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).
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 54 (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, + more
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