In the Golden Age of Hollywood, a group of veritable kings ruled the silver screen—and led scandal-filled lives offscreen. From rough-and-tumble Western stars like John Wayne to hard-boiled greats like Humphrey Bogart; horror icons like Sir Christopher Lee and rebels like James Dean, Old Hollywood was home to scores of suave and imposing leading men, many of whom have acted as an influence to later generations of actors after them. Here are 101 debonair facts about the most iconic actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
1. Lived Fast, Died Young
Aside from acting, James Dean also had a passion for cars and driving as fast as possible. One thing led to another, and on September 30, 1955, Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder at high speed when he crashed into a car speeding in the opposite direction. He was 24 when he died, having only performed in three films, two of which hadn’t even hit theatres yet. He would receive two posthumous Oscar nominations, a record that nobody is likely to beat—we hope.
2. The Force Cannot Save This One
In one of the most infamous moments of foreshadowing in the history of American pop culture, James Dean met with renowned British actor Alec Guinness (aka the original Obi-Wan Kenobi) and took the moment to show off his new car. Guinness allegedly warned Dean that “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
Guinness’ prediction proved horrifyingly accurate when Dean died seven days later. It seems that Guinness was a Jedi before George Lucas had ever invented them.
3. What a Tramp
While he was busy capturing the hearts of the world with a prolific string of classic pictures, Charlie Chaplin was also a notorious womanizer. He claimed to have slept with over 2,000 women, and when he was asked what his ideal woman was like, he quipped, “I am not exactly in love with her, but she is entirely in love with me.” Pretty gross there, Chap.
4. Hook ‘Em While They’re Young
One thing that Charlie Chaplin’s pursuits had in common was their youth. He first met and engaged in a romance with Edna Purviance when she was 19. He later moved on to Mildred Harris, who was 16 when the 29-year-old first met her. He impregnated the teenaged Lita Grey (whom Chaplin had first become interested in when he’d met her as a 12-year-old).
Incidents like these continued until the 54-year old Chaplin married the 18-year old Oona O’Neill, with whom he finally did have a decent marriage, as well as eight children. So that’s a happy ending for…Chaplin, at least.
5. He Was Nothing but a Hound Dog
Despite being the King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley was incredibly insecure, especially where sex was concerned. This meant that Presley only desired young girls who hadn’t had any sexual experience which could put pressure on himself. This led to him asking managers to round up girls who were 16 or younger, which in most states was a tad illegal even then, unless, of course, you were a music and movie star like Presley.
6. The Brangelina of Their Day
As beloved as Frank Sinatra was during his time (inspiring the phrase Sinatramania before anyone had even heard of the Beatles), things took a turn when he infamously divorced his wife, Nancy, so he could marry renowned actress and femme fatale Ava Gardner, with whom he’d been having an affair. The press soundly criticized Sinatra’s actions, tarnishing his once-reasonably wholesome reputation permanently.
Gardner and Sinatra also had a turbulent marriage, even though Gardner was responsible for saving his career by getting him the part in From Here to Eternity. However, they did remain friends for life after they split up, so at least they were cool about everything.
7. A Dark Origin Story
John Huston was a legendary filmmaker who wrote and directed some of the most acclaimed and influential American films of all time, including The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen. He also quickly gained a reputation as a hard-living, hard-drinking womanizer. Before he made his directorial debut, a young Huston was busy trying to make it as a screenwriter when he struck dancer Tosca Roulien with his car, killing her.
Although he was absolved of blame in court, he was so haunted by what had happened that he left Hollywood for five years, drifting through Europe until 1937. A rumor of the time, however, suggested that it was actually renowned actor Clark Gable who had accidentally killed Roulien, and Huston had been paid to take the fall.
8. Welcome to the Rock
One of the most famous examples of a famous Hollywood figure engaging in a lavender marriage to protect himself was Rock Hudson. As his bachelorhood endured despite being one of the most desirable movie stars of the 1950s, Hudson feared being driven out of Hollywood if his secret got out. His agent set his secretary up with Hudson.
Their marriage resulted in, unsurprisingly, a bitter divorce.
9. Can’t Swordfight Your Way Out of This One
Long before Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe tried wearing sandals and fighting with swords, Errol Flynn was one of the biggest stars in Old Hollywood, known for his many romantic and swashbuckling characters. However, this gallant and heroic image came crashing down around him when he was embroiled in an utterly shocking trial.
Flynn had been accused by two teenage girls of statutory rape (it didn’t help that he’d allegedly quipped that he liked his whiskey old and his women young). Even though he was acquitted, Flynn’s career never recovered from the scandal, and he slipped into alcoholism.
