Strange Things Happened Behind The Scenes In Hollywood’s Golden Age

The Golden Age of Hollywood is remembered for old school glitz and glamor, classic films, and legendary romance. It’s easy to look at this time period through rose-colored glasses, but the early ’60s came with enough scandals to rival our modern era. Hollywood has always been a place where people come to chase their dreams.

While many people found success and happiness in the Hollywood hills, others found that money only leads to more sorrow and pain. Keep reading to learn more about old Hollywood’s deepest, darkest secrets.

Jerry Lee Lewis Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin

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Photo by Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images
Photo by Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Jerry Lee Lewis was 22 years old in 1957. That year, he got married for the third time. His third wife, Myra Gale Brown was thirteen years old at the time. She was also his cousin. During a 1958 tour of the UK, the press got wind of the news and Lewis was forced to cancel his remaining gigs.

Lee’s relationship with his underage cousin essentially ended his career. This marriage was controversial even for the late ’50s. Jerry and Myra had two children before going their separate ways in 1970.

Eddie Fisher Married His Ex-Wife’s Best Friend

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Eddie Fisher was married five times. His first marriage was to actress Debbie Reynolds, with whom he had two children including Carrie Fisher who would go on to play Princess Leia in the Star Wars films. Debbie Reynolds was good friends with Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher had an affair with Taylor after Taylor’s husband at the time, Mike Todd died in a plane crash.

Fisher divorced Reynolds and married Taylor in 1959. They were divorced by 1964 after the actress had an affair with Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton.

Actresses Were Pressured To Terminate Pregnancies

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Photo by MGM Studios/MGM Studios/Getty Images
Photo by MGM Studios/MGM Studios/Getty Images

Abortions definitely weren’t legal in America in the ’50s and ’60s, but that didn’t stop Hollywood studios from pressuring actresses into terminating pregnancies. At the time, studios thought that their lead actress getting pregnant would make her less desirable and in turn, make her films less profitable.

Reportedly, Judy Garland, Jeanette McDonald, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, and Dorthy Dandridge all had abortions under the direction of the studios. At the time, studios had a lot more power over their on-screen talent.

Elvis Presley Liked Them Young

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Getty Images

It’s no secret that Elvis Presley liked to go after younger women. His wife, Priscilla was very young when the two of them first met. Priscilla was only 14 years old at the time. Supposedly, Elvis requested that his managers find girls for him who were 16 years old or younger as dating prospects.

We may never find out for sure if Elvis actually asked his managers to be his wingmen, but we do know that he felt intimidated by older women.

James Dean Was Bisexual

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

James Dean was a major sex symbol in his day (and today). We remember him as a man who made the ladies swoon, but in reality, he was just 24 years old when he died. He barely had time to become a man. Women were all over Dean, and although he had a short engagement with Pier Angeli, behind the scenes, many believed that Dean was gay.

Several male friends of Dean’s later confessed to having “experimented” with the actor but without going into detail. Maybe James Dean was bisexual.

Alfred Hitchcock May Have Sabotaged Tippi Hedren’s Career

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Calvacca/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images

People remember Alfred Hitchcock as the master of horror, but he may have been stirring up some of his own horrors for Tippi Hedren behind the scenes. He reportedly became obsessed with model and lead actress Tippi Hedren– harassing her on set, stalking her behind the scenes, and whispering unwanted advances in her ear.

Apparently Hollywood has always been a breeding ground for predatory men. Hedren repeatedly turned down Hitchcock’s advances, and in return, he tried to sabotage her career.

Stan Laurel Was A Violent Man

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Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The comedic duo Laurel and Hardy were known for their slapstick comedy, but Stan Laurel wasn’t just pretending to be violent on screen. He also hit people for real outside of the studio. His wife, Vera Shuvalova said that things would often get violent between the two of them.

Shuvalova revealed to the court that one time she had to flee from home after Laurel dug a grave in the backyard to bury her alive!

Judy Garland Was Pressured To Starve Herself

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Body image issues aren’t a product of modern society. People have been struggling with body image for years, especially young Hollywood actresses. Judy Garland was pressured into anorexia and extreme weight loss regimens by MGM Studios. When she was just 14 years old, studio executives called her a “little fat pig with pigtails.”

