Hollywood’s Golden Age started in the silent movie era and lasted until the early ’60s when Cleopatra, the most expensive film ever made, hit the big screen and nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox in the process. The films of the Golden Age made an exorbitant amount of money and starred many glamorous celebrities.
While it’s easy to look back on the era with rose-colored glasses, there were many incidents that took place behind the scenes and in people’s personal lives that reveal some unflattering truths in Hollywood.
Superman George Reeves Died Under Suspicious Circumstances
The Adventures of Superman star George Reeves died of a gunshot wound on June 16, 1959. The general consensus is that the actor took his own life because he suffered from depression, which was partially caused by his struggle to find work following the end of his series.
However, some believe MGM vice president and fixer Eddie Mannix had Reeves killed because the star was having an affair with his wife, Toni Mannix. Another theory is that Reeve’s death was the result of an accidental shooting. Toni died in 1983 and allegedly confessed to a priest that she was the reason why Reeves was killed.
Walt Disney Played Host To A Nazi Filmmaker
Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl visited Hollywood in 1938. One of Riefenstahl’s most famous films was 1935’s Triumph of The Will, a Nazi propaganda film that was popular among the Third Reich. She came to the United States following Kristallnacht, which allowed the German military to ransack and demolish Jewish homes, hospitals and schools.
Walt Disney was hospitable towards Riefenstahl during her trip and took her on a three-hour tour of the Disney lot. He gave her a sneak peek of some sketches for the upcoming film Fantasia and showed her a screening of Olympia, a documentary about the 1936 Olympics.
This actress’s unexpected pregnancy led to decades of lies.
Loretta Young Hid Her Pregnancy & Passed Off Her Biological Daughter As Adopted
While filming The Call of the Wild, Loretta Young, 22, got pregnant by Clark Gable, 34, who was married. It’s been suggested that the affair was not consensual. Young, her sisters, and mother hid the pregnancy, put the child in an orphanage, and then less than two years later adopted little Judith.
Many in Hollywood knew the truth, and when Judith was 31 she confronted her mother, who admitted it privately. She never talked about it publicly until 1999 after a biography about her life was published. That’s when Young admitted Judith was her biological child and that Gable was the father.
MGM Pressured Judy Garland To Starve Herself & Take Diet Pills
Like many young actresses, Judy Garland struggled with self-image while growing up and working in Hollywood. Unfortunately, she was the victim of bullying and harassment by MGM executives, who told her to lose weight. When she was just 14 years old, she was compared to a “little fat pig with pigtails.”
Pressured into being thin, Garland starved herself and started popping diet pills, largely under the influence of producer and MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer. By age 18, she was smoking 80 cigarettes a day and sustaining herself on black coffee and a regular regimen of diet pills. Until her death, she battled drug addiction and an eating disorder.
Ingrid Bergman’s Affair With Director Roberto Rossellini Rocked Hollywood
Casablanca star Ingrid Bergman was an American movie staple when she was caught up in a scandal that rocked Hollywood. A married woman, she had an affair with married Italian director Roberto Rossellini on the set of Stromboli in 1949. Bergman got pregnant, the couple left their spouses, and they had a child together before tying the knot in 1950.
Fans were disgusted by the affair, and Bergman took solace in Europe for many years to avoid the criticism. But time heals old wounds and in 1956 she won her second Academy Award for Anastasia. She split with Rossellini the following year after he had an affair with another woman.
Joan Crawford Allegedly Made Adult Films
Academy Award winner Joan Crawford starred in films such as Mildred Pierce and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? At one point, she was one of Hollywood’s most famous stars and one of the highest-paid women in the country. But like many aspiring actresses, she struggled early on in her career.
When Crawford was a teenager, she allegedly made some adult films in order to pay the bills. MGM reportedly hired a fixer to make sure the truth was never made public. There’s no proof that she made these films, but her first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. once confirmed that it was true.
