10 Awesome Old Hollywood Actresses Who Slept With Whoever They Felt Like

The phrase "golden age of cinema" conjures up images of brooding leading men and glamorous Hollywood alpha females. But the era was also an outrageous time of Hollywood cougars and scandalous seductresses, female movie stars who did what they wanted when they wanted, and were seemingly immune to the gossip their affairs stirred up.

That's not to say that cheating is always the classiest move. Some of the icons on this list, like Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor (and their male cohorts, of course) threw innocent third parties under the bus in shocking ways, by the standards of any era. But on the other end of the spectrum, there were fabulous figures like Jayne Mansfield (who kept smitten Satanist Anton LaVey on romantic tenterhooks), Lupe Vélez (who deliberately courted scandal to prove a point about malevolent gossip) and Louise Brooks (who left Hollywood so that she could sleep around and drink gin in peace). 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • Famous for her unique beauty and dramatic talents, Elizabeth Taylor was also known for being one of the most notorious seductresses in Hollywood. Her most scandalous moment came when she hooked up with singer Eddie Fisher, who was then married to her best friend Debbie Reynolds. Taylor and Fisher later wed, but ultimately divorced. Years later, Taylor apologized to Reynolds, and the two reconciled and became friends again.

    Throughout the course of her life, Taylor had seven husbands, though she married the love of her life, actor Richard Burton, twice. After divorcing her final spouse, construction worker Larry Fortensky, in 1996, she apparently decided she'd had enough of men, and remained single until her death in 2011.

    • Age: Dec. at 79 (1932-2011)
    • Credits: Giant, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Place in the Sun
  • Best known for (splendidly) bringing both Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche DuBois to life, Vivien Leigh was also known for her intensity and her beauty. But success - and her notoriously volatile marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier - didn't come easily, or ethically. According to one of the many documentaries made about her, Leigh

    "Went to see [Laurence Olivier] in a play, and declared, 'that's the man I'm going to marry.' And a friend of hers who was with her had to point out 'well, actually you're already married.' But this was all part of this ruthless ambition... people were to be cast by the wayside in those early days, until she achieved what she really wanted."

    Olivier, too, was already married, but that didn't stop Leigh from following him and his wife to where they were vacationing in Capri. Leigh and Olivier hooked up, despite the fact that his spouse, actress Jill Esmond, was pregnant. The less-than-virtuous Olivier gave her the boot, and married Leigh soon after.

    • Age: Dec. at 53 (1913-1967)
    • Credits: Gone with the Wind,A Streetcar Named Desire,Ship of Fools,Waterloo Bridge
  • Beautiful, rebellious, witty, and not afraid to occasionally alienate people by speaking her mind, Tallulah Bankhead was a one-of-a-kind sex symbol. Actor-writer Emlyn Williams described her voice as "steeped as deep in sex as the human voice can go without drowning," and her appetites were legion. One of many memorable anecdotes, as recounted by The New Yorker, involved:

    "a second-rank actor named John Emery, whom Tallulah had picked up on the summer circuit and, rather casually, married. Emery was good-looking, capable, and amiable. Best of all, he bore a marked resemblance to John Barrymore, and not only in profile: years earlier, when Barrymore revealed himself to her in his dressing room, Tallulah had sworn to herself (and anyone within earshot) never to sleep with any man who wasn’t 'hung like Barrymore,' and went on to claim that she had stuck to her word. (Since she also claimed five hundred or more conquests, perhaps she wasn’t always so picky.) One of Tallulah’s party tricks was to escort guests to the master bedroom, fling back the covers from the bed in which Emery was sleeping, and crow, 'Did you ever see a prick as big as that before?'”

    • Age: Dec. at 66 (1902-1968)
    • Credits: Lifeboat, Fanatic, The Daydreamer, Stage Door Canteen, A Royal Scandal
  • Jayne Mansfield
    Photo: 20th Century Fox / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Next to Mae West, Jayne Mansfield is probably more associated with racy and fabulous good times than any other actress in Hollywood history. (Who can forget that shot of Sophia Loren side-eyeing Mansfield's prominent cleavage?). The blonde bombshell had countless lovers and erotic romps, and was even rumored to have been a mistress of JFK. But her most notorious association was with Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. According to sources, Mansfield was not above tormenting the obsessed Satanist:

    "Mansfield, who made no secret of her many affairs, denied knowing LaVey intimately... according to [his] publicist, Mansfield would ridicule her Satanic suitor by calling from her Los Angeles home and seductively teasing him while her friends listened in on the conversation. LaVey’s public claims that he had an affair with Mansfield began only after Mansfield’s death in an automobile accident, which he also claimed was the result of a curse he had placed on her lover, Sam Brody."

    • Age: Dec. at 34 (1933-1967)
    • Credits: The Match Game, The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield, Spree, The Girl Can't Help It
  • Clara Bow
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    Silent film "It" girl Clara Bow was one of cinema's first starlets, and one of its most luridly famous ones. As this piece in The Hairpin puts it, "when she retired in 1931 amid a tangle of scandals, she was all of 28 years old." Yet, most of the "scandals" that developed around her name and persona came from fallouts associated with old-fashioned romanticism, which Bow believed in as much as anybody. As the article puts it:

    "like many female stars of the time [Bow] treated the boyfriends that she (most likely) slept with as 'engagements.' This led to a series of quickly formed and broken 'engagements' to the likes of Gary Cooper... the director Victor Fleming, and 'Latin Lover' Gilbert Roland. When she had a 'case of nerves' in the late ’20s, she was treated by a Hollywood doctor. She developed a crush on the doctor... when the doctor’s wife sued for divorce, she named Bow as cause for 'alienation of affection.' No good."

    No good, but perhaps unjust. There were other scandals that rocked Bow too, most notoriously the accusation that she'd slept with the entire USC football team. Bow was also screwed over by her secretary, who stole her personal records and then attempted to blackmail the actress in court by alleging all manner of "constant drunkenness [and] hook-ups."

    • Age: Dec. at 60 (1905-1965)
    • Credits: Wings, Red Hair, The Saturday Night Kid, Paramount on Parade, Ladies of the Mob
  • Louise Brooks
    Photo: Bain News Service / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Louise Brooks had an extraordinarily brief, but impactful, film career. She hated Hollywood, seeking instead to build a haven (as this Pop Matters piece memorably puts it) out of "sex, books, and gin."

    Brooks did, however, like to have a good time. She left her first husband, director Eddie Sutherland, after she fell in love with George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins. She then left Marshall to marry someone else, whom she then left after less than six months. Brooks also had many lovers - including, for a night, Greta Garbo - and frequently posed nude. 

    It was all short-lived, though: Brooks's life in film was over by the time she was 26. But, though her subsequent poverty caused a lot of problems, she never really regretted leaving the limelight.

    • Age: Dec. at 78 (1906-1985)
    • Credits: Pandora's Box, The American Venus, Diary of a Lost Girl, Overland Stage Raiders, A Social Celebrity