Garland starved herself and started popping diet pills, largely under the influence of producer and MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer. By age 18, she was smoking 80 cigarettes a day in an attempt to keep the weight off.

George Reeves’ Suspicious Death

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Hulton Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images

The Adventures of Superman star George Reeves died of a gunshot wound on June 16, 1959. The general consensus is that the actor took his own life because he suffered from depression, which was partially caused by his struggle to find work following the end of his series.

However, some believe MGM vice president and fixer Eddie Mannix had Reeves killed because the star was having an affair with his wife, Toni Mannix. Another theory is that Reeve’s death was the result of an accidental shooting. Toni died in 1983 and allegedly confessed to a priest that she was the reason why Reeves was killed.

Walt Disney Hosted A Nazi Filmmaker

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ullstein bild via Getty Images

Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl visited Hollywood in 1938. One of Riefenstahl’s most famous films was 1935’s Triumph of The Will, a Nazi propaganda film that was popular among the Third Reich. She came to the United States following Kristallnacht, which allowed the German military to ransack and demolish Jewish homes, hospitals and schools.

Walt Disney was hospitable towards Riefenstahl during her trip and took her on a three-hour tour of the Disney lot. He gave her a sneak peek of some sketches for the upcoming film Fantasia and showed her a screening of Olympia, a documentary about the 1936 Olympics.

Loretta Young Hid Her Pregnancy

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20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images
20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images

While filming The Call of the Wild, Loretta Young, 22, got pregnant by Clark Gable, 34, who was married. It’s been suggested that the affair was not consensual. Young, her sisters, and mother hid the pregnancy, put the child in an orphanage, and then less than two years later adopted little Judith.

Many in Hollywood knew the truth, and when Judith was 31 she confronted her mother, who admitted it privately. She never talked about it publicly until 1999 after a biography about her life was published. That’s when Young admitted Judith was her biological child and that Gable was the father.

Ingrid Bergman Had An Affair With Director Roberto Rossellini

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Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Casablanca star Ingrid Bergman was an American movie staple when she was caught up in a scandal that rocked Hollywood. A married woman, she had an affair with married Italian director Roberto Rossellini on the set of Stromboli in 1949. Bergman got pregnant, the couple left their spouses, and they had a child together before tying the knot in 1950.

Fans were disgusted by the affair, and Bergman took solace in Europe for many years to avoid the criticism. But time heals old wounds and in 1956 she won her second Academy Award for Anastasia. She split with Rossellini the following year after he had an affair with another woman.

Ted Healy Died After A Nightclub Fight

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Clarence Sinclair Bull/Getty Images
Clarence Sinclair Bull/Getty Images

Vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor Ted Healy is most known for creating the Three Stooges, even though he was a successful performer in Hollywood in his own right. Healy integrated the Stooges in a comedy act in the late ’20s, but by 1934 he and the Stooges had gone their separate ways.

In December 1937, Healy, who had a penchant for imbibing, was celebrating the birth of his son when he got into an altercation outside a nightclub in Hollywood. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but three other men were involved. The official cause was chronic alcoholism, but circumstances suggest the fight contributed to his death.

Lana Turner’s Daughter Killed Turner’s Gangster Boyfriend

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Eric Carpenter/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Pin-up and actress Lana Turner was one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s (MGM) biggest stars. She had a reputation as a femme fatale and appeared in films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1958, the star’s 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane killed Lana’s boyfriend, mobster Johnny Stompanato, at their home.

Crane claimed the stabbing was self-defense and that she was simply protecting her mother from Stompanato’s aggression. The jury deemed it a justifiable homicide after deliberating for less than five hours. Some believe Lana actually killed Stompanato and had her daughter take the blame. Other rumors surfaced that Cheryl was in love with Stompanato.

Stunt Pilots Died On The Set Of Hell’s Angels

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Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

Howard Hughes produced the epic aviation war film Hell’s Angels over the course of three years from 1927-1930. At the time, it cost $2.8 million to make and starred Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow. During production, three stunt pilots and one mechanic were killed.

Pilot Al Johnson crashed after hitting wires while landing his plane. Pilot C. K. Phillips crashed while delivering a plane to a shooting location. Australian pilot Rupert Syme Macalister also died, as did mechanic Phil Jones, who didn’t bail out before a crash scene. Proving how dangerous production was, Hughes nearly died after he filled in for a stunt pilot.

