolved into even more mysterious events when it was found that years before he was with the actress, Bern was in a relationship with an up-and-comer named Dorothy Millette, who was suffering from mental health issues.

Eventually, Millette went into a coma, and Bern was told she would probably never recover. Nevertheless, ten years later, when Bern was with Harlow, Millette woke up and wanted to find Bern.

He agreed to meet with her and sent Harlow away the night he passed. Odd, isn’t it? But we’re not finished. Almost ten days after Bern’s death, Millette’s body was found in the Sacramento River!

Elvis Was A Hound Dog

This one may seem hard to believe, considering we’re talking about THE Elvis Presley. But even though he was the King of Rock & Roll, Elvis was extremely unsure of himself, especially where lovemaking was concerned.

This is what probably led the Old Hollywood star to only desire young girls who didn’t have any experience in the bedroom, which could put further pressure on himself.

So what did he do about it? He asked his managers to find him girls who were 16 or younger, which in most states was a bit illegal even then. Unless, of course, you were a music superstar like Presley?

Stan Laurel Had A… Difficult Marriage

No matter how old you are or which era you were born in, we’ve all seen the classical antics of Laurel and Hardy. They were a classic act in the early days of Old Hollywood that made everyone laugh.

If you need a refresher course on the duo, Hardy was the tyrant, always bullying Laurel, and Laurel was his awkwardly clumsy straight man. But off-screen AND off-stage, Stan Laurel was actually a violent alcoholic, which became apparent during his third divorce.

Vera Shuvalova, his then-wife, claimed that her husband had threatened her with a gun. The papers even printed once that her friends had to intervene on one occasion when Laurel dug up a hole in their backyard while declaring that he would bury her alive in it.

The only thing that ultimately buried no pun intended, this scandal was the fact that Vera was forbidden from talking about anything that had to do with her marriage to Laurel when she signed their divorce agreement.

Jayne Mansfield’s Legacy

Apparently, the phrase: “there’s no such thing as bad press” was invented by a busty blonde back in the 50s and 60s…and no, it wasn’t Marilyn Monroe!

Despite being a well-known actress, singer, and entertainer, Jayne Mansfield became infamous for her many publicity stunts, which both fascinated and offended people.

The Old Hollywood icon never lost an opportunity to have a series of wardrobe malfunctions in public, to show off for the cameras. This was probably fueled by her rivalry with Monroe and her eagerness to take all the publicity she could get.

Many eventually grew tired of her stunts, and she ultimately started to get more negative attention. She’s frequently been credited for popularizing the bikini and paving the way for reality stars like the Kardashians.

In 1967, the Old Hollywood starlet got into a car with her attorney, driver, and three children. This would be the last car ride of her life because just before 2:30 AM, the vehicle crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer, failing to notice the trailer slowing down.

The three adults, including Mansfield, were killed on impact, while the sleeping children in the car’s rear suffered only minor injuries.

One of those asleep children was her three-year-old daughter, Mariska Hargitay, who most people know as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Tumultuous Love Life

Liz Taylor has become as infamous for her personal life as her professional career due to the eight marriages she had throughout her life.

And even though the actress never cared what people said about her life choices, she sure did cause a considerable stir when in the late 50s, she started an affair with Eddie Fisher.

The experience started shortly after the tragic death of Taylor’s third husband due to a plane crash, and, at the time, Fisher was married to one of Elizabeth Taylor’s best friends, actress Debbie Reynolds.

Fisher eventually left his wife for Taylor, but the cycle only continued when Taylor left Fisher for Old Hollywood actor Richard Burton.

Let’s not forget that even though Tinsel Town is a mess of affairs and scandals nowadays, back then, Elizabeth Taylor’s many scandalous romances caused quite a fuss, and what was most remarkable was that she was able to reconcile her friendship with Debbie Reynolds after the whole ordeal.

Sinatra And Kennedy BFFs…Until They Weren’t

We all know who Frank Sinatra was. He was one of the biggest musical stars of Old Hollywood. He also had a successful film career as an actor and producer.

Naturally, Sinatra’s success went to his head, and his arrogance and violent temper have been well documented, especially when he felt he’d been wronged.

This brings us to his relationship with John F. Kennedy. “Ol’ Blue Eyes” had campaigned vigorously with Kennedy and had reportedly been his wingman to assist in Kennedy’s infamous record for being a womanizer.

But when Kennedy won his election in 1960, he was instructed to put some distance between himself and Sinatra due to Sinatra’s alleged ties to the Mafia. So JFK canceled a 1962 stay at Sinatra’s Palm Springs mansion, and he went to rival singer Bing Crosby’s home instead.

Frank was so enraged by the snub that he took a sledgehammer to the newly-made heliport he’d made to house the President and his staff.

He also stopped speaking to Peter Lawford, the Rat Pack member who delivered the news for Kennedy. To be fair, Lawford was Kennedy’s brother-in-law.

Old Hollywood
Photo by Denis Makarenko at Shutterstock

Marilyn Monroe’s Death

We obviously couldn’t write about Old Hollywood scandals and not include the legend herself! To this day, the death of Marilyn Monroe remains one of the entertainment industry’s biggest mysteries.

Even though it was well-known that the actress had struggled with substance abuse and maybe even issues with her mental health, her death by “probable suicide” is still considered as dubious by many.

The Old Hollywood starlet’s extreme fame, mixed with her close relationships with some of the most distinguished people in the United States, means that her passing has been blamed on many, from the mafia to the CIA and, most notably, the Kennedy family.

She shocked the world when it was revealed that she reportedly had affairs with not only President John F. Kennedy but also his brother Robert.

Even though we’ve seen countless movies and documentaries on the matter, it seems like we’ll never know the actual story behind her life or death.

But one thing that stays true is that to this day, she’s still the most iconic symbol of both the good and bad that came with stardom in Old Hollywood.

If you liked reading about the lives of the stars in Old Hollywood, we’re sure you’ll love this next one: 8 Of the Most Famous Presidential Mistresses


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