14 Stories We Heard About Old Hollywood Stars In 2021

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Vote up the most dramatic stories about these Old Hollywood drama queens and kings.

The Old Hollywood era (and its stars) are still oft-discussed, but new sweet, sad, and scandalous stories from Tinsel Town's "golden age" continue to pop up. While some of these tales provide entertaining details about the entertainment world, others illuminate just what a cruel and heart-wrenching place Hollywood was in its early days. All of them, however, give a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of these Hollywood legends.

Vote up the stories that are almost as captivating as these classic actors were on-screen.

  • Rita Hayworth's Illness Was Initially Misunderstood
    Photo: Bob Landry / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Rita Hayworth was one of many Old Hollywood stars to experience a string of unhappy marriages. The shy actress famously described the distinction between herself and the femme fatale characters she often played, saying, "Men go to bed with Gilda but awaken with me."

    One of her most famous relationships was with actor/director Orson Welles. The two were married from 1943 to 1947. While Hayworth said that Welles never wanted the commitment of married life, Welles also spoke of Hayworth's illness, which seemed like problem drinking. Hayworth was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and her family believes her alcohol use masked some of the disease's symptoms. Welles remembered:

    It certainly imitated alcoholism in every superficial way... She'd fly into these rages, never at me, never once, always at [studio head] Harry Cohn or her father or her mother or her brother. She would break all the furniture and she'd get in a car and I'd have to get in the car and try to control her. She'd drive up in the hills suicidally. Terrible, terrible nights. And I just saw this lovely girl destroying herself.

    Running into her later in life at an event, Welles said: 

    When it was over, I came over to her table, and I saw that she was very beautiful, very reposed looking, and didn't know me at first. After about four minutes of speaking, I could see that she realized who I was, and she began to cry quietly.

    According to Barbara Leaming's Rita Hayworth biography, Hayworth considered her time with Welles to be the greatest happiness of her life. This sentiment left Welles racked with guilt, saying, "If this was happiness, imagine what the rest of her life had been."

    Hayworth eventually passed from complications due to Alzheimer's. The night before his own passing, Welles recalled his ex-wife as "one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived."

  • Clark Gable Desegregated The Set Of 'Gone with the Wind'
    Photo: Movie studio / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Lennie Bluett was a Black extra in Gone with the Wind. When he arrived on set in 1938, he discovered that bathrooms were segregated by "White" and "Colored." Enraged, Bluett went directly to Clark Gable - whom he did not know - and told him about the situation. 

    According to an interview with Bluett, Gable was livid. He called up the film's director, Victor Fleming and said, "If you don’t get those goddamned signs down now, you don’t have a Rhett Butler!"

    Gable's disgust with segregation did not end after the movie wrapped, either. The film was scheduled to premiere at a segregated theater in Atlanta, and rather than deal with the logistics of Black actors who had no bathrooms or dressing rooms, the studio simply did not invite them to attend. Gable threatened to boycott the premiere, but his Black co-star, Hattie McDaniel, told him to go anyway.

  • Judy Garland Started Her Comeback By Going On Bing Crosby's Show
    Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Judy Garland's fame rose after she starred as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Though it seemed she was just another famous actor, she never quite felt she was up to the same beauty standard as her fellow stars. These feelings led to a downhill spiral for Garland and her career, and according to director Charles Walters, this perception had a long-lasting effect on the young star:

    Judy was the big moneymaker at the time - a big success, but she was the ugly duckling... I think it had a damaging effect on her for a long time. I think it lasted forever really. 

    Hearing that she was at a low point after a suicide attempt, Bing Crosby asked Garland to appear on his new radio show in 1950, beginning the start of her comeback. On the set of Crosby's show, writer Hal Kanter recalled:

    She was standing in the wings trembling with fear... She was almost hysterical. She said, "I cannot go out there because they're all gonna be looking to see if there are scars, and it's gonna be terrible." 

    Bing walked out on stage and he said: "We got a friend here, she's had a little trouble recently. You probably heard about it - everything is fine now, she needs our love. She needs our support. She's here - let's give it to her, okay? Here's Judy." And she came out, and that place went crazy. And she just blossomed.