Clark Gable Allegedly Slept With Men To Get Ahead

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Bettmann contributor Getty Images

Clarke Gable had his heyday in the Golden Age of Hollywood. He starred in films such as Gone With the Wind, Mutiny on the Bounty, and It Happened One Night. He was also quite the ladies’ man. He was able to secure relationships with some of the most sought after women in Hollywood including Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, and Lana Turner.

However, according to author David Brett of the book “Clark Gable: Tormented Star,” the actor used to sleep with men in order to advance his career.

Charlie Chaplin Married Teenagers

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Imagno/Getty Images

Charlie Chaplin, known for his silent era films and on-screen persona “The Tramp,” had a career that spanned 75 years. During that time, he wed a total of four times. Three of his wives were still teenagers when they tied the knot. He was 29 when he married his first wife, Mildred Harris, who was just 16.

They split two years later, and then Chaplin, then 35, married Lolita McMurry, 16. They had to tie the knot in Mexico because California had a law against marrying someone so young. Three years later they divorced, and Chaplin married Pauline Levy, 20. Six years later they split, and Chaplin married his last wife, Oona O’Neill, who was 18 at the time.

Fatty Arbuckle’s Tainted Reputation

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Bettmann/Contributor Getty Images

In 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was was arrested and put on trial for manslaughter. During a party thrown by Arbuckle, a starlet named Virginia Rappe got sick, and she died four days later. The papers reported that Arbuckle abused Rappe and was responsible for her death.

While there was an incredible amount of evidence proving Arbuckle was innocent, the rumors and media reports made it difficult to hold a fair trial. There were two hung juries before he was acquitted during a third trial. Still, his career suffered because he was found guilty in the press. He made a comeback but died in 1933 at age 46 from a heart attack.

Rock Hudson Was Secretly Gay

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Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images
Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

Rock Hudson was the epitome of the Hollywood heartthrob during the Golden Age. He appeared in films such as Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows and Giant. He married a woman named Phyllis Gates to prevent rumors that he was secretly attracted to men.

While the public didn’t know about Hudson’s personal life, many in Hollywood knew the truth, and co-stars such as Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Taylor supported his lifestyle. Hudson never came out but had several relationships with men and unfortunately was one of the first major celebrities to be diagnosed with AIDS. He died in 1985 at age 59.

Frank Sinatra Left His Wife And Went After Ava Gardner

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Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Getting divorced in Hollywood in the ’50s was pretty much a right of passage. Frank Sinatra was no exception to this rule. Back in 1951, Sinatra was the talk of the town. Women were all over him. Even though he was married to his wife Nancy, Sinatra was carrying on an affair with actress Ava Gardner. When he announced that he was leaving Nancy to mary Ava, the public didn’t take it well.

Their marriage was a rocky one, and it tarnished Sinatra’s reputation. The couple split in 1953 and officially divorced in 1957.

Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn Kept Their Relationship Under Wraps

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn began their romantic entanglement in 1941 while making Woman of the Year. He was married at the time and stayed married during their entire 26-year affair. It finally ended after Tracy died in 1967. MGM execs were complicit in keeping the affair hidden from both his wife and the public.

Most people in Hollywood knew the truth, but no one talked about it. Tracy and his wife eventually became estranged, but they never divorced. Tracy once said, “I can get a divorce whenever I want to, but my wife and Kate like things just as they are.”

Jean Harlow Hooked Up With Clark Gable

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Clarence Sinclair Bull/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
Clarence Sinclair Bull/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Jean Harlow was one of MGM’s leading ladies and the definition of a blonde bombshell. Her films included Hell’s Angels, Red Dust and Dinner at Eight. She was criticized for hanging out with mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel and had an affair with Clark Gable during her marriage to an MGM producer named Paul Bern.

Bern allegedly took his own life two months after the wedding, but some suggested Harlow orchestrated his death. Shortly afterwards she married cinematographer Harold Rosson for publicity reasons but divorced him eight months later. She then got engaged to actor William Powell, but she died of renal failure in 1937 at age 26 before they tied the knot.

We’ll Never Know The Motive Behind Thelma Todd’s Death

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John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Thelma Todd, dubbed “The Ice Cream Blonde,” starred in the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers as well as films alongside Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. She died at the top of her career in 1935 at the age of 30 in suspicious circumstances.

