The actress Virginia Rappe died after silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle raped her with a Coke bottle in 1921.
What People Are Saying:
While this rumor was rampant throughout the early part of the twentieth century, it wasn't until the release of Kenneth Anger's classic tome of Hollywood debauchery, Hollywood Babylon, that it found a place in the firmament of L.A. lore. Before that, opinion was sharply divided over Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's complicity in the death of a young actress named Virginia Rappe. But since then perception has shifted slightly, with the majority of Angelenos leaning toward Anger's construction of the events. And according to Anger, the entire fiasco went down something like this:
On Labor Day weekend 1921, Arbuckle invited a select group of fellow actors to San Francisco to celebrate his new $3 million contract with Paramount Studios. After checking into the luxurious St. Francis Hotel and taking over three adjoining rooms, the 300-pound star began a three-day carouse that included illegal bootleg liquor, nude dancing, and nonstop orgies. As Anger put it:
Some shed their tops to do the shimmy; guests were trading pajama bottoms and the empty beer bottles were piling up. About a quarter after three (P.M.), Arbuckle, flapping around in pajamas and a bathrobe, grabbed Virginia and steered the tipsy model to the bedroom of suite 1221. He gave the revelers his famous leering wink, saying, "This is the chance I've waited for a long time," and locked the door. Bambina Maude Delmont (Virginia's close friend) later testified that the festivities were stilled when sharp screams rang out in the adjoining bedroom. Weird moans were heard through the door. After much pounding and kicking, a giggling Arbuckle sallied forth in ripped pajamas, Virginia's hat squashed on his head at a crazy angle, and quipped to the girls, "Go in and get her dressed and take her to the Palace (Hotel). She makes too much noise." When Virginia kept screaming, he yelled, "Shut up or I'll throw you out of the window." Bambina found the girl nearly nude on the disordered bed, writhing in pain, moaning, "I'm dying, I'm dying ... He hurt me."
Virginia's pain was real enough. She died four days later at the age of twenty-five. According to the official coroner's report, she suffered from a ruptured bladder, which in turn led to a fatal case of peritonitis. Yet to this day no one really knows how the injury occurred. Some have suggested that Arbuckle jumped on top of her and literally "popped" her bladder during sex. Yet when physicians denounced that theory, arguing that bladders do not pop under that kind of weight, a handful of journalists and gossip hounds speculated that he must have used a device of some sort--an idea that Anger exploited in Hollywood Babylon. "Enraged at his drunken impotence," wrote Anger, "Arbuckle ravaged Virginia with a Coca-Cola bottle, or a champagne bottle, then repeated the act with a jagged piece of ice."
What Really Happened:
According to the most credible accounts, Arbuckle never touched Rappe, much less had sex with her. Evidently, he found her on the floor of his bathroom drunkenly vomiting into the toilet. After wiping her mouth with a towel, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. But as soon as he set her down, she began crying out and grabbing her stomach, complaining of severe pains. "It's too hot in here," she screamed, plucking at her blouse furiously. "I'm burning up!" Hearing the screams from the other room, Rappe's friend, Maude Delmont, came running in just as Arbuckle began applying some ice to her abdomen. Horrified, Delmont pushed Arbuckle out of the way and ordered him out of the room. Arbuckle then returned to the party and thought little of the episode. But when he returned thirty minutes later, after a physician appeared on the scene, he was shocked to hear Rappe drunkenly scream, "Get away from me! You did this to me!"
...she was in San Francisco getting an abortion--her sixth apparently--and just happened to run into a friend of Arbuckle's who extended her the invitation--despite Arbuckle's protests.
While it was hardly reported in the press at the time, Rappe was never actually invited to the party. In truth, she was in San Francisco getting an abortion--her sixth apparently--and just happened to run into a friend of Arbuckle's who extended her the invitation--despite Arbuckle's protests. In any case, there's a good chance that her injuries actually came from her abortion the day before. After all, her abortionist, Dr. Rumwell, was the same doctor that appeared at the hotel after Arbuckle supposedly ravished her, the same doctor that took care of her during her hospital stay, the same doctor that performed the autopsy after she died, and the same doctor that destroyed her bladder before the trial.
Yet even if Dr. Rumwell was responsible for Rappe's death, he wasn't responsible for shifting the blame onto Arbuckle. That was mostly due to the accusations made by Maude Delmont. In fact, Delmont, a notorious figure in her own right, with previous experience in extortion, prostitution, and theft, not only came up with the idea to extort money out of Arbuckle in the first place but convinced Rappe that she could make a fortune on the deal.
What Could Have Happened:
Yet there is another theory, too, that's just as plausible and just as consistent with the facts. And it's a theory that Adolph Zukor, the then-president of Paramount Studios, orchestrated the entire sequence of events. Apparently Zukor had a long-standing feud with Arbuckle, one that had to do with previous misunderstandings and Arbuckle's continual disrespect of the producer. In Zukor's mind, Arbuckle "blackmailed" him into increasing his salary to $1 million per year--an outrageous sum at the time--and that's to say nothing of the actor's repeated snubs toward publicity. (In fact, Arbuckle was supposed to do some publicity on the weekend that he ran off to San Francisco, which apparently made Zukor "livid.")
That's why many believe that Zukor may have pulled some strings to make sure that there was illegal booze and known prostitutes at Arbuckle's party. Because if Arbuckle's party just happened to get raided by the police, and if Zukor could come rushing in to save the day, he could certainly "knock Fatty down a few pegs," as he once threatened. But Zukor failed to foresee Rappe's accidental death, or the extraordinary media frenzy that would ensue. So when he found himself in a scandal of dizzying proportions, he decided to not only lead the charge against Arbuckle's victimization, pushing Hollywood's moral czar, Will Hays, to have him blacklisted and removing his entire film catalog from distribution, but to work behind the scenes to push Arbuckle's trial toward conviction. That way he could draw attention away from himself and Hollywood in general.
...if Arbuckle's party just happened to get raided by the police, and if Zukor could come rushing in to save the day, he could certainly "knock Fatty down a few pegs," as he once threatened.
During the research for her book Frame Up!, author Andy Edmonds found evidence that Zukor undoubtedly financed some of the overt bribes, perjured testimonies, and coverups that occurred during Arbuckle's trial. In fact she found a cancelled check for $10,000 made out to the prosecutor in the case, Matthew Brady, the San Francisco D.A.--a check that was endorsed by none other than Zukor himself.
Arbuckle was eventually acquitted on April 12, 1922, after three previous scandal-plagued mistrials. And when the jury read the verdict they added: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel a great injustice has been done to him."Yet it was too late. The rumors had already eclipsed the facts, and continue do so to this day.
What It All Means:
Symbolically speaking, Arbuckle, by no fault of his own, became the prodigal son, deeply despised for doing little more than "making silly faces" at a time when the country was reeling from financial woes, war inflation, foreign threats, and Bolshevik panics. In other words, Arbuckle had to be scapegoated to appease the mounting anxieties of the age. Yet it wasn't the public that placed him on the cross, but Hollywood itself, as represented by Zukor, who not only buckled under his own fear of anti-Semitism, but his own self-hatred and greed.
A group of Hollywood actors stole John Barrymore corpse from a funeral parlor, set it up in a chair, and threw a party in his honor.
A Little Background:
In his day John Barrymore (Drew's grandfather) was considered an actor's actor. His theatrical performances were--and still are--the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, Hollywood failed to offer him the kind of material worthy of his abilities, and he ended up squandering his talents on cheap roles and silly comedies. His secondary talent, meanwhile, blossomed amidst Hollywood's sybaritic set, and that was his talent for consuming liquor. According to some sources he could down just about anything, anything with a kick that is, including his wife's perfume, cleaning supplies, and high-octane fuel. W. C. Fields--who was arguably Hollywood's second greatest drinker--recalled that he once watched him siphon the alcohol out of his boat's cooling system and fix himself a "diesel martini" without so much as a flinch.
Barrymore's bad habits finally caught up with him, however. He passed away in a hospital room apparently while trying to make a pass at a nurse on May 29, 1942, at the age of sixty. His best friend, Gene Fowler, accompanied his body to the Pierce Funeral Home and claimed that he was the only one there, save for an old prostitute that showed up for a few minutes and left without saying a word.
...fix himself a "diesel martini" without so much as a flinch.
What People Are Saying:
It all started as a prank, really, just a humorous joke between friends. Yet it has grown into one of the most talked-about anecdotes in Hollywood history. Apparently it went something like this: After Barrymore's funeral, his drinking buddies--known as the Bundy Boys--gathered at the Cock and Bull restaurant in Hollywood to reminisce about their friend's life of contumacy. Errol Flynn was particularly saddened by Barrymore's death, and took it badly. In fact, he left early to drown his sorrows in the arms of a seventeen-year-old model that he picked up earlier in the week. Raoul Walsh, the director of such classics as High Sierra and a notoriousprankster, also left early. But rather than return home, he went straight to the mortuary to see if he could convince the caretaker to lend him Barrymore's corpse. "John's sister is ill and can't leave the house," he explained to a mortician. "And she's terribly distraught over the fact that she can't pay her last respects to her dearly beloved. It would mean a great deal to her--and the entire, great, Barrymore family--if I could bring him to her so that she can say good-bye before he's laid to rest."
The caretaker refused, however, at least until Walsh produced a crisp $100 bill. "This is very unorthodox," exclaimed the now-sweating mortician. "You must have him back here in less than an hour, or it will mean lot of trouble for the both of us."Walsh smiled, and assured him that he would.
Flynn returned home about an hour later, feeling a bit worse for wear when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of his old buddy sitting in his favorite chair with a fresh martini in his hand. "Can you imagine the shock I felt after being at Jack's wake to come home and find that son of a bitch sitting there?" he later told columnist James Bacon. "I aged thirty years on the spot. It scared the living bejesus out of me, but you know what I did? I just sat down in the chair next to him and had a drink with him ... . Then Raoul, that prick, came in and had a big laugh. And so did I. It was the crazy sort of thing that Jack would have appreciated ... . And then we had more drinks."
According to Bob Engles, a sixty-year veteran of the Pierce Funeral Home, nothing of the sort ever happened. "I saw Barrymore's body," he recalls. "And I can tell you it never left the building. If it did I would have known about it. And I can tell you this: There's no way on earth that anyone else would have let that body out of the mortuary without a signed authorization from the family--especially a big star like Barrymore. Imagine if something happened to it and it wasn't returned? I can assure you it never happened. That's just a bunch of Hollywood hokey."
Fidel Castro appeared in numerous Hollywood movies beforse his career as cube's communist dictator.
While the attraction between Hollywood and Washington may be a fairly recent phenomenon, there's some evidence that it goes back much further, almost to Hollywood's infancy. It's no secret, for instance, that scores of dignitaries made their way to Hollywood in the 1920s to seek fame and fortune on the silver screen. The Russian General Lodijenski, for example, appeared in King Vidor's His Hour in 1924. The Archduke Leopold of Austria appeared in John Ford's Four Sons in 1928. Leon Trotsky, one of the architects of the Russian revolution of 1917, appeared in Emil Vester's World War I spy drama, My Official Wife, as an extra. And Pancho Villa, the lawless leader of Mexico's revolution of 1910, appeared in a number of pictures for Mutual.
The trend slowed down after World War II,but still continues to this day. John Lindsay, for example, the former mayor of New York, took a role in 1975's Rosebud and was nearly laughed out of the theaters. Julian Bond, the Georgia State legislator, had a similar experience with his performance in Greased Lightning in 1977. And more recently, L.A.'s own mayor Richard Riordan has taken more than his share of stage time, including a part in a 1997 production of Love Letters at the Madrid Theater, and a role in P. G. Wodehouse's The Inimitable Jeeves in 1998.