10. Not Even Front-Page Material!
Back in the day, the long-running series known as The Little Rascals followed a group of children who got up to endless shenanigans. One of the most famous characters of the series was Alfalfa, played initially by Carl Switzer. Unfortunately, like with many child actors, Switzer had a hard time when he was an adult.
What made his story especially memorable, however, was the fact that in 1959, Moses Stiltz was arrested for shooting Switzer to death. He claimed that he’d been acting in self-defense, though rumors insisted that Stiltz had actually murdered Switzer. The catch was, Switzer had become so disliked that his case was hurriedly closed so everyone could just move on.
To add insult to injury, the news of Switzer’s death was muted, as he’d managed to get killed on the day which also saw the death of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille.
11. The Dangers of the Action Star
Before Dwayne Johnson, before Tom Cruise, before Steve McQueen, before even Tyrone Power, there was action star Wallace Reid. Reid made a career out of doing his own stunts, playing daredevils in movies like The Roaring Road. However, that all changed in 1919 when an accident on the set of The Valley of the Giant caused Reid to live with such pain that he eventually became addicted to morphine.
This was back in the days when rehab was an unacceptable scandal, so the studio swept the issue under the rug and did all they could to hide Reid’s substance abuse. Finally, however, things got so bad that they relented and sent him to a sanitarium to kick his addiction. By this time, however, it was too little too late, as Reid’s withdrawal led to a heart attack, which killed him.
12. You Messed with the Wrong Guy
While we could list off the many documented instances of Frank Sinatra being a temperamental SOB to his valets, reporters, wives, and friends, we’ll let you look those up in your own time and instead, focus on a story where Sinatra faced a little comeuppance for once. Acting opposite Marlon Brando in a 1955 musical, Sinatra mocked Brando’s new method acting as “crap” and even nicknamed Brando “Mumbles” for his manner of speech.
Brando got his revenge by intentionally blowing takes in a scene where Sinatra’s character was eating cheesecake. This forced Sinatra to eat so much cheesecake that he had a furious breakdown where he threw his plate into the air while screaming at a presumably snickering Brando.
13. A Dead Giveaway
The 1935 film The Call of the Wild starred Clark Gable and Loretta Young as co-stars. During their time together on the film, Young became impregnated by Gable—clearly, a situation that’s ripe for scandal. Young ended up leaving the country for an “extended holiday,” took the baby to an orphanage in California, then returned sometime later to “adopt” her biological child.
She stuck by the adoption story, despite everyone realizing the truth due to the fact that her daughter had inherited her famous father’s distinctive ears.
14. Sadly, He Wasn’t Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
Before Superman ever got his own movie, George Reeves played the legendary hero in an old television serial. However, Reeves became most known for being found dead in his Hollywood home, shot multiple times. The mystery of his death shocked Hollywood for years and has never been solved.
15. Who Murdered Reeves?
One persistent fact which people point to in the mystery of George Reeves’ death is that he died shortly after an affair with the wife of known Hollywood “fixer” Eddie Mannix—the kind of man who would arrange for shady things to be resolved behind closed doors. Making an enemy of such a man would undoubtedly have chilling consequences, as Reeves’ violent end could possibly prove. We will likely never know for sure.
16. A Difficult Marriage
Laurel and Hardy were a double act in the early days of Classic Hollywood. Hardy was the bully and Laurel was his bumbling straight man. Off-screen and off-stage, however, Stan Laurel was a violent alcoholic, and this became known when he went through his third divorce. Vera Shuvalova claimed that her husband had threatened her with a gun, and it was printed that her friends once had to intervene when Laurel dug a grave in their backyard while proclaiming that he was going to bury her alive (good lord…).
The only thing which ultimately suppressed this scandal was the fact that Shuvalova was forbidden from talking about publishing anything about her marriage to Laurel when she signed their divorce agreement. Amazing how people have made stuff up to make scandals more enticing when we have something like this to work with.
17. Too Ahead of the Army’s Time
Despite being involved in a tragedy (and possible cover-up) so early in his career, John Huston moved away from it immediately after his directing debut, The Maltese Falcon, became a wild success in 1941. He then joined the United States Army, serving as a filmmaker with the rank of captain. His three films from that time have become highly acclaimed war pictures, though two of them were censored by the army for the touchy subject matter which Huston examined.
One of them, Let There Be Light, focused on PTSD and the psychological damage found in war veterans. It was censored until 1981, a full 35 years after it was made!
18. Talk About Passion
Serving his country wasn’t the only thing Huston was up to during WWII, however. Already into his second marriage, and before he himself went overseas, Huston began a fervent affair with Marietta Fitzgerald in New York while her husband was abroad. Allegedly, they once made love so fiercely that they broke a mutual friend’s bed. No doubt this led to an awkward apology the next morning!
