The Dirty Little Secrets Of Old Hollywood
Andrew Parker - June 7, 2019

Hollywood has become the symbol of fame, excess, glamour, and of course, some of the dirtiest scandals in human history. As American audiences made the transition from theater to film, major cultural shifts began to take place, too. Here are some of the dark, little-known secrets from the Golden Age of Hollywood that are as timeless as its silver-screen stars.

 

 

1. Actresses would do anything to make it big

 

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Competition among young women to become the next big Hollywood star was fierce, to say the least. Many women were not above doing whatever it takes, and in some cases, whoever it takes, to get noticed by Hollywood executives. Some of this behavior included questionable romantic partners, experimenting with various “adult” projects, and even shacking up with a dictator…

 

 

 

 

2. The “Rebel Without A Cause” actors were cursed

 

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One of the most bizarre events in Hollywood history is the untimely deaths of the three stars of 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean died in a car crash shortly after the film’s premiere, Natalie Wood tragically drowned, and Sal Mineo was stabbed to death. The only link between all three is the film.

 

 

3. Britney Spears owns a pair of Marilyn’s jeans

 

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In the movie River of No Return, Marilyn opts for more casual attire. Tommy Hilfiger purchased the iconic blue jeans Monroe wears in the movie for around $37,000. He later gifted those same jeans to another pop icon: Britney Spears.

 

 

 

 

4. Lana Turner’s teen daughter murdered her boyfriend

 

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It was one of the biggest scandals of the century that seems to have dulled as time went on. Lana Turner, a prolific actress, and entertainer of classic Hollywood was dating Johnny Stompanato who was known to be connected to organized crime. Cheryl Crane, Turner’s 14-year-old daughter at the time of the murder, eventually confessed to killing Stompanato to protect her mother, Lana. The death was ruled a justifiable homicide, and both women were relatively unharmed by the experience.

 

 

5. Jayne Mansfield got her start as a movie theater candy girl

 

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Jayne moved to Los Angeles with her husband and young children in 1954 to pursue her acting career. Her first job in Hollywood was selling candy at the snack counter of a local movie theater. She was quickly offered modeling jobs and by the late 1950s was a bonafide star. Continue reading to discover the very unique gig that launched Mansfield to stardom.

 

 

 

 

6. Hollywood was built by 5 immigrants evading the law

 

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Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, Harry, Albert, Samuel, and Jack Warner were all immigrants to America when they set up burlesque theaters throughout the East Coast and Mid-West. When they realized film was where the money was, the five men decided to head west toward the California coast. But why California? As it turns out, Thomas Edison was hungry for patent infringement lawsuits, and California was as far as the men could get from Edison. Back in those days, if you couldn’t catch them, you couldn’t sue them.

 

 

7. Industry executives didn’t care about “talent”

 

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Old Hollywood producers were notorious for choosing actors and actresses based solely on their “look” as the studio would be able to “take care of the rest”. It didn’t matter how talented a potential star was, all that was important to the studio was a star’s appearance and camera presence. 

 

 

 

 

8. Studios had actors by the shackles

 

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Many actors of the Old Hollywood era were bound to contracts that would be highly illegal today. When an actor or actress would sign with an entertainment studio, they essentially gave the studio complete control over all of their personal and professional decisions including which films they were allowed to star in, who they were allowed to work with, and even loaning talent to other studios when necessary. If the actors wanted to keep their jobs, they did what the studio said.

 

 

9. Abortions were illegal (and very common)

 

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It was assumed in those days that a glamorous star would be a lot less popular if they had children. Studios also had harsh policies against actresses having unplanned pregnancies while under contract, and birth control was a relatively new concept on the market. Many of the young stars at the time were subject to abortions.

 

 

 

 

10. Saying goodbye to an icon

 

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Marilyn Monroe, one of the most iconic actresses of the era, made a desperate phone call to her friend just minutes before her tragic death. As she began to drift in and out of consciousness, she muttered her last words, “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy.”