The Three Stooges Creator Died Following A Nightclub Fight
Vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor Ted Healy is most known for creating the Three Stooges, even though he was a successful performer in Hollywood in his own right. Healy integrated the Stooges in a comedy act in the late ’20s, but by 1934 he and the Stooges had gone their separate ways.
In December 1937, Healy, who had a penchant for imbibing, was celebrating the birth of his son when he got into an altercation outside a nightclub in Hollywood. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but three other men were involved. The official cause was chronic alcoholism, but circumstances suggest the fight contributed to his death.
One star’s teen daughter helped her mother escape an abusive relationship.
Lana Turner’s Daughter Killed Turner’s Gangster Boyfriend
Pin-up and actress Lana Turner was one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM) biggest stars. She had a reputation as a femme fatale and appeared in films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1958, the star’s 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane killed Lana’s boyfriend, mobster Johnny Stompanato, at their home.
Crane claimed the stabbing was self-defense and that she was simply protecting her mother from Stompanato’s aggression. The jury deemed it a justifiable homicide after deliberating for less than five hours. Some believe Lana actually killed Stompanato and had her daughter take the blame. Other rumors surfaced that Cheryl was in love with Stompanato.
Several Stunt Pilots Died On The Set Of Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels
Howard Hughes produced the epic aviation war film Hell’s Angels over the course of three years from 1927-1930. At the time, it cost $2.8 million to make and starred Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow. During production, three stunt pilots and one mechanic were killed.
Pilot Al Johnson crashed after hitting wires while landing his plane. Pilot C. K. Phillips crashed while delivering a plane to a shooting location. Australian pilot Rupert Syme Macalister also died, as did mechanic Phil Jones, who didn’t bail out before a crash scene. Proving how dangerous production was, Hughes nearly died after he filled in for a stunt pilot.
Three Of Charlie Chaplin’s Wives Were Just Teenagers When He Married Them
Charlie Chaplin, known for his silent era films and on-screen persona “The Tramp,” had a career that spanned 75 years. During that time, he wed a total of four times. Three of his wives were still teenagers when they tied the knot. He was 29 when he married his first wife, Mildred Harris, who was just 16.
They split two years later, and then Chaplin, then 35, married Lolita McMurry, 16. They had to tie the knot in Mexico because California had a law against marrying someone so young. Three years later they divorced, and Chaplin married Pauline Levy, 20. Six years later they split, and Chaplin married his last wife, Oona O’Neill, who was 18 at the time.
This actor purportedly landed roles the old-fashioned way.
Ladies Man Clark Gable Allegedly Slept With Men To Get Ahead
During the ’30s and ’40s, Clarke Gable was considered The King Of Hollywood. He starred in films such as Gone With the Wind, Mutiny on the Bounty, and It Happened One Night. He also married five times and had relationships with women such as Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, and Lana Turner.
However, according to author David Brett of the book “Clark Gable: Tormented Star,” the actor used to sleep with men in order to advance his career. There is no proof that Gable used his sex appeal to land roles early on, but it isn’t uncommon (even today) for that type of thing to happen in Hollywood.
Jerry Lee Lewis’ Third Wife Was His Cousin And Just 13 Years Old
In 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis, then 22, known for his hit song “Great Ball of Fire,” wed for the third time. His wife was 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown. What made the underage romance even more scandalous was that the pair were cousins. During a 1958 tour of the UK, the press got wind of the news, and he was forced to cancel his remaining gigs.
Lee’s relationship with his underage cousin essentially ended his career. Radio stations stopped playing his music, and he went from commanding $10,000 a gig to just $250. He and Myra had two children before divorcing in 1970. Lewis still performs today.
Fatty Arbuckle’s Reputation Was Tainted After A Party
In 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was was arrested and put on trial for manslaughter. During a party thrown by Arbuckle, a starlet named Virginia Rappe got sick, and she died four days later. The papers reported that Arbuckle abused Rappe and was responsible for her death.
While there was an incredible amount of evidence proving Arbuckle was innocent, the rumors and media reports made it difficult to hold a fair trial. There were two hung juries before he was acquitted during a third trial. Still, his career suffered because he was found guilty in the press. He made a comeback but died in 1933 at age 46 from a heart attack.
