From Fatty Arbuckle’s assault case in 1921, Roman Polanski’s assault of a minor nearly 40 years ago, and the recent revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s indiscretions, Hollywood has always been wrought with awful scandals. The Weinstein case will hopefully turn the tide in favor of Hollywood’s victims but that hasn’t been the case in the past. The Golden Age of Hollywood was wrought with forced abortions, widespread sexual abuse against actresses, and a child born out of wedlock between a very famous actress and her movie’s director.
Read on to discover some of classic Hollywood’s most salacious scandals and find out which child star was too young to realize just what had happened to her!
Hollywood Studios Forced Actresses To Terminate Pregnancies
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Actresses in Old Hollywood were huge assets to studios like MGM, RKO, Warner Bros., and Paramount Pictures, which is why the studios implemented strict control over their lives. Not only were actresses prevented from getting married at times, when it came to accidental pregnancies, the consequences were far worse. Actresses including Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford were all forced to “take care of the problem” in the studios’ efforts to maintain their star’s public image. After lying about why the actress was in the hospital in the first place, the studios would have them back on set sometimes within less than a week.
MGM Gave Judy Garland Drugs To Keep Her Going
Judy Garland was notoriously mistreated and overworked while employed by MGM. By the time she was a teenager, Garland was hooked on amphetamines and barbiturates at the hands of the studio. In order for her to be able to work long hours, her handlers reportedly gave Garland and other child actors adrenaline shots and pills so that they could stay awake. When it finally came time for them to rest, the adolescent actors—hooked on the amphetamines—were subsequently given sleeping pills and barbiturates to help them fall into a much-needed slumber. Needless to say, this drug-addled balancing act had detrimental effects on the actors.
Studio Executives Have Been Abusing Actresses For Ages
In 2017, our eyes were opened to the sexual harassment and abuse of power that runs rampant throughout modern-day Hollywood thanks to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and others. But as these issues are recently coming to light, it’s important to remember that this behavior has long been embedded in Hollywood studio culture. Take Judy Garland as another example: MGM head Louis B. Mayer reportedly forced Garland to sit on his lap as a young girl. He constantly harassed her, groping her in his office and at one point placing his hand on her breast to say that she “sang from the heart.”
Garland wasn’t the only Hollywood starlet that faced this sort of behavior as a young girl…
The Munchkins From The Wizard of Oz Were Drunk Creepers?
If that wasn’t bad enough, this next tidbit is sure to make you see The Wizard of Oz in an entirely different light. In 1967, Judy Garland revealed to Jack Paar that the little people who played the munchkins were “little drunks… They got smashed every night, and they picked them up in butterfly nets.” That’s all Garland said back then, but a recent memoir from her ex-husband Sid Luft reveals that “[the munchkins] would make Judy’s life miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress… The men were 40 or more years old.” Poor Judy Garland truly had it the worst in Hollywood back then.
Judy Garland Developed An Eating Disorder
To add to Miss Garland’s unending strife behind the camera, MGM executives also instilled in her an eating disorder. She was only 14 years old when her first feature film, Pigskin Parade, came out. Although she gave a commendable performance, MGM was quick to burst her bubble by telling her that she looked like a “fat little pig with pigtails” before putting her on the first of many diets. They would even go so far as to confiscate a plate of food from her just as she was about to eat it, in addition to keeping meticulous track of what she put into her mouth. By 18 years old, she was on a strict diet of only chicken soup, black coffee, cigarettes, and pills to suppress her hunger.
Shirley Temple’s Virgin Eyes Saw Too Much
Everyone is familiar with the cherubic cuteness of child actress Shirley Temple. She wasn’t even a teen before Fox dropped her and she was picked up by MGM — when her career already began to stall. The New York Times once reported that upon “her first visit to MGM, Mrs. Black wrote in her autobiography, the producer Arthur Freed unzipped his trousers and exposed himself to her… Being innocent of the male anatomy, she responded by giggling, and he threw her out of his office.” This could have ended worse than it did, but only goes to show that this type of salacious behavior goes way back and that even children were victimized.
