The real-life scandals of Hollywood's personalities rival any drama they bring to life on the silver screen. The Hollywood Scandal Almanac provides daily doses of high and low crimes, fraud and deceit, culled from Tinseltown's checkered past. The exploits of silent-era stars Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle are recounted, along with the midcentury misdeeds of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe and the modern excesses of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. This calendar of Hollywood transgressions has a sensational true tale for every day of the year. Join author Jerry Roberts on a tongue-in-cheek trip down a stormy memory lane filled with sneaky affairs, box-office bombs and careers cut shortsometimes by murder. It's a collection that proves the drama doesn't end when the credits roll.
|Publisher:||History Press, The|
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About the Author
Jerry Roberts has authored or been credited editor on 16 books. Roberts was film critic for Copley Los Angeles Newspapers and a columnist for Copley News Service.
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1960 — HAYWIRE IN THE END
Margaret Sullavan overdosed on sleeping pills in her room of the Taft Hotel in New Haven, Connecticut, on New Year's Day while studying for the out-of-town previews of Sweet Love Remembered. Her own memory lane could have used the title: she married Henry Fonda on Christmas Day 1931 and divorced him for infamously overbearing Broadway producer Jed Harris, married film director William Wyler in 1936 and traded him in for Broadway producer Leland Hayward in 1938. She divorced him to marry an investment banker. James Stewart fell hopelessly in love with her through their pictures together, including The Shopworn Angel (1938) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Sullavan suffered a nervous breakdown, recounted in Haywire (1977), her daughter's autobiography. The book became a 1980 TV movie starring Lee Remick as Margaret, whose death was ruled an accident by the New Haven County coroner. She was fifty.
1937 — MAKING WAY FOR RONNIE
Warner Bros.'s favorite second lead — to Dick Powell in Flirtation Walk (1934), Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935) and others — Ross Alexander walked out to a familiar barn near his Hollywood home on this date. This same barn was where his twenty-two-year-old former and late wife, actress Aleta Freel, used a .22-caliber rifle to apparently shoot herself to death on December 6, 1935. Ross carried the same firearm and took his own life with it. Between apparent suicides, Ross married actress Anne Nagel. There's nothing to suggest that the reinvestigation of Aleta's death by California governor Frank Merriam at the request of New Jersey governor Harold Hoffman (she was a Jersey girl) had anything to do with Ross's gun-tote to the barn. Warner's search for Ross's replacement as the best friend du jour led to a Tampico, Illinois–born announcer working Chicago Cubs spring-training games on Santa Catalina Island. Ronald Reagan was screen-tested on the island, proved to be Ross's capable replacement and later dallied as president of the Screen Actors Guild, governor of California and president of the United States.
2009 — BOURBON AT FAT JACK'S
Playwright and actor Sam Shepard had been into the Woodford Reserve bourbon at Fat Jack's on Main Street in Bloomington, Illinois, on this date. He even autographed a bottle of Woodford, according to bar personnel. Around 2:00 a.m., Sam was behind the wheel of a Chevy Blazer, going forty-five miles per hour in a thirty zone. The Normal, Illinois police pulled him over, arrested him for drunk driving and took him down to the McLean County Jail, where the Pulitzer Prize winner for Buried Child posted $300 bail. An Oscar nominee as test pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983) and a star of such films as Steel Magnolias (1989) and Black Hawk Down (2001), Shepard, a native of Fort Sheridan, Illinois, might think twice about any more down-state drinking.
1931 — SILENT STAR'S SOUND TREATMENT
Art Acord acted in the very first Hollywood feature-length film, Cecil B. De Mille's The Squaw Man (1914), filmed in the barn that today is the Hollywood Heritage Museum. Acord (occasionally Accord) became Universal's leading cowboy star, and his horse, Raven, was popular with kids. Their features include The Circus Cyclone (1925) and Spurs and Saddles (1927). Art's three divorces in a dozen years and gambling debts were topped by bad news: his voice wouldn't make it in the sound era. He played in a few sound films, but his star descended. A big drinker, Acord drifted into an arrest for bootlegging. Haggard from stunt work and tavern roaming, Acord expired in a Chihuahua City, Mexico, hotel room on this date. The cause of death is alternately listed as a stroke due to acute alcoholism or cyanide poisoning. He was forty.