 

 

11. The Wizard of Oz set was no place like home

 

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Judy Garland was only 13-years-old at the time she auditioned for the role of Dorthy. By the time filming started, Garland’s weight became a point of concern for studio executives. MGM put her on a strict diet, and there were numerous reports of staff pulling food out of her hands. She eventually developed an addiction to diet pills, and ultimately was diagnosed with an eating disorder late in her teens.

 

 

 

 

12. The “Munchkins” were “little drunks”

 

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At least that’s how Judy Garland’s ex-husband Sid Luft puts it. Luft has spoken candidly over the years about the troubling behavior on the set of The Wizard of Oz, including that the actors hired to play munchkins would often harass Garland. According to Luft, the actors would try to slip their hands under Judy Garland’s dress while filming, and many were drunk or hungover while on set each day.

 

 

13. Studios worked closely with old-school “fixers”

 

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The Golden Age of Hollywood was lots of glitz and glamour, and its scandalous talent puts today’s movie stars to shame. Eddie Mannix, the original PR “fixer” had the sole responsibility of covering up any potential Hollywood scandals including jail, car accidents, abortions, and a slew of other personal affairs. He even worked with the mob and was known to get stars out of trouble by “whatever means necessary.’ He is famously depicted in the film ‘Hail, Caeser!’

 

 

 

 

14. Silent film stars had to learn English… FAST

 

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Many stars of the silent film era were not native-born English speakers. When sound was added to film, many international stars had a decision to make: learn to speak English or fade out of the spotlight. Greta Garbo was one star who chose the former, and she was one of the first international stars to transition to sound film. Her first words on screen were, “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby!” in the movie 1930’s Anna Christie.

 

 

15. Gossip columnists worked for the studios

 

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In those days, journalists and reporters relied almost entirely on information directly from studio executives, and their reporting had a major influence on an actor or actresses career. Studios used this as another tool to control their talent and giving any and all kinds of information to reports that would result in whatever would be in the company’s best interest. One iconic old Hollywood rivalry was between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, in which the industry and media played a major role.

 

 

 

 

16. And no press was ever bad press

 

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Studios and reporters alike were responsible for initiating and fueling many famous feuds of the day. One of the most notable is the legendary feud between actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The two women were entangled in a love triangle with actor Franchot Tone, and both the movie studios and the media had a field day with the affair.

 

 

17. Strict censorship created the “happy American ending”

 

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The Hays Code was a way for studios to protect films from getting banned by the US government. Films had to adhere to a specific set of rules established to ensure “morally acceptable” content. The guidelines banned sex, pregnancy, promiscuity, biracial relationships, gay characters, little to no violence, and upholding the “sanctity of marriage.”

 

 

 

 

18. But a “sexy” advertisement delayed Jane Russell’s debut film

 

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Howard Hughes discovered Jane Russell and cast her in his 1943 movie “The Outlaw”, which was set to be Russell’s debut as a Hollywood actress. Due to a promotional poster that was deemed too sexy, Hollywood and government-sponsored officials delayed the film’s release by more than 3 years.

 

 

19. Russell also founded the first Hollywood Christian Group

 

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Jane Russell’s sultry image was heavily contrasted by her deep Christian faith. She founded a Bible study group for Hollywood elite and continued to lead a life dedicated to service rooted in her religion.

 

 

 

 

20. Rita Hayworth was made over to look more “American”

 

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Rita Hayworth is one of the most iconic stars of her time. Many likely and rightfully assume she was born to be a star, but that wasn’t how Hollywood saw her. She was born Margarita Carmen Cansino, and she was a first generation American after her parents moved from Spain to the US. Hollywood put daunting pressure on Hayworth to play down her Latina roots, to assimilate more into American culture, and look more like an “American” star. She underwent drastic transformations to enhance her look for an English-speaking audience.

 

 

21. Hayworth was involved in the first nuclear bomb test

 

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To her credit, she was unknowingly involved. Due to Hayworth’s “bombshell” status at the time of the nuclear arms race, a photo of the pin-up girl was placed on a nuclear warhead that was later tested at Bikini Atoll in 1946. According to reports, Hayworth was horrified to find out the truth.