12 Outrageous Abuses Of Old Hollywood's Studio System

The lights, the glitz, the glamor! When we think of Old Hollywood, we think of blonde bombshells and handsome leading men living an extravagant, amazing life of wealth and celebrity. However, that’s not really how it was. Back then, the major studios ruled Hollywood. They controlled every part of their stars' lives, from what they wore to whom they married. But there’s much more to the story. Here are some of the most outrageous abuses of old Hollywood's studio system.

An anonymous actress once said, “Abortions were our birth control.” That’s how common they were in the time of the classic Hollywood studio system. And most of the time, actresses were forced to get them because of the contract they signed. Studios wanted to keep their sex symbols - well, sexy. So pregnancy and even marriage were often completely off the table.

Studios forced men to cover up their sexuality with sham marriages. Child actors were force-fed uppers to keep them peppy, then given downers to make them sleep. Actors with "ethnic" names or backgrounds were forced to make up entire new identities. The audience just got to see the motion picture in the theater; the literal blood and sacrifice of the actors and actresses on the big screen was all left on the cutting room floor...

  • Judy Garland Was Forced To Have Two Abortions

    Judy Garland Was Forced To Have Two Abortions
    Photo: The Wizard of Oz / Loew's, Inc.

    It's bad enough when a movie studio forces an actress to have abortion, but in Judy Garland's case, her mother played a part in it, as well. Judy Garland took the world by storm in 1939 at the age of 17 with her star-making portrayal as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Just a couple years later, the actress married bandleader David Rose, without getting consent from MGM, who was not happy that the star they wanted to remain young in the eyes of movie-goers was acting like an adult.

    When Garland became pregnant, her mother worked with the studio to make arrangements for her daughter's abortion. When Garland once again became pregnant, this time from an affair with Tyrone Powers, Garland had another abortion. Of course, we all know Garland's eventual issues with drug and alcohol abuse. She eventually had three children (including actress Liza Minnelli) and a total of five husbands, but died in 1969 at the age of 47 from an overdose of barbiturates. 

  • Loretta Young Hid Her Pregnancy, Then "Adopted" Her Own Daughter

    Loretta Young Hid Her Pregnancy, Then "Adopted" Her Own Daughter
    Photo: Call of the Wild / United Artists Corp.

    Child star-turned-Academy Award-winning actress and devout Roman Catholic Loretta Young was one of the few Hollywood stars who refused to have an abortion. Young fell in love with Hollywood lothario Clark Gable while the pair were filming the 1935 movie Call of the Wild. She later admitted to her biographer Joan Wester Anderson that Gable "pressured her a lot," and she only "slipped once."

    The "one slip" led to pregnancy. Gable was married. To cover up the pregnancy, Young claimed that she had a "mysterious illness," that even included a sick bed interview with a gossip columnist. She secretly had the baby, then staged an adoption. She later told the press that she would be raising an orphan baby named Judy as a single mother.

    There's some real bad stuff going on in the movies this year, check them out here.

  • Rock Hudson Was Forced To Get Married

    Rock Hudson Was Forced To Get Married
    Photo: Pillow Talk / Universal Pictures

    The studio forced Hollywood hunk and sex symbol Rock Hudson to marry Phyllis Gates in 1955. Hollywood insiders knew that Hudson was gay; however, it was kept a secret in order to preserve Hudson's leading-man status. Hudson was a box office star and dreamy romantic lead - if the news got out about his sexuality, it would definitely ruin his bankable career.

    Hudson's marriage to Gates lasted only three years. He was one of the first major celebrities to die from AIDS. Before his death in 1985, the actor publicly came out about his sexuality.

  • Judy Garland Was Forced To Take Dangerous Drugs

    Judy Garland Was Forced To Take Dangerous Drugs
    Photo: A Star Is Born / Warner Bros.

    By the time 16-year-old Judy Garland finished filming The Wizard of Oz, she was already addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines. MGM reportedly ran all their child stars into the ground. They were forced to shoot film after film without a break, so studios could get as much as possible from the young talent.

    In order to keep these teens spunky and awake, they were given "pep pills." Then, when they couldn't sleep, they were given barbiturates and sleeping pills. Garland was part of this dangerous upper/downer cycle. Additionally, Garland always thought of herself as chubby compared to the other ridiculously thin screen sirens of the day. The studio not only put the actress on an unsafe diet, but they also made her take dangerous drugs to lose weight.

  • Jean Harlow Was Not Allowed To Get Married

    Jean Harlow Was Not Allowed To Get Married
    Photo: George Hurrell / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    One of the original "blonde bombshells," Jean Harlow signed a morality clause with MGM that forbade her to get married to William Powell - the obvious theory being a woman is much sexier to the common man if she remains single.

    The actress also reportedly became pregnant from an affair. According to E.J. Fleming's The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine, someone by the name of "Mrs. Jean Carpenter" checked into Good Shepherd Hospital, "to get some rest." In the name of total Hollywood discretion, "Mrs. Carpenter" was only seen by private doctors.

  • Louis B. Mayer Purposefully Ruined John Gilbert's Career

    Louis B. Mayer Purposefully Ruined John Gilbert's Career
    Photo: MGM studio / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Louis B. Mayer was the co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios. He had a great eye for talent and made MGM one of the biggest movie studios of old Hollywood. Mayer was also totally ruthless. When silent cinema was transitioning to sound, Mayer needed to dump actor John Gilbert - he was too expensive and the men often clashed over both creative and financial matters.

    In order to make sure that Gilbert did not make the transition to talkies, Mayer planted stories in fan magazines stating that the actor's high-pitched voice was causing great distress on the movie lot. Mayer also cast Gilbert in several films that he knew were complete bombs. After the bad press and poor reviews, Gilbert left MGM in 1933. He is considered one of the most popular actors to never make the talkie transition.