Think Hollywood today is full of drama? Tinseltown was practically built on salacious dirt.
Women loved Rudolph Valentino; men hated him. Men hated him. His “Latin lover” look—complete with black eyeliner—was condemned as a feminizing influence on boys across America. In 1926, a journalist went so far as to blame the actor for the advent of face powder–dispensing machines in public men’s rooms. Proving his manliness, Valentino challenged the writer to a fight but died unexpectedly, from a ruptured appendix, before any punches could be thrown.
Clara Bow, It girl of the silent era, was a firecracker who left a trail of fiancés in her wake. In 1930, her hairdresser–turned–personal assistant sold Bow’s secrets to a tabloid, resulting in a salacious (albeit highly exaggerated) story of group sex, lesbianism, and bestiality—not to mention a libel suit and the end of Bow’s career.
Rock Hudson’s homosexuality was one of the best-kept secrets in Hollywood, but it almost became public knowledge in 1955, thanks to Robert Harrison, the publisher of Confidential, Hollywood’s most addictive scandal rag of the time. The actor’s agent, Henry Willson, who was skilled at transforming handsome gay men into macho movie stars, struck a deal: If Harrison kept mum about Hudson, Willson would give him a juicy cover story on another client, the actor Rory Calhoun, a former juvenile delinquent. The trade seemed uneven but Harrison took it, knowing he’d have Willson—and his stable of closeted male talent—under his thumb forever
Frank Sinatra and his second wife, Ava Gardner, had a tumultuous relationship—one that Confidential was eager to exploit. In 1956, the publication paid one of many (very willing) girls who’d spent a night in the crooner’s bed to tell all. What went on between the sheets wasn’t exactly fit to print, but the pub did reveal what Sinatra ate for breakfast: Wheaties, which supposedly energized him for more “exercise.”
The facts of Natalie Wood’s 1981 drowning, off Catalina Island, in Southern California, simply don’t add up: None of the other passengers on the boat (her husband, Robert Wagner; the actor Christopher Walken; and the captain, Dennis Davern) reported seeing her go into the water; her body was found with inexplicable bruises; and a dinghy was beached nearby. In 2011, the case was reopened, to no avail.
Since the moment Marilyn Monroe died, in 1962, conspiracy theorists have blamed her overdose on a CIA, FBI, and/or Secret Service plot to protect John F. and/or Robert F. Kennedy from potential scandal.
Initially, 32-year-old Brittany Murphy’s death, in 2009, was ruled an accidental overdose exacerbated by complications from pneumonia and anemia. When the actress’s husband died under similar circumstances five months later, Murphy’s father ordered a toxicology report for his daughter. High levels of heavy metals were found; their source remains unknown.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Marriage Marathon
When it comes to wedded bliss, more was more for Liz Taylor. She first said yes to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. (1950–1951) in a fairy-tale wedding that immediately soured: Hilton was purportedly so soused during their honeymoon that he was barely able to consummate the union. Next came the safe but boring British actor Michael Wilding (1952–1957); when that ended, Taylor fell hard for the brash film producer Mike Todd (1957–1958), who died in a plane accident just 13 months into their marriage. Taylor sought solace in the arms of one of Todd’s best friends, the singer Eddie Fisher (1959–1964), husband of the actress Debbie Reynolds. The press cast Taylor as “the black widow,” responsible for breaking up “Hollywood’s cutest couple.” Then, of course, came Taylor’s Cleopatra costar, the bombastic Richard Burton (1964–1974); that love affair spawned the paparazzi industry as we know it. Shortly after divorcing, the pair reunited for a brief sequel (1975–1976). Following their second split, Taylor shacked up with John Warner (1976–1982), a Republican senator who dragged her to Washington, D.C., where Taylor immediately became bored. Which leads us to husband No. 8, the construction worker Larry Fortensky (1991–1995), whom Taylor met during her second stay at the Betty Ford rehab center. That marriage lasted, amazingly, five years.
