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30 Forgotten Scandals from Hollywood's Golden Era

Charlie Chaplain Denied Re-Entry Into the United States

Charlie Chaplain Denied Re-Entry Into the United States

It seems like in the 40s and 50s you couldn’t walk down the streets of Hollywood without bumping into someone accused of being a communist by the United States government--and British-born Charlie Chaplin was no exception.

In 1952, Chaplin’s re-entry permit to the US was revoked (without any sort of anti-American evidence, mind you), and his reputation here suffered greatly for it.  

(Image via Charlie Chaplin)

Fatty Arbuckle's Murder Trial

Fatty Arbuckle's Murder Trial

Fatty Arbuckle was a major star during the silent film era who was known to party a little too hard. After actress Virginia Rappe died after a night in his hotel room, Arbuckle was charged with causing the injuries that led to her death.

While he would go on to be acquitted of these charges, his reputation in Hollywood never recovered. 

(The Anaconda Standard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ingrid Bergman's Affair

Ingrid Bergman's Affair

Gossip-hungry fans may live for celebrity affairs these days, but during the golden era of Hollywood, it could end a career. Case in point: Ingrid Bergman. When Bergman began an affair (and became pregnant) with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, the world was scandalized.

It was so far that a US senator even denounced her on the floor of the Senate. 

(MGM photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Marilyn Monroe Had an Affair with JFK (And His Brother)

Marilyn Monroe Had an Affair with JFK (And His Brother)

Hollywood loved the Kennedys, and when it comes to Marilyn Monroe, she loved them a little more than most. While it’s never been definitively proven, there is a good chance that Monroe had an affair with JFK in the '60s.

On top of that, it’s alleged that she moved on to John’s brother, Bobby, once he got bored of her. 

(Image via Netflix, Plan B Entertainment)

Jackie Coogan's Parents Stole His Money

Jackie Coogan's Parents Stole His Money

These days, a portion of money earned by child actors is set aside by law until they turn 21, and that’s all thanks to the sad story of Jackie Coogan. Coogan was a child actor who became famous for his role in the Charlie Chaplin film The Kid.

As an adult, Coogan discovered that his mother and stepfather had squandered millions of his earnings and sued them in court. While he only got $125,000 from the settlement, it led to the California Child Actor’s Bill, which still protects the earnings of minors to this day.  

Wikipedia

Florence Henderson and Barry Williams Dated During the Brady Bunch

Florence Henderson and Barry Williams Dated During the Brady Bunch

Sometimes the truth of a scandal is that there isn’t much of a scandal to begin with. While on the set of The Brady Bunch, Barry Williams (who played eldest son Greg) developed a crush on Florence Henderson (who played his stepmother).

The rumor was that they had an affair on set, but the truth is much more mundane. Williams (who was 16 at the time) did have a crush on Henderson (who was 36), and he managed to nab a dinner alone with her. They had a good time and ended the night with the innocent peck on the cheek. Nothing to see here. 

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Pola Negri Lost Her Mind at a Funeral

Pola Negri Lost Her Mind at a Funeral

Rudolph Valentino was an Italian actor who thrived in 1920s Hollywood, and he died unexpectedly at age 31. At his funeral (which was attended by thousands), actress Pola Negri put on quite the show.

After loudly announcing that she was Valentino’s secret fiancee, she saw fit to dramatically faint twice — once in front of a flower display that spelled out her name...that she had purchased for the funeral.  

Wikipedia

Paul Bern's Suspicious Death

Paul Bern's Suspicious Death

In September of 1932, filmmaker Paul Bern married classic Hollywood actress Jean Harlow. Only a few months after they tied the knot, Bern tragically took his life. At the time, police didn't suspect foul play, as Bern had left a note for Harlow explaining why he was taking his own life. 

However, years later rumors arose that Bern had actually been murdered by a woman he was having an affair with. The theory went that the execs at MGM thought that a suicide would be less harmful to Harlow's career than the truth that her husband was having an affair. Although some still suspect foul play, the case into Bern's death has never been reopened. 

