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The Most Famous Celebrity Scandals And Gossip From Every Decade Since The Turn Of The 20th Century

For as long as there have been celebrities, people have engaged in gossip about them. For celebrities in Hollywood, this means that putting themselves on display in movies and on television can lead fans to develop an interest in what their private lives are like off screen. Tabloids and shows like Access Hollywood and TMZ have turned celebrity news into a profitable industry. But long before television and the internet, celebrities got caught up in scandal. Whether they became involved in crimes, dared to love someone other than their spouse, or exposed another star's deepest secrets, celebrities and scandals have often gone hand in hand throughout history.

Scandals have occurred in every decade, and while some are still talked about in the present, even those that are long forgotten made huge impacts when they took place. While life in the 1900s was very different from that in the 2000s, humanity's ability to go against the values set by society hasn't changed. Having an affair in 1910 could be just as damaging as it could be in 2020, and for those who lived their lives in the spotlight, the scrutiny could be even worse. When looking at some of the biggest celebrity scandals since the turn of the century, it's clear people haven't learned anything from the mistakes of others. 

  • Photo: Strauss-Peyton Studio / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1940s: Charlie Chaplin's Paternity Trial

    Actress Joan Berry reportedly began an affair with Charlie Chaplin in 1941 while he was married to his third wife, Paulette Goddard. Berry and Chaplin's relationship lasted two years, during which they met in both New York and Los Angeles. When Berry went into labor on October 2, 1943, she named Chaplin as the father of the child, an allegation that Chaplin denied. Berry also implied that Chaplin violated the Mann Act, which made crossing state lines to perform immoral acts illegal. A court exonerated Chaplin from this claim, but he had to go to trial to prove he wasn't the child's father.

    By the time the trial began in 1944, Chaplin had divorced Goddard and married Oona O'Neill, Eugene O'Neill's 18-year-old daughter. Although blood tests proved Chaplin wasn't the father, Berry refused to give up on her claim. She succeeded in getting a second trial since blood evidence wasn't admissible in court at the time, and the second jury ruled Chaplin was the father. A judge ordered him to pay child support and Chaplin lost an appeal. The outcome helped turn the public tide of favor against Chaplin, and he was denied reentry into the United States after leaving the country for the London premiere of Limelight. Despite the trial's unfortunate outcome for Chaplin, it helped change US paternity laws, as several states ruled the outcome of blood tests could not be ignored.

  • Photo: Newspaper Press Photo, Rome, Italy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1950s: Ingrid Bergman And Roberto Rossellini

    Although Ingrid Bergman was a Hollywood star by 1949, she felt constrained by the US movie industry and reached out to Italian director Roberto Rossellini through a letter. "If you ever need a Swedish actor who speaks very good English and a little German, who can make herself understood in French and can only say 'ti amo' in Italian, then I'll come and make a film with you," she wrote. Rossellini accepted her proposal and created a part for Bergman in Stromboli.

    While filming, the two fell in love. Although both were married, they began an affair. When Bergman became pregnant with Rossellini's child, their romantic relationship became known to everyone. Bergman left her husband and daughter to marry Rossellini, and the director also divorced his wife, but the backlash in America began immediately.

    Some cities refused to screen Bergman's movies, Ed Sullivan banned her, and religious groups protested. Paparazzi around the world hounded the couple as gossip magazines published juicy headlines. Bergman and Rossellini continued to make movies together in Italy, and it wasn't until she returned to Hollywood to make Anastasia in 1956 and divorced Rossellini in 1957 that the public began to forgive her.

  • Photo: Studio publicity still / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1960s: Elizabeth Taylor And The Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds Problem

    Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor became friends while they were both under contract at MGM, and often got together as a foursome with their husbands. Taylor was married to Mike Todd at the time and Reynolds to Eddie Fisher. After Todd perished in a plane crash in 1958, Taylor sought comfort from Fisher, and their relationship eventually became romantic. Tabloids soon picked up the story and the affair made headlines. Reporters confronted Reynolds at her home, and gossip magazines published as many articles and headlines about the affair as they could. Amid the controversy, Fisher divorced Reynolds and left their two children behind in order to marry Taylor.

    Taylor and Fisher's marriage lasted about five years, ending when Taylor met Richard Burton while filming Cleopatra and began an even more scandalous affair. Reynolds never blamed Taylor for taking Fisher, however, and held no hard feelings against her former friend. "If your husband's going to leave you for anyone, it might as well be Elizabeth Taylor," Reynolds said.

    After running into each other on the same cruise ship years later, Reynolds and Taylor resumed their friendship. In 2001, they starred together in These Old Broads, written by the daughter of Reynolds and Fisher, Carrie.

  • Photo: NBC Television / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    1970s: Christina Crawford's Exposé On Joan Crawford

    To movie studios and her many fans, Joan Crawford was an Oscar-winning actress who was one of the most beloved and highest-paid of Hollywood's Golden Age. In 1978, Crawford's adopted daughter Christina published the memoir Mommie Dearest, which painted Crawford in a very different light. Christina accused her of physical and emotional abuse and claimed the image Crawford presented to the world was not the one seen by her family.

    According to Christina, Crawford bought many Christmas presents and used them in publicity photos with her children before giving all the gifts to charity. She would drink frequently, punish her children for making mistakes, and expected them to live up to her standards as a perfectionist. "People fantasized about who or what I was; that I had this privileged, wealthy, film-star family life," Christina said. "I didn't have any of that." Christina published the memoir one year after her mother passed, which kept Crawford from disputing the claims.

    Other members of the family disputed Christina's allegations, but the book caused a huge scandal. It spent 42 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list and was adapted into a 1981 film with the same name. Despite Crawford no longer being alive, the book damaged her reputation. The book also made history as being the very first celebrity memoir to act as a tell-all by revealing previously hidden secrets that showed the subject in a less than perfect light.