5 Sex Scandals From Hollywood's Golden Age
If you're wondering at what point Hollywood became a haven for sexual predators, scandal, and depravity, the answer is that it happened before it was even called Hollywood. Sex scandals were rampant in the supposed Golden Age; they were just way easier for fixers and publicists to cover up. Seeing how these incidents played out will actually tell you a lot about the era, and I don't mean that in a good way.
Charlie Chaplin And Errol Flynn Had A Long List Of Underage Girlfriends (And Wives)
Charlie Chaplin is considered an all-time comic genius, and Errol Flynn was basically the Chris Hemsworth of his time. And they had two things in common: 1) They each revolutionized their particular branches of the entertainment industry, and 2) Their relationships were off-the-charts creepy, even for the era.
Chaplin's first marriage was to 16-year-old Mildred Harris in 1918, when he was 29, after he falsely thought he'd gotten her pregnant. However, they quickly got divorced ... whereupon he married another 16-year-old, Lita Grey, whom he'd cast in The Gold Rush and kinda sorta maybe definitely knocked up. After two kids, Chaplin and Grey divorced in 1927, and Chaplin wouldn't get back in the saddle until he met Paulette Goddard in 1936, who was either 21 or 22, depending on the source. That's an improvement, right? Sure, until you find out he thought she was 17.
That marriage lasted until 1942, when a false paternity suit (which Chaplin lost based on his past behavior, despite his innocence) was launched by Joan Barry. After that, the 54-year-old Chaplin married 18-year-old Oona O'Neill (daughter of the famous playwright Eugene), whom he obviously had tons in common with.
Meanwhile, Flynn's star had been on the rise with roles in Captain Blood and The Adventures Of Robin Hood. The same year Chaplin tied the knot with O'Neill, Flynn was put on trial for two counts of statutory rape. Betty Satterlee and Peggy Hansen, both 17 at the time, testified against Flynn. His lawyer Jerry Giesler worked double time to paint the girls as harlots. The jury ate it up, and while all this was going on, Flynn chatted up a courthouse commissary worker named Nora Eddington (who was an elderly 19) and got her pregnant.
Flynn was acquitted, divorced, became a catchphrase -- "In like Flynn" -- and eventually died happily at the age of 50 in the arms of 17-year-old Beverly Aadland (whom he'd been with since she was 15). Flynn liked to say, "I like my whiskey old and my women young," though it seems like neither of those facts were news to anyone around him.
Related: 5 'Modern' Hollywood Scandals (That Are Actually Super Old)
Clark Gable Got Loretta Young Pregnant, And She Was Then Forced To Adopt Her Own Child
Clark Gable, of Gone With The Wind fame, wasn't a fan of things like fidelity or contraception. In the mid-1930s, he crossed paths with Loretta Young, a new actress coming up at Fox. Gable was yeehawing with a Texas socialite in what would be the second of five marriages, while Young was a devout Catholic. They wound up as co-stars in the Jack London adaptation Call Of The Wild.
Young ended up pregnant and realized Gable was the only possible culprit. Young's mother knew that Fox would probably send her in for an underground abortion (a star's name could not be sullied by an out-of-wedlock child, of course). Instead they went to hang out in Europe for a while so Young could be pregnant out of the public eye. When she came back, her family hid her away in their Hollywood home, and when it was time for baby Judy to arrive, they ran around the house blocking up windows and doors with towels. Gable tore up the telegram he got announcing the birth, probably because he frankly didn't give a damn.
This is how Loretta Young wound up with a child she could not admit was hers. Continuing to go to terrifying lengths to protect this secret, the family arranged for the baby to go to a Catholic orphanage, so Young could then turn around and adopt her. Young reentered public life, surprise adopted kid in tow, being romantically linked in papers to various stars. And though she'd win an Oscar in 1948 and star with Gable again in 1949, it would be decades before she'd be able to reconcile what had really happened: That he had date-raped her on the set of Call Of The Wild. This came after decades of blaming herself.
As for Gable, he apparently visited the child exactly once, and turned down a chance to contribute anything financially. When Judy started to bear a striking resemblance to Gable by age seven -- specifically, to his famously big ears -- well, the solution was obvious. Her mother had them surgically altered. And speaking of people going to heartbreaking lengths to keep a secret ...
Rock Hudson Was Forced To Marry To Show How Straight He Was
Too many people knew that Rock Hudson, star of 1950s melodramas and 1960s rom-coms, was in the closet. This meant that drastic steps had to be taken to reassure the public. Cue wedding bells. Yes, to protect their money-makers and cover for actors like Hudson, studios and their fixers at the time would arrange for them to engage in what were called "Lavender Marriages." These usually consisted of paying off some random person to get married to a star with a secret, and hoping the check was big enough that the new husband/bride wouldn't go running to the press. So when Confidential Magazine, the Hollywood rag of the day, began sniffing around, Hudson's agent Henry Wilson stepped up to bat with a willing sacrifice for the tabloid gods.