19. The Rise and Fall of Montgomery Clift
Before May 12th, 1956, Montgomery Clift was one of the biggest stars of Hollywood. One of the original method actors, alongside Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift chose his movie roles carefully, giving Oscar-nominated performances in the films From Here to Eternity, A Place in the Sun, and The Search. However, that all changed when Clift fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and crashed into a telephone pole just moments after leaving a party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor (with whom he’d acted and also dated for a time).
Taylor herself allegedly had to pull a tooth out of Clift’s tongue because he was choking on it. Clift had to live with the lingering physical and mental pains for the rest of his life. To the surprise of nobody, he became addicted to alcohol and painkillers. Although his career still saw some bright spots, the remainder of his life after the accident was dubbed “the longest suicide in Hollywood history.”
20. A Cursed Project
One of Clift’s last films was The Misfits, which was a commercial failure at the time, but which has since gotten a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was directed by John Huston (told you he was a big deal), written by Arthur “Death of a Salesman” Miller, and starred Clift, Clark Gable, and Marilyn Monroe. With such a star-studded cast and crew at the wheel, you’d be amazed at how this well-made film destroyed the people who made it.
Monroe and Miller’s relationship deteriorated, with Monroe overdosing on the set. She would later die barely a year after the film was finished. Gable died of a heart attack a few days after filming, and it has been speculated that it was brought on due to the stress of making the film. Clift’s career fizzled out after just a couple more movies, and five years after The Misfits was made, Clift was told by a friend that it was airing that night on television.
Clift hotly refused to watch it, which turned out to the final thing he would ever say, because he died of a heart attack that very night. Seems like the only one to get out of that film intact was Huston!
21. He Shot and Buried the Messenger
Frank Sinatra was one of the biggest musical stars of his time, and he also had a long film career as an actor and producer. Naturally, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Sinatra’s arrogance and violent temper has been well documented, especially when he felt that he’d been slighted. Such was the case with President John F. Kennedy.
Sinatra had campaigned vigorously with Kennedy and had reportedly been a wingman of sorts to assist in Kennedy’s notorious record for womanizing. However, when Kennedy won the election in 1960, he was advised to put some distance between Sinatra and himself, due to Sinatra’s alleged Mafia connections. Kennedy thus canceled a 1962 stay at Sinatra’s Palm Springs mansion, going to rival singer Bing Crosby’s house instead.
Sinatra was so furious at the snub that he personally took a sledgehammer to the newly-made heliport that he’d made to accommodate the President and his entourage. Not only that, he refused to speak with Peter Lawford, the Rat Pack member who delivered the news for Kennedy, ever again (it didn’t help that Lawford was Kennedy’s brother-in-law).
22. Valentino’s Vaselinos
Nicknamed the “Latin Lover,” the seductive Rudolph Valentino was one of the silver screen’s earliest male heartthrobs and style icons. Men who imitated his heavily-pomaded hairstyle and adopted his general demeanor were not-so-affectionately referred to as “Vaselinos.”
23. I Challenge You to a Duel
Some were offended (or threatened) by Valentino’s less-mainstream brand of masculinity, and decried its influence on the men of Hollywood and beyond. After taking particular issue with one unnamed journalist’s scathing indictment of him in the Chicago Tribune, Valentino wrote to the paper, challenging the writer to a boxing match.
24. Movie Maverick
Cary Grant was supposedly the first star to break away from the studio system and essentially go independent when he decided not to renew his contract with Paramount in 1936. This allowed him a far greater measure of freedom and control over his career than his peers.
25. Mannix’ll Fix it
An infamous studio “fixer” who worked for MGM, Eddie Mannix covered up countless scandals and misdemeanors and got stars out of trouble by whatever means necessary. When he wasn’t getting unruly stars out of jail, paying off victims of assault or car accidents, or arranging abortions, he was calling in actual gangsters to adopt a firmer approach. One of his more infamous fixes supposedly had him tracking down and buying the film negative of a pornographic film made by Joan Crawford before she became famous.
26. An Affair to Remember
Katharine Hepburn’s relationship with Spencer Tracy is one of Hollywood’s most legendary love affairs. They had a relationship for 27 years until Tracy’s death in 1967. Tracy was an unhappily married father of two when they met, but he never pursued a divorce and remained married throughout the whole affair. They made a total of nine films together.
27. Stalin Wanted the Duke Dead
Joseph Stalin once sent Soviet agents to assassinate western star John Wayne. Stalin was outraged over the anti-communist sentiments expressed by the Duke. Wayne was informed of the planned assassination ahead of time, and apparently hatched a plot with screenwriter and friend Jimmy Grant to abduct the assassins and stage a mock execution at a beach to frighten them. Luckily, none of this came to pass.
28. Cary Grant: Match-maker
Cary Grant introduced Rosalind Russell (his co-star in the Howard Hawks’ classic His Girl Friday) to her future husband, Danish-American producer Frederick Brisson, and ended up being the best man at their wedding the next year.