What People Are Saying:
Since the 1960s there has been a persistent rumor that Fidel Castro, Cuba's flamboyant dictator, appeared in at least one Hollywood movie in his early years. Columnist L. M. Boyd for example, of the Herald Examiner, once confirmed the rumor, by stating that Castro appeared in several movies--all with his Cuban compatriot, bandleader Xavier Cugat--including You Were Never Lovelier (1942), The Heat's On (1943), Bathing Beauty ( 1944), and Holiday in Mexico (1946).
Yet according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, no one has been able to find Castro's name in the credits of a Hollywood movie made between 1940 and 1960--not as an extra, bit player, or crew member. Meanwhile, historians have flatly denied that he ever came anywhere near the West Coast during that period, save for his four-year-stay in Mexico when he was preparing for his Cuban coup. (He visited Miami and New York in 1955, but failed to make it to L.A..)
Where It Comes From:
According to the Hollywood Reporter, there were over twenty films being shot in Mexico in 1955, many near the ranch where Castro was holding combat exercises, including Comanche, Serenade, Seven Cities of Gold, The Treasure of Pancho Villa, The Last Frontier and The Come-On. (None of which included Xavier Cugat, however.)
According to most historians, it's certainly possible that Castro could have poked his nose around one of those productions, but it doesn't seem very likely. As his biographer Robert E. Quirk points out, Castro was a strong disciplinarian with little tolerance for play. As one friend described him, "He is not a Cuban at all. He doesn't like music, he doesn't drink, and he works eighteen to twenty hours a day." (His associate, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, on the other hand, was known to be a true cinephile.)
In recent years Castro has warmed slightly to the idea of being in front of the camera. As the daily Variety reported in 1984 he invited the producers of the show OceanQuest--Jon Peters and Peter Guber--to produce a segment in his country. Apparently he was a fan of the short-lived serieswhich followed the adventures of a team of researchers exploring the Caribbean on their ship, Oz. According to Variety, the producers accepted the offer, and were thrilled when Castro himself, an avid diver, donned some scuba gear and explored Havana's harbor at Peters's direction.
What People Are Saying:
As the irreverent magazine, Might, wrote in 1996: "Is Tom Cruise gay? Puh-leeze, Tom Cruise is as gay as the night is long and everyone knows it. We heard it from a friend of ours at a party--who's gay--and he said that he knew some people that worked on Top Gun and it really was like Quentin Tarantino said in Sleep with Me. Also Tom lives in a bungalow, with his wife Nicole Kidman, who this same guy said just might be gay, too. Either way: Tom Cruise = Gay!"
While Might may have been poking fun at the rumor, it was typical for the 1990s, when rumors of Cruise's alleged homosexuality reached a near-fever pitch--much to Cruise's chagrin. "I think it's absolutely disgusting that someone would say [that my wife and I are gay]," he growled to Premiere. "It's ridiculous, it fucking pisses me off. Personally, I have nothing against [homosexuality] at all, but this is my relationship and I'm being called a liar about it. I've called lawyers. I say, 'You want to say that? Fine, go ahead, you fucking prove it.'"
And nobody has been able to prove it. While Cruise has been "caught"in a few heterosexual affairs--including a sexual romp in the back of a limo with Rebecca DeMornay--no one has been able to confirm his gay dalliances. Veteran gossip columnist Janet Charlton for example, who has been following Cruise's career since it began with Endless Love in 1981 and who has heard all the rumors about alleged affairs with male hustlers, has never found any evidence to support the rumor. "But that doesn't mean that he's necessarily straight," she admits. "It just means that he hasn't done anything that indiscreet to prove otherwise. But as far as the rumor goes, I personally don't believe it."
Where It Comes From:
In 1990 Mimi Rogers, Cruise's ex-wife, may have unwittingly bolstered the Cruise-is-gay rumor when she gave an exclusive interview to Playboymagazine shortly after their divorce. "Tom was seriously thinking of becoming a monk," she reported with a hint of disdain. It looked as though the marriage wouldn't fit into his spiritual need. And he thought that he had to be celibate to maintain the purity of his instrument. Therefore it became obvious that we had to split."
Rogers's quotes prompted Cruise's new wife, Nicole Kidman, to make a few comments of her own. "Tom is anything but a monk," she fumed. "And he's a very sexual guy."
Nonetheless, Cruise's own comments came back to haunt him in 1996. That's when the German magazine Brunte asked him about his choice to adopt children, and he allegedly responded by saying that he was unable to father children because his sperm count was zero. When the article came out, Cruise nearly had a heart attack. He emphatically denied that he ever made such a statement and responded with a $60 million lawsuit against the publishers. "I'm sick of having to deny that I'm either celibate, sterile, or homosexual!" screamed Cruise. "Enough is enough!"
Still, it failed to turn the tide of public speculation. Because after Cruise filed for divorce from Kidman in February 2001, and Kidman miscarried their child, the grapevine exploded once again with even more specious gossip of their alleged transgressions. The French magazine Actustar for instance, claimed that gay porn star Kyle Bradford "confessed" about a homosexual relationship with Cruise, forcing the star to respond with yet another lawsuit, this time for $100 million. (Bradford later denied knowing Cruise or speaking to the magazine.)
What It's All About: About:
As Cruise's biographer Robert Sellers noted in 1998, the rumor may be a function of Cruise's screen persona. Because if one looks carefully at his preferred choice of material it would seem that he favors subtle homosexual themes. Top Gun for example, was described by critic Pauline Kael as a "shiny homoerotic commercial," and several years later The Independent called Interview with a Vampire "the most candidly gay movie to come out of mainstream Hollywood in years." And since then Cruise, whose very name reflects the gay practice of "cruising," has continued to play men that have either been asexual or misogynistic. Even his much-ballyhooed appearance in Stanley Kubrick's final masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut--obviously chosen for its blatant heterosexual content--followed a similar pattern.
The Bottom Line:
The incessant speculation over Cruise's sexuality is a complex subject, just as it is for any gay rumor. In some cases, such speculation may alleviate tension among straight men who not only feel uncomfortable with their female companion's attraction toward good-looking actors, but the unsettling homosexual themes in their films. On the other hand, such speculation also tends to center on those individuals who seem overprotective or controlling of their public images. Cruise in particular has worked tirelessly to perfect his public persona, a goal of most Scientoligists, and his bitter response to gay allegations has led many to believe that he's hiding something. In fact, the vehemence of Cruise's denial of homosexuality can be measured by the size of his libel suits. (If libel suits are designed to put a monetary value on damage incurred, Cruise seems to think that he stands to lose $100 million dollars for being considered a homosexual, despite the fact that he has been hounded by that same rumor for nearly fifteen years, yet continues to demand one of the highest salaries in the business.) Sociologists, meanwhile, have determined that celebrity scandals are really nothing more than an attempt by the public to uncover a star's true identity--an identity inextricably linked to his or her sexuality. As critic Richard de Cordova writes, "Scandal is the primal scene of all star discourse."
Jamie Lee Curtis was born a hermaphrodite.
A Little History:
While rumors of transsexuality are rare in the movie business, they're not unheard of. It was sometimes rumored that Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Mercedes De Acosta, and Mae West were packing more than a wicked wit underneath those sleek suits and riding pants,1 a specious rumor that has also been leveled at singer Eartha Kitt, disco queen Grace Jones, and soap star Eileen Davidson of The Young and the Restless.2 The rumor is absurd, of course, if not downright tasteless, and it seems to reveal a deep-seated misogyny that goes far beyond everyday homosexual rumors. Perhaps that's because it's not enough to call someone a lesbian, which is still considered a lesser "crime" than male homosexuality.
What People Are Saying:
Jamie Lee Curtis, the great comedienne and star of such classics as A Fish Called Wanda and True Lies, seems to be the most recent victim of this rumor. Many have alleged that they "knew the doctor that performed the operation"; knew someone that "picked up her prescription for female hormone pills," or knew someone that saw "the scar on her ass where skin was taken for her vagina."
Where It Comes From:
The only real "confirmation" of the rumor came in 1996 when William O. Beeman, an associate professor of anthropology at Brown University, published an article for the Baltimore Morning Sun titled, What are you? Male, Merm, Herm, Ferm or Female? That's where he not only tried to explain "intersexuality" in lay terms, but tried to use Jamie Lee Curtis as an example of what's called a "fermaphrodite."
A little Background:
To understand what's going on here, it should be pointed out that in a typical pregnancy, a woman's egg reacts to male sperm by creating an embryo. If the egg, which already contains an X chromosome receives another X chromosome, the embryo reacts to the effects of estrogen and begins to evolve into a female child. If it receives a Y, it reacts to androgens and forms a male child. But in some cases, perhaps one in 20,000 the XY embryo fails to fully react to the male hormone and the masculinization process is arrested. As a result, a male child develops the physical characteristics of a female, yet retains XY chromosomes and male traits. (A similar process works in the opposite direction when the embryo rejects the feminization process as well.) In more extreme cases, women with Androgen Insensitity Syndrome, or AIS, may fail to develop ovaries and show signs of male genitalia at birth. In such cases, the genitalia may be removed at birth--often without the parents' knowledge.
In any case, most women with AIS tend to be taller than most of their female counterparts, and are said to have good skin, large teeth, elongated limbs, large hands and feet, an exceptionally small vagina, large breasts, and juvenile nipples.
In any case, when Beeman needed to give an example of a typical "ferm," he cited a quote from a credible physician who tried to name Jamie Lee Curtis, the famous actress and author of the children's book, Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, as a "known" AIS patient. Quoting a medical source, Beeman states, "There are perhaps millions of XX males and XY females living in the United States today. These are cultural males with male genitalia who are genetically female, and cultural females with female genitalia who are genetically male. The film star Jamie Lee Curtis is one well-known individual who is genetically male, but phenotypically female."
The editors of the Baltimore Morning Sun removed Curtis's name after Beeman admitted that he "couldn't authenticate [her] story to his satisfaction." Apparently that was because Beeman's source had obtained the information from members of the AIS community "who had heard about Jamie Lee Curtis from her plastic surgeons."
Since it is unlawful to discuss a patient's medical history without written permission, it's quite possible that Beeman's source chose Curtis--who has not been proven to be suffering from AIS--precisely because of the apparently specious rumor. In other words, the rumor that Curtis suffers from AIS has never been proven and is almost certainly false. It would have been much easier to pick someone like Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth, Eva Braun, or Elizabeth "Black Dahlia" Short, since they were known to be genuine AIS patients.
In truth, there have only been a handful of real sex changes in the entertainment biz. Wendy Carlos for example, the composer of Switched on Bach and A Clockwork Orange, was really Walter Carlos before he had a complete sex change in the early 1970s; and in 1978 director Doris Wishman made a movie called Let Me Die a Woman that featured actual footage of a sex change operation. (The star was not an actor, however, but a genuine patient.) More recently Jayne (Wayne) County, a well-known habitue of Warhol's factory and a punk-rock star in his/her own right, had a full boob job done before changing officially to Jayne. (S/he kept his male genitals intact, however.)
Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Studios, hired a hit man to murder sammy Davis, Jr. after he found out he was dating actress Kim Novak.
In 1957 Harry Cohn, the president of Columbia Studios, called his Mafia friends in Chicago to ask them for a favor. Cohn was introduced to the Chicago mob through Johnny Roselli, a member of Al Capone's gang in the 1920s, and it was Roselli that helped Cohn purchase a controlling interest in Columbia Studios--with mob money--in 1932.
