Old Hollywood had it all: glitz, glamour, and a metric ton of off-screen drama. From mysterious abductions to jaw-dropping trials, there’s a reason Hollywood wants us to forget the lesser-known scandals on this list. But if you, like me and Marie Kondo, love mess, get ready for the motherload. It’s time to take a trip down memory lane and uncover the weirdest stories in Old Hollywood history.
Marie McDonald, The Original Gone Girl
Ah, Marie McDonald. If anyone took Hollywood for a ride down Crazy Lane, it was this girl. Not only was she a legendary maneater—she married eight different men in 25 years!—she was also at the center of one of Hollywood’s strangest mysteries. Let’s set the stage: After some supporting roles as busty blondes, McDonald’s career never quite happened. By 1957, it was looking like that big break would never come. Things, uh, would not improve for a while.
In January of 1957, a group of men called McDonald’s mother and husband, claiming they’d abducted the B-list star. Her family was terrified—until things started to get weird. McDonald managed to sneak off and make covert calls to her husband, which is fair enough. However, in a classic case of starlet priorities, instead of calling the authorities or her mom, McDonald dialed her agent. Even worse, she also called a freaking gossip columnist.
By this point, her abductors panicked, blindfolded McDonald, and promptly dropped her off on a random roadside. After a trucker rescued her, McDonald told the authorities what happened—but there were a few problems with her story. First, the newspaper used to make the ransom note was found…in McDonald’s own house. Then, the detectives found that McDonald owned a novel with a nearly-identical kidnapping plot to the one she’d just endured. In the end, authorities never charged anyone in this bizarre affair. To this day, the “abduction” of Marie McDonald has never been explained.
Gloria Grahame, The Maneater Who Went WAY Too Far
For a time, Gloria Grahame was the go-to blonde in Old Hollywood, starring in classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and In a Lonely Place. But her career took an intense nosedive when she, and buckle up for this one, married her ex-husband’s child. Yup, this girl gave “cradle robber” a new meaning—but *record scratch* let’s back up and explain how Grahame ended up in this situation.
Grahame was a high-key maneater. She married the esteemed director Nicholas Ray literally one day after finalizing her spilt from her earlier husband, the actor Stanley Clements. She and Ray were a tumultuous pair, constantly breaking up and getting back together. But after Ray found his wife in bed with his 13-year-old son Anthony, all bets were off. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift, they were “never getting back together.”
But lo and behold, eight years after Gloria and Anthony’s dicey tryst (and with yet another failed marriage under Grahame’s belt), guess who should run into each other? The cougar and her cub ended up getting married and apparently were happy—but when the press got word of their meet-ugly, the ensuing media frenzy was too much to overcome. Grahame was so upset that she volunteered to undergo electroshock therapy. Yikes. If that isn’t one of Hollywood’s weirder footnotes, I don’t know what is.
Montgomery Clift, The Doomed Heartthrob
Back in the day, Montgomery Clift was THE dreamboat. He had it all: looks, talent, charisma, and of course, friends in high places. But one of those friends would spell Clift’s doom. One night, Elizabeth Taylor needled her BFF Clift into coming to her dinner party. Representing that introvert lifestyle, Clift resisted—he was tired, he wanted a night in—but Taylor wouldn’t take no for an answer. In the end, Taylor got her way (when didn’t she?) and Clift attended her soirée. Hours later, he began to drive back home—and this is where everything derailed.
Clift was so tired that he fell asleep at the wheel and violently crashed into a tree. Terrified, Taylor rushed to tend to her friend. To keep him from choking, she actually had to reach down his throat and retrieve shards of his teeth. While Clift survived the crash, his horrific injuries led to him developing a dependence on painkillers. His addiction in turn made him act so erratically that Hollywood blacklisted their one-time golden boy. In the years after Taylor’s disastrous party, Clift fell deeper and deeper into his addiction and passed at just 45 years old. Film scholars now call the period between the car crash and Clift’s early end “Hollywood’s slowest suicide.”
Jean Harlow, The Blonde Bombshell With a Hidden Scandal
Jean Harlow is a classic example of Hollywood’s obsession with dead blondes. After bursting onto the silver screen with her iconic eyebrows and platinum locks, Harlow tragically passed from kidney failure at just 26 years old. But that’s not even the most dramatic thing about her life. It’s much less known, but the story of Harlow’s second marriage to MGM studio executive Paul Bern is right out of a psychological thriller. Buckle up, y’all!
A mere two months after Harlow and Bern walked down the aisle, the authorities discovered Bern’s dead body. At first, they thought that Harlow had shot her beau, but then they saw the strange note next to Bern’s body. It referenced a “frightful wrong” he’d dealt Harlow and mentioned his “abject humiliation.” Film scholars believe Bern may have been insecure about his private parts or his family’s history of suicide. Others insist that MGM’s notorious Eddie Mannix staged the scene to clear Harlow of any suspicion (and…shade Bern’s manhood in a catty forged note? TBD).
But no explanation of Bern’s strange end is complete without mentioning one key player: Bern’s troubled ex, Dorothy Millette. While people suspect that she could have had a hand in her ex’s demise, no one knows the truth. However, we do know that she took their break-up very badly…and that she leaped to her death only a few days after the discovery of Bern’s body.
Eartha Kitt, My Hero
Here’s a fun one before we go home. Man, Eartha Kitt is the freaking best. She staunchly opposed the Vietnam War, cackled when an interviewer asked her if she’d ever change for a boyfriend, and went to bed with Paul Newman and James Dean. At the SAME TIME. Apparently, when asked about her ménage à trois, Kitt called it the most “celestial” experience of her life and then purred, “White boys are so delicious.” I bow down to Eartha Kitt.