Todd was found slumped over her steering wheel, and the death was ruled first suicide and then accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. However, evidence at the scene suggested otherwise, and gangster Lucky Luciano was a suspect in her death at one point, as was her boyfriend.

A Brothel On The Sunset Strip

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H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

A woman named Lee Francis owned a very famous brothel in California during the 1930s. The Hacienda Arms Apartments on the Sunset Strip was popular among actors such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Errol Flynn. Authorities were paid off to ignore the goings on in the building.

After Francis was arrested, other women took over the business, including Brenda Allen, who was Hollywood’s number-one madame in the ’40s. She was arrested in 1948, but what made the incident even more scandalous was police Sergeant Elmer Jackson was her co-conspirator and lover who helped her run the business.

Joan Crawford May Have Made Adult Films

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1George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
1George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Academy Award winner Joan Crawford starred in films such as Mildred Pierce and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? At one point, she was one of Hollywood’s most famous stars and one of the highest-paid women in the country. But like many aspiring actresses, she struggled early on in her career.

When Crawford was a teenager, she allegedly made some adult films in order to pay the bills. MGM reportedly hired a fixer to make sure the truth was never made public. There’s no proof that she made these films, but her first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. once confirmed that it was true.

The Actor Who Played Alfalfa Died Young

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1Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the mid-1930s Carl Switzer played Alfalfa, one of the most popular characters from the Little Rascals. When he left the show in 1940, he struggled to find other acting gigs because he was typecast. He became an alcoholic and in 1959 died in an incident involving a $50 debt.

The man who shot him, Moses Stiltz, claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Yet, there were suggestions that he intentionally killed Switzer. Stiltz’s stepson reportedly claimed that Switzer was murdered, yet the stepson was never called to testify at the trial. The day Switzer died, so did director Cecil B. DeMille so the actor’s passing went largely unnoticed.

Filmmaker John Huston’s Alleged Hit And Run

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Ernst Haas/Ernst Haas/Getty Images

Legendary filmmaker John Huston was responsible for some of the greatest films of the era, including The African Queen and The Maltese Falcon. But before he grew to legendary status, an incident led him to flee Hollywood.

Allegedly, Huston accidentally struck a woman, a dancer named Tosca Roulien, with his car. She died from her injuries, and Huston appeared in court for the crime. After being absolved of blame for her death, he fled Hollywood and spent five years in Europe before returning. Supposedly, he was so haunted by the incident that he couldn’t bear to be in Hollywood. Others believe that it was leading man Clark Gable who was behind the wheel that night and paid off Huston to take the blame.

“Lavender Marriages”

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PA Images via Getty Images
PA Images via Getty Images

During the times of Old Hollywood, the LBGTQ community was not openly accepted. Gay actors hid their sexuality for fear of ruining their careers. In order to keep their authentic personal lives out of the public eye, many figures of the film industry took part in what they called “lavender marriages.”

Gay actors and actresses agreed to to marry a person of the opposite sex in order to dismiss any rumors of their sexuality. Rumored lavender marriages included Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine, and Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor.

Wallace Reid Died From Addiction

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LMPC via Getty Images
LMPC via Getty Images

Wallace Reid was known as one of the greatest action film stars from 1910 until his death in 1922. In 1919, during the filming of The Valley of the Giant, Reid suffered a head injury in a train accident. The studio wanted him to keep filming, and he was given morphine for the pain.

With a straining work schedule and no rest, Reid quickly became addicted to the treatment and his life spiraled out of control. Without any rehabilitation, Reid suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 31. Reid’s widow never remarried and dedicated her life to educating people on the dangers of addiction.

Marlon Brando’s Revenge On Frank Sinatra

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While filming the 1955 musical Guys and Dolls, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando did not get along. It was mostly due to Sinatra ripping on Brando’s style of acting. He taunted him with the nickname “Mumbles” and made the actor’s job incredibly frustrating.

Brando decided to get back at Sinatra while filming a scene that required Sinatra to eat cheesecake. Take after take, Brando intentionally flubbed his lines, causing the crew to run through it again. Meanwhile, Sinatra was being forced to eat more and more cheesecake, becoming increasingly mad.

