6 Old Time Hollywood Scandals That Are Still Shocking

1. Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Starting out as a child actor in the 1940s, Elizabeth Taylor’s became one of the most popular stars of Hollywood’s classical cinema scene. She is well known for her roles in National Velvet, Cleopatra, The Taming of the Shrew and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?

Elizabeth Taylor is also known for having been married eight separate times to seven different men. Self-admittedly, Taylor’s sheltered childhood and belief that love was synonymous with marriage didn’t help. At the young age of 18, she married Paris Hilton’s great uncle Conrad Hilton, Jr. (1950), but realized soon after that he had a problem with drinking and his abusive behavior was a no go. She was granted a divorce eight months after the wedding.

Michael Wilding (1952), her next husband, was twenty years her senior. After awhile, they began to drift apart and his failing career put further strain on their marriage. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back seems to be the occasion Wilding entertained strippers in their home while Taylor was away shooting a film.

In 1957, shortly after her divorce to her second husband, Taylor marries Michael Todd. Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash not too long after. In the wake of his death, she starts an extra-marital affair with Todd’s best friend Eddie Fisher, who was then married to Taylor’s friend Debbie Reynolds at the time. Fisher and Taylor get married in 1959.

While Taylor is filming Cleopatra in Italy, 1962, she begins an affair with co-star Richard Burton (1964 & 1975). He’s literally the Marc Antony to her Cleopatra. The star-crossed lovers are condemned by the Vatican for “erotic vagrancy,” but love conquers all right? Not always. They would go on to be married and divorced from each other twice.

Husband number six, Republican politician John Warner (1976), gets the boot when Taylor finds her life as a politician’s wife sad, lonely and depressing. Her seventh and last husband, Larry Fortensky (1991) is a construction worker. They get married at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch but divorce in 1996.

If the marriages themselves aren’t scandalizing enough, the sheer number of them is enough to make your jaw drop.

2. Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Charlie Chaplin rose to fame during the silent film era as a comedic actor and became a worldwide icon in the film industry through his on screen persona “the Tramp.” Ever the perfectionist, Chaplin often wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for his films.

With Charlie Chaplin, it’s not just one particular scandal that led to his decline in popularity, but the worst ones were interconnected. The real serious trouble began during WWII when his mistress Joan Barry filed a paternity suit against him and the FBI, who suspected he was a communist, used the scandal to fuel a smear campaign. They accused him of four crimes related to Barry’s case, including sex trafficking. He was soon acquitted, but the story was all over the papers. Not long after, it was announced that Chaplin, 54, married 18 year old Oona O’Neill.

Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin’s next movie, is booed and boycotted in the United States because of its criticism of capitalism, war and weapons of mass destruction. At the height of Cold War anxiety, Chaplin also openly and actively advocated for a Soviet Union-American alliance, met with Soviet diplomats and protested the trials of Communist Party members. He was publicly accused of being a communist and politicians called for his deportation.

In 1952, Chaplin and his family left for Europe to promote his latest film Limelight, where it was received quite warmly. While abroad, U.S. attorney general James P. McGranery ordered immigration services to revoke Chaplin’s re-entry permit, stating that Chaplin would have to agree to an investigation of his political activities in order to re-enter.

When asked about the ordeal later in life, Chaplin says, “Whether I re-entered that unhappy country or not was of little consequence to me. I would like to have told them that the sooner I was rid of that hate-beleaguered atmosphere the better, that I was fed up of America's insults and moral pomposity.”

In other words, good riddance.

3. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933)

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a American silent film actor and pioneering comedian, worked with famous actress Mabel Normand and mentored Charlie Chaplin. He was one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors and very well liked.

However, in 1921, Arbuckle is accused of raping and accidentally killing aspiring actress Virginia Rappe at a party. Rappe, who suffered chronic cystitis, reacted badly to the alcohol she drank that night and became very ill. Her friend Bambina Delmont took her to the hospital where she later dies of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Delmont told the doctor and police that Arbuckle raped Rappe, but when the doctor examined her friend he found no evidence of assault. Still, the case goes to trial and becomes a major media event.

At a press conference, Rappe’s manager accused Arbuckle of sexually assaulting her with a piece of ice -- by the time the story hit the newspapers, that object had morphed into a bottle of Coca-Cola or champagne. However, witnesses testified that Arbuckle rubbed the ice on the actress’s stomach to ease her abdominal pain. The papers also claimed he was a debauched lecher who used his weight to overpower innocent girls, but anyone who actually knew him said Arbuckle was the most “chaste man in pictures” and shy.

In the end, Arbuckle was found not-guilty but the widely publicized scandal effectively destroyed his career and personal life.

4. Thomas H. Ince (1880-1924)

Thomas Ince created the first major Hollywood studio facility “Inceville” and is also considered

the father of western films, making over 800 in his 27 year career. Unfortunately, despite revolutionizing the film industry, Ince is known more for the scandal surrounding his death than his life’s work.

While celebrating his 44th birthday on newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst’s yacht, Ince suffers severe indigestion and is taken on shore. In a matter of days, he is also treated for chest pain but dies. Despite his cause of death being heart failure, the Los Angeles Times reports in the morning paper the next day that he was shot on Hearst’s yacht. Thankfully, come the evening edition of the paper the wildly inaccurate headline is dropped. Still, rumors spread that Hearst shot Ince in the head and awarded a lifetime job contract to Louella Parsons as hush money. However, those who attended Ince’s open casket funeral could vouch that he was not shot in the head, and Parsons signed the contract with Hearst’s newspaper long before Ince’s death.

5. Peg Entwistle (1909-1932)

At the height of the Great Depression, Entwistle landed a role in the play The Mad Hopes, which ran at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Afterwards, she played a small supporting role in the high-budget thriller Thirteen Women (1932). It was her first and only credited film.

Later that year, a woman anonymously telephoned the Los Angeles police about a body she found below the Hollywoodland sign. When the police follow-up on the tip, they find Peg Entwistle and a suicide note. However, since she wasn’t a well known actress, they were unable to identify her until her uncle saw the story in the newspapers and put two and two together. Entwistle lived with her uncle at the time, so her two-day absence, the description of the body and published suicide note revealed the devastating truth:

"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."

He told the police that she went for a walk to the drugstore and was going to meet up with friends. Instead, Peg Entwistle climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped.

She was 24 years old.

6. Mary Astor (1906-1987)

Mary Astor began acting in silent movies at the age of 14, but switched to talkies later in her career. She is best known for her role in The Maltese Falcon.

While Astor had her fair share of trouble with men, her most notable personal scandal came from her parents. Physically and emotionally abusive, they took all her movie making earnings for themselves, bought a mansion with it and only let her out of the house to go to the studio. Astor, who was making between $2,500 and $3,750 a week, only got a $5 weekly allowance and was the sole earner for the household. Unsurprisingly, she ran away, but a family friend convinced Astor’s father to give the actress a savings account with $500 and the freedom to come and go as she pleased.

Mary Astor wouldn’t gain full control of her salary until she was 26, but her parents subsequently sued her for financial support. Astor settled the case by agreeing to pay their rent, utilities and a monthly allowance of $100.

Astor read her mother’s diary after she died in 1947. She could not believe how much her own mother hated her.

For more Hollywood scandals, particularly the deadly kind, check out the Parcast podcast drama series Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories at parcast.com. It’s a modern twist on old time radio that delves into the mystery of true cold cases and unsolved murders.