Wilson's secretary, Phyllis Gates, thus became Mrs. Rock Hudson in 1955, and the whirlwind romance went literally nowhere, because it was only to keep Hudson's star bankable in an age of outlandishly phony moralizing. Hudson thus landed a famous string of rom-coms playing kissy-kissy with Doris Day. Meanwhile, audiences at the time suspected it was his sidekick, the prim and fussy Tony Randall, who was the gay one.
Gates would eventually claim to never have known Hudson was gay, or that she was participating in a sham marriage, which would make it all the more tragic if true (there are recordings of her accusing her husband of "picking up boys," taken by a private detective). They'd eventually divorce a few years later, and Hudson would be "outed" by his AIDS diagnosis in 1985. He assumed that the public would utterly reject him once the truth came out .... then got tens of thousands of letters in support instead.
Gloria Grahame's Father/Son Marriages Destroyed Her Career
Gloria Grahame is a name that isn't widely known outside of film buff circles anymore, despite the fact that she starred in everything from It's A Wonderful Life to Oklahoma!, and won an Oscar for The Bad And The Beautiful. Grahame's star fell thanks to scandalous rumors, which began over her relationship with the Oscar-nominated director of Rebel Without A Cause, Nicholas Ray -- and later, her relationship with his son.
Grahame first met Ray on the set of the 1949 movie A Woman's Secret, and the affair they started during the shoot ended up with her pregnant. Thinking it was better to divorce the man she was currently married to before starting a new life, Grahame moved to Vegas to quickly get out of it. The new marriage was antagonistic, because as much as Ray cared for Grahame, he seemed to care for gambling way, way more.
They didn't get along despite their kid or making movies together, but it truly fell apart in 1952, when Ray allegedly walked in on Grahame cheating on him with another man. Or, uh, boy. It was his 13-year-old son Anthony, from his first marriage. The ensuing divorce happened so fast that history could barely keep up. Grahame landed in a placeholder third marriage until she met Anthony again when he was 23, this time legally able to drink champagne and sleep with deeply troubled people.
The younger Ray married Grahame in 1960, becoming her fourth and final husband. Grahame's third husband, appalled at everything about this, tried to gain custody of their child, and she admitted herself for electroshock therapy after a breakdown. The press made hay out of the situation, which thought was ridiculous (saying it was as if they thought she was committing incest -- she denied the part about sleeping with Ray when he was a minor).
But unlike Flynn, she didn't escape her rumored underage affair to become a cutesy catchphrase. I could go into detail about what happened to her career after that, but the fact that you probably haven't heard of her until right now kind of says it all.
Related: Why Hollywood Predators Out Themselves In Their Work
Joan Crawford Kept Dealing With The Fallout Of An Alleged Porno She Made
Joan Crawford started as a young woman named Lucille LaSueur, hits the heights of mega-stardom, went to bed with pretty much everybody in Hollywood, hated Bette Davis, and ended her career with the unfrozen-caveman-run-amok film Trog in 1970. Crawford, who started during the days of the silent movies, also apparently made some sex pictures when she was still getting her career off the ground. And once she took off, the vultures came calling.
The movies have long been the Schrodinger's porn of the Hollywood scandal mill. No real copies have ever been found, but there's tons of evidence they existed, including FBI reports and testimony from Crawford's husbands. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. told his biographer that Crawford had asked him if her having made nude films would be a hindrance in their getting married. His response had been to try to get details on what costumes she had worn and what she had done in these movies, while she was only able to cry in response. The reason Crawford told him was that a crop of blackmailers had sprung up.
Crawford's version of events was that during a different marriage, this time to Franchot Tone, she'd gotten another threat. She said she'd sent the threat to Louis B. Mayer, who sent it to MGM's top lawyer, J. Robert Rubin. Rubin watched the movie, presumably wiped off the drool, and denied it was her altogether. This contradicted Crawford's FBI files, which noted that not only was there a stag film that got passed around during men-only parties in Hollywood, but also that MGM once shelled out $100,000 to cover it up.
Some allege that MGM turned to gangster John Roselli to lean on the blackmailer using that horse's-head-in-your-bed charm that only gangsters have. What made the story worse was that the blackmailer was Crawford's own brother, Hal LaSueur, whom she'd tried to help career-wise when he first came to Hollywood. However, the lazy Hal had discovered that it was easier to get Crawford to open her checkbook if he threatened to keep a finger poised to dial up the tabloids.
Of course, history now remembers Crawford mainly for an actual scandal: her alleged abuse of her children, which became the subject of the book and film Mommie Dearest. (Crawford went out of her way to cut said children out of her will.) But hey, at least nobody is talking about the porn movie anymore.
Andrew McRae has books and eBooks available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, as well as writing for Lewtonbus.
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