Rock Hudson Kept His Preference For Men Under Wraps
Rock Hudson was the epitome of the Hollywood heartthrob during the Golden Age. He appeared in films such as Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows and Giant. He married a woman named Phyllis Gates to prevent rumors that he was secretly attracted to men.
While the public didn’t know about Hudson’s personal life, many in Hollywood knew the truth, and co-stars such as Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Taylor supported his lifestyle. Hudson never came out but had several relationships with men and unfortunately was one of the first major celebrities to be diagnosed with AIDS. He died in 1985 at age 59.
Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn Hid Their Relationship
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn began their romantic entanglement in 1941 while making Woman of the Year. He was married at the time and stayed married during their entire 26-year affair. It finally ended after Tracy died in 1967. MGM execs were complicit in keeping the affair hidden from both his wife and the public.
Most people in Hollywood knew the truth, but no one talked about it. Tracy and his wife eventually became estranged, but they never divorced. Tracy once said, “I can get a divorce whenever I want to, but my wife and Kate like things just as they are.”
There’s nothing like a love triangle to stir things up.
Eddie Fisher Left His Wife To Marry Her Best Friend
During the early ’50s, Eddie Fisher hosted a TV show and was one of the country’s most popular singers. While he was married to Debbie Reynolds (with whom he had two children, including Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher), he had an affair with his wife’s best friend, Elizabeth Taylor.
After Taylor’s husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash, Fisher swooped in to console her. Before long, it evolved into a full-blown affair, which went public. Fisher divorced Reynolds and married Taylor in 1959. They were divorced by 1964 after the actress had an affair with Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton.
Jean Harlow Hooked Up With Clark Gable & Was Blamed For One Husband’s Death
Jean Harlow was one of MGM’s leading ladies and the definition of a blonde bombshell. Her films included Hell’s Angels, Red Dust and Dinner at Eight. She was criticized for hanging out with mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel and had an affair with Clark Gable during her marriage to an MGM producer named Paul Bern.
Bern allegedly took his own life two months after the wedding, but some suggested Harlow orchestrated his death. Shortly afterwards she married cinematographer Harold Rosson for publicity reasons but divorced him eight months later. She then got engaged to actor William Powell, but she died of renal failure in 1937 at age 26 before they tied the knot.
The Motive Behind Thelma Todd’s Death Was Never Determined
Thelma Todd, dubbed “The Ice Cream Blonde,” starred in the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers as well as films alongside Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. She died at the top of her career in 1935 at the age of 30 in suspicious circumstances.
Todd was found slumped over her steering wheel, and the death was ruled first suicide and then accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. However, evidence at the scene suggested otherwise, and gangster Lucky Luciano was a suspect in her death at one point, as was her boyfriend.
There Was A Brothel On The Sunset Strip
A woman named Lee Francis owned a very famous brothel in California during the 1930s. The Hacienda Arms Apartments on the Sunset Strip was popular among actors such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Errol Flynn. Authorities were paid off to ignore the goings on in the building.
After Francis was arrested, other women took over the business, including Brenda Allen, who was Hollywood’s number-one madame in the ’40s. She was arrested in 1948, but what made the incident even more scandalous was police Sergeant Elmer Jackson was her co-conspirator and lover who helped her run the business.
The Actor Who Played Alfalfa Passed Away Young
In the mid-1930s Carl Switzer played Alfalfa, one of the most popular characters from the Little Rascals. When he left the show in 1940, he struggled to find other acting gigs because he was typecast. He became an alcoholic and in 1959 died in an incident involving a $50 debt.
The man who shot him, Moses Stiltz, claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Yet, there were suggestions that he intentionally killed Switzer. Stiltz’s stepson reportedly claimed that Switzer was murdered, yet the stepson was never called to testify at the trial. The day Switzer died, so did director Cecil B. DeMille so the actor’s passing went largely unnoticed.