Jailbait was so popular in Hollywood, one actor stood trial for “taking advantage” of two underaged girls…
Jean Harlow’s Husband Supposedly Committed Suicide
Actress Jean Harlow married producer Paul Bern in 1932, a month after announcing their engagement. It was all the buzz on the Hollywood circuit, especially since Harlow was 22 years Bern’s junior. However, the happy couple was only two months into their marriage when Bern was suddenly found dead from a gunshot wound to the head at their Beverly Hills home. At first, many people suspected Harlow as the murderer, but she was in the middle of filming Red Dust. Bern’s death was later ruled a suicide when police discovered a note that Bern allegedly wrote to Harlow prior to the incident.
You Won’t Believe Who May Have Murdered Him
Harlow made a statement before police and a grand jury that she “knew nothing” and never publicly spoke about Bern’s death ever again. The case was reopened when it was suggested that Bern did not commit suicide but, in fact, he was murdered. Many people suspect that the murderer was orchestrated by Bern’s common-law wife from years before, Dorothy Millette, who was found to have commit suicide by jumping into the Sacramento River two days after Bern’s death. MGM is believed to have framed the murder as a suicide to keep their star, Jean Harlow, away from negative publicity. In fact, it had the opposite effect and Harlow became more popular than ever.
Fatty Arbuckle Was Accused Of Rape And Murder
This was one of the first huge scandals to shake up Hollywood. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was a silent film superstar in the 1920s who earned an unprecedented $3 million in just three years of work with Paramount Pictures. He was at the height of his career when suddenly, the mysterious death of a young actress named Virginia Rappe put Arbuckle behind bars. Arbuckle was accused of taking advantage of Rappe before submitting her to an untimely death. Although he claimed innocence, the media immediately had everyone believing he was guilty.
Soon you’ll see which swashbuckling actor was actually guilty of his crimes but got away with it…
Rappe Was Found In His Bathroom And Suffered A Ruptured Bladder
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Arbuckle and his cohorts rented out three rooms at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco and were to throw a massive party (despite the Prohibition that was going on at the time). Virginia Rappe, who at this point was just an aspiring actress, was found incredibly ill in Arbuckle’s bathroom and had to be taken to the hospital. Not only had her bladder ruptured, she only survived one day in the hospital before her death. Rappe’s companion at the party claimed that Arbuckle had taken advantage of her and the weight of his body caused her bladder to burst.
The Accusations Ruined Arbuckle’s Career
Although doctors could find no evidence that Arbuckle had done anything to Rappe, it was widely believed that he had taken advantage of her in her intoxicated state. After a long trial, it was revealed that Rappe had suffered from multiple physical ailments that were only made worse by her consumption of poor quality prohibition alcohol and previous abortions. Rappe’s party companion was the prosecutor’s star witness, but they soon found her to be an unreliable liar who was just after Arbuckle’s money. By the end, the court found that Rappe essentially caused her own death and Arbuckle was acquitted. The damage to his career was already done.
Robin Hood Actor Likes His Women Young
Pressefoto Kindermann/Getty Images
Actor Errol Flynn is perhaps best known for his roles in Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, but in 1942 all anyone ever wanted to talk about was how he was accused of statutory rape. Two 17-year-old girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, claimed that the actor had taken advantage of them on two separate occasions. Flynn had a penchant for younger women and is notorious for saying, “I like my whiskey old and my women young.” However, back then people didn’t realize that Flynn’s on-screen persona was any different than his real life and they refused to believe these claims were true.
There were even closeted actors in Hollywood who were forced into fake marriages!
Flynn Was Acquitted And Went On To Marry A 19-Year-Old
Flynn stood trial in 1943 and lucky for him, he had high-powered lawyer Jerry Giesler at his defense. Giesler pulled up dirt on both of the girls, claiming that Hansen did not protest when Flynn locked the bedroom door and that Satterlee had a history of sleeping with married men and getting illegal abortions. It was later revealed that they were trying to avoid felony charges of their own. Flynn was acquitted, but shortly after the trial, married and impregnated 19-year-old Nora Eddington whom he met during his trial — the marriage didn’t last. When he died at 50, he was dating 17-year-old Beverly Aadland, they met when she was 15.
