Celebrity Scandals Of Old Hollywood That Shocked The World

Celebrity Scandals That Reveal The Dark Side Of Old Hollywood

Celebrity scandals have been an inevitable part of Hollywood since the birth of the American cinema industry. In this age of intensive media coverage, the whole world is familiar with the dark side of Hollywood, but it wasn’t always this way. In the 20th century, the most influential people in Hollywood were able to sweep many scandals under the rug, at least for the time being.

What Were The Earliest Hollywood Scandals?

Here are the most notorious celebrity scandals that reveal the dark side of Golden Age Hollywood. 

1. The Drug Overdose Of Olive Thomas

The earliest Hollywood celebrity scandal occurred in September 1920 and involved the death of Olive Thomas due to a drug overdose. An archetypal movie flapper, Thomas had starred in her most important movie, The Flapper, earlier that year. 

Olive Thomas

2. The Death Of Virginia Rappe 

In 1921, the famous silent film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was arrested for the sexual assault and murder of the struggling actress and model Virginia Rappe. The court pronounced Arbuckle, whose popularity was akin to that of Charlie Chaplain, guilty of raping and murdering Rappe during a debauched Labor Day party at the luxurious St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

Virginia Rappe

3. Multiple Studio-Pressured Abortions

If you think studios control actors’ personal lives now, you would be shocked by the state of Hollywood around a century ago. Employers had immense power over performers, especially female ones. They discouraged famous, attractive actresses from getting married or pregnant. When some of them (including Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, and Joan Crawford) did get pregnant, they were pressured into getting abortions.

4. Judy Garland’s Abuse Leading To Drug Addiction

The child star of The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland, was about to star in her first feature film at the age of 14 when MGM started to pressure her into losing weight. Her strict diet consisted of black coffee and chicken soup supplemented by diet pills and cigarettes. Garland also experienced sexual harassment from the studio producers. This ordeal left her with an eating disorder and drug addiction, leading to her death from overdose at only 47. 

Judy Garland

5. The Mysterious Suicide Of Paul Bern

Only two months after his wedding to film actress Jean Harlow, the MGM executive Paul Bern committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. The news of his lifeless body being found with a gun in his hand and a note shook Hollywood. Although the police took the note as proof that he took his own life, its content was quite ambiguous.

What Was The Blacklist Of Hollywood?

In the mid-1920s, the entertainment industry designed a blacklist that rendered alleged communist or communist sympathizers ineligible for employment. Founded in 1918, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was responsible for the existence of this document.

Initially meant to promote patriotic credentials and shield Hollywood studios from the economic harm of subversive activities, the blacklist gained worrisome reach until the 1940s. As a result of this hysteria, ten producers, directors, and screenwriters spent time in prison and ended up blacklisted for refusing to disavow communist affiliations. 

Who Controlled Hollywood In The 50s?

Between the late 20s and 50s, most of the power in Hollywood was in the hands of five ruling movie studios: Warner, Fox, MGM, Paramount, and RKO. With around 700 movies created in the 20s, these studios dominated American theaters and the movie industry. Warner Bros.’s influence and status as one of the biggest Hollywood studios can be attributed to the popularity of The Jazz Singer, the first long-running sound film, upon its release in 1927.

This complete domination of a few studios in the Hollywood industry resulted in vast financial manipulation. The most successful studios owned their theaters, fixed the prices, and offered packages of a few A-budget movies, a few lesser quality ones, and one or two highly popular feature films. 

What Was The Biggest Hollywood Scandal In The 1920s?

The murder of William Desmond Taylor in 1922 remains one of the most captivating and scandalous news stories to ever emerge from Hollywood. Taylor, a highly respected and acclaimed director of numerous silent films, met a tragic end when he was discovered lifeless in his Los Angeles bungalow. The shocking discovery of fatal gunshot wounds to his back sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry and the nation as a whole.

What made this murder even more intriguing was the presence of a group of actors, actresses, and studio executives who were found rummaging through Taylor's personal belongings at the crime scene. This bizarre and suspicious behavior only added to the already sensational nature of the case. The public's fascination with the glamorous world of Hollywood, combined with the mysterious circumstances surrounding Taylor's death, turned this unsolved murder into a national obsession.

The media frenzy that ensued transformed the murder of William Desmond Taylor into a cause célèbre, captivating the nation and dominating headlines for months. Newspapers and tabloids were filled with speculation, rumors, and theories about the identity of the killer and the motive behind the crime. The case became a hot topic of conversation, with people from all walks of life eagerly discussing and dissecting every detail.