In any case, Cohn's request was promptly passed to Frank Costello, the head of the New York family, and Costello in turn, called Mickey Cohen in L. A. and instructed him to "make a meet" with Mr. Harry Cohn to see "what the hell his problem is."Mickey, who always enjoyed rubbing elbows with the stars, promptly scheduled an appointment, and drove out the following day.
Harry Cohn put it to him bluntly. His top star, Kim Novak, was "banging a nigger" as he put it, and he didn't like it one bit. "She met this scumbag at Tony Curtis's house one night after a show," he continued working himself into a lather. "And after that he wouldn't leave her alone. He'd call her day and night, he'd send her flowers, he'd send her gifts, he'd send her tickets to Mexico and Hawaii--that cocksucker even rented a goddamned house in Malibu just so that they had a place to fuck in private. And then he goes to Aurora and asks her parents for permission to marry her. And when I heard that I figured I had to do something about this little prick. Because there's no way in hell that she's going to have a career if she's bangin' this guy. No way in hell. Do you understand what I'm saying? Her career is finished if this gets out. And I've already put a lot of goddamned money into that broad."
Cohn sat back in his chair for a moment, then leveled his eyes at Mickey. "His name is Sammy Davis, Jr. and I want that son of a bitch knocked in," he said flatly. "And I want it done yesterday, do you understand me? I don't give a damn what it costs."
By then Mickey had heard enough. As hetold reporter Peer Nugent years later, "It was as if he had told me that he wanted Benny Siegel knocked in. Sammy's my friend, Sammy's mother and father are my friends. I love little Sammy like I love anyone in my family. So I told this Cohn, I said, 'Lookit, you're way out of line here. Not only am I going to give ya a negative answer to this, but I'm going to give ya a negative answer that you better see that it doesn't happen. Because if it does happen, I'm going to kill you."'
That wasn't the answer Cohn wanted to hear. Without saying a word, the rotund producer jumped out of his chair and marched off to his car. Minutes later he was on the line with Costello again, chewing his ear off. Costello then called Chicago and arranged for two thugs to fly out to L.A. the following day and pay Davis a visit. As Davis later told his biographer, a rental car pulled into his driveway and two nonose thugs ordered him to jump in. Two hours later he found himself in the middle of the Mojave Desert with the business end of a .45 pressed into his face. "You already got one eye missing,"growled the gangster. "Unless you want to try for two you better stay away from that Kim Novak broad. And you better marry a colored girl as soon as possible. It don't matter who, just so she's black."
Weeks later, on January 10, 1958, Davis married Loray White, a very attractive, and very black twenty-three-year-old singer from Texas. The marriage only lasted six months, however, and White later revealed that she never once slept with Davis, not even on their wedding night. Still, she received $25,000 for her efforts.
In retrospect, Davis's desire to marry Kim Novak was, in his own words, "a big fuck you" to the industry. As he told a reporter years later, he had received so much racial abuse as a black performer in a white entertainment world, that he wanted nothing more than to make them all green with envy. "I had to get the whitest, most famous chick in the world," he said. "And just show 'em."
Errol Flynn secretly worked for the Nazis during WWII, and was, perhaps, one of the most important spies of the century.
What People Are Saying:
When author Charles Higham released his indepth investigation into the many lives and loves of Errol Flynn, the much-beloved Hollywood sybarite best known for his swashbuckling turns in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Captain Blood, he started a firestorm of controversy that continues to this day. That book, Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, first published in 1979, not only charged Flynn with being a rapist, pederast, and bisexual, but a gun runner, drug dealer, murderer, and a virulent anfi-Semite who not only spied for the Nazis during World War II, but secretly hoped that Hitler would wipe every Jew off the face of the planet.
Flynn's still-living wife was so shocked at Higham's claims that she swore her husband would have "flattened him"if he were still alive. Sir William Stephenson, the Canadian Director of Allied Wartime Intelligence, also discounted Higham's allegations, arguing that there was no proof of Flynn's covert activities and if there were, he would know about it. A short time later,author Tony Thomas got into the act with his 1990 book, Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was, claiming that "it takes little examination of The Untold Story to reach the conclusion that the charges [against Flynn] are based on statements of people long dead or those who do not wish to be identified. Other conclusions on the part of Higham are reached by inference, supposition, innuendo, and strained deduction. But the basis for the charge of Nazism is Flynn's friendship with an Austrian doctor named Hermann Friedrich Erben. It is more than a basis; take away Erben and there is nothing left with which to tackle Flynn in regard to his supposed interest in Nazi Germany."
The mysterious Dr. Erben is indeed the key to Flynn's Nazism. But according to Thomas, who looked at many of the same FBI files as Higham, the Austrian physician, often described as a "crackpot" by those that knew him, was never the "high-ranking"Nazi that Higham claimed. If anything, he was too inept, boisterous--and Jewish--to be a genuine Nazi spy.3
Still, as author Rudolf Stoiber claims in his well-researched book, The Spy That Wanted to Be Hitler, Erben was not someone to be discounted so easily. While he may have been reckless, he indeed conducted espionage conquests all over the world, sometimes with dire consequences. In 1937 for example, he used Flynn and his celebrity contacts to raise $1.5 million for the loyalists, the ragtag rebel army at war against Franco's Nazi-backed Spanish offensive, primarily as an excuse to get behind rebel lines. But when he arrived with Flynn in tow, the actor refused to hand over the money, leaving Erben to make up something about the missing funds. What's more, Erben also used Flynn's cover to sneak behind rebel lines and gather the names of German soldiers secretly fighting for rebel forces. And once he returned to Paris, he passed those names over to Nazi officials, who later went after those same soldiers and their families.
" ...he may have been one of the most important German agents of WWII."
Yet that was hardly an isolated case. Journalist Gerry Brown, an award-winning journalist in England, uncovered secret MI6 files documenting a meeting between Flynn and Sean Russell, the quartermaster general of the IRA, which clearly showed that Flynn was trying to help the IRA secure funding from the Third Reich to increase the chance of a Nazi takeover. And perhaps even more alarming is the report that Flynn may have taken photographs of Pearl Harbor in 1938 from his boat, the Sirocco, and passed them to Ulrich von der Osten, the notorious Nazi spy who helped the Japanese plan the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. "Let's be frank here," says Higham in a recent interview. "And I say this after twenty years of much thought and consideration: Errol Flynn was a major Nazi agent. In fact, he may have been one of the most important German agents of WWII."
If so many people in Hollywood knew about Flynn's secret activities--which apparently they did--then why didn't they do anything about it? There's a great deal of evidence, for example, that Flynn's boss, Jack Warner, knew all about his affairs, and yet Warner was a virulent anti-Nazi. In fact, he not only produced such inflammatory anti-Nazi propaganda as Confessions of a Nazi Spy, but publicly announced that anyone suspected of fomenting sabotage or indicating disloyalty to the American flag on his lot would be "turned over to the authorities."
The only explanation for Flynn's freedom, it seems, had to do with the fact that it was easier to hide his activities than risk the consequences of revealing them to the public. "They simply had to pretend that it didn't exist," says Higham. "Because if they ever let this kind of information out, it was serious enough to bring the entire industry to its knees. Everyone would be implicated. And considering [Warner's] associationsin Washington, the studios couldn't, under any circumstances, allow that to happen."
The Bottom Line:
Aristotle calls the man without a society a game piece without a game, and Flynn, a lifelong runaway with no allegiances to any country, spent his life searching for a game--on and off the screen. So when he met Erben on a steamer headed for England in 1933, the budding twenty-four-year-old actor became immediately enchanted with the mad doctor. After all, Erben lived a life of genuine adventure and intrigue, one that took him around the world and into truly dangerous situations. For someone like Flynn, that kind of adventure was intoxicating. As Stoiber explains, "I think Flynn caught the spying bug from Erben, because as Erben told me, spying is like alcoholism: that you do one act of espionage and then another, and another, until you're hooked and you cannot stop."
In other words, Flynn undoubtedly fraternized with Nazi spies in Mexico, Rio, and Buenos Aires; transported delicate information to enemy agents here and abroad; and adopted anti-Semitic views. (He once wrote a letter to Erben in 1933 in his own hand stating, "I wish we could bring Hitler over here to show these Isaacs a thing or two.") Nonetheless, there has never been any proof that he was officially sanctioned by the Nazis during World War II.4 That may be a matter of semantics for some, but it certainly makes his title as "the greatest spy of WWII" somewhat doubtful.
Clark Gable accidentally killed a pedestrian along Sunset Boulevard one night while driving drunk, and the studios successfully covered up the incident.
A Brief History:
In the 1930s Clark Gable was one of MGM's most popular stars. He was making an average of three pictures a year including It Happened One Night and Mutiny on the Bounty, and many considered him to be MGM's greatest asset. Yet despite his success, he was deeply unhappy with his professional life. Not only was he trapped in a loveless marriage to Josephine Dillon, his first acting coach, but his income was far below that of his costars.
What People Are Saying:
One night, while driving west on Sunset Boulevard after a bout of drinking with some friends, Gable failed to see a young woman crossing the road and slammed right into her, catching her with the front bumper of his Duesenberg and sending her flying twenty feet in the air. Shaken sober, Gable climbed out of his car and ran over to the woman, who was out cold and bleeding badly. He tried reviving her with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but the injuries were too severe. What's more, he realized that she was pregnant. Panicking, he ran to the nearest phoneand called Howard Strickling, one of his closest friends and the head of publicity at MGM. Strickling sent Whitely Hendry to pick him up and bring him back to his house. Meanwhile, Strickling called Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, and told him what happened. "Keep Clark in your house," ordered Mayer. "And don't let him talk to anybody. Not until we get this thing straightened out." Mayer then called District Attorney Buron Fitts and explained the situation, adding, "I'm confident that we can find a way to work this out."
As soon as he got into his office the following morning, Mayer called Eddie Mannix, his usual cohort in such matters, and asked him to find a fall guy, someone that could claim he was driving Gable's car that night. Mannix in turn, suggested a young executive who had just joined the company and was eager to please. Without hesitation, Mayer called the upstart into his office and put it to him bluntly, "I'm going to make you a proposition. But before I do, you must swear that you will sign a piece of paper stating that you will never utter a word of this conversation to anyone for as long as you live. Will you do that for me?"
"Yes, sir," replied the young man nervously.
Then Mayer outlined the proposition: He would claim responsibility for the accident and serve a ten-month sentence in the lowest security prison available. In return he'd be rewarded a guaranteed income for the rest of his life and a permanent position at MGM.
The young man mulled it over for a few minutes and asked if he could sleep on it.
"No you can't sleep on it!" bellowed Mayer. "What's your answer?"
Frustrated, the young man sunk back into his chair and nervously agreed to take the fall. Seconds later, Mayer was on the phone with Fitts again, and the young man was hauled off to LAPD headquarters. Meanwhile, as Gable moved to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to recuperate, Fitts brokered a deal between Mayer and the LAPD to purchase the police dockets for $1 million.
Where It Comes From:
Not surprisingly, there has never been a credible validation of Gable's hit-and-run story. The only recorded episode in Gable's life that bears any resemblance occurred on June 20, 1933 when he drunkenly ran his Duesenberg into a tree. According to the Los Angeles Examiner, he was on his way to visit Strickling when he misjudged the driveway and piled right into a large eucalyptus. According to the Examiner, Strickling rushed Gable to Cedars-Sinai and told reporters that he had swerved to avoid a drunk driver traveling in the opposite direction, apparently to hide Gable's own intoxication. And just to make sure that the public felt sorry for him, Strickling forced him to stay in the hospital for an entire week.