Raft Was An Actual Gangster

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Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Raft was the go-to actor for gangster movies. He was your guy if a producer needed someone for those types of films, but there was a reason for that.

The thing is, he was a gangster in real life! He kept close contact with Owney Madden and Bugsy Siegel, with Siegel even helping him get into the film industry! When thugs pull strings for you to make it big time, you’ve got ties deeper than you should want.

William Randolph Hearst Tried To End Chaplin

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Evening Standard/Getty Images

Charlie Chaplin had a target on his head at various points in his career. That means people wanted him gone. The bigger he got, the more enemies he made, especially in the Golden Age.

There was a businessman named William Randolph Hearst who had it out for Chaplin. He thought the silent actor had an affair with his wife, which would upset any man. He invited Chaplin to his yacht so he could shoot him, but he missed.

Errol Flynn’s Near-Death Experience

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

A heartthrob of his time, many women desired Errol Flynn. When you’re the talk of the town among all the women, rumors will rise. Reportedly, he had affairs with Marlene Dietrich and Carole Lombard, and that’s only a few names!

Sadly, his reputation went into peril after facing charges of poor treatment towards two young ladies. Had this happened in today’s climate, Flynn would cease to have a budding career in the acting world almost immediately.

Thomas H. Ince’s Mysterious Death

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Contributor/Getty Images

In relation to the Chaplin attempted murder on William Randolph’s yacht, Thomas H. Ince had a mysterious death. When that party on the sea ended, Ince died from what people believed was heart failure.

Rumors began to spread, and they included a story that Ince died by a bullet from Randolph, the man who wanted to shoot Chaplin. This Hollywood mystery might never be solved, but it makes you wonder if the missed bullet hit Ince and the media tried to cover it up.

Bankhead’s Clinic Trips

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Cecil Beaton/Condé Nast via Getty Images

Tallulah Bankhead had many romantic flings during the Golden Age. There is reason to believe she slept with over 200 men, so you figure she wasn’t 100 percent safe every time.

They say that she ended four pregnancies by the time she hit 30. Remember, this isn’t confirmed, but it adds up in hindsight. With other actresses being pressured by the studios to terminate their unborn children in private, anything is possible.

Mae West Was Too Much For The ’30s

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Irving Lippman/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Artists always try to push the envelope in every era, but some people and times just don’t fit. One person who didn’t sit well in the Golden Age was Mae West. People got offended by how she conducted herself.

Well before she even landed a role, West was a writer using a different name. She wrote under Jane Mast to protect her identity. Sadly, two of her plays would lead to her arrest for obscenity charges!

Walter Wanger’s Crime

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Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

As one of the most talented producers during his time, Walter Wanger still possessed jealousy when it came to marriage. It was 1951 when he thought his wife, Joan Bennett, had an affair with his agent.

That agent was Jennings Lang. Instead of figuring out how to handle it in a mature manner, Wanger violently attacked him in a sensitive area. How much it hurt wasn’t clear, but Lang would go on to have three kids.

Marlene Dietrich And Greta Garbo’s Alleged Affair

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Contributor/Getty Images

Have you ever heard about this one? Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo had plenty in common. Both came from Europe around the same time to go to Hollywood and they’re only four years apart.

Garbo starred in a film called The Joyless Street when she was 19 that Dietrich swore she wasn’t in at all. With no complete prints, it took extensive research to determine that she was in the movie. The researcher claimed that the two had an affair while filming The Joyless Street.

Spade Cooley May Have Murdered His Wife

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Remember Country Western singer Spade Cooley? The self-proclaimed king of western swing was all over the entertainment scene. He had movies, hit records, and a TV show, which is pretty impressive.

As he became more famous, he grew more paranoid as well. He had a short temper and one day, he murdered his wife after beating her for hours in front of their daughter! He was sure his wife had an affair so he lost it.

Peg Entwistle Ended Her Life

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Contributor/Getty Images

Peg Entwistle had success on Broadway when she was a teenager, but chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of becoming a movie star. She would book small roles, but she wouldn’t land anything major until the summer after her Los Angeles theater debut.

In 1932, she hiked the Hollywood sign and climbed on top of the letter “H.” Unfortunately, she would throw herself down. A hiker found her with a note that read: “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.”