29. Fred and Ginger
One of the silver screen’s most iconic and dazzling pairs, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared in 10 films together between 1933 and 1949. The first was Flying Down To Rio, in which the two had minor roles, and the last was The Barkleys of Broadway, which was both their only film together released outside of RKO, and the only one shot in Technicolor.
30. Valuable Stems
Fred Astaire wasn’t playing around. He insured both of his legs for $75,000, and his arms for $20,000.
31. First Impressions Aren’t Everything
Things didn’t get off to a flying start for Fred Astaire. RKO’s initial screen test report for the eventual star in the 1930s was said to have read: “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
32. Tragic Trio
All three of the main actors in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause met tragically untimely deaths. James Dean died in a car crash, Natalie Wood drowned, and Sal Mineo was stabbed to death.
33. Sorry About That
Paul Newman was so ashamed of his debut feature film, 1954’s The Silver Chalice, that he later called it “the worst motion picture produced during the 1950s” and took out a full-page ad in Variety apologizing for the performance.
34. Mistaken for Marlon
Early in his acting career, Newman was often mistaken for Marlon Brando, and he claims to have signed around 500 autographs on Brando’s behalf.
35. Anyone for Seconds?
Guys and Dolls co-stars Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra did not get along. Sinatra referred to Brando as “mumbles,” and reportedly was not a fan of rehearsals, retakes or “that Method crap.” Brando used Sinatra’s aversion to retakes against him during the filming of one scene in particular, in which Sinatra has to eat a piece of cheesecake while Brando talks.
Brando intentionally flubbed his last line over and over again, forcing Sinatra to eat a fresh piece of cheesecake each time. Sinatra eventually lost it, screaming “These f**king New York actors! How much cheesecake do you think I can eat?”
36. Clift’s Control
The ferociously talented Montgomery Clift, a posthumous gay icon with an immeasurable degree of talent and intensity, signed with Paramount in 1948 for a three-picture deal with the stipulation that he would have script approval. Though relatively common these days, this was unheard of at the time. The deal also stated that he was only to star in films directed by Billy Wilder, George Stevens, or Norman Krasna, and that he was free to work at another studio if he wished.
37. Another Fallen Idol
Montgomery Clift was crippled by personal demons, alcohol and drug addiction. Even Marilyn Monroe reported that he was “the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am.”
38. Unlucky in Love
Rudolph Valentino impulsively married his first wife, actress Jean Acker, in 1919, two months after they met. Acker had only seemed to be interested in women at the time, and had reportedly been involved in a love triangle with actresses Grace Darmond and Alla Nazimova.
Whether or not she was ever actually romantically interested in Valentino is unclear, but her decision to marry him was one she regretted almost immediately. She locked Valentino out of their hotel room on their wedding night, the couple separated soon after, and Acker moved back in with girlfriend Grace Darmond soon after.
They finalized their divorce in 1922, but ironically became good friends afterward.
39. You Are Not the Father, But…
Charlie Chaplin had a brief relationship with a 22-year-old named Joan Barry, but it didn’t exactly end well. After they had broken up, she told Chaplin she was pregnant and that the baby was his. Though he took a paternity test that proved he wasn’t the father, these tests weren’t admissible in court at the time, and he was forced to pay $75 every week until Barry’s child turned 21.
40. The Woman in Black
For decades after Rudolph Valentino’s death, a veiled woman in black has arrived at his tomb on the anniversary of his death to place a single rose on his grave. The identity of the woman was a mystery at first, until it was revealed that the whole thing was—you guessed it—a publicity stunt, this time cooked up by press agent Russel Birdwell in 1928. When this got out, several copycats vied to be the new “Woman in Black” and the tradition continued. Film historian Karie Bible is the most recent to have taken up the mantle.
41. The Battling Bogarts
Before marrying Lauren Bacall and becoming one-half of one of the most high-profile Hollywood couples of the era, Humphrey Bogart was married to actress Mayo Methot. And it was not a smooth relationship. They both drank heavily and fought regularly, eventually earning the moniker “The Battling Bogarts” in the press. Methot became known as “Sluggy” due to her combative nature, and Bogart would later name his yacht Sluggy in her honor.
42. Bogart, Bacall, and Methot
Bogart fell in love with Bacall on the set of To Have and Have Not, and they began an affair. At 3 am one morning, Bogart called Bacall, saying “I miss you, Baby,” before Methot, who had caught wind of the affair, tore the receiver from his hand and screamed at a terrified Bacall down the line: “Listen, you Jewish b**ch, who’s going to wash his socks?”
43. The Mountain
Dean Martin’s son, Dean Paul Martin, was a pilot with the Air National Guard. He died in 1987 when his plane crashed into the San Gorgonio mountain in northern California. In a tragic coincidence, Sinatra’s mother had died in a plane crash on the same mountain 10 years earlier.