Gable's mysterious hospital stay in 1933 seems to be the real basis of the rumor. Yet, even that is of questionable origin. In fact, it's likely that Strickling made up the story about crashing into a tree to hide something else, something slightly more embarrassing. According to his biographer, Lyn Tornabene, the real reason for Gable's secretive hospital stay was to get cosmetic surgery done on his famously large ears and tobaccostained teeth, and he didn't want anyone to know about it, including his studio bosses.
The Bottom Line:
The Examiner's story about the tree could have easily been a cover story for the manslaughter incident. And yet, the tree could have easily been a cover for the plastic surgery story as well. In any case, it provides a perfect model for all pre-Vietnam Hollywood rumors: offering "proof" that the studios protected their stars, even to the point of helping them get away with murder.
Richard Gere was once admitted to Cedars-Sinai where a live gerbil was removed from his ass.
What People Are Saying:
Apparently this rumor began sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and supposedly it went like this: One night, after being admitted into Cedars-Sinai's emergency room, a famous actor, supposedly Richard Gere, the star of American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, was found to have a live gerbil lodged deep within his rectal cavity. Apparently the actor believed that the wiggling motions of the rodent, which had been shaved, declawed, and sheathed in a large condom, would bring him extraordinary sexual pleasure once inserted.
After the operation, Gere supposedly paid off the entire medical team for their silence and asked them to sign confidentiality contracts as insurance. But unbeknownst to him, a technician at the nearby radiology center accidentally came upon a copy of his X ray and alerted the ASPCA. In response, the ASPCA sent out hundreds of faxes deriding Gere, Hollywood, and the homosexual community for engaging in a practice known to be cruel to animals.
Despite the utter absurdity of the story, thousands of people have claimed that they were at the hospital on the night that Gere was supposedly there--or at least knew someone that was. Nonetheless, no one has ever been able to prove the validity of the story. Mike Walker, a reporter for the National Enquirer spent months trying to track down the attending physician that supposedly performed the procedure and found no evidence that Gere was even in the hospital. "I've never worked harder on a story in my life," he told the Palm Beach Post. "I'm convinced that it's nothing more than an urban legend."
Meanwhile, other reporters scanned the records of Cedars-Sinai's patient list for the entire year, spoke with every doctor on duty that night, and came to the same conclusion: Gere wasn't even there. And to make the story even more incredible, gerbils are considered a menace to native agriculture and are illegal to sell or purchase anywhere in the state of California. (What's more, does anyone really believe that Gere would even know how to declaw a rodent?)
As the rumor swept through the country in the early 1990s, Drs. David B. Busch and James R. Starling began conducting their own survey of hospitals to see if they could find another case of gerbil abuse. Yet after months of searching, they failed to find a single one. They found other examples of Rectal Foreign Objects (RFOs), however, including cases of apples, vegetables, candles, perfume bottles, spatulas, flashlights, curling irons, baseballs, pool cues, light bulbs,axe handles, ice picks, peanut butter jars, sixinch stones, frozen pig's tails, and in one case a live World War II artillery shell.5
Where If Comes From:
Like most urban legends, the story has a number of interesting precedents. Some folktales from the eighteenth century for example, describe a mouse crawling into a woman's vagina and giving her pleasure by its movements. A couple hundred years later, during the Vietnam War, it was rumored that draft dodgers often inserted rats up their backsides to either prove that they were too crazy or too gay to go into military service.
The rumor took a new spin in the 1970s and eighties however. Jan Harold Brunvand, one of America's leading folklorists specializing in urban legends, reported that he heard similar narrative in 1984, from places as scattered as Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, and California. Meanwhile, a supervisor for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told writer Catherine Seipp of The Advocate that she heard the story attributed to at least ten different celebrities between the years 1967 and 1990.
Yet it is the case of Rick Segal, a TV weatherman in Wichita Falls, that seems to have the greatest significance. Apparently, in 1989--not long before the Gere story hit--someone claimed that Segal had spent the night at the local hospital getting his own gerbilectomy. As a result, the rumor--which was completely false and led to Segal's dismissal--spread like wildfire through the entire southwest. Meanwhile, at the same time, the grapevine was abuzz over Richard Gere's alleged homosexuality. The French tabloid Voici even went so far as to claim that he was planning to divorce his then-wife, supermodel Cindy Crawford, because he was planning to "come out of the closet,"an allegation Gere felt compelled to deny in a full-page London Times advertisement. Finally, as the news of Segal's alleged sexual practice made it out west, it naturally dovetailed with Gere's rumored homosexuality until it ultimately morphed into a story about Richard Gere using a gerbil.
The Bottom Line:
As much as people really want to believe that Richard Gere attempted such an act, it's almost certainly false that he did. If anything, it's a prime example of the moralizing subtext of urban legends, a subtext that condemns as much as it entertains. What's more, the rumor itself is deeply homophobic, sexist, and malicious.
They found other examples of Rectal Foreign Objects (RFOs), including cases of apples, vegetables, candles, perfume bottles, spatulas, flashlights, curling irons, baseballs, pool cues, light bulbs, axe handles, ice picks, peanut butter jars, six-inch stones, frozen pig's tails, and in one case a live World War II artillery shell.
After ursuccessfully trying to initiate sex with an artificial penis on his wife Jean Harlow, Paul Bern committed suicide.
The Back Story:
On September 5, 1932, Paul Bern, producer Irving Thalberg's top assistant, was found nude in Jean Harlow's bedroom with a bullet in his head. As shocking as it was, detectives quickly ruled the case a suicide, pointing to two key pieces of evidence: the gun in his hand and a suicide note found nearby--a note which read:
Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you. Paul. P.S. You understand that last night was only a comedy.
Bern's note was checked with handwriting experts and proven to be authentic. Yet those words: "abject humiliation," "frightful wrong," and "comedy" would vex journalists, biographers, and fans alike for years to come. In fact, Bern's alleged suicide has gone down in the history books as one of the most mysterious, sordid, and perplexing affairs in Hollywood history.
Where It Comes From:
Fans and friends alike were baffled by the Bem/Harlow marriage, which in turn led to numerous rumors and jokes. Bern, after all, was a full twenty-six years older than Harlow and the complete opposite of the macho type that she generally pursued. What's more, Harlow was at the peak of sexual attractiveness, a legendary sexual dynamo, while Bern was a quiet, mild-mannered "schoolteacher-type" as some described him. (That led many to believe that she must have had a father fixation stemming from her own father's near-pathological control of her.) Yet according to Irving Shulman, the author of 1964's Harlow, Bern was a lot darker than he led on. In fact, he claims that Bern was an outright monster, beating his wife viciously on occasion, almost to the point of hospitalization. And to make matter's even weirder, Shulman also claims that Bern had the genitals of a "six-year-old-boy" and was completely impotent.
While those charges still remain unresolved, there seems to be some evidence that Harlow called her agent, Arthur Landau, on the day after their wedding night, demanding that he start divorce proceedings immediately. (Shulman claims that it was because she laughed at his inadequacies when he tried to consummate the marriage, and he responded by beating her savagely.) Instead Landau called MGM's Irving Thalberg, who in turn called Louis B. Mayer. That led to an emergency meeting where it was quickly decided that Bern would move out of his house and into a nearby apartment, yet "pretend" to be Harlow's husband for at least a year.
According to Shulman, everything went according to plan, save for the fact that Harlow began having casual sex with just about anybody that came along, including studio messengers, cab drivers, and limo drivers. Bern refused to give up, however, and began seeing a sex therapist in private, secretly hoping that he might satisfy his wife one day. Apparently that day came on September 5. As Shulman describes it:
Paul untied the belt of the robe and stepped out of it. He was nude. And Jean stood in amazement, her mouth slackopen, because strapped around Paul 's middle, just above his true parts, were a large artificial penis and testicles. This formidable apparatus, harnessed around Paul's hips with a series of straps, appeared to be made of a soft suedelike leather dyed the color of natural flesh, except that the enormous head was bright red. The testicles were huge, too, and from the sack extended a little bulb to squirt warm water.
Apparently Harlow found the contraption absurd and laughed so hard that she cried. But rather than get angry, Bern sheepishly retired to the dressing room where he found one of his guns and blew his brains out.
What Probably Happened:
Shulman's account has been widely dismissed by historians and critics alike. The New York Times, for example, claimed that he "would have been better off calling it fiction." Screenwriter Samuel Marx, on the other hand, who had known Harlow and Bern personally, was so infuriated by the book that he began investigating the story on his own. Using police records and new research, he and his coauthor, Joyce Vanderveen, reconstructed the events of Bern's final night, and came to the conclusion that he was murdered.
According to their book, Deadly Illusions, the scenario went down like this: A mysterious woman by the name of Dorothy Millette arrived at Bern's house at around two in the morning, specifically to meet with Bern in private. (Harlow was conveniently away that night, staying at her parents' house.) Bern answered the door in a bathing suit and offered her a glass of champagne. Soft music was playing on the turntable and he had candles placed all around the pool, casting a lambent, romantic mood. Yet seduction wasn't on Bern's mind. If anything, he simply wanted to keep Millette calm. After all, he knew that she was prone to schizophrenic fits and irrational thinking; he knew that because he used to live with her, back when they were both struggling actors in New York. They even had a binding, common-law marriage by New York standards, one that required Bern to pay for her monthly psychiatric bills.
Apparently Harlow found the contraption absurd and laughed so hard that she cried.
Millette was, in other words, a highly volatile woman, and Bern knew that she had come to L.A. to reclaim him for herself.
Within minutes of arriving, Millette launched into Bern with a storm of vindictive remarks. "You're still my husband!" she screamed. "How could you do this to me?" Bern reacted by smashing a champagne glass on a table which left him with a small cut on his hand. (A neighbor later testified that he heard Bern scream, "Get out of my life," around 2:30 in the morning.)
Bern then went inside to dress his wound and get out of his wet suit; and apparently as he did, Millette appeared in his dressing room without a stitch of clothing on, pressing herself up against his nude body from behind. Bern recoiled slightly, and when he did, Millette produced one of Bern's handguns that she found in the other room. Both froze for a moment until Millette broke the ice with a laugh and a mock threat. But before he could react, she pulled the trigger, sending a bullet whizzing through his skull.
No one knows if Millette really meant to kill him or not, and there's a good chance that she was just playing around, thinking that the gun was empty. In any case, no one will ever know for sure. Millette disappeared shortly after that, only to wind up drowning in a river near Sacramento--probably by her own hand.
What Really Happened:
Marx and Vanderveen offer some compelling evidence to back up their theory, yet none of it actually proves that Dorothy Millette killed Paul Bern.6 David Stenn offers a much more balanced account in his book, Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow, and according to him, Bern's suicide had already been a foregone conclusion. He was, in fact, a genuinely compassionate soul who rarely, if ever, raised his voice. Nonetheless, he was a deeply troubled man. His mother had killed herself years earlier--supposedly after she found out that he was "living in sin"with Dorothy Millette--and the event scarred him for life. (It also led to Millette's breakdown and subsequent mental illness.) In fact, Bern had already tried to kill himself once before after actress Barbara La Marr rejected his request for marriage a couple years earlier.
On the night of September 5, he invited Millette over to the house because he wanted to introduce her to Harlow so that they could discuss what could be done in a civilized manner. But when Harlow, who later died, surprisingly, at age twenty-six, grabbed her coat and hissed, "Call me when you figure out who you're married to,"before storming out the door, he crumbled. His love for Harlow was profound, and at that moment he realized that he had crossed the line and that there was no turning back. He tried to go for a swim to relax, but Millette's recriminations only made him feel worse. So when he went to change his clothes and found one of his guns on the dresser, he picked it up, put it to his temple and pulled the trigger.