International Newsreel (1932), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Murder of Ella Mae Evans

The Murder of Ella Mae Evans

If you were a fan of country western music in the 1940s, there was a good chance that you would have heard of Spade Cooley. In addition to being a successful musician, Cooley also had numerous small roles in famous Western movies. However, he's much more famous these days for murdering his wife. 

Cooley met his second wife, Ella Mae Evans, when she was a singer in his band. Shortly after they tied the knot, he accused her of having an affair with Roy Rodgers, and she asked for a divorce. Instead, Cooley brutally attacked and killed his wife, all while their daughter was forced to watch. He was sentenced to life in prison and later died in jail. 

CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images

Errol Flynn's Trial

Errol Flynn's Trial

Errol Flynn was an icon in the Golden Era of Hollywood who was most famous for roles in movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and Captain Blood. Though beloved as an actor, Flynn was known for his tumultuous and wild personal life when the cameras weren't rolling. 

In 1943, Flynn stood trial after two teenage girls accused him of attacking them. Though he was eventually acquitted of the charges and had lots of high-profile public supporters, the accusations permanently tarnished his reputation and his career began to decline. He did make somewhat of a comeback in the 1950s, but his death shortly followed in 1959. 

User Roisterer on en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich’s Alleged Affair

Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich’s Alleged Affair

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, there weren't two leading ladies more famous than Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Garbo found success in both silent and sound films with roles in movies like Anna Karenina and A Woman of Affairs. Dietrich, on the other hand, rose to fame thanks to movies like Shanghai Express, The Devil is a Woman, and Touch of Evil

For many years in Hollywood, there were rumors swirling that Garbo and Dietrich had a secret affair together. Both actresses strongly denied this claim, but there are some suspicious holes in their story. For one, the two women claimed to have never met one another, but years earlier, they actually starred in a German silent film together. Sounds pretty sneaky! 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (work for hire), Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsGeorge Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Joan Bennett's Jealous Husband

Joan Bennett's Jealous Husband

Joan Bennett was once a high-profile leading lady in some of classic Hollywood's biggest films, including Little Women, The Woman in the Window, and Scarlet Street. In 1940, she married movie producer Walter Wagner, which ended up being a huge mistake for the actress. In December of 1951, Wagner shot Bennet's agent Jennings Lang. 

Film screenshot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, Walter Wagner Press Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Suspecting an affair between the two, Wagner shot Lang in a moment of jealousy after seeing him and Bennett talking. Lang survived the gunshot, and Wagner only served a few months for the crime. However, Bennett's reputation was forever tarnished, and her career never fully recovered from the scandal. 

Natalie Wood's Mysterious Demise

Natalie Wood's Mysterious Demise

Natalie Wood is one of the few actresses in Hollywood who started as a child actor and successfully made the transition to adult acting. She won multiple Oscars, and some of her biggest hits include Rebel Without a CauseWest Side Story, and Miracle on 34th Street

However, Wood tragically died in 1981 after falling off a boat and drowning. Over the years, suspicions have been raised that her husband, Robert Wagner, had something to do with her death, and in 2012, the cause of death on her death certificate was changed from accidental drowning. Even as recently as 2018, the LAPD have said that Wagner is still a person of interest in the case. 

El Matador, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Clara Bow's Legal Troubles

Clara Bow's Legal Troubles

The name Clara Bow might not mean much to people these days, but in the 1920s, she was one of the biggest stars of the silent movie era. In fact, we have Bow to thank for the figure of speech "it girl." She received the nickname after she starred in the highly successful silent film It. 

While she was first famous for her movie roles, she later gained notoriety for her messy, public legal battles. The problems began after her former assistant stole valuable items from Bow—at the trial, the defense attorney dragged Bow's name through the mud by bringing up her wild lifestyle and alcohol purchases (which were illegal at the time, thanks to Prohibition). 