1989 — SEAN AND MADONNA: IRRECONCILABLE
The most irreconcilable thing left for the public by the marriage of Madonna and Sean Penn was Shanghai Surprise (1989). Their divorce was filed on this date, but the movie, made in 1986 in Hong Kong, was a lamebrain dud, shelved for a couple of years. Sean starred as a fortune hunter in China, with her in a vocational stretch as a missionary nurse. It cost $17 million to make and earned back $2.3 million domestically. During production, Penn infamously scuffled with a Hong Kong journalist and tried to have director Jim Goddard fired. The film company became a moveable mess, with shutterbugs colliding to get snaps of Madonna. Back in Los Angeles, songwriter David Wolinski greeted old friend Madonna with a kiss in a nightclub, and Penn went berserk, punching, kicking and clubbing the tune-meister with a chair. The couple split and reconciled in 1987 and then split for good by this date.
2011 — JAMIE'S ROUGH MONTH
The 2007 Emmy Award winner for best supporting actress in My Name Is Earl, Jamie Pressly was amid a tough January on this date by seemingly emulating her role as the blabby peroxide-blonde bimbo Joy Turner in her NBC-TV sitcom by getting arrested for drunk driving by the Santa Monica police. Later in the month, on January 21, the former gymnast and Playboy model filed for divorce from Simran Singh, her entertainment lawyer husband, citing irreconcilable differences. A star of such films as Poor White Trash (2000), Joe Dirt (2001) and I Love You, Man (2009), Pressly pleaded no contest to the DUI on August 25, 2011, and received three years' probation.
1997 — YOUR CELL, MADAM
Disheveled and weeping, the former madam to the stars, Heidi Fleiss, was sentenced to thirty-seven months in federal prison on this date for income tax evasion and money laundering, ending one of Hollywood's more lurid actual melodramas. "The once-defiant Fleiss closed her eyes in relief," read one report, when U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall was lenient, slapping her with three years. During her time at the Pleasanton, California Federal Correctional Institute for Women, Fleiss was forced several times to defend herself against attacks by inmates. Originally arrested for supplying high-priced hookers and narcotics to what had been characterized as the Hollywood elite, Fleiss eventually relocated to Nye County, Nevada, keeping house with dozens of parrots.
1993 — ELVIS'S POSTAGE STAMP
The U.S. Postal Service, going along with the contention that Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, in Memphis, Tennessee, issued on this date a stamp in memory of the King. Elvis's impact on movies was considerable, even though his often watery vehicles had the cheap look of Gilligan's Island episodes. He starred in thirty-one pictures, including such moving postcards as Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), Fun in Acapulco (1963), Viva Las Vegas (1964), Spinout (1966) and Clambake (1967). If he wasn't exactly Olivier or Brando, he had a magnetic presence, women adored him and he could sing a little. And the facts spoke for themselves: "Presley as Top-Money Star" claimed Variety on July 28, 1965, and writer Vincent Canby estimated Elvis's 1965 income from movies at $2.7 million, or more than John Wayne, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor. His picture for Allied Artists, Tickle Me (1965), saved that studio.
1936 — GARBO'S LOVER HITS THE SKIDS
John Gilbert's tragedy has always been characterized as abandonment by Hollywood because his voice was judged unfit for sound pictures. But the Logan, Utah–born star was just a pain in the butt to some, pestering Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for raises. Director King Vidor wrote that Gilbert always played a role because the person was a blank slate. A top star of his day, he fronted John Ford's Cameo Kirby (1923), Vidor's The Big Parade (1925), Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow (1925) and other big films while his boozing increased. Perhaps contrite over once leaving Gilbert at the altar, his frequent costar, Greta Garbo, insisted he costar in Queen Christina (1933). He made one other film, The Captain Hates the Sea (1934), and was to costar in Desire (1936) with Marlene Dietrich, but his acute alcoholism brought on a fatal heart attack on this date. He was forty.