If the rumor has continued through the years, it's primarily because of the skillful cover-up performed by Harlow's studio, MGM. As Stenn reports, L. B. Mayer was so terrified at the potential scandal that he did everything that he could to ensure that everyone--including the police--would agree that it was a suicide. He not only came up with Bern's "impotency idea,"but moved Bern's body in front of the mirror and placed a note in his hand--a note that Bern had written weeks earlier.
While on his private yacht, William Randolph Hearst killed producer Thomas Ince and successfully covered up the murder by buying everybody off.
What People Are Saying:
On Friday, November 16, 1924, William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy newspaper tycoon, boarded his 280-foot yacht, the Oneida, and took off for a weekend rendezvous with thirty of his nearest and dearest friends. What happened after that has never been fully documented, but many people seem to believe that Hearst walked in on his mistress, actress Marion Davies, in bed with another man--possibly Charlie Chaplin--and tried to kill him. Exactly how he delivered the fatal blow, or even if it was Chaplin at all, has been debated for years. Most, however, seem to agree that producer Thomas Ince died at Hearst's hands, either by a stray bullet meant for Chaplin or from a bullet meant for him after he caught him diddling Davies.
Fearing a scandal, Hearst then dumped the body overboard and then forced everybody to sign confidentiality contracts, while promising them all hefty bribes for their silence. (Famed gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who was nothing more than a struggling writer at the time, supposedly refused to sign unless Hearst put her in charge of all the gossip columns in his newspapers around the country--an ultimatum that Hearst was forced to accept.) Meanwhile, Hearst allegedly gave Ince's widow, Mrs. Elinor Ince, the newly built $2.5 million, one hundred-room luxury mansion called the Chateau Elysee, now the Church of Scientology's celebrity center in Hollywood, as well as a multimillion dollar trust fund that would take care of her for the rest of her life.
What Really Happened:
While no one will ever know if Hearst was capable of murder, there's no doubt that he was a duplicitous character. He may have had friendship in mind when he invited Ince to join them in the first place, yet in truth, he was more concerned with getting him to sign a contract that would bring Ince's highly successful Triangle Pictures under the umbrella of Hearst enterprises--a contract that Ince had no intention of signing.
In any case, Ince still managed to have a good time, indulging himself on salted almonds
and rich desserts despite his doctor's warnings. And sure enough, he started complaining of severe chest pains a short time later. Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, who was on board at the time, came to his aid and gave him some medication, saying that he needed to rest. But when Dr. Goodman went to check on him the following morning, he found that his condition had worsened. So he loaded him onto a dinghy and escorted him ashore to the nearest train station.
Within minutes into the trip back to L.A., Ince suffered a minor heart attack, and was forced to disembark at Del Mar. There, a team of doctors, including Dr. Truman Parker and Dr. Horace Lazelle of San Diego, met him at the station and took him to a nearby hospital. His doctors suggested that he stay in Del Mar and get some rest, but when Dr. Parker returned to check on him the following morning he was gone. Apparently his wife and son picked him up in the middle of the night and took him back to L.A. on a private line.
Sadly, Ince passed away the following morning (Wednesday, November 21, 1924) in his Benedict Canyon home. The coroner claimed that his death was due to heart failure. Yet rather than allow an autopsy to be performed, Mrs. Ince had his body cremated and interned days later as per her husband's request. (She had no reason to disagree with the coroner's ruling since she knew all about her husband's heart problems and no one, including the chief medical examiner, found evidence of poison or bullet holes.)
Where It Came From:
How or why people came up with the idea that Hearst tried to murder Charlie Chaplin and mistakenly shot Ince is still unclear. It could be that people placed Chaplin on board simply because everyone knew that Hearst was insanely jealous over Marion Davies's affections for him. In fact, the New York Daily News printed a gossip item on November 16, 1924--the same day as the infamous voyage--suggesting that they were having a full-blown affair.7
Yet Chaplin wasn't within a hundred miles of San Diego that day. He was actually mad at work on his epic, The Gold Rush, while dealing with a messy scandal of his own involving a sixteen-year-old actress named Lita Grey who claimed that she was pregnant with his baby.8 Meanwhile Louella Parsons was in New York tending to a nasty cold, and she didn't move out to Hollywood until May 1925, a full year after the alleged incident. (Furthermore, she didn't force Hearst into giving her the job at his newspaper. As her biographer has pointed out, the only reason that he gave her the position was because he knew that she'd never print anything negative about Davies, at least not while he was paying her.) And lastly, Hearst couldn't have given the Chateau Elysee to Elinor Ince either, simply because he never had anything to do with the building. According to public records, Mrs. Ince built the chateau on her own accord, mostly with the money that she received from her husband's estate.
What It All Means:
If the rumor has remained popular over the years it's simply because people want to believe that Hearst was capable of such egregious behavior. In fact, even D. W. Griffith, the great director, went on record saying, "All you had to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince's name. There's plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big to touch."Hearst, after all, was a miserable human being; wealthy beyond anyone's dreams, yet miserly, selfish, insecure, chauvinistic, and treacherous. If anyone was going to pull such a stunt, it was he. Yet in truth, he may have unwittingly fostered the tale by refusing to confront it in public. As he once told Davies, "Never sue a paper. That only enlarges the thing, keeps it going, and makes it worse."
Alfred Hitchcock used to spy on Grace Kelly with a teleScope, but only after she off before a large, pictureframe window.
What People Are Saying:
In 1984 Kenneth Anger wrote about Hitch's scopophilia in Hollywood Babylon II, claiming that the beautiful Grace Kelly, the star of Hitchcock's Rear Window, consented to going home and doing a sensual striptease before a large picture window. According to Anger, Hitchcock had a house across the canyon and would masturbate while watching Kelly through a telescope. As he put it:
"Slowly, thoughtfully, as if returning from a night on the town, Kelly disrobed. Her hat came first, then the gloves. The straps of her evening gown slipped down from her white shoulders, allowing the sensuous crepe de chine to glide to the floor. The last to fall were her French lace panties. Across the shadowed canyon, 'Cocky' rose to the occasion."
It's not hard to figure out how such a rumor could evolve. Hitchcock was notorious for his fetishistic behavior toward his leading ladies. In 1963 for example, he was so harsh on Tippi Hedren during the making of The Birds that she had to be institutionalized. (And as if that wasn't sadistic enough, he also sent her five-year-old daughter, Melanie Griffith, an exact replica of her mother--in a casket.)
Yet according to most biographers, Hitch never treated Kelly in the same way. In fact, of all his leading ladies, she received the greatest respect. "He was in love with her to be sure,"writes James Spada in Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess. "But he never made any overt attempts to woo her."
In any case, even if she performed in her living room, as Anger claims, it's not likely that Hitch could have seen it. Kelly lived in an apartment with two other girls at 6329 Hollywood Boulevard at the time, a full eight miles from Hitch's house at 10957 Bellagio Road in Bel Air. Yet, on the other hand, she was also known to be having an affair with Ray Milland during the making of Dial M for Murder and Milland owned a house less than a mile away from Hitchcock at 10664 Bellagio. (In fact the affair led to a legal separation, after which Kelly apparently moved in with Milland for a short period.) Nonetheless, Milland later claimed that he never brought Kelly to his house during the affair, and even ifhe had, there's no way that Hitch could have spied on them from his house either, because if you visit the two houses today you'll see that they are completely obscured from each other.
Where It Came From:
In all probability, Kenneth Anger picked up on a little incident that occurred during the making of Dial M. Apparently during the production, Hitch became frustrated over what should have been an easy scene to shoot. The script called for Kelly to climb out of bed in the middle of the night to answer the telephone in another room. The studios wanted her to get up and put on a robe first, but that slowed the scene down considerably. So after numerous takes, Kelly came forward with a suggestion. "If I were home alone,"she argued, "and I had to get up and answer the telephone in the middle of the night, I would simply get up and answer it no matter what I had on."Naturally Hitch loved the idea and shot the scene just as Kelly proposed, with her rolling out of bed in what was considered to be quite revealing lingerie for the 1950s. What's more, Hitch then proceeded to direct her in how she should "saunter"across the room and up to a window, where she was supposed to answer the phone. In all likelihood, that was the infamous striptease for Alfred Hitchcock.
Actor Dennis Hopper was abducted by aliens while on vacation in Mexico.
A Little Background:
Dennis Hopper is perhaps Hollywood's greatest libertine. Since his early years as an artist in Southern California's nascent art scene, he has pursued a life as an impassioned sensualist with a genuine dedication to personal freedom and the expression of his artistic impulses. That, of course, has led him into areas that most of us can only dream of, including trying to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, blowing himself up with dynamite, and making love to a quadriplegic that he picked up on Western Avenue.9 "You can't make discoveries by sitting around waiting for something to happen,"he once said. "You've got to get out there. And sometimes that means exploring all kinds of stimuli. Not only drugs and alcohol, but sex, anger, hate, love, passion, everything."
Where It Comes From:
Apparently the alien-abduction rumor can be traced back to a little incident that occurred during the making of Jungle Fever in Mexico. As his biographer Elena Rodriguez points out in Dennis Hopper: A Madness to His Method, Hopper was suffering from severe exhaustion during the production, a condition aggravated by years of chronic drug and alcohol use, extreme stress, and neurotic symptoms. And at some point, while locked in his hotel room with a bottle of tequila, he began hearing voices and hallucinating. "I thought that there were people in the bowels of [the hotel] who were being tortured and cremated,"he explained to Rodriguez.
"These people had come to save me and they were being killed and tortured and it was my fault."
Apparently that was only the beginning, however, because then he started seeing "bugs and snakes"crawling underneath his skin. All at once, he let out a bloodcurdling scream, ripped off every stitch of clothing, and ran outside into a thicket of trees where, as he later put it, "two unseen armies were in the midst of a spectacular battle."nightmare ultimately took a turn for the better when he spotted a flying saucer overhead that "guided him"to safety.
Those hallucinations, while better than some of his movies, were nothing to laugh at. As his doctor later claimed, he was so close to the edge that he could have easily slipped over into a condition that was irreversible, leaving him with a permanent case of schizophrenia.
Not surprisingly, he's been clean ever since.
Evidently Hopper is not the first--or last--celebrity to see a UFO. Actress Lillian Roth (Animal Crackers), Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Olivia Newton-John (Grease), Cliff Robertson (Charly), Eddie Bracken (National Lampoon's Vacation), William Shatner (Captain Kirk on Star Trek), Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy on Star Trek), Kaye Ballard (The Girl Most Likely), Lisa Hart (Another Time, Another Place) and Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment) have all claimed that they've seen flying saucers now and then.
Yet that's nothing compared to the stars that have claimed to have extraterrestrial ancestry. Elvis Presley, for example, once confided to a close friend that he had come from another planet --a "blue-star planet with several moons"to be exact--and that he used to vacation on "many planets in our solar system including the ninth moon of Jupiter."
On the other hand, there are also celebrities that are allegedly related to aliens. As Dr. Patricia Rochelle Diegel, a specialist in past-life regression therapy, told authors Brad and Sherry Steiger, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, Donald Sutherland, Sir Laurence Olivier, Alan Alda, and Robin Williams are all descendants of little green men from Mars, or Jupiter, or some other galactic universe. How or why they all ended up in Hollywood is another story.
Jayne Mansfield died because of a curse put on her by Anton LaVey, the high priest of the Church of Satan.
