"Hollywood’s like Egypt. Full of crumbling pyramids. It’ll never come back. It’ll just keep on crumbling until finally the wind blows the last studio prop across the sands." —Attributed to David Selznick
It all started with a book called Hollywood Babylon by former child actor and underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Released in 1975, this dark little masterpiece detailed the desperate reality behind the glittering facade of Tinseltown’s so-called Golden Age, a world of "cocaine-crazed comedies," "heroin heroines" and "amoral extravagances." The sordid list of Hollywood wannabes, has-beens, cokeheads, burnouts, drunks, heroin addicts, rebels, sluts and losers grows year after year. So buckle up as we take a wild ride through the seamy side of Hollywood, the boulevard of lost souls and broken dreams.
"My fun days are over." — James Dean, shortly before his fatal car crash, 1955
Gore Vidal on Grace Kelly: "Grace almost always laid the leading man . . . She was famous for that in this town."
"Who do I fuck to get off this picture?" — anonymous Hollywood actress, ca. 1930
"[Howard] Hughes was the only man I ever knew who had to die to prove he had been alive." — Walter Kane
In January 1959, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was shot to death by a hunting buddy during a drunken brawl over a $50 debt. Police ruled the slaying a "justifiable homicide." Alfalfa was just 33 years old.
"Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me." — Rita Hayworth
The "It Girl," Clara Bow, took on the entire University of Southern California "Thundering Herd" football team during a "gangbanging" weekend party. Bow’s other conquests include Eddie Cantor, Gary Cooper and Bela Lugosi (!).
"Judy [Garland] didn’t die of anything, except wearing out. She just plain wore out." — Ray Bolger
Louis B. Mayer’s last words: "Nothing matters. Nothing matters." "Ginger Rogers was one of the worst, red-baiting, terrifying reactionaries in Hollywood." — Joseph Losey
Jean Harlow’s husband of two months, Paul Bern, blew his brains out after discovering he was impotent and couldn’t satisfy the "Platinum Blonde."
"I’d have liked to have gone to bed with Jean Harlow. She was a beautiful broad. The fellow who married her was impotent and he killed himself. I would have done the same thing." — Groucho Marx
In 1932, Peg Entwistle became the first aspiring starlet to leap to her death off the "HOLLYWOOD" sign. In her suicide note, Entwistle wrote: "I’m afraid I’m a coward. I’m sorry for everything."
"Cocaine isn’t habit-forming. I should know—I’ve been using it for years." — Tallulah Bankhead
John Garfield died of a heart attack in 1952, shortly after being placed on the Hollywood blacklist.
Frank Sinatra had Suddenly pulled from theaters when he discovered that Lee Harvey Oswald had viewed the film a couple of days before he was arrested for assassinating JFK.
"I must say Jack Palance was a drag. We were together in The Silver Chalice. The way he did his work was strange. He was a weird actor, and I didn’t like working with him at all." — Virginia Mayo
Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose on August 5, 1962, at the age of 36. According to the coroner, Monroe swallowed 47 tablets of Nembutal. The rumor mill has actively churned over the years, implicating just about everyone except the Maytag Repairman, including the CIA, JFK, RFK and the mob.
"I’m going to die young. I just can’t stop destroying myself." —John Belushi, shortly before his fatal overdose of cocaine and heroin
James M. Cain on Maurice Chevalier: "He was in California at Paramount when I was, and for six months I ate lunch within 20 feet of him. He always ate alone . . . He was sour, scowling, and ill-humored, as well as a notorious tightwad."
"There’s one thing I want to make clear right off: my baby was a virgin the day she met Errol Flynn." — First line of The Big Love, written by Florence Aadland, about her 15-year-old daughter Beverly’s relationship with the Robin Hood star
Silent film stars Lillian and Dorothy Gish were more than sisters.
Director Franco Zeffirelli called Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ "a product of that Jewish cultural scum in Los Angeles."
Washed-up actor Sal Mineo (Rebel without a Cause) was knifed to death by a robber outside his West Hollywood apartment in 1974. He was 37 years old.
Clara Blandick ("Auntie Em") took a one-way trip to the Land of Oz in 1962 by slipping a plastic bag over her head.
"John Barrymore was a serious actor who did a great deal of research for all his parts, until, I guess, he was around 50. Then he started drinking heavily . . . So he drank himself to death. It took him 10 years." — John Carradine
Once billed as the "next Garbo," actress Frances Farmer soon slipped into a nightmare world of drunkenness, drug abuse and years in a "sleazy mental institution."
"I started at the top and worked my way down." — Orson Welles
Roman Polanski on Faye Dunaway: "She was a gigantic pain in the ass. She demonstrated certifiable proof of insanity."
After a boozy all-night revel in 1921, silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was accused of raping and murdering a young model named Virginia Rappe. Rumor has it that an impotent Arbuckle ravaged Rappe with a Coke bottle and she died of internal injuries. Although he was acquitted after three trials, the rotund actor kissed his career goodbye, started drinking heavily and died in 1933 at the age of 46.
"I have to think hard to name an interesting man who does not drink." — Richard Burton
In 1920, silent film actress Olive Thomas committed suicide in Paris after being unable to find a supply of cocaine. She was 20 years old.
Melanie Griffith on Alfred Hitchcock: "He was macabre. When I was a little girl, he sent me a gift of a replica of my mother, Tippi Hedren, in a coffin. That was his idea of a joke. He had a sick sense of humor."