44. Cut It Out
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis made 16 films together, but while the two men admired each other, frustration and jealousy began to creep in. The last straw for Martin was when the duo was set to appear on the cover of Look magazine—and Martin was cropped out of the picture.
45. Happy Anniversary
Martin and Lewis broke up their act on July 24, 1956. It was the tenth anniversary of their first performance at the 500 Club.
46. Safe to Say He Learned Nothing
Flynn caused a huge scandal in the last two years of his life when he traveled with a 15-year-old secretary named Beverly Aadland. Aadland was also Flynn’s mistress at the time, a situation which had actually been encouraged by Aadland’s mother, Florence. The proud parent later wrote a book about her daughter’s affair with Flynn.
Later, Beverly herself revealed some disturbing aspects of their relationship. According to her, their love was built on a constant sense of play and outdoing one another, but these jokes often had a dark side. They would get into enormous fake fights in nightclubs where Flynn would pretend to hit her, and she would pretend to get a nosebleed. Sounds…fun?
47. Big Brother Flynn
At the height of his fame, Flynn bought property on Mulholland Drive and built the “Mulholland Farm,” or as it was often called in private, the “playhouse.” Flynn hosted wild parties at this property, which featured all kinds of debauchery that Old Hollywood’s private gatherings were known for.
48. Peep Show
However, there was a dark side to the “playhouse”—it was set up to be a voyeur’s dream home. Peep-holes and two-way mirrors were set up to allow Flynn to spy on his female guests. He also set up microphones to overhear private conversations throughout his house. Why hasn’t there been a horror movie made about this guy?
49. Secret Agent
Throughout the 1960s, Dean Martin starred as Matt Helm in a series of spy-movie parodies. Martin abandoned the series after his co-star, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family.
50. Method Acting
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was written and directed by John Huston, who had previously directed Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, and Across the Pacific. Huston and Bogart became good friends and enjoyed playing pranks on each other. In one scene, Bogart was supposed to reach under a rock, then draw back as if something had bitten him; Huston got a realistic reaction out of Bogart by hiding a loaded mousetrap under the rock.
51. Counterfeit Liquor
Drinking was a big part of Dean Martin’s persona, and he often appeared onstage with a drink in his hand. In reality, Martin’s habits were quite moderate—the “drink” was usually apple juice.
52. Lights Out
After years of heavy smoking, Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1993. He opted to forego treatment, and died of respiratory failure on Christmas Day, 1995. To honor his passing, clubs along the Las Vegas Strip dimmed their lights that night, a fitting tribute to one of the all-time great entertainers.
53. Heaven Couldn’t Wait
Following Valentino’s death, a bogus photo of the actor was published in a tabloid called the New York Graphic. What was so bogus about it, you ask? Well, it showed nothing less than Valentino’s ascendancy into heaven. The paper’s circulation got a major boost as a result of the picture.
54. Asking For Directions
Humphrey Bogart’s temper and his wife Mayo Methot’s jealousy made for a tempestuous relationship. Hollywood insiders referred to them as “the Battling Bogarts.” Methot once hired a private investigator to follow Bogart. The PI found nothing amiss, but when Bogart discovered that he was being tailed, he called the investigation agency. “Hello, this is Humphrey Bogart,” he allegedly announced, “you’ve got a man on my tail. Would you check with him and tell me where I am?”
55. Power Couple
Methot may have been right to be suspicious. Bogart began carrying on an affair with actress Lauren Bacall, and they were married immediately after Bogart and Methot divorced. Bogart was 20 years her senior, but he and Bacall proved to be one of Hollywood’s most celebrated couples on and offscreen.
56. To Have, And To Have Not
Not everyone appreciated the relationship, however. Bogart and Bacall met while filming To Have and To Have Not. The director of the film, Howard Hawks, had also fallen in love with the up-and-coming starlet, and did everything he could to sour her on Bogart. Hawks even threatened to ruin Bacall’s career if she didn’t end the relationship. It took the intervention of Jack Warner himself to end the fighting and get the movie made. Later, Hawks would comment about Bacall: “Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life.”
57. Sign of the Times
Valentino was active at a time when traditional modes of masculinity were clung to with an icy grip, and gay-bashing was rife. Despite persistent speculation and rumors about his sexuality—along with the notion that his relationships with Acker and Rambova were merely “lavender marriages”—by all credible accounts, Valentino was straight. The relentless scrutiny left him feeling constantly insecure about his masculinity.
58. Momma’s Boy
James Dean didn’t have the greatest childhood, especially after his mother Mildred passed away as a result of cervical cancer when he was only nine. His father, Winton, had moved the whole family to California to become a dentist, but when his wife died, he sent his son back to their native Indiana. His mother’s death deeply affected him, and one day at school when he was in the fourth grade he burst into tears, saying that he missed her.