1936 — "AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS" GO SOUR
At the heart of the silent film industry's social scene was Pickfair, the Beverly Hills mansion of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Their marriage was more internationally celebrated than actual royalty, and celestial unions since — Liz and Dick, et al. — have paled in comparison. Pickford, "America's Sweetheart," rebounded from an unhappy marriage by hitching with Fairbanks on their Liberty Bonds tour on March 28, 1920. Media darlings and significant producers, they created United Artists. Pickford won an Oscar for Coquette in 1929, but sound pictures finished her career. America's Sweethearts split on this date. Doug went roving to England, where he married Lady Ashley (who later married Clark Gable). Mary married Charles "Buddy" Rogers and retained Pickfair, where she parked herself within easy reach of the sideboy bar. Doug died in 1939 at age fifty-six, Mary in 1979 at eighty-seven.
1955 — DUKE TO BOB: YOU'RE FIRED!
The occasional firings off movie productions are mild shocks that drift quietly into trivia. Harvey Keitel was exchanged for Marty Sheen on Apocalypse Now (1979), and Eric Stoltz wasn't comic enough for director Bob Zemeckis on Back to the Future (1985), so the franchise fell to Michael J. Fox. When Robert Mitchum was fired on this date from San Francisco Bay locations for Blood Alley (1955) — for pranks allegedly including pushing a crew member into the bay — producer John Wayne and studio head Jack Warner replaced him with the Duke himself. It hit the papers like Big Bad Bob was the antichrist — a week of headlines during a slow January. Bob's 1947 marijuana bust was still fresh, and it didn't help that he hosted post- contretemps press interviews in his undershorts. The Duke always felt culpable in the fiasco, and the two stars eventually carried The Longest Day (1962) and reunited for El Dorado (1967).
2001 — BALDWIN V. BASINGER
The eldest of the four acting Baldwin boys from Long Island, Alec Baldwin was married to Oscar winner Kim Basinger through most of the 1990s. The costars of The Marrying Man (1990) married in 1993 and had their daughter, Ireland, in 1995. Kim, who won an Oscar for L.A. Confidential (1997), filed for divorce on this date. Alec contends in his book Promise to Ourselves (2008), written with Mark Tabb, that Kim spent about $1.5 million to cut off any relationship with his daughter by refusing to discuss parenting, blocking visitation and telephone access, not following court orders and directly influencing the child against him. Baldwin contended he broke on April 11, 2007, when he left an angry voicemail message referring to Ireland as a "rude, thoughtless little pig," which was leaked to the TV show TMZ. He told Playboy that he contemplated suicide over the incident but instead sought professional help because he didn't want his former family to have that satisfaction. "Destroying me," he said, "was their avowed goal."
1962 — SO LONG, ERNIE KOVACS
One of Hollywood's more original comedians perished in an auto accident on this date at the corner of Santa Monica and Beverly Glen Boulevards in Los Angeles. Ernie Kovacs, a Hungarian immigrant at age thirteen and a TV comedy star who began making movies — Our Man in Havana (1959), Bell, Book and Candle (1959) and North to Alaska (1960) — rendezvoused with his wife and former TV costar, Edie Adams, at a baby shower for Milton Berle and his wife. Ernie and Edie left in separate cars after a rainstorm. Kovacs lost control of his Chevrolet Corvair and crashed into a phone pole. The rangy portrayer of such TV characters as Wolfgang von Sauerbraten, Auntie Gruesome, Percy Dovetonsils and Pierre Ragout was thrown partway out of the passenger side and died instantly from chest and head injuries. Jack Lemmon, who had costarred in three Ernie pictures, identified the body at the morgue after Edie broke down. Kovacs was forty-two.
