When most people think of old Hollywood, they envision the golden age of the silver screen. The seemingly glitzy era between the 1920s and 1960s, which gave us cinematic masterpieces such as Gone with The Wind and Citizen Kane, and megastars the likes of Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart were in their prime. However, when you remove the rose-tint of nostalgia, you quickly see that old Hollywood had a seedy underbelly, not dissimilar from the Hollywood of today. Here are 8 not-so-glamourous facts and folklore about old Hollywood – some of them may surprise you!
The first true movie star Mary Pickford’s career may have ended because of a hair cut.
The first fashion fad spawned by a Hollywood movie star was silent film actress Mary Pickford’s hair. Her long, sausage spirals were seen as a symbol of feminine virtue, and they earned her the nickname ‘The Girl with the Curls’.
When she decided to chop it into a bob at age 36 in the hope of being considered for more serious roles, it was dubbed a national scandal and was widely reported by the press. She retired from acting not long after, with many saying the removal of her signature curls impaired her value as an actress.
Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by jumping off the Hollywood sign.
Perhaps an early inclination of the darker side of Hollywood, in 1932 Broadway actress Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by jumping 50 ft from the top of the letter H in the Hollywood sign.
She’d moved from New York to the West to try and make it on the big screen, but had little success and the film that was supposed to be her big break Thirteen Women was a flop. Legend has it that the fallen star was offered a big role the day after her death, and many believe her ghost still haunts the Hollywood sign.
The Director of Casablanca may have killed several extras…
Before the dawning of health and safety regulations, filmmakers could pretty much get away with murder. And there is a rumour that Michael Curtiz, who would later find fame as the director of Casablanca, actually did.
When filiming biblical epic Noah’s Ark (1928), Curtiz insisted that the scene of the flood be as realistic as possible by dumping gallons of freezing cold water on his extras. The extras were not warned about this beforehand, and were wearing heavy costumes and not given any form of floatation device. According to a stuntman working on the movie, three unlucky extras drowned. But since no charges were ever filed, we’ll never know if this is a true story or just a showbiz legend.
Poor Judy Garland was an emotional wreck.
Despite her seemingly sunny persona, behind the scenes Judy Garland was actually an emotional mess due to years of mistreatment by Hollywood bigwigs. Another great representation of negative aspects of fame, The Wizard of Oz star was bullied by greedy producers who destroyed her self worth with deprecating comments such as “you need to lose weight” and “you’re not pretty enough”, with the aim of controlling the teen. The abuse caused Garland to turn to drugs and alcohol, which would eventually lead to her death in 1969 at the age of 47.
Frank Sinatra had ties to the Mafia.
Frank Sinatra is one of the most successful recording artists of all time, wowing millions with his amazing voice and winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in From Here To Eternity (1953). However, it appears ‘Ol Blue Eyes may have had some help…
Sadly, there is ample evidence that Sinatra had links to the mob. He was under FBI surveilance for five decades, beginning in the 1940s, for his friendships with organised-crime figures Bugsy Siegel, Carlo Gambino and Sam Giancana. It is believed he won the role of Private Angelo Maggio in Here to Eternity over more prominent contenders due to the influence of his mob friends, a part that revived the singer’s flagging career.
The core cast in the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause all met an untimely death.
James Dean was killed in a car accident in 1955 while travelling to a racing competition in California. He was just 24 years old. In 1978 Sal Mineo was stabbed to death at age 37 for unknown reasons, although a man called Lionel Williams was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Natalie Wood drowned age 43 while on a weekend boat trip with husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken in 1981. Many facts surrounding her death are still unknown, although many suspect her husband may have played a part.
A lot of big screen stars were gay.
This is not particularly shocking by today’s standards, when stars such as Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen Page are celebrated for coming out of the closet (and rightly so).
But in old Hollywood, any inclination towards homosexuality could ruin a person’s acting career. Therefore screen legends such as Rock Hudson and Joan Crawford kept their same-sex relationships as closely guarded secrets. Studios would arrange dates and romances between actors and actresses to drum up pubilicity, but also to act as a cover up if someone was gay. Other old Hollywood stars that were rumoured to have had homosexual tendancies include Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Laurence Oliver.
A private eye claims to have overheard the death of Marilyn Monroe.
Rumours have persisted for decades that the Kennedys were linked to the death of 50s film icon Marilyn Monroe, and it is well known that the starlet had affairs with both John and Bobby. However, notorious private investigator Fred Otash, who worked with many celebrities during his career, claimed he actually listened to her being murdered by one of the brothers, not realising the full breadth of the situation at the time.
While working with Otash, Monroe requested a listening device to be on her person, but Otash would listen in without her permission. In his notes, which were obtained posthumously by his daughter Colleen, Otash stated that he overheard things turn violent during an argument between Monroe and Bobby Kennedy:
“She said she was passed around like a piece of meat. It was a violent argument about their relationship and the commitment and promises he made to her. She was really screaming and they were trying to quiet her down. She’s in the bedroom and Bobby gets the pillow and he muffles her on the bed to keep the neighbors from hearing. She finally quieted down and then he was looking to get out of there.”
Debates about whether Monroe’s passing was a murder or suicide still rage on over 50 years after her death.