As the investigation unfolded, a series of shocking revelations emerged, further fueling public interest. It was discovered that Taylor had a complex personal life, with rumors of secret relationships, hidden scandals, and a possible double life. The involvement of prominent figures from the entertainment industry only added to the intrigue, as their reputations and careers were put under scrutiny.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement and private investigators, the murder of William Desmond Taylor remains unsolved to this day. The lack of a definitive resolution has only deepened the mystery and ensured that this scandalous news story continues to captivate the public's imagination. Books, documentaries, and even fictionalized accounts have been dedicated to exploring the case, keeping the memory of Taylor's murder alive and reminding us of the dark underbelly of Hollywood's golden age.


On the morning of Thursday, 2 February 1922, at precisely 7:30, a shocking discovery was made at Taylor's bungalow in the upscale neighborhood of Westlake, Los Angeles. The Alvarado Court Apartments on South Alvarado Street became the center of attention as a crowd gathered inside. A self-proclaimed doctor emerged from the crowd and briefly examined the body, hastily concluding that Taylor had succumbed to a stomach hemorrhage. However, this mysterious doctor vanished without a trace, leaving behind a cloud of doubt.

Forensic investigators later arrived at the scene and decided to delve deeper into the circumstances surrounding Taylor's demise. As they rolled over the lifeless body, a startling revelation came to light. The renowned film director, aged 49, had been shot in the back with a small-caliber pistol. Astonishingly, the murder weapon was nowhere to be found.

Further intrigue unfolded as investigators delved into Taylor's personal effects. In his pockets, they discovered a wallet containing a substantial sum of US$78, a silver cigarette case, a pen knife, a Waltham pocket watch, and a locket containing a photograph of the famous actress Mabel Normand. Adding to the enigma, a dazzling two-carat diamond ring adorned Taylor's finger.

The presence of money and valuable possessions on Taylor's person initially cast doubt on robbery as the motive for his untimely demise. However, it was revealed that a significant amount of cash, which Taylor had revealed to his accountant the day before, had mysteriously vanished without a trace.

After meticulous investigation, the time of Taylor's tragic passing was determined to be 7:50 pm on the evening of 1 February 1922. The circumstances surrounding his death remained shrouded in mystery, leaving investigators and the public alike yearning for answers.


Due to a combination of inadequate crime scene management and suspected corruption, a significant amount of physical evidence was lost immediately, while the remaining evidence gradually disappeared over the years. However, a handful of documents from the police files were made public in 2007, offering some insight into the case. Numerous theories emerged in the aftermath of the murder, and since then, numerous books have been published claiming to have identified the killer. Yet, despite these efforts, no concrete evidence has ever been found linking the crime to a specific individual.

What made the Taylor case particularly outrageous was the fact that many of the celebrities involved were well-known to the public through their movie performances. This marked the first time in American history that a murder case garnered such widespread personal interest from people. The public's fascination with the case led to a surge in newspaper sales, surpassing any previous records in the United States. In the weeks following the murder, there was a notable rise in anti-Hollywood sentiment among the public. The murder of Taylor shattered the illusion of a perfect and idyllic Hollywood, exposing the dark underbelly that existed behind the scenes. 

What Was The Dark Side Of The Golden Age Of Hollywood?

While Hollywood is often hailed as the epitome of dreams coming true, its reality during its "Golden Age" was far from glamorous. It was a breeding ground for nightmares, where actors and actresses endured unimaginable mistreatment, struggled with drug addiction, suffered from cover-ups, were subjected to forced abortions, battled eating disorders, and even faced untimely deaths. So, let's peel back the layers and explore the hidden darkness that lurked beneath the glitz and glam of Hollywood's golden era.

Contract Pressure

Gone are the days when actors were bound by strict contracts and had limited freedom in choosing their projects. Nowadays, they enjoy a considerable amount of autonomy and can easily collaborate with any film studio they desire. However, it wasn't always like this. In the past, performers were tied to lengthy and binding agreements, leaving them with little choice but to accept any job that came their way, regardless of their personal preferences. 

Refusing a role was heavily frowned upon and could even lead to punishments such as suspensions. Essentially, film studios held an unjustifiable amount of power over the careers of actors. This imbalance of power had detrimental effects on many individuals, including renowned silent film star John Gilbert.

Toxic Beauty Standards

Celebrities like Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Judy Garland were constantly under pressure to conform to specific beauty standards. They were constantly scrutinized and objectified, with their worth being solely based on their physical appearance. This objectification not only diminished their talent and skills but also reduced them to mere objects of desire, reinforcing harmful gender dynamics and power imbalances.