  • In 1957, Sammy Davis Jr. was at the height of his career. But as a Black man in a time when large parts of the country were still deeply segregated, his power and freedom as a successful entertainer had limits. That limit turned out to be dating a white woman.

    Kim Novak, originally from Chicago, had made it big in Hollywood by becoming the pet project of the notorious head of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. Cohn wanted a blond movie star to rival Marilyn Monroe, but one whose career he could mold and craft without pushback. So when Cohn heard reports of his next big thing dating Davis, he went ballistic. Of first meeting Davis, Novak recalled:

    I was making Vertigo, and he called up my manager and said, "I’d like to do a photo session with her." I guess he did photography on the side. They checked and I said, "OK." So he’s shooting and I said, "Did you ever think of taking off the lens cover?" He had the lens cover on the whole time.

    Speaking on her feelings toward Davis, Novak said, "He’s such a delightful person. You know he was fun and had a great sense of humor." According to her, while she suspected Davis had romantic feelings for her, she was in love with someone else at the time. Still, the two would frequently have dinners, and when he came to Chicago to visit her family, the story of their "love affair" broke in the newspaper. Novak remembered:

    Harry Cohn said, "You’re not to see this person again"... When someone says something that definitely, it makes me want to do exactly what they don’t want me to do.

    But Cohn reportedly was so enraged, he told his mob connections to break Davis's legs and take out an eye. Hearing this, Novak realized the danger of the relationship, saying, "That's when I, for his sake, thought, 'I'd better not see him.'" Sammy Davis Sr., who had his own connections with the mob, was allegedly informed by gangster Mickey Cohen that his son had 24 hours to marry a Black woman to avoid the hit. He married a woman named Loray White.

    As for Novak, in addition to the guards placed around her house to prevent her from seeing Davis, she remembers, "My agent told me my career would be over if I continued to see Sammy. Some of my friends wouldn’t even return my telephone calls." She later told Larry King in an appearance that she hadn't previously witnessed or understood that kind of prejudice, saying:

    I thought, "This is ridiculous, I don't want to live like this"... I couldn’t see what was wrong. What was so terrible?... I just saw this great sense of humor and a tremendous talent. And I just felt, just wonderful, just to be around someone that great.

  • Popular in the 1920s, Buster Keaton became known not only for the comedy in his films, but also for many of the stunts, which he performed himself. One particularly infamous scene was in Steamboat Bill, Jr.: Keaton's character is standing in front of a house, marveling at the storm that just passed through. Then, out of nowhere, the entire front of the house falls down, barely missing the unsuspecting man who happens to be standing in the exact spot of the pane-free window.

    The facade of the house weighed thousands of pounds, and the scene required absolute accuracy. In fact, Keaton's location had to be so precise that the crew made their measurements, then nailed his shoes to the ground to make sure he wasn't off by even an inch. 

    Although Keaton didn't seem to be nervous, plenty of the cast and crew were; several crew members turned away or simply walked off the set, fearing they would otherwise watch a man perish in front of their eyes.

  • Lauren Bacall Coined The Term 'Rat Pack'
    Photo: Young Man with a Horn / Warner Bros.

    Today, the term "Rat Pack" is popularly associated with the group of entertainers led by Frank Sinatra, including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and (briefly) Peter Lawford. However, this is technically the second iteration of the Rat Pack - with the only connection being Sinatra's involvement.

    The original Rat Pack was led by Humphrey Bogart, and it got its name after a wild weekend. According to Bogart's son Stephen:

    My mother [Lauren Bacall] is the person who gave the pack its name. The story is that Frank Sinatra had flown Bogie and Bacall and a bunch of other friends over to Las Vegas for Noel Coward's opening there... In Vegas, the group debauched for about four days straight, drinking, dancing, partying, and gambling. Apparently they didn't get much sleep, and after a while they all looked like hell. On the fourth day my mother said, "You look like a goddamn rat pack." The name stuck.