D.D.Teoli Jr., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mystery of Thelma Todd

The Mystery of Thelma Todd

At the height of her fame, comedic actress Thelma Todd was on par with comedy greats like the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. In fact, the actress frequently collaborated with these funny duos with great success. Though she was beloved by audiences, it was a barely kept secret that Todd had a serious drinking problem. 

When she was found dead in her car, police initially suspected an accidental death or perhaps a suicide. However, others suspected the scene was staged and that Todd was possibly murdered by her boyfriend Roland West. While no charges were ever brought against anyone for her death, there are just too many unanswered questions about this to consider the case closed. 

RKO, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Frances Farmer's Forced Hospitalization

Frances Farmer's Forced Hospitalization

Frances Farmer earned a name for herself as a successful actress when she rose to fame in the 1930s and '40s. Starring in both Broadway productions and movies, she gained accolades for roles in works like Among the Living, World Premier, and The Party Crashers. Despite her success, her personal life was chaos. 

Farmer's behavior became increasingly erratic in the 1940s, and she had several arrests for things like drunk and disorderly conduct and assault. Her problems came to a head when she was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1943. There, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was held until the summer of 1944. 

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Leni Riefenstahl’s visit to Hollywood

Leni Riefenstahl’s visit to Hollywood

Leni Riefenstahl is the German writer, producer, and director that we have to blame for Triumph of the Will, the 1935 Nazi propaganda movie that chronicled the rise of Hitler. In an attempt to increase her notoriety as a filmmaker, she made a trip to the United States in 1938. 

Almost no one in Hollywood gave her a warm reception, and she only managed to snag an audience with a gossip columnist and Walt Disney, who made it clear he had no intention of promoting her latest work, Olympia. She later returned to Germany complaining of the cool reception she had gotten from the industry. 

Unknown author; cropped and stripped by Beyond My Ken 10 July 2018, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Judy Garland's "Diet"

Judy Garland's "Diet"

Judy Garland may have looked beautiful and carefree as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but behind the scenes at MGM, she was anything but. Under pressure from the studio to lose weight, Garland’s food intake was heavily restricted, and she used diet pills to keep her appetite at bay.

These experiences as a teenager would lead Garland to struggle with eating disorders and drugs for the rest of her life. 

Studio Publicity, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Loretta Young Adopts Her Own Daughter

Loretta Young Adopts Her Own Daughter

Being an unwed mother in 1935 Hollywood was basically a death sentence, and actress Loretta Young wasn’t about to let it derail her career. So, she hatched an elaborate plan.

After dealing with a mysterious nine-month illness, Young had wonderful news for her fans: she was going to adopt a daughter. What they didn’t know was that this daughter was actually biological--Young went as far as to actually put her up for adoption and “re-adopting” her. 

20th Century Fox/Moviepix/Getty Images

Lana Turner Dated a Mafioso

Lana Turner Dated a Mafioso

Lana Turner spent almost half a century in the Hollywood spotlight as both a film and television actor. But she was grabbing headlines in the 1950s for all the wrong reasons.

When it was revealed that her boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was a member of the mafia, she claimed ignorance. However, she couldn’t deny his violent nature— he once hurt her so badly that Turner’s teenage daughter killed Stompanato in what was declared by the courts as a justifiable homicide.  

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Ince's Death

Thomas Ince's Death

Thomas Ince was an all-around star during the silent movie era, and his official cause of death goes like this--Ince attended a party hosted by media magnate William Randolph Hearst on his yacht. During the evening, he complained of stomach pains, went home, and died two days later of natural causes.

However, some believe that Ince was accidentally murdered. Charlie Chaplin was in attendance at this party as well, and Hearst suspected he was having an affair with his wife. The rumor is that Hearst attempted to shoot Chaplain but shot Ince by accident instead. And then with a little hush money, the whole thing got covered up. 

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jerry Lee Lewis Married His Cousin

Jerry Lee Lewis Married His Cousin

By the time Jerry Lee Lewis was 22, he had already been married twice. His third wife was an odd choice, to say the least--it was his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Brown.

Some said that Brown was actually 15 at the time of the wedding, but with a scandal this weird, that’s just splitting hairs. 