59. A Twist of Fate
Who would have thunk that going to a sumo wrestling match could save a person’s life? For Charlie Chaplin, it did. The Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi had sent his assassins out to kill Chaplin. In an interesting twist of fate, Chaplin went to a sumo match with none other than the PM’s son, and narrowly escaped the gruesome fate.
60. Childhood Tragedy
Tragedy would come to define Rudolph Valentino’s final years, but it was actually a part of his life from an early age. His older sister, Beatrice, died when she was an infant, and his father died when he was just 10 years old.
61. One Big Unhappy Family
Just 10 months after his birth, Clark Gable lost his mother to either a brain tumor or an epileptic fit. The young Gable would shuffle between his Protestant maternal family, his Catholic father, and a stepmother who would give the future actor is his early education in gentlemanly graces and music.
62. Two Broken Records!
In the late 1950s, Sidney Poitier became the first black man to be nominated for an acting Academy Award with his nomination for performing in The Defiant Ones. A few years later, he also became the first black man to win an Academy Award for acting. This was for his performance as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.
63. Close Call!
In 1958, producer Mike Todd, also known as one of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands, owned a private plane which tragically crashed during a flight. The crash killed everyone on board. Incredibly, actor Kirk Douglas was meant to be on that plane as well until his wife talked him out of it. Small wonder that he always credited his wife for his incredible longevity!
64. Don’t Be So Insecure!
Sir Christopher Lee’s towering height at 6’5” got him entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest lead actor. Despite this honor, his height actually proved to be a handicap early on in Lee’s career. He couldn’t land many supporting roles because the leading actors were all much shorter than he, and this was a time when men would happily wear platform shoes to look as tall as possible on camera.
65. Chess Nut
As a lifelong chess enthusiast, John Wayne had a star-studded list of chess partners: Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum were just some of the people who went check-to-check with the Duke.
66. When Welles Wasn’t Well
When Orson Welles was a child, he suffered from a number of ailments. Malaria, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, asthma and sinus headaches were all among them. He also suffered from backaches that were found to be caused by congenital anomalies in the spine. If all that wasn’t enough, he also had flat feet, which led to problems with his feet and ankles. He spent much of his childhood bedridden.
67. For Once in My Life, Believe Me
Despite playing a sailor in several movies, one of the early scandals to plague Frank Sinatra’s career was the rumor that he was a draft dodger during WWII. Even after claims that he had bribed a doctor $40,000 to declare him medically unfit to serve, the FBI accepted his reasoning that his punctured eardrum and psychological trouble genuinely had him declared unfit fit for service, and that’s why he never joined the army.
68. Always Wanting to Taste the Forbidden Fruit
Perhaps ironically, Warren Beatty grew up in a very conservative, religious family which frowned highly upon sex. According to the man himself, Beatty didn’t lose his virginity until he was nearly 20 because of that. Beatty has also gone on the record saying that when it came to sex, he had thought of little else since he was 11. He’s also decried the “American sexual Puritanism” which he says makes America a “laughingstock” when it comes to sexual matters.
69. School is Cool
In 1944, Dick Van Dyke dropped out of high school in his senior year to enter the army and become a pilot in World War II. Unfortunately, he was too underweight for combat, but he never went back to graduate. He didn’t lose out on the degree though; in 2004, the actor finally earned his high school diploma at the ripe age of 78 years old—some six decades after he left.
70. Doo-Doo Cards
Did you know that Marlon Brando never bothered to learn his lines as Jor-El in Superman? When Jor-El sends baby Clark Kent off to Earth, Brando is literally reading dialogue off the infant actor’s diaper.
71. Don’t Mess With Dean
James Dean was once suspended from school for three days because he tried to choke a heckler who was disturbing him while he read for an acting competition.
72. Taking Things Into Their Hands
Together with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin created United Artists in 1919. United Artists was formed as a means to finance their own movies and keep their creative control. Chaplin sold his shares in the company in 1955, just eight years before the company released the first James Bond film.
73. Cleanliness is Next to Handsomeness
Clark Gable was something of a germaphobe. He never took a bath because the very idea of sitting around in your dirty water shook him to his core. The actor opted for several showers a day instead.
74. Don’t You Dare Hit Me!
One of the most famous moments of the film In the Heat of the Night involves Virgil Tibbs (played by the legendary Sidney Poitier) being slapped by a rich old white man, only for him to slap him back in response. This scene was unprecedented at the time, and shocked audiences nationwide. It remains uncertain whether Poitier improvised that slap on the day of shooting, or whether the slap was originally in the script, but regardless, the scene has rightly been recognized as a watershed moment in Hollywood when it comes to the topic of racism.
75. Too Old?!
It turns out that Jack Nicholson owes one of his biggest film roles to Kirk Douglas, whether Douglas likes it or not. After reading the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Douglas bought the rights and turned it into a play in 1963. Starring as the lead character, Douglas’s play ran for six months, but it still wasn’t successful enough for him to get a movie adaptation made.
Eventually, the aging Douglas allowed his son, Michael, to try and produce the movie instead. Much to Douglas’s delight, the film went into production within a year of Michael working his magic, though Douglas was allegedly still hoping to play the lead until he found out Nicholson had been cast!
76. Who’s Got the Eviler Laugh?
Sir Christopher Lee shared a birthday—albeit 11 years apart—with Vincent Price, another staple of the horror genre back in the day. You might remember Price as the man who laughs at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
77. C for Cover Up
John Wayne was the first person to publicly refer to cancer as “The Big C.” He came up with the idiom to make his struggle with the illness less “scary” to studio executives in the early 60s.
78. Keeping Up Appearances
In his first battle with cancer, John Wayne lost a rib and half of one lung, and yet he still managed to hold press conference in his own living room shortly after in order maintain his strong public image.
79. Who Wants to See a Trick?
Orson Welles was also a talented magician. Maybe you’re wondering where he learned magic from? The one and only Harry Houdini, of course—who else? Legend meets legend. Houdini taught him his first tricks when Welles was still quite young. He would eventually graduate from your basic sleight-of-hand tricks to sawing a person in half.
During the Second World War, he went over to Europe to help entertain the troops, bringing along star Marlene Dietrich to saw in two. I’m sure they preferred her in one piece but appreciated the effort nonetheless.
80. Strangers in the Night
One rumor that never left Frank Sinatra his entire life was the claim that he was closely connected to the mafia. There may be good reason for this—he not only posed with prominent members of the Chicago mafia in photographs, but even sang at the family wedding of Willie Moretti, a known member of the Genovese crime family, in 1948. Maybe that’s why he called Chicago “My Kind of Town”!
81. I Don’t Take Requests
Before he ever made it as an actor, Warren Beatty worked as a pianist in a cocktail lounge. Given how he looked back then, it’s safe to say that was probably one of the most appropriate jobs he could have gotten.
82. Double Shifts for Disney
Dick Van Dyke did double duty for Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964). Not only did he play Bert the chimney sweep, but he also got into heavy make-up to embody the elderly and antagonistic bank chairman, Mr. Dawes Senior.
83. Moulding His Mind
Even in the time leading up to his death, James Dean wanted to learn more. He had started learning how to sculpt with artist Pegot Waring, and was constantly asking questions, to the point that Waring became frustrated. “He wanted to know just about every single fact, idea, and theory that had been discovered by man clear back to the stone age,” Waring said.
84. If You’re Not With Us, You’re Against Us
During World War I, the English accused Charlie Chaplin of being a coward. He also had never applied to be an American citizen but insisted he was a “paying visitor” to the country. Even the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, thought Chaplin was suspicious and believed Chaplin was spreading Communist propaganda by way of his films.
85. Keeping the Chemistry On-Screen Only
Clark Gable couldn’t charm every lady in Hollywood. For one, Greta Garbo famously hated him as her co-star in 1931’s Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise). Garbo thought he was a bad actor, and Gable shot back that Garbo was a snob.
86. Join the Crowd
Sidney Poitier was one of many people who participated in the March on Washington in 1963. For anyone puzzled, this event occurred during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when more than a quarter of a million people crowded together in Washington DC and Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Poitier was also accompanied by other stars like Harry Belafonte, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, and Rita Moreno.
87. That Wasn’t Real, Son!
One of Kirk Douglas’s more critically acclaimed movies was Lust for Life, in which he played the tortured Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. Naturally, the film goes over the infamous moment in Van Gogh’s life when he cut off his own ear. Reportedly, a very young Michael Douglas fled the cinema in terror when he saw that scene because he was convinced that his father had actually mutilated himself!
88. It’s a Good Thing I Didn’t Stick Around…
While Sir Christopher Lee was in Italy during the Second World War, he managed to find the time to climb Mt. Vesuvius, which some might recognize as the criminal responsible for Pompeii’s destruction. Lee picked his time wisely, as Vesuvius erupted three days later!
89. Communists Need Not Apply
John Wayne famously walked away from the lead role in High Noon because he felt the movie was an allegory against blacklisting—an activity which, as a staunch conservative, Wayne supported. Later in life, Wayne had zero regrets about helping get the movie’s screenwriter, Carl Foreman, blacklisted and run out of the country.