Affairs to Forget
The consummate ladies’ man, Clark Gable cheated constantly on his second wife, the socialite Maria Franklin, often with his frequent screen companion Joan Crawford. In 1934, he turned his roving eye to Loretta Young (above, with Gable), his costar in The Call of the Wild. Young became pregnant, at a time when the preferred studio solution to such inconveniences was to arrange for an abortion—but Young, a devout Catholic (except when it came to having sex out of wedlock), refused. Instead, she went on an extended tour of Europe, returning home to have the baby, whom she gave up to an orphanage. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, she announced her intention to adopt a little girl, never letting on that it was her and Gable’s biological child. Young went on to have a successful TV career, and Gable went on as if nothing had happened—he would have an affair with Carole Lombard, whom he married after his wife finally dumped him.
During her heyday, in the 1940s, Ingrid Bergman found herself embroiled in an extramarital romance with sexy director Roberto Rossellini while shooting in Italy, as her family waited in California. The affair might have been overlooked, but it soon became clear that Bergman (above, with Rossellini) was pregnant with his baby. The scandal reached a fever pitch in 1950, when she was famously slut-shamed by Colorado Senator Edwin C. Johnson, who called her a “powerful influence for evil.”
In 1954, Dorothy Dandridge was one of the most in-demand actresses in town—no small feat, given that she was black. Though she’d been nominated for an Oscar, that didn’t mean she could date a white man, especially when he was a) her director, and b) married. Otto Preminger had cast Dandridge (both, above) in Carmen Jones—the film that won her the best actress nod—but he also foolishly advised her not to take the role of Tuptim in The King and I. Their liaison ended four years later, and, effectively, so did Dandridge’s ascent.
The Usual Suspects
Jane Fonda, arrested in 1970 at the Cleveland airport for smuggling pills (which turned out to be vitamins). It was said the harassment was payback for her anti–Vietnam War activism.
Paul Reubens, arrested in 1991 for indecent exposure in an adult theater in Florida—very much out of Pee-wee character.
Johnny Depp, infamous for trashing hotel rooms, arrested in 1994 for “criminal mischief” after he inflicted nearly $10,000 in damages on the Mark hotel in New York.
Hugh Grant, caught with the prostitute Divine Brown off Sunset Boulevard and arrested for “lewd conduct”—two weeks before the 1995 release of Nine Months, his first Hollywood film.
Russell Crowe, arrested in 2005 for throwing a phone at an employee of the Mercer hotel, a celeb haunt in Manhattan, after a failed call to his wife in Australia.
Mel Gibson’s sexist, anti-Semitic DUI rant in 2006 in Malibu was the prelude to a 2010 expletive-laden phone call to then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, a restraining order, and a charge of battery.
And the Oscar Faux Pas Goes to…
Adrien Brody, for celebrating his best actor award for The Pianist in 2003 by making out with Halle Berry onstage.
Angelina Jolie, for standing up and kissing her brother in a distinctly un-siblinglike manner upon winning best supporting actress in 2000 for Girl, Interrupted.
Jennifer Lawrence, for tripping over her dress in 2013 (above)—and, as an encore, in 2014.
Jane Fonda, for using sign language to accept her best actress Oscar for 1978’s Coming Home.
Marlon Brando, for sending Sacheen Cruz Littlefeather to decline his Oscar for 1972’s The Godfather.
Marisa Tomei, for stunning Hollywood with her best supporting actress win for My Cousin Vinny in 1993; to this day, rumors circulate that Jack Palance, 73 at the time, read the wrong name when he announced the award.
Angelina Jolie’s right leg, for refusing to stay within the confines of her Atelier Versace gown in 2012, inspiring its own Twitter account and countless memes.
Björk, for showing up in 2001 dressed as a swan.
Elia Kazan, for enduring the uncomfortable audience silence upon receiving an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1999; the director helped to blacklist writers, actors, and directors during the 1950s Red Scare.