1922 — CLEANING UP PICTURES
Will H. Hays resigned his cabinet position as U.S. postmaster general on this date after successfully guiding Warren G. Harding's 1920 presidential campaign. The higher office for Hays was president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). A Presbyterian deacon and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Hays began his new job at a $100,000 annual salary on March 6, 1922. The MPPDA's goal was to renovate the movie industry's image in the wake of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, the drug death of Wallace Reid and the murder of William Desmond Taylor and to tone down the pictures as religious groups were clamoring for federal censorship. Hiring Hays, a native of Sullivan, Indiana, to "clean up the pictures" was a public relations move toward devising the Production Code in the 1930s.
1947 — GO IN PIECES, MY DEAR
One of the most infamous murder cases in Hollywood or anywhere else was the killing and mutilation of unemployed waitress and aspiring actress Elizabeth Short. Her body was found surgically cut in half and drained of blood on this date in an empty lot at 3925 South Norton Avenue in South Central Los Angeles. The infamously unsolved Black Dahlia Murder has inspired many interpretations — books, films, websites, TV investigations — and speculations about call-girl rings, drinking binges, suppression of information, lost or destroyed files, police coverups and whatnot. William Randolph Hearst's newspapers, the Los Angeles Examiner and Los Angeles Herald-Express, sensationalized the case, nicknamed after the then-popular movie The Blue Dahlia (1946). Short has been portrayed as either a naïve innocent or an indulgent bimbo. The waters are so muddied by time that almost anything might be true. Short was twenty-two.
2008 — BRAD'S "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN"
Director Joel Schumacher had "discovered" the eleven-year-old kid from Knoxville, Tennessee, and starred him with Susan Sarandon in the film of John Grisham's The Client (1994). The talented upstart also starred in Sleepers (1996), Apt Pupil (1998), Deuces Wild (2002) and others as he literally grew up in the business. But Brad Renfro didn't last long, as acute morphine/heroin intoxication took him in his sleep on January 15, 2008. The Los Angeles County coroner ruled the death accidental. Two days before his demise, Brad had "Fuck All Ya'll" tattooed on his back. His relatives and friends paid him tribute at his grave site in Red House Cemetery in Blaine, Tennessee, on this date as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" played in the background. Brad was twenty-five. Two weeks later, his grandmother, Joanne, who had raised him and accompanied him to acting gigs when he was a minor, died of natural causes. She was seventy-six.
1942 — LOSS OF CAROLE LOMBARD
Twenty-three minutes after refueling in Las Vegas, a TWA/Western Airlines flight carrying actress Carole Lombard, her mother, Bess Peters, and press agent Otto Winkler crashed on this date into Potosi Mountain, aka Double Up Peak, aka Table Mountain, 8,300 feet above sea level in the Spring Range of Clark County, Nevada. The three were returning from Lombard's home state of Indiana, where they had raised $2 million at a war bond rally. They were among twenty-two people aboard, including fifteen U.S. Army Air Corps pilots on what turned out to be their final flight. As soon as he heard the news, Lombard's husband, Clark Gable, flew to the site and joined the base camp as a posse of Army Air Corps personnel, Native Americans and cowboys scaled the snowy peak to find the inevitable: charred remains, fuselage and no survivors. A superb actress and sparkling comedienne, Lombard had starred in Twentieth Century (1934), Nothing Sacred (1937), They Knew What They Wanted (1940) and other classics. She was thirty- three.
1923 — MORPHINE CLAIMS WALLY REID
Wallace Reid became involved in pictures in 1910 in Chicago, was featured in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) and his talent and looks, plus the abilities to write, direct and run the camera, made him an in-demand star and picture-maker. The Roaring Road (1919), Double Speed (1920) and Excuse My Dust (1920) were a few of his racing movies. While on location in Oregon for director James Cruze's The Valley of the Giants (1919), Reid was injured in a train wreck and prescribed with morphine to kill the pain. The subsequent addiction worsened at a time when rehab was nonexistent. The star couldn't kick the habit, leading to events that made the papers. Influenza resulted, and the lung and kidney congestion claimed him at the Banksia Sanitarium in Hollywood. Reid was thirty-one.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hollywood Scandal Almanac"
Copyright © 2012 Jerry Roberts.
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Table of Contents
Selected Bibliography 381
About the Author 383