"Why all the fuss? After all, I just played myself." — Errol Flynn, responding to positive reviews for The Sun Also Rises
The actor who played Andy Hardy’s father, Lewis Stone, died of a heart attack while chasing a gang of youths who were throwing rocks at his house. "
A piece of shit." — Warner Bros. executive after viewing a preview of Bonnie & Clyde
Clifford Odets on Marlon Brando: "I saw the boy in her [Stella Adler’s] classrooms, and the genius Stella was talking about was not apparent to the naked eye. He looked to me like a kid who delivers groceries."
Alan Ladd’s career was in a nosedive at the time of his death at the age of 50. At first he was nearly killed by an "accidental" self-inflicted gunshot wound and then he succeeded in his mission with an overdose of sedatives.
"I’m sick of carrying guns and beating up women." — James Cagney
During the promotion tour of the film Tattoo, Bruce Dern swore that he and costar Maude Adams actually had sex during the film’s final sex scenes, a claim vehemently denied by Adams.
In 1935, 30-year-old actress Thelma Todd was found "slumped over the steering wheel of her Lincoln Phaeton Touring car." Her demise was declared an "accidental death from carbon monoxide poisoning," although everyone from her ex-husband to a jealous lover to Lucky Luciano’s hit men has been implicated in the murder of the "Ice-Cream Blonde."
"Everyone’s just laughing at me. I hate it. Big breasts, big ass, big deal. Can’t I be anything else?" — Marilyn Monroe
Jack Lemmon once revealed that he was suffering from alcoholism when he played an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses. "
I really blew everything after Footloose. I spent a fortune on drink and drugs. I had two houses and just gambled away most of my money." — Chris Penn
Forgotten film star Florence Lawrence, once known as "The Imp Girl," committed suicide by swallowing ant paste in 1938 at the age of 52.
"I’ve got America’s best writer for $300 a week." — Jack L. Warner, on signing William Faulkner
Jayne Mansfield, who "dabbled in devil worship," was killed in a car accident with a slow-moving tractor-trailer in 1967.
Slogan for The Outlaw: "What are the two biggest reasons for Jane Russell’s success?"
When Anthony Perkins married Berinthia Berenson on Cape Cod in 1973, his pet collie, Murray, served as best man.
"Put my ashes in a box and tell the messenger to bring them to Louis B. Mayer’s office with a farewell message from me. Then when the messenger gets to Louis’ desk, I want him to open the box and blow the ashes in the bastard’s face." — B.P. Schulberg
After Montgomery Clift’s automobile accident in 1957, there were rumors of heavy drinking, drug abuse and strange behavior on and off the set. Clift died of a "heart attack" at the age of 45.
"I’ll never make another Hardy picture . . . I’m fed up with these dopey, insipid parts. How long can a guy play a jerk kid? I’m 27 years old. I’ve been divorced once and separated from my second wife. I have two boys of my own. I spent almost two years in the army. It’s time Judge Hardy went out and bought me a double-breasted suit." — Mickey Rooney
Silent film director Thomas Ince died of a "heart attack" aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. However, rumor has it that Hearst suspected another yacht guest, silent film legend Charlie Chaplin, of having an affair with his mistress, Marion Davies. Hearst aimed his gun at Chaplin, and Ince was accidentally shot while trying to shield Chaplin and Davies. Chaplin denied being on the yacht.
"You know [Errol] Flynn, he’s either got to be fighting or fucking." — Jack L. Warner
The Eskimo who was showcased in Robert Flaherty’s classic documentary, Nanook of the North , died of starvation two years after Flaherty completed filming.
On the eve of his death, living all alone in a cheap hotel, D.W. Griffith lamented, "I thought I was a great genius."
William Randolph Hearst served as the inspiration for Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane. Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies’ clitoris served as the inspiration for the mysterious "Rosebud," the dying words on Kane’s lips.
Errol Flynn’s drinking buddies placed six bottles of whiskey in his casket.
"A woman’s ass is for her husband, not theatergoers." — Louis B. Mayer
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott were more than just roommates when they shared a house together in the 1940s.
One of England’s most-promising directors, Michael Reeves, overdosed on sleeping pills in 1969. He was just 25 years old.
Natalie Wood’s body was found floating facedown off Catalina Island in 1981, completing the Rebel Without a Cause curse that also claimed costars James Dean, Sal Mineo and Nick Adams. Was her death an "accidental drowning," suicide or murder?
In 1958, Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl, stabbed to death Lana’s boyfriend, underworld mobster Johnny Stompanato. The slaying was declared a "justifiable homicide."
Was 32-year-old martial arts legend Bruce Lee poisoned by jealous "Chinese martial arts lords" for revealing trade secrets in his popular films such as Enter the Dragon? Tragically, Lee’s son, Brandon, was accidentally shot and killed by a gun that was supposed to be filled with blanks during the filming of The Crow in 1993.
Aspiring film actress Elizabeth Short, the notorious "Black Dahlia," was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles in 1947, her body "savagely mutilated" and "hacked in half at the waist." No one has ever been arrested in connection with the murder.
"That guy up there’s gotta stop; he’ll see us." — last words, James Dean, September 30, 1955
Sources for further information:
Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger, Dell Publishing, 1975
Hollywood Babylon II, Kenneth Anger, New American Library, 1985
This is Hollywood, Ken Schessler, Universal Books, 1991
"Unsolved Hollywood Mysteries," The New National Enquirer, March 3, 1998