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Joan Crawford's Daughter Accused Her of Abuse

Joan Crawford's Daughter Accused Her of Abuse

When Joan Crawford’s daughter, Christina, was an adult, she published a shocking memoir called Mommie Dearest about the alleged physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her starlet mother.

While some who knew Crawford defended her from the allegations, others said they were not surprised by what they read. While these accusations could never be definitively proven, Christina received nothing in Crawford’s will when she died. 

MGM, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Peg Entwistle Died on the Hollywood Sign

Peg Entwistle Died on the Hollywood Sign

Peg Entwistle was an aspiring actress in the '30s who just never had her big break. Tragically, she committed suicide from the “H” in the Hollywood sign — which at the time still said “Hollywoodland”. 

Entwistle's death brought tons of sensationalized publicity, and she's still remembered today. Even though she died in 1932, 100 people in 2014 gathered together to commemorate her death by watching a movie she was in, Thirteen Women. Proceeds from everything that day went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Entwistle's name. 

(Image via Unsplash, ©James Zeruk, Jr., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Charlie Chaplin Married a Teenager at Age 60

Charlie Chaplin Married a Teenager at Age 60

Talk about an age discrepancy — Charlie Chaplin, aged 60, married his fourth wife a month after she turned 18 years old. What’s even stranger is that, before marrying Chaplin, the woman had been dating author J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye

Chaplin met her while going through his divorce. At the time, the girl was just 12 years old, but he waited until he was 16 to actually pursue her...as if that's any better. The girl got pregnant out of wedlock, and fearing criminal charges, Chaplin decided to marry her in secret. They had two children before divorcing. 

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Elizabeth Taylor Betrayed Debbie Reynolds

Elizabeth Taylor Betrayed Debbie Reynolds

When it comes to Hollywood, someone is always sleeping with someone else’s husband. In this case, it was Elizabeth Taylor sleeping with Eddie Fisher — who happened to be married to Debbie Reynolds at the time.

After the inevitable divorce, Fisher went on to be Taylor’s fourth husband. 

Hulton Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Hollywood Blacklist

The Hollywood Blacklist

During the beginnings of the Cold War, America collectively lost its mind, and Hollywood descended into an all-out fear of communism. Those in the entertainment industry who were either members of or showed support for the Communist Party USA were blacklisted from working in the industry.

Sometimes it didn’t even take that much to make it on the list! While this fad of driving the “Reds” out of Hollywood blessedly came to an end, the true irony of this episode is that it fostered an atmosphere of suspicion and betrayal that would have made Stalin himself proud. 

American Stock Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

George Reeves' Mysterious Death

George Reeves' Mysterious Death

In the 1950s, George Reeves became the first person to ever portray Superman on-screen. Tragically though, his life would end at age 45 in 1959. While his death was officially ruled a suicide, suspicions have remained.

It was rumored that Reeves had been having an affair with the wife of an MGM studio executive--some speculate that foul play may have been involved. 

John Springer Collection/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Sandra Dee Struggled with Anorexia

Sandra Dee Struggled with Anorexia

Sandra Dee is probably most well-known for her titular role in the movie Gidget, and like many actresses at the time, she was pressured by a movie studio to stay thin. This pressure would eventually develop into a full-blown eating disorder and a lifelong struggle with pills. 

When she was 41, she withdraw completely from Hollywood and became a recluse. This made her depression, anorexia, and alcoholism much worse. She died in 2005 when she was 62 from complications of kidney disease. Her legacy still lives on today on stage and in movies. 

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Joan Crawford Did an Adult Film

Joan Crawford Did an Adult Film

By the 1930s, Joan Crawford was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. But like many actors, early in her career, she struggled financially. There are rumors that Crawford may have starred in multiple adult films before making it to the big screen.

Then, there are rumors on top of those rumors about MGM partnering with the mob to make sure those films never saw the light of day. Nothing was ever definitive about this scandal, but it did cast a shadow of suspicion around Crawford.  

Studio publicity still, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons