The biggest stars of stage, screen, and music throughout the decades have become so familiar to us that it almost feels like we know some of them personally. Think again. From the cool, to the unexpected, to the downright disturbing, one thing is clear—there is way more to our celebrity friends than meets the eye. Here are surprising facts about the secret lives of show biz legends.
Celebrity Secret Lives Facts
Famous actor Robert Mitchum once served time behind bars after being caught enjoying some hash at a party back in 1949. Mitchum was certain that this moment would mean the end of his career. Thankfully, the public quickly forgot about Mitchum’s little green indiscretion and he went on to enjoy the greatest successes of his career.
2. Ulterior Motives
It turns out that the 1949 arrest of Robert Mitchum may have been connected with yet another secret. The Los Angeles authorities launched an anti-drug campaign and specifically wanted to bust a high-profile celebrity to bring attention to their efforts. Mitchum just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He played right into their hands.
3. Goodbye Norma Jean
Before becoming a Hollywood superstar and long before her high-profile marriages to Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, a 16-year-old Marilyn Monroe wed her neighbor in an arranged marriage. Monroe’s foster parents were moving away and didn’t want Monroe to be left behind all alone, so they set her up with a local young man.
It isn’t every day that a guy gets a knock on his door asking if he wants to marry the biggest Hollywood bombshell of all time!
4. Who’s Your Daddy
Comedy star Woody Allen created a lot of controversy when he revealed that he was in a relationship with his adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Allen hardly angered anyone with this news as much as he did his son, reporter Ronan Farrow. Farrow was so disturbed by the situation that he no longer speaks to his father, Allen. Farrow even seemed to suggest that rumors of Frank Sinatra being his real biological father might be true. That’s gotta hurt!
5. Under The Radar
Usually when a celebrity is at the height of stardom, there is little about their life—and especially their love life—that the public doesn’t know about. Yet somehow, a 39-year-old Jerry Seinfeld had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl at the height of Seinfeld’s legendary run. The vast majority of fans seem to have either totally forgotten about it or to have never been aware of it in the first place. How in the world does that happen??!!
6. May Your Days Be Merry And Bright
Music historians often point to Bing Crosby as one of the most influential singers in the history of American pop music. Despite having the world’s all-time best-selling single with “White Christmas,” Bing sadly did not enjoy the same level of success as a father. For years, there were allegations that Crosby was excessively tough with his children and even hit them with bags of oranges to avoid leaving bruises. Then, in the decades following his passing, two of his sons ended their own lives.
7. Over The Rainbow
Back in the 1930s and 1940s, leading Hollywood studios had strict rules governing the lives of their female stars. One especially notorious rule? The leading lady couldn’t get pregnant. However, when stars and starlets would often hook up at glamorous parties, this could pose some challenges. Studio heads would regularly force actresses into having under-the-table abortions. One of the most noteworthy victims of this policy was the legendary Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland.
8. RIP To A Legend
When Rock ‘n Roll pioneer Buddy Holly departed for the tour that would conclude in his fatal plane crash, he left his pregnant young wife of six months, Maria Elena, back at home. On February 3, 1959, she woke up and heard the tragic news in the worst way possible. It was on the TV. No officials had reached out to inform her of her loss.
Elena was so shell shocked that she miscarried and lost their baby. The horror of this incident led authorities to prohibit news outlets from publicly identifying victims of tragedies until their families had been properly and sensitively informed.
9. Life Is A Coin Toss
Country music legend Willie Nelson’s producer, Tommy Allsup, almost never got the chance to help bring Willie’s talent to the public attention. He was part of Buddy Holly’s infamous 1959 tour, and had wanted a seat on the plane that would ultimately crash. Luckily for Tommy, there were only four seats on the plane and singer Ritchie Valens had also wanted one.
The two of them decided to settle it with a coin toss, never dreaming that its outcome would decide which of them would live. Valens won the coin toss, got on the plane, and passed within a few hours. Allsup lived and went on to bring the world one of the most popular singers of all time. It’s scary how unpredictable life can be…
10. Humble Beginnings
Harpo Marx, the silent clown member of the timeless Marx Brothers comedy team, began his show business career at the age of 12. He was a piano player in a very inappropriate place: a New York brothel.
11. Ahead Of His Time
The Marx Brothers’ entire family was of Jewish descent, so it seems highly bizarre that Harpo’s real first name was ‘Adolph.’ Naturally, this was long before Hitler came into the public eye and destroyed the name for the rest of history, so no one can say Harpo’s parents knew the associations the name would one day have. Nevertheless, Harpo always seems to have known that he should rebrand.
A popular urban legend that he legally changed his first name to Arthur during WWII specifically to distance himself from the evil leader. However, Harpo actually made the change as early as 1911—simply because he had always hated the name.
12. You’ll Feel Better If You Cry
Johnnie Ray was one of the biggest hitmakers of the pre-Rock ‘n Roll half of the 1950s. Throughout all this success, Ray had actually been deaf the entire time. An accident took place during a Boy Scouts event he was attending at the age of 13, and his hearing remained severely impaired for the rest of his life. To be able to become a successful singer without the ability to hear a single note of your own voice is nothing to shake a stick at…
13. I Guess It’s Too Late Now To Say Sorry…
Although he’s still very young, there is no denying that over the past decade Justin Bieber has secured his spot in history as a show biz legend. However, not everyone seems to be a “Belieber.” China banned the Biebs’ music and presence in 2017, allegedly due to his “bad behavior” and their need to “purify” the country’s arts and culture. We’re sure this has left many a fan angrily asking the Chinese government “What Do You Mean?”, but alas the ban remains.
14. Thank You Very Much
Long before hitting the big time as a singer, a six-year old Bruno Mars had a cameo in the film Honeymoon in Vegas. The young star played an Elvis impersonator. Who knew!
15. Long Term Commitment
Many people know about Tom Cruise’s highly publicized interest in the Church of Scientology. Not everyone may be aware, however, of just how committed he truly is. In 2013, Cruise was believed to have signed a “billion year contract” for his new role as the third in command of the church. I wonder what he plans to do after the billion years is up…
I Love Lucy characters Lucy and Ethel are forever ingrained in the pop culture consciousness as the best friends who ever lived. It might surprise you, then, to learn that Lucille Ball initially want Vivian Vance to play her on-screen bestie. Ball felt that Vance was too young and attractive and would therefore take attention away from the main character—that is, herself. Nevertheless, Vance got the part and before long, she won Ball over.
17. Unholy Matrimony
I Love Lucy co-stars William Frawley and Vivian Vance, who played the famous show’s beloved couple next door, Fred and Ethel Mertz, were anything but the perfect couple in real life. The pair are said to have hated each other and never gotten along at all off-stage. At one point, Vance point-blank refused to even kiss her own husband on the show.
18. True Love Never Ends
Marilyn Monroe and her ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, had a short-lived but tumultuous and highly publicized relationship. However, a major fight eight months into the marriage broke them up for good—or did it? It was rumored that the two had quietly reconnected and were trying to reconcile things. They may have even considered getting remarried.
All of this was abruptly interrupted by the star’s untimely demise. Joltin’ Joe did not react to the loss well. He was left in charge of her funeral arrangements and angrily chose to bar the entire Hollywood crowd from attending. DiMaggio blamed them for destroying Monroe’s life and leading her to an early grave.
19. Super Ambitions
Michael Jackson once tried to purchase Marvel Comics. He wanted to produce a Spider-Man film, starring himself as the main hero.
20. Carrying Your Love With Me
Modern country music’s undisputed king, George Strait, has spent more than three decades topping the charts as a clean cut, happy-go-lucky individual. Yet despite always maintaining this positive public image, Strait has actually dealt with a heavy load of hardship. Most challenging of all, Strait endured the passing of his 13-year-old daughter in a car crash back in 1986. Some people speculate that his sadder songs are subtle tributes to her memory.
21. I’ll Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
All four members of the Beatles went on to see successful careers as solo artists—but one of them may have gotten a bit of a boost from an old pal. Despite Ringo Starr taking credit for writing his first solo hit song “It Don’t Come Easy,” his former bandmate George Harrison contributed a fair bit to the writing process as well. Stolen valor much?
22. Family Business
Stand-up comedy legend Jackie Mason almost ended up on a very different career path. Mason came from an entire family dynasty of Rabbis, and he was expected to follow suit and pursue a career in the pulpit. Despite deciding that comedy was his true calling, a young Mason actually got his Rabbinic ordination. He even served as chaplain of a synagogue for three years.
23. Move Over, Brangelina!
One of the most famous “tough guy” actors in Hollywood history is undoubtedly the star of classics such as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart. Yet despite intimidating many a villain on the silver screen, he was no match for his real-life third wife, Mayo Methot. Bogart and Methot had an explosively tumultuous relationship. It culminated in Methot actually attempting to stab her husband.
Incidents like this earned the couple their nickname, the “Battling Bogarts” and paved the way for the affair that would lead to Bogart’s marriage to fellow Hollywood legend, Lauren Bacall.
24. Pretty, Pretty Good!
Comedy legend Larry David, creator of the Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, was 42 before he saw his first serious success in the field of comedy. Since then, he hasn’t looked back—except for one brief moment where he decided to try his hand as a literal superhero. Among the many interesting chapters in David’s life, few compare to the time that his show saved someone’s life.
Authorities wrongly took a man into custody and charged him with murder, until footage from a Curb Your Enthusiasm shoot revealed the truth. The man had actually been at a baseball game when the offense allegedly took place. Thanks Larry!
25. They Knew She Was Trouble When She Walked In
You gotta start somewhere, kids! Country and pop music superstar Taylor Swift didn’t begin her career with sellout world tours. Her first job was the slightly less glamorous task of removing bugs from Christmas trees on people’s behalf. Watch out bugs, you and those trees are never, ever, ever getting back together with Taylor on the job!
26. Animal Crackers Are Clearly Good for You
Arguably the most iconic child actress of all time, Shirley Temple eventually ditched the pig tails. When she grew up, Temple served in several top government positions—including the United States Ambassador to Ghana, United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and Chief of Protocol of the United States. Not bad, especially considering how most child stars fare…
27. They Give An Award For That?
The late Robin Williams, one of the most popular comedians of all time, was apparently not a talent fully appreciated by everyone he ever met. It turns out his high school peers had once voted him “Least Likely to Succeed” from their class. Yikes!
28. You Dirty Rats!
James Cagney spent most of the 1930s as Hollywood’s leading bad guy. He starred in some of the most memorable gangster movies of all time. Yet, despite his tough image, Cagney was also a masterfully trained tap dancer. In fact, some critics suggest that Cagney’s level of dance talent rivalled Fred Astaire. Luckily, though, for those wishing they could have seen this, Cagney did decide to share his dance skills with the public on certain rare occasions—most notably in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy.
29. Fishing For Trouble
Star Wars star Carrie Fisher grew up as the misfortunate child victim of a dysfunctional Hollywood marriage. Her father, pop singer Eddie Fisher, left Carrie to be raised by her mother, singer and movie star Debbie Reynolds. Meanwhile, he replaced Debbie with a new wife, the mega movie star Elizabeth Taylor. It seems like some things never change in Hollywood…
30. That’s All Folks!
Even if you don’t know his name, you definitely know his work! Mel Blanc, also known as the “Man of 1000 Voices”, is best remembered as the voice actor who gave us Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and many of the other classic Looney Tunes characters. Despite all the fun he has brought us all over the years, there was one period in his life that was anything but.
Blanc was in a major car accident in 1961 and fell into a coma for a full two weeks. And what were the first words he said to his doctor upon waking up from this close brush with his own mortality? You guessed it—“What’s up, doc?”
31. Secret History Maker
Who needs another reason to love Betty White? I mean, no one, but here’s one anyway. Back in the 1950s, White refused to bow to discrimination. She stood up for her beliefs and gave African-American tap dancer Arthur Duncan a chance to appear on one of her early shows. Soon, the TV variety host Lawrence Welk hired Duncan. During his time on the show, he helped Welk make history: The show became the first ever racially integrated TV variety show.
32. Canadian Invasion
Many of the pioneers who built America’s film industry in the early 20th century were actually a group of Canadian immigrants. Perhaps the most noteworthy member of this group was the silent film era’s leading lady, Mary Pickford. Many of her fans at the time would have been very surprised to learn that “America’s Sweetheart” was not actually American at all!
33. Back To His Past
We should actually call Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox another name: “Michael A. Fox.” Fox’s actual middle name is Andrew. However, he couldn’t use that initial because another actor in his union already had the name “Michael A. Fox.” He decided to opt for the letter “J” as a shoutout and tribute to actor Michael J. Pollard.
34. Old Blue Eyes Was Bluer Than We Think…
When cross-generational superstar singer Frank Sinatra saw actress Ava Gardner‘s photo on the cover of a magazine one day, he immediately proclaimed that he would someday marry her. He did not, apparently, care that he was already married to someone else. Despite a wild start to their eventual affair and marriage, the fling did not live up to Sinatra’s almost mythical expectations—and he did not react well.
Sinatra attempted to take his own life—not once, but twice—in response to the decline of this relationship.
35. I Did It My Way
When the two began their affair, Frank Sinatra’s biographers say that he was so wild over Ava Gardner that he led her around on wild escapades. These escapades included things like stopping under other people’s palm trees for late-night serenades and shooting guns in the air out of a moving car. Needless to say, Sinatra’s publicist went out of his way to ensure that these secret outings never reached public ears. He even paid hush money to keep the story out of the press.
36. The Old Switcheroo
Few early Rock ‘n Roll groups dominated the music charts so consistently throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s as the Drifters. The group helped create the soundtrack of an entire era—or should I say “the groups”?
It turns out that two completely different groups of people went by the same name during those years. The group’s manager fired the original group, led by Clyde McPhatter, in 1958. A new group, led by Ben E. King, then replaced them. The two incarnations of the group were so distinct that the Vocal Group Hall of Fame inducted “The Drifters” twice, as two separate entities.
37. Horrifyingly Bad
Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian actor who famously played Dracula in the 1930s, had a serious drug addiction that made it hard for him to nab serious acting roles. Because of this, he ended up working in low-budget horror movies, including the worst film of all time: Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Lugosi passed part way through the production of the film—causing director Ed Wood to do some highly creative editing to hide his demise from the audience. Unfortunately, their sad attempts just made the movie even more ridiculous.
38. Don’t Date Your Secretary
Late in Groucho Marx’s life, he made a sudden and unexpected comeback into the public eye. Groucho appeared on many TV shows and recorded a live comedy album from Carnegie Hall. But…why? Some, including Marx’s son, suggest that this late comeback was because Groucho had started a relationship with his live-in secretary. And this girl, who was about half a century younger than him, was bad news.
The secretary allegedly pressured Groucho to work so that she could enjoy a lavish lifestyle. She once even threatened to beat him if he didn’t let her sell his beloved Cadillac. It didn’t end well for the secretary either though. She ended her own life in 2003, more than 20 years after Groucho’s passing.
39. Mistaken Identity
Al Jolson, one of the biggest singing stars of the 1920s, is today viewed as controversial due to his use of blackface. However, this story has a surprising and ironic twist. Back in his day, Jolson was actually seen as a crusader for African American equality in the music industry. Jolson actually arranged the first-ever opportunity for African American performers to appear on Broadway. He also defied segregation by inviting people of color to dine with him, even if restaurants tried to bar them.
40. Double Life? Very Nice!
When comedian Sacha Baron Cohen travelled around America undercover filming for his 2006 smash hit film Borat, a few people found his performance a little too convincing. So many people reported his character’s bizarre behavior that the FBI actually opened a file on the non-existent individual!
41. Real Life Frenzy
Alfred Hitchcock is universally regarded as one of the greatest film directors of all time. But what inspired his love of suspense? It turns out that Hitchcock’s fascination with the macabre has dark roots. When Hitchcock was a badly behaved six year old, his father decided to punish him by putting him in behind bars at the local station. The feeling of entrapment and fear stayed with Hitchcock for the rest of his life.
42. What’s In A Name?
Country music legend Conway Twitty has quite a history behind his name. The singer came up with it by combining the names of two random small towns he noticed on a road map—Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas. His real name was Harold Lloyd Jenkins.