A Little Background:
From her debut in 1956's Female Jungle, to her peak in 1957's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Jayne Mansfield was the ideal star for postwar America. Cute, nonthreatening, and magnificently stacked, she made no bones of her desire to "get men all stirred up." Yet despite her blatant exhibitionism, she was ultimately a traditionalist. She considered herself a dedicated Republican, and took anyone to task that disrespected her country. That didn't square so well with the progressive atmosphere of the 1960s, however. As author Martha Saxton argues in Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties,
"Jayne was never cool. As much as anyone, she represented the moral and sexual dishonesty of the 1950s. She stood for titillation rather than honest sexual expression. She was completely artificial: bleach, makeup, tight clothes, fake voice ... (But) artifice had no place in the evolution of the decade. For the radicals, dishonesty had given us the war in Indochina, racism, and poverty."
While she may have weathered the derision of the hippie generation, Mansfield--who once claimed to have an IQ of 163--never shied away from trends, including Satanism, which enjoyed a brief stint of popularity in the ultraprogressive era of the 1960s. So when she and her boyfriendattorney, Sam Brody, were decapitated in a horrific car crash on Highway 90 in 1967, many assumed that she had been the unfortunate victim of a black-magic curse.10
What People Are Saying:
Anton Szandor LaVey, the self-appointed high priest of the Church of Satan, has done little to dispel the curse rumor. He describes the entire event in his authorized biography by Blanche Barton, The Secret Life of a Satanist, claiming that he met Mansfield at a film festival in 1966, tutored her in occult practices for several months, and ended up having a sexual affair with her. He also claims that Brody "disrespected" him every chance that he could, mishandledsome of his most cherished Satanic artifacts during photo sessions at his church, and mocked him publicly with derisive jokes. And when he found out that he was seducing his bombshell girlfriend, he apparently went ballistic, forbidding her from ever seeing him again.
What happened next was right out of a B-grade Roger Corman picture: LaVey, with his shaved head and pet lion, was sitting in his church in San Francisco when he got a call from a very hysterical Mansfield late one night in 1966. According to the black priest, she was lying on the floor of her bathroom in her Bel Air mansion, bruised and beaten, and scared out of her mind. After catching her breath, she allegedly recounted all the horrors that Brody had subjected her to, including the time he supposedly drugged her and took photographs of her in bed with another man so that he could blackmail her into staying with him. "I can't stand it anymore," she cried. "Please help me get away him, Anton!" That's when LaVey claims that he went directly into his black chapel and conducted one of the most powerful and dangerous rituals known to occultists, an arcane pagan ritual summoning the deepest, darkest forces of nature. And when he finally emerged five hours later, he immediately called Mansfield and warned her to stay away from Brody. "Because," he said ominously, "he will be dead in a year."
Unfortunately, she didn't stay away from him. And the very next day, as she and Brody were speeding home from La Scala restaurant in their new sports car, they were broadsided by anothet car and nearly killed. A month later, Mansfield's five-year-old son, Zoltan--whose name was the same as LaVey's pet lion--was attacked by a lioness at Jungleland in Thousand Oaks and nearly mauled to death. Then came a virtual tidal wave of bad luck: They were then robbed in Japan, physically attacked in Rio de Janeiro, charged by the Venezuelan government for tax evasion, sued by Mansfield's daughter Jayne Marie for child abuse, and involved in yet another car wreck that left Brody hospitalized with a broken leg.
What happened next was right out of a B-grade Roger Corman picture.
While there's something tantalizing about the idea of a sexy starlet like Mansfield becoming the victim of black magic, the rumor is pure fiction. LaVey's daughter, Zeena, has debunked her father's claims in a number of articles, saying that she only knew of one instance where Mansfield visited her father's church, and even that was for publicity photos and nothing else.11 Moreover, much of the misfortune that LaVey supposedly caused--the robberies, the accidents, etc.--occurred long before LaVey met Mansfield in 1966.
The Bottom Line:
Both Mansfield and LaVey were bent on manufacturing images for themselves, and used the media to their own advantages. Mansfield in particular was nothing if not a genius at manipulating the press. There are innumerable accounts of her "accidentally" losing her bra strap at press junkets, or "accidentally" forgetting to wear underwear at public appearances. She also went to great lengths to stage fictitious fights, breakups, and reunions simply to get her name in the papers; and she even orchestrated an elaborate boating accident once just to get noticed by reporters. "Everything had to be thrilling," writes Martha Saxton. "She couldn't stand it when things began to slow down."
The FBI and members of the
Hollywood establishment helped set up Robert Mitchum's famous marijuana arrest in the 1940s.
A Little Background:
It's not always easy to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Robert Mitchum. While he was one of the most popular actors of his generation, he was also a consummate storyteller with a knack for exaggeration. As a close friend told his biographer, George Eells, "If he tells a story and it works, the next time the story is going to get better ... Minor details don't bother him."
He used to boast about the time that he went to visit David Selzenick in his hotel room, but couldn't wait long enough to use the bathroom. Spying an ashtray near the elevators, he decided to unzip and unleash--just as the elevator doors opened to reveal a carload of passengers. And then there was the one about his evening in the White House where he chanced upon Eleanor Roosevelt's pink nightgown and tried it on for size. "I looked pretty good if I do say so myself," he recounted. "So good that Noel Coward tried to kiss me."
Perhaps his greatest story, however--at least the one that he relished telling in mixed company the most--was the one where he and his brother found a beached shark on a Mexican shoreline one afternoon. As he liked to tell it, he felt sorry for the poor thing and thought that it looked terribly lonely--so he had sex with it. "It wasn't a serious affair," he told Jack Lemmon. "I mean, I didn't kiss it or anything."
Not surprisingly, Mitchum has been the subject of a few whoppers himself. In the 1950s for example, Confidential magazine claimed that he once showed up to a party in the Hollywood Hills without a stitch of clothing on. And when no one laughed, he allegedly took out a bottle of catsup, poured it on his head and said, "This is a masquerade party, isn't it? Well, I'm a hamburger!" 12 Apparently Mitchum was furious about the accusation, however, and tried to sue the paper after it wrongly suggested that he was at the party with another woman. "I might joke around," he fumed, "but I don't fool around."
The infamous marijuana bust occurred on September 1, 1948. Apparently two LAPD cops, A. M. Barr and J. B. McKinnin, had stationed themselves outside of actress Lila Leeds's house at 8334 Ridpath Drive in Laurel Canyon. They had information that there was going to be a "reefer party" there and to their surprise "Battling Bob" Mitchum showed up with a local fringe character named Robin "Danny" Ford at around midnight. Approximately twenty minutes later, the two officers burst in the door and found Mitchum, still wearing dark sunglasses,sharing a joint with Leeds. "Yes, boys, I was smoking a marijuana cigarette," he admitted proudly. "I knew I'd get caught sooner or later."
Unlike most of his peers in the 1940s, Mitchum was shockingly brazen with his marijuana use.13 "Never before had they seen a prominent star make himself such a high-visibility risk," writes George Eells, in Robert Mitchum. "Strutting around as he did in a straw Stetson and cowboy boots, with a reefer tucked behind each ear or carrying a package of cigarettes in which the regular ones were alternated with hand-rolled joints."
"Yes, boys, I was smoking a marijuana cigarette," he admitted proudly. "I knew I'd get caught sooner or later."
Nonetheless, detectives refused to admit that they wanted to make an example of Mitchum, using his celebrity status to put a famous face on a very insidious problem. If anything, they argued, they were acting on a tip and had "no idea" who'd be at the party. Yet after the scandal died down, some reporters discovered that the LAPD had in fact targeted Leeds's house by planting bugs and informants inside. That means they knew perfectly well that the actor would be there. Still, even after that information was disclosed, the LAPD justified their actions by saying that they were only interested in breaking a major drug-dealing ring known to operate in Hollywood, a ring that the FBI had been tracking for months, and not gunning for Mitchum at all.
In any case, there is some evidence that Betty Doss, a friend of Leeds's and a guest at the party, had been "squealing" to the LAPD in the weeks preceding the event, apparently to alleviate the criminal charges against her, and she repeatedly asked Leeds to invite Mitchum over that night--so much so that Leeds thought that it was "weird."What's more, Robin Ford, the man that drove the actor to the scene, seemed to be dealing with his own problems with the LAPD, and may have been forced to deliver Mitchum in return for leniency.
The Other Truth:
Yet according to Fred Otash, a former cop under Chief William Parker and a well-known Hollywood private detective, the bust wasn't entirely the FBI's doing. As he argues, Howard Hughes may have orchestrated the entire scenario from start to finish. After all, Hughes, the then-president of RKO Pictures and aconsummate manipulator, had a history of unethical publicity practices. In 1949, for example, he deliberately leaked word about actress Ingrid Bergman's illegitimate pregnancy with director Robert Rossellini to the press, which in turn ignited a firestorm of scandal. The reason he did it, he later confessed, was to drum up interest in what he considered an "unsellable"Bergman/Rossellini picture called Stromboli, a project that he produced yet despised. (He released the news days before the picture opened.) He never considered the fact that the scandal would literally destroy Bergman's career--which it did--and force her to leave the country in shame.
Otash believes that a similar scenario played itself out five years earlier, shortly after Hughes took over Mitchum's contract from David Selznick. As he argues, Hughes understood that Mitchum's appeal was his notoriety, and that's why he immediately signed the actor up for a string of tough-guy pictures. Yet Mitchum was moving in another direction at the time and supposedly threatened to walk off any set where he had to play yet another "dumb GI, cop, or criminal." That's when Hughes allegedly contacted the FBI and helped them arrest his own star on drug charges to solidify his image as a bad boy once and for all.
"Jail is like Palm Springs without the riffraff. A great place to get in shape, only you meet a better class of people."
The Bottom Line:
While Otash's theory sounds plausible when one considers Hughes's legendary obsession with covert activities, most historians have dismissed the idea that he set up Mitchum's bust. George Eells, for example, points out that Hughes was sitting on three Mitchum movies at the time of the arrest--at a combined cost of over $5 million--and there was every chance that his arrest would have hurt the potential box office for each. Furthermore, Mitchum's attorney, Jerry Geisler, claims in his book, The Jerry Geisler Story, that Hughes was furious over his decision to throw Mitchum on the mercy of the court. In fact he pleaded with Geisler to take the case to trial so that they could "expose" the FBI's obvious "frame-up."
If the rumor has any validity at all, it may have to do with the fact that Hughes spent a lot of money to help reduce Mitchum's prison stay from two years to sixty days; and just to make sure that he was comfortable, he also kept him stocked with a continual supply of expensive wine and gourmet food. Perhaps that's why Mitchum later claimed that, "Jail is like Palm Springs without the riffraff. A great place to get in shape, only you meet a better class of people."
The Mexican Mafia has put a contract on the life of actor Edward James Olmos for exposing gang secrets to Hollywood.
A Little Background:
In 1993 the attorney general filed a federal racketeering case against reputed members of the so-called Mexican Mafia, or EME, for thirty-three counts of extortion, blackmail, and wholesale murder. According to court records, the gangsters--who were known to control much of the drug trade in the California prison system--believed that Olmos betrayed the EME during the production of his 1991 Latino gang movie, American Me, perhaps the best movie ever made about Latino prison life.
The irony, of course, is that Olmos went to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of the production. Yet it was that same perfectionism that nearly cost him his life. Because according to some insiders, his screenplay not only disrespected the EME, but gave away a number of essential gang secrets.
What Really Went Down:
In 1993 gang member, Ernest "Chuco"Castro agreed to turn state's evidence against the EME in exchange for his freedom. The following year Castro donned a wire and went into a meeting with some of the top lieutenants of the EME, ostensibly to talk about problems within the ranks, and turned the discussion toward the subject of Edward James Olmos. Many claimed that they felt betrayed by the actor, and were furious over the fact that he based his screenplay on Joe "Pegleg" Morgan, the original godfather of the EME, without getting permission. That wasn't enough for Castro, however, who was obviously leading the discussion toward criminal activity to satisfy his FBI listeners; so he asked what people thought of the prison scene where Morgan gets raped by fellow inmates. Many argued that Olmos should "pay" for that since it was pure fiction, prompting one member to stand up and declare Olmos "fair game."