Dietrich, for example, went to great lengths to meet these unrealistic ideals by losing weight and completely transforming her appearance. Crawford, on the other hand, took drastic measures by having her back teeth removed, resulting in higher cheekbones. In her autobiography, she also reveals the extreme beauty rituals she followed, including the use of boric acid on her eyelids. These stories shed light on the toxic nature of beauty expectations imposed on individuals in the entertainment industry.

Lack Of Privacy

These days, celebrities face an ongoing battle to protect their privacy. However, this struggle is not a new phenomenon. Even in the era of Old Hollywood, actors had to contend with the studios' relentless pursuit of control over their personal lives. It was not uncommon for private spaces to be bugged or for studio employees to masquerade as publicists and friends, all while secretly working against the stars. 

One such example is Judy Garland, who fell victim to the deceit of a supposed "confidant." Similarly, Sammy Davis Jr. found himself entangled in a dangerous game of espionage. He was strictly prohibited from pursuing a relationship with screen legend Kim Novak. Columbia head Harry Cohn went to extreme lengths to end their love affair, even resorting to having associates from organized crime threaten Davis Jr.

Child Labor

It can be challenging to reconcile our love for cute young protagonists with Hollywood's dark history of child labor. For example, the parents of Jackie Coogan, who starred in "The Addams Family," notoriously robbed their daughter of her savings. This led to the creation of the California Child Actor's Bill in 1939, also known as the Coogan Law. 

In other instances, directors and others would go to extreme measures to make young performers cry on camera, sometimes resorting to punishment if they felt time was being wasted. One disturbing example was "The Black Box," a tiny space where actors were forced to sit on a block of ice. Additionally, it was not uncommon for productions to make young actors work outrageously long hours, something that would be unthinkable today.

Substance Abuse

In old Hollywood, actors had to overcome more than just emotional manipulation and long work days. Shockingly, studios would go to great lengths to ensure their young stars, such as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, remained productive and available for long hours on set. This included the encouragement of substance use, a practice that had devastating consequences for these vulnerable individuals.

The reasoning behind the studios' decision to provide stimulants to their young stars was simple: time is money. With tight production schedules and the constant demand for new films, every minute counted. By keeping the actors awake and alert for extended periods, the studios could maximize their productivity and ensure that filming progressed at a rapid pace. These stimulants, often in the form of amphetamines, allowed the actors to work tirelessly, sometimes for days on end, without feeling the effects of exhaustion.

However, the consequences of this practice were far-reaching and tragic. As these young stars grew up in the spotlight, they became increasingly dependent on these substances to cope with the pressures of fame and the demanding expectations placed upon them. What started as a means to enhance productivity soon spiraled into a full-blown addiction.

Pre-Code Hollywood

The idea of enforcing 'morality' can be a tricky path to navigate, and it's easy to slip up when it comes to cultural sensitivity and representation. Pre-Code Hollywood refers to a period from the mid-late 1920s to 1934 prior to the strict moral guidelines in the industry outlined in the Hays Code. These guidelines were implemented, in part, to improve Hollywood's reputation, which was seen as morally corrupt. 

As a result, filmmakers had to find clever ways to address issues of intimacy and substance use through subtle hints. This can be observed in the film noir genre of the 1940s and 1950s. However, pre-Code films often featured morally ambiguous protagonists, strong female characters, and plenty of romantic entanglements. Movie enthusiasts just need to search for them actively.

Award Show Racism

The issue of lack of diversity in Hollywood award shows persists today. However, it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made in the industry. Back in 1940, Hattie McDaniel went down in history by becoming the first Black person to win an Oscar. Unfortunately, there were concerns about whether she would even be allowed to attend the ceremony. 

In a cruel twist, she was seated separately from her co-stars from "Gone with the Wind," including Vivien Leigh. Despite facing racism and prejudice, McDaniel showed immense courage and delivered a powerful speech when she won the Best Supporting Actress award. It is crucial to recognize that her journey, along with many others, was filled with immense challenges.

The Casting Couch

The act of being pressured to exchange intimate "favors" for career advancement is not limited to the world of movies. However, the film industry has been plagued by "casting couch" practices since the early days of Hollywood, with countless stories of predatory behavior. The term even appeared in a 1924 stag film with the same title. "The Casting Couch" portrays this behavior for titillation and humor, but there is nothing amusing about the number of actors who have fallen victim to this form of sexual exploitation. The Time's Up organization has shed more light on harassment and assault in the industry following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, but it continues to be a topic of discussion.


As the name suggests, the Golden Age of Hollywood is associated with glamour and glitz. However, many shocking instances of abuse and violence occurred behind the scenes. While the public has forgotten some old Hollywood celebrity scandals, others remind us of the dark side of the entertainment industry. After all, life was pretty hard for celebrities, even before the days of social media. 

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