Ingrid Bergman Had A Child Out Of Wedlock With A Married Director
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Casablanca actress Ingrid Bergman was a Hollywood delight whose reputation was immediately shattered after word broke of her affair with director Roberto Rossellini. In 1949, Bergman wrote to Rossellini with the hopes of revamping her career by starring in one of his films. She was cast in 1950’s Stromboli and the two fell in love while filming. Unfortunately, they were both still married to other people. The scandal was exacerbated by the fact that Bergman got pregnant by Rossellini. The whole affair ruined her reputation and forced her to remain in Europe for several years. The scandal was so bad, she was allegedly banned from Hollywood and denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
This Hollywood Actress Refused To Terminate Her Pregnancy
Cecil Beaton/Condé Nast via Getty Images
Shortly after completing filming for The Call of the Wild, Loretta Young discovered that she was pregnant by her co-star Clark Gable, who was married at the time. Studio “fixers” at first tried to convince the actress to take care of the situation, however as a devout Catholic, she refused to do so. As a result, Young, her family, and the fixers went to great lengths to conceal the pregnancy. When she began to show, she went on “vacation” to Europe and months later returned to Los Angeles to live out the rest of the pregnancy in a secluded home.
Soon you’ll see that a lot worse can happen if you refuse the studio’s rules…
No One Suspected That She Was Pregnant
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
Rumors were swirling about Young’s break from acting, so she gave an interview from her bed to a reporter with strategically-placed pillows to hide her stomach. Young eventually gave birth to her daughter, Judy Lewis, but soon had placed her in an orphanage. When enough time had passed, Young announced that she was adopting a child, concealing the fact that she was just getting her biological daughter home. Young never told anyone who Judy’s father was, although throughout Judy’s life everyone knew that she was Clark Gable’s daughter due to their uncanny resemblance. Judy, on the other hand, didn’t find any of this out until she was 23.
It Would Be More Than 50 Years Before She Realized This…
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
To make matters more complicated, Young didn’t realize until much later in life that she got pregnant by Gable under some rather unfortunate circumstances. In 1998, Young heard the term “date rape” on an episode of Larry King Live. After learning what it meant, she realized that that is exactly what happened between her and Gable all those years ago. Coming from a strong religious background, Young allegedly believed that what Gable had done to her was her own moral failing. Gable most likely knew about Judy but never acknowledged her as his own. Loretta Young’s family never went public with this information until after her’s and Judy’s deaths.
This Closeted Actor Couldn’t Find A Job After Leaving His Fake Wife
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
Silent film actor Nils Asther entered a “lavender marriage” with actress Vivian Duncan in 1930 to cover up the truth about his homosexuality. Despite having one child with Duncan, Asther eventually wanted out of the marriage but his contract prevented him from leaving. Still, Asther could not keep living a lie and eventually left his wife and child. This prompted fixers to leak a story about him that suggested he wasn’t living with his family because he was cheating. Asther was thusly fired from his studio and was forced to find work in Europe since his placement on a studio blacklist made him an undesirable actor.
Elizabeth Taylor Was An Unabashed Cheater
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
One Hollywood heavyweight who was actually cheating was Elizabeth Taylor, and the whole world knew about it. Taylor married producer Mike Todd in 1957 and the couple was close to actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, who had married two years earlier. After Todd’s untimely death due to a plane crash in 1958, a devastated Taylor was driven into the consoling arms of Fisher (who was best friends with Todd). However, this seemingly innocent interaction eventually evolved into an affair, which led Fisher to leave Reynolds for Taylor, whose reputation went from grieving widow to homewrecker. In her grief, Taylor ended up marrying Fisher in 1959.
Marlene Dietrich And Greta Garbo Were Secret Lovers
Despite their claims that they never ever met each other, many people believe that Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo were secret lovers. Diana McLellan is the author of The Girls, which explores Hollywood’s “lesbian sub-culture,” and in her research discovered possible evidence that points to an affair between the actresses. Garbo appeared in a silent film called The Joyless Street and McLellan claims to have seen Dietrich in the film, despite Dietrich’s insistence that she has no association with the film. McLellan and historians believe that their brief affair ended in bitterness, which is why the two actresses so vehemently denied each other’s existence.