What happened after that has never fully been documented, but according to some sources, Olmos may have sat down with some of the leaders of the EME and worked out a deal. (Court transcripts show that he offered Morgan's wife $5,000 shortly after the film was released, yet no one has been able to prove that it was tribute money.)
Olmos is not the first or last actor to receive death threats by organized crime members. During the 1920s for example, Al "Scarface" Capone, the then-head of the Chicago mob, sent some goons to Hollywood to intimidate screenwriter Ben Hecht who had been hired to write a screenplay based on the godfather's life.Fortunately Hecht, a hard-drinking, tough-talking, Chicago newspaperman, convinced Capone's hired guns that his version of the story wasn't based on Capone at all, but his rival, Deanie O'Banion. "Why youse callin' it Scarface, den?" sneered one of the thugs. "'Cause it'll help sell the picture," argued Hecht. "Stay here long enough and you'll find out that Hollywood is just like any other racket."
That's all they needed to hear apparently, because the thugs returned to Chicago a short time later and the movie went on to great success. In fact, according to some reports, Capone liked it so much that he sent director Howard Hawks his own submachine gun as a token of his appreciation.
A similar situation occurred approximately twenty-five years later when Desi Arnaz, Sr. of I Love Lucy fame produced a television show based on the book, The Untouchables, the hugely popular, yet highly biased account of the FBI's attack on Capone's gang in the 1920s. Mae Capone, Scarface's widow, understood the potential racist implications of the series, and pleaded with Arnaz to refrain from putting it on the air. Nonetheless, Arnaz went ahead with the production as planned, and a few days later, the new leaders of the Chicago family, Sam Giancana, Joe Batters, and Paul Ricca, decided to put a contract on his life. But according to mafioso Jimmy Fratianno, the plans were scotched two weeks later. "He never knew how close he came to getting clipped," he told Ovid Demaris in The Last Mafioso.
A similar scene played out with James Caan in the early 1990s. Best known for his performance in The Godfather, Caan claimed that he had "permission" to do a screenplay based on the life of Meyer Lansky, the legendary mafioso "mastermind." What Caan didn't realize, however, was that Martin Bacow, a former associate of Detroit's Purple Gang, and a producer in his own right, had already sold a screenplay based on Lansky's life to MCA's Eugene Giaquinto--allegedly the subject of an FBI racketeering probe. And when Giaquinto heard that Caan was himself trying to muscle in on his idea, he had John Gotti, the infamous New York mobster, send out a small army of wiseguys to convince him to back off. Meanwhile, Caan contacted members of the L.A. family, and some of his buddies in the Genovese family, and built up a small army of his own.
Luckily no one was hurt in the dispute--save for the thousands of HBO viewers that tried to sit through David Mamet's painfully maudlin version of Lansky in 1999. Hollywood has continued its fascination with mobsters. As Hank Messick's Beauties and the Beasts: The Mob in Show Business points out, gangsters helped move Hollywood away from aesthetics in the 1920s, toward a strategy of fast-buck productions designed to appeal to the largest common denominator--a policy that continues to this day. "As always," writes Messick, "when the gangster goes into business, art takes a second billing to the fast buck."
The FVI fored actress Jean Seberg to kill herself.
Where It Comes From:
On September 8, 1979, the lovely actress Jean Seberg, star of A Bout de Souffle, Saint Joan, and Lilith, was found dead of an apparent overdose in Paris, France. She was alone, save for an empty bottle of barbiturates and a suicide note addressed to her son. By all accounts, it was a tragic ending to an incandescent, deeply misunderstood, star.
Two days later, Seberg's former husband, Romain Gary, shocked the world by claiming that his wife had been "destroyed by the FBI." At a press conference held in Paris a short time later, he produced a number of official documents detailing the FBI's smear campaign against his late wife, which in turn led to her suicide. In response, the FBI denied the charges but admitted that they had put her under surveillance after they discovered her association with black militant groups in Los Angeles.
What Really Happened:
Evidently the smear campaign was the handiwork of Richard Wallace Held, the head of the FBI's COINTEL program in L.A. Held had a particular dislike for "Hollywood leftists" and went to great lengths to subvert their reputations. Jane Fonda was one of his favorite targets, as were a number of stars sympathetic to militant causes including Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine, Harry Belafonte, and Paul Newman.
Yet Seberg undoubtedly suffered the worst fate of all. In fact, she became Held's personal bete noire once she began associating with Panther leader Raymond "Masai" Hewitt and providing him with "funds, weapons, and refuge." Agent M. Wesley Swearingen, a newcomer to the L.A. office, commented on Held's obsession with Seberg in an interoffice memo stating:
"The giving of her white body to a black man was an unbearable thought for many of the white agents [in the L.A. bureau]. An agent (probably Held) was overheard saying a few days after I arrived from New York, 'I wonder how she'd like to gobble my dick while I shoved my .38 up that black bastard's ass?'"
In 1970, Held was informed that Seberg was pregnant with her second child. On May 27, 1970, Held asked J. Edgar Hoover permission to plant a story with some Hollywood gossip columnists suggesting that Seberg had been impregnated, not by her husband Romain Gary, but by a Black Panther. Hoover granted permission, but with the caveat that Held wait a couple of months until her pregnancy was "more visible."
On June 19, 1970, Joyce Haber of the Los Angeles Times printed the first mention of the FBI planted story. Not surprisingly, it spread like wildfire with subsequent stories in Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
The news devastated Seberg however, and she emphatically denied the accusations, saying, "If you just wait a while longer, you'll see for yourself!"
Two months later, on August 23, 1970, shegave birth prematurely to a baby girl which she named Nina. According to those closest to her, the event gave her a new lease on life. Her infant had severe troubles breathing, however, and went in and out of consciousness until finally, after all attempts to save her failed, she passed away a mere two days later.
Still suffering from the indignity of the false rumors, Seberg placed her dead infant in an open casket and brought her to a press conference the following day. "Now you can see for yourself," she exclaimed. "My baby was not black!"
Still suffering from the indignity of the false rumors, Seberg placed her dead infant in an open casket and brought her to a press conference the following day. "Now you can see for yourself," she exclaimed. "My baby was not black!"
From that day on, Seberg tried to commit suicide each and every year on the eve of Nina's death.
A Little History:
Seberg made some startling revelations in the days shortly before she was found dead in her car. Namely that it wasn't Nina's death that drove her to make seven attempts on her life, but the failure of her career. Since the debacle of Saint Joan in 1956, where she was literally tortured by director Otto Preminger and humiliated by critics, she never managed to receive the recognition that she deserved. She turned in a brilliant performance in Lilith in 1964 opposite Warren Beatty, yet Hollywood failed to take notice. She fared better in Europe, however, where she was praised for her work in Godard's classic, A Bout de Souffle. And things definitely took a turn for the better when she met Gary and became pregnant with his child. Yet even that turned sour when he began using her name to secure financing for his own ridiculously exploitive pictures, and placing her in scenes where she was either raped, institutionalized, and/or murdered.
The Bottom Line:
The other startling revelation that Seberg made shortly before she died was that Nina's real father was a revolutionary with whom she had an affair. He wasn't black as the FBI claimed, however, but Mexican. According to her, she met him while shooting a movie in Durango, Mexico in 1969.
A number of top Hollywood stars practice semen retention.
Where It Comes From:
While there has been volumes written on the sometimes bizarre sex practices of Hollywood players--the free sex scene of the 1960s, the live-in sex therapists of the 1970s, the S&M dungeons of the 1980s--there has been relatively little written about Hollywood's alleged "antisex"practice of the 1990s. But in 1993, journalist Mary Gwynn wrote a piece for Buzz claiming that the practice of "semen retention" had gained considerable popularity within the movie colony. At the time, the guru of self-restraint was Drew Francis, a doctor of Chinese medicine, herbalism, and acupuncture at the Golden Cabinet in West Los Angeles. Francis apparently believed that there was a direct corollary between one's love juices and creative energy. Ejaculation, he argues, depletes a man of his essential energy, or "vital force," while semen retention makes him "smarter, more creative, and more powerful."
Francis wasn't necessarily teaching abstinence. His program still promoted sex, lots of sex in fact, only practitioners had to learn a host of retention techniques that would in his words, "enhance rather than frustrate." By applying just the right amount of pressure to the "Million-Dollar Point," for example, a zone located just below the scrotum, a man could apparently orgasm without ejaculating; which means that his "essence" remains intact. And according to Gwynn, a number of big-name Hollywood types subscribed to the practice, and apparently it gave them more testosterone than they knew what to do with. "I like to build up for my week," said one executive. "All that testosterone gives me an edge. It makes me nasty and more aggressive."
"I like to build up for my week," said one executive. "All that testosterone gives me an edge. It makes me nasty and more aggressive."
Not surprisingly, most of the Hollywood crowd returned to their dirty old tricks by the end of the decade. In fact, Details magazine questioned over 2,000 movie-industry professionals for their 1999 Mondo Hollywood issue, and discovered that nearly half of Tinseltown engaged in some form of S&M, prostitution, voyeurism, and multiplepartner sex. Around the same time, the always irreverent newspaper, The New Times, discovered a host of sex "consultants" working in Hollywood as well. There was, for instance, Irene Kassorla who taught industry insiders how to "strengthen" their vaginal muscles, how to have as many as 101 orgasms in a single night, and how to get in touch with their "magical push muscles." 14 Then there was Lou Paget, a former Fox employee, who spent much of her time teaching Hollywood players the "art of the blow job." (Over wine and cheese and dildoes, she detailed the specifics of such moves as the "Pearly Gates,"the "Italian Method," "Tea Bagging,"and "Ode to Bryan.")
If there's anything to glean from all of this, it's that Hollywood takes its sex a little too seriously!
Barbra Streisand used to perform in pornographic movies before she became famous.
Where It Comes From:
"Nose size usually doesn't figure in the popularity of an adult film," wrote the Buffalo News on May 9, 1993. "But recently a passel of porn connoisseurs have been freezing the frames of one crudely made videotape to determine if the skin starlet with an unusually large proboscis is a prefame Streisand."
That same movie has haunted actressproducer Barbra Streisand for most of her career, yet no one has been able to determine if she really appeared in the film or not. Author William Poundstone looked at the movie for his book, Bigger Secrets and claimed that it was virtually impossible to tell by simply viewing that material. There are no closeups of her face, the grain is too pronounced, and the soundtrack is dubbed. What's more, the entire affair seems suspect by the sheer audacity of its presentation. "The filmmakers clearly want you to think that it's Streisand," writes Poundstone. "The tape cuts several times between a publicity photo of Streisand and the porn footage ... it's conceivable that someone produced the film as a hoax, hiring a Streisand look-alike and intentionally making the tape amateurish and grainy to simulate authenticity."
Considering the fact that the girl in the porno is approximately eighteen-years-old, it's not very likely that it could have been Streisand. After all, Babs was twenty-seven when she did Funny Girl in 1968, and that means that she would have been in her mid-thirties when the alleged loop was made.
Streisand, who later went on to initiate the Streisand Professorship in Intimacy and Sexuality at USC, was not the first or last star to indulge in alleged pornographic activity--not by a long shot. Joan Crawford, for example, the vampish star of the 1930s and a well-known exhibitionist in her own right, allegedly appeared in a soft-core skin flick called the Casting Couch in 1923. Like Streisand's salacious fare, no one has ever been able to prove the validity of that performance either, since it was quite common for early sexploitation directors to use celebrity look-alikes whenever possible. (Apparently there was a young woman--a dead ringer for Crawford--working in porn at the time.)