90. Not All Bad Press is Good Press
Although it wasn’t the biggest of hits at the time of its release, Citizen Kane has gone on to become recognized as one of the greatest films ever—if not the greatest. Orson Welles portrayed a fictionalized version of a real-life publishing tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst himself was quite livid at the film and he wouldn’t even allow any mention of it in his newspapers. His anger and refusal to publicize the film in his papers drove people away from seeing the film, which resulted in poor attendance at the box office.
91. Hit and Miss
Despite Citizen Kane being a box-office bomb, it garnered nine Academy Award nominations, winning for best screenplay. Orson Welles not only starred in the film, but also co-wrote, directed and produced it, and was recognized for new techniques he used while making the film. Contrived by Welles for Kane, techniques like deep-focus technology, low shots with the camera, and the story being told from more than one point of view are now commonplace in film.
92. Someone to Watch Over Him
Frank Sinatra racked up quite a large FBI file over the course of his lifetime. Beginning with his arrest in 1938 for “adultery and seduction” (some very Sinatra-esque charges), his lasting habits of fighting, drinking, and womanizing, as well as his advanced ties to the mob, kept him on the Feds’ radar for decades—amassing an impressive file of no less than 2,403 pages.
93. Lost in Translation
Dick Van Dyke’s “cockney” accent in Mary Poppins is heavily cited as one of the worst movie accents of all time. Actors actually study it to learn how not to put on a new dialect. In a 2003 poll by Empire magazine, it was declared just the second-worst accents ever put to film—behind Sean Connery in The Untouchables.
Van Dyke blamed his notoriously bad Mary Poppins accent on his Irish accent coach who, in the actor’s words, “didn’t do an accent any better than I did.” Yeah, it is pretty weird they’d hire an Irish person to teach a Cockney accent, but the past is the past? Also, nobody bothered to warn Van Dyke about the quality (or lack thereof) of his cockney accent while they were actually producing the film.
95. Feeding His Image
James Dean didn’t really care too much about his appearance, even going so far as to show up to a formal luncheon with no sock or shoes, and wearing dirty jeans. That wasn’t just a one-time thing, either. He was also known for showing up to rehearsals wearing pants that were being held up with safety pins!
96. Missing the Action
John Wayne’s guilt over not serving in World War II haunted him for life. Although many of his Hollywood peers volunteered to fight, Wayne himself did not make particularly great efforts to change his own draft exemption. Although he wrote to his friend about wanting to enlist, he kept postponing until he “finished just one or two pictures.” Part of this procrastination might have been because Republic Studios was very resistant to losing their only A-list actor under contract.
97. Out With the Old, In With the New
After divorcing her first husband, actress Mary Pickford didn’t even wait a month to marry actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Like the Brangelina of their day, Fairbanks and Pickford were referred to as Hollywood royalty, drawing crowds whenever they went out in public.
98. All Good Things Must End
Fairbanks and Pickford often hosted lavish parties at “Pickfair,” their home, but few saw the dark side of their glamorous life together. The massive amount of attention they received strained the marriage. At the end of the silent era, both their careers floundered, creating further tension—and then, in the early 30s, a scandal erupted that would finally tear them apart. Fairbanks began an affair with Sylvia, Lady Ashley, a wealthy socialite. When his cheating became public, the Hollywood golden couple separated.
99. Not-So-Smooth Sailing
Rudolph Valentino’s second marriage was even rockier than the first. Rambova and Valentino lived in separate apartments in New York City while they waited out the year required of them by the courts, and they legally remarried on March 14, 1923. Rambova was not popular with a number of Valentino’s friends—June Mathis among them, whom he fell out with. The marriage disintegrated to the point where Rambova was contractually banned from his sets towards its end, and they divorced in 1925. It was a bitter end, too—Valentino left Rambova one single dollar in his will. Ouch.
100. So Fresh and So Clean
In his memoirs, Kirk Douglas recalled a particularly disturbing and bizarre romantic encounter when he went back to Joan Crawford’s house for a romantic rendez-vous. In the middle of the act, Douglas reports, Crawford leaned in and murmured into his ear—but it was far from sweet nothings. “You’re so clean,” she whispered.
She continued: “It’s wonderful that you shaved your armpits when you made Champion.” As Douglas put it, her passionate outburst was “a real conversation stopper.” Nonetheless, Douglas admits that, “All by herself, she was equivalent to my six sisters and my mother.”
101. Birthday Surprise?
Comedian and actor Dick Van Dyke’s parents lied to him about his birthday for all of his childhood. The truth came out when he thought he was 17 and worried about being drafted into the army. The young man considered just joining the army anyways at 17 because he’d at least get to control his future that way. His mom then dropped the bombshell: Dick was already 18. His mother told him he was born premature, so they moved his birthday to his original due date. But Van Dyke’s grandma told him the real story: Dick was really conceived out of wedlock, and his parents moved his birthday forward to hide the “shameful” truth.
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