Streisand, who later went on to initiate the Streisand Professorship in Intimacy and Sexuality at USC, was not the first or last star to indulge in alleged pornographic activity.
In any case, as the flesh trade picked up steam in the fifties and early sixties, so did the rumor mill. Just about every top star was alleged to have appeared in at least one stag film during their careers, including Marilyn Monroe, Hedy Lamarr, Diana Dors, Vickie Dugan, Yvonne de Carlo, Mickey Hargitay, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Barbara Nichols, Marlon Brando, Sharon Tate, Dennis Hopper, and Barbara Payton.15
But if there was a golden age for celebrity porn it would have to be the 1970s. That's when Sylvester Stallone appeared in a cheap XXX sex romp called Party at Kitty and Stud's; Spalding Gray supposedly appeared in a porn flick called Farmers' Daughters; Chuck Conners, the star of TV's The Rifleman, allegedly did a gay scene; and Damu King, famous for such blacksploitation classics as the Black Godfather, supposedly did some black porn. And that's not counting the endless array of home movies that were made around the same time. As Ted Mcllvenna of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality remembers, "There were a lot of homemade movies being done back then--either as instructional tools or as erotic play toys. Most, I would say, were probably recorded at parties, though, where people generally felt a little less inhibited."16
The practice continued to grow throughout the eighties and nineties, yet most of the actors who are said to have crossed over into professional porn were B-level at best, including Dana Plato, Sonny Landham, Stephen Geoffreys, Jack Baker, Simon Rex, Angelique Pettyjohn, and Edie Williams. Even executives working behind the scenes felt compelled to get in on the action including Craig Baumgarten, an executive producer at Columbia, and Neil Bogart, the CEO of Casablanca.17
The Bottom Line:
No one has ever been able to determine exactly how many stars have gone all the way on camera. The only person on record that has actually made an attempt to come up with a verifiable number was the late Jack Spund, a popular sex therapist in L.A. and a professor at UCLA. In the 1970s, Spund made celebrity skin his passion, and through his insider contacts, put together a reel consisting of every celebrity porn scene ever made. In the early 1980s he claimed that he had 200 "big name" movie stars doing the nasty in a variety of situations. Yet no one has been able to fully verify his findings to date.
Actress Thealma Todd was murdered by hit men working for gangster Lucky Lucciano because she wouldn't help him set up a secret casino in her popular café.
A Little Background:
On Monday afternoon, December 16, 1935, the sheriff's department got a call from the proprietors of Thelma Todd's Roadside Café on Pacific Coast Highway near Santa Monica, claiming that someone had just found Thelma Todd, the comely thirty-year-old star of such comedy classics as Horse Feathers and Monkey Business, slumped over the wheel of her car, dead. When officers arrived, they found the car, a new convertible Lincoln Phaeton, parked inside of a garage near the back of the property with the door closed. Todd was still wearing the dress thatshe had worn the precious Saturday night: a sexy silver evening gown, mink coat, and $20,000 worth of jewels, and there were no visible marks, cuts, or injuries to her body--at least none that were reported. The cause of death, it was later determined, was due to carbon monoxide poisoning which led detectives to the conclusion that she had locked herself in the garage with the engine running on purpose. "It was a clear case of suicide," said one of the investigators. "There's no mystery here."
Where It Comes From:
Journalists, reporters, and armchair detectives have been trying to solve Thelma Todd's murder for the better part of the last century, partly because the LAPD's ruling failed to answer some vexing inconsistencies. After all, if Todd killed herself by inhaling car fumes, then why did she have two cracked ribs and bruises around her neck? Why were her shoes perfectly clean after drunkenly navigating the 270 steps from the apartment to the garage? And what about the numerous death threats that she received in the weeks preceding her death?
More importantly, why were there so many eyewitness accounts of Told driving around Hollywood on Sunday--the day after she allegedly died--with a "dark stranger" in the passenger seat? As one of her friends testified under oath, she spoke with the actress at around four P.M. and invited her to a party later that night. "But she couldn't make it," she recounted, "because she was with someone that had other plans."
According to Andy Edmonds's Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood's Most Shocking Crime, the "dark-looking" man was none other than Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, the legendary head of the New York crime family. (They had met years earlier through Todd's former husband, Pat DiCicco.) According to Edmonds, Lucianowas interested in establishing a stranglehold on extortion, vice, and drug trafficking in Los Angeles, and he saw Todd's new restaurant as a premier place to open a gambling operation. Todd, however, was against the idea, and refused to have anything to do with the gangster. Nonetheless, Luciano kept after her, pressuring her to change her mind, until finally, after receiving too many threats, she went to the police. The following day, someone called Luciano, someone possibly inside the LAPD, and informed him that Todd was "ratting him out."
Edmonds interviewed a friend of Luciano's in 1980 who claimed that the gangster brought Todd over to his house Sunday night for a leisurely visit. Little did the actress know, however, that Luciano had arranged for a Mafia thug--apparently a member of Detroit's Purple Gang--to get into position outside of her apartment at the same time. Hours later, as the clock approached three A.M., he drove her home and said good-bye for the very last time. What happened next has never been documented, but Edmonds believes that the killer knocked her unconscious as she walked toward her door, carried her to the garage, placed her in her car, started the engine, shut the door, and waited for her to die.
What Probably Happened:
While many Angelenos would like to believe that Thelma Todd was murdered by one of the most ruthless Mafia leaders in history, the theory still remains frustratingly inconclusive. Marvin Wolf and Katherine Mader on the other hand, have come up with a theory that seems to be slightly more plausible. As they suggest in their book, Fallen Angels, there's a good chance that Roland West may have had something to do with it. West was the director of such twisted classics as The Bat Whispers, and was a brilliant, if not darkly beguiling, character who caught Todd's eye one afternoon on a cruise ship to Catalina. Apparently they hit it off, and together they hatched a number of ideas, not the least of which was the roadhouse café on Pacific Coast Highway. Problems began to surface almost immediately, however, as West did little to hide his burning infatuation for the star. That in turn led to a strained relationship between the two, since Todd had no intention of getting romantically involved with him. Still, the restaurant became a resounding success, despite West's aggressive, almost pathological control over her. In fact, witnesses testified that he "screamed at her" on Saturday night--the last night that she was seen alive--because she wanted to go to a party at the Trocadero in Hollywood. "It's the busiest night of the year!"he shrieked. "You can't leave now."
Apparently she did leave, and as she did, West who shared an adjoining apartment with her above the restaurant, ran after her screaming, "Fine! Go ahead and go! But if you're not home by two, you'll be locked out."
According to Wolf and Mader, West eventually confessed to killing Todd, but it was, according to him, more accidental than homicidal. As he later told a reporter in the 1980s, shortly before he passed away, he simply hated the fact that Todd disrespected him the way she did. So when she sauntered in around 3:30 in the morning, well past her curfew, he immediately assumed that she did it just to spite him. That led to a bitter fight until Todd, who had about all she could take from him, grabbed her coat and her car keys, and walked out the door.
That made West even angrier, and at least one neighbor later testified that he heard him screaming at her out back, apparently as they walked toward the garage. According to West, he never intended to kill her however, he just wanted to stop her from going anywhere. So when she climbed into her car and started the engine, he simply slammed the garage door and locked her in. He didn't realize, however, just how fast the fumes would fill her lungs.
"It's the busiest night of the year!" he shrieked. "You can't leave now."
It's a plausible theory, and perhaps makes the most sense, and yet West may be even more culpable than he ever admitted to. After all, there were enough marks around her neck to suggest that she was strangled before she got into her car, and some have even speculated that he forced her to perform oral sex on him--which may explain the bruises found inside her throat.
What People Are Saying:
"John Travolta," wrote film critic Pauline Kael in 1983, "is in danger of turning into a laughingstock if he doesn't put some clothes on and stop posing for magazine covers as though it were Hiawatha Night at the OK Corral." Kael was responding to the flood of media surrounding the film Staying Alive, which, despite its success at the box office, received unanimous opprobrium by movie critics everywhere. Kael was also referring to the shots of Travolta in a 1983 issue of Rolling Stone where he appeared nude while denying his alleged homosexuality. "They say that about everybody," he explained. "That's a notorious rumor. They say that about me, Marlon Brando, every male, especially the first year that you become a star."
Unfortunately for Travolta they didn't stop saying it about him. While gossip columns buzzed over his affairs with the likes of Diana Hyland, Olivia Newton-John, Marilu Henner, and Debra Winger, there were also stories of alleged homosexual flings, romances, and affairs. In fact, Time magazine, which is hardly known for its gossip pages, may have added fuel to the fire when it suggested that members of the Church of Scientology were the only ones that knew the "true nature" of his homosexuality. As the piece stated, "High-level officials [in the church] claim that Travolta has long feared that if he defected from Scientology details of his sexual life would be made public ... [As a former director for Scientology stated] 'There were no outright threats made but it was implicit: If you leave, they immediately start digging up everything.'"
Travolta never denied that the church "knew something"about his sexuality, but he has been quite vociferous against those attacking his religion. As he told Los Angeles magazine a short time later, "I've seen many media reports on Scientology, and they've never gotten it right. It stands for integrity and honesty. And all the Scientologists that I know are living fulfilling lives--without drugs or other vices."
In 1990 the National Enquirer dropped a bomb when they uncovered a secret tryst between Travolta and a nude model/porn star named Paul Barresi. In a sensational story, Barresi claimed that Travolta approached him while working out in a L.A. health club and asked if he could "get to know him better." The affair supposedly lasted for two years, (1983 to 1985), and it includeddates at private hotels, long phone-sex sessions, and quickie trysts in the middle of the night. "He wanted to know how much I made for starring in porno movies," said the Sicilian-born Barresi. "I told him four hundred dollars a day. He said, 'Then that's what I'll pay you to be with me.'"
According to Nigel Andrews, author of Travolta: The Life, Travolta never took any legal action against Barresi.18 He merely denied the story in the press and announced his plans to marry Kelly Preston--who was two months pregnant with his child at the time. Meanwhile, his fans suggested that the entire Barresi affair was little more than "character research" for his upcoming role in Eyes of an Angel where he played a man on the run from mobsters. And by the end of the decade it became obvious that his love for Preston was genuine. His career soared to new heights with Pulp Fiction and he seemed to be happier than ever ... Then that pesky rumored surfaced again.
In 1998 an issue of The Cult Observer reported that a Beverly Hills artist named Michael Pattinson mounted a multimillon dollar lawsuit against the Church of Scientology and John Travolta claiming that when he joined the church twenty-five years earlier, it was because church officials promised that they were going to "cure" him of his homosexuality. According to Pattinson, they used Travolta as "proof" that they could do it. Yet after $500,000 and twenty-five years of Scientology, Pattinson still had an urge for sexual congress with men.
Travolta refused to comment on the case, however. Yet he remains happily married and resolute in his defense of the church. "Scientology is only fifty years old," he stated. "I'm sure Christianity had some problems, too, in its first fifty years."
What It All Means:
Whether Travolta is gay or not is less important than the fact that people seem to believe that he's hiding his true sexuality. After all, the image of homosexuality--at least in the symbolic and/or psychological sense--may represent a manifestation of the arrested ego and the overt domination of the male or female subconscious. It is generally known, for example, that children forced to live in terror of a parent of the opposite sex, may react by shutting his or her ego development down and allowing the converse side of his or her subconscious to take over. (If the mother is the source of the terror for example, a son may react by embracing the anima side of his subconscious.) That in turn may lead to a widespread fascination with tales of homosexuality--even within straight fans.