Weird History
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In Old Hollywood Child Stars Were Forced To Do Drugs, And Other Awful Realities

Updated June 29, 2020 363.0k views13 items

When you hear "Old Hollywood," you usually think of class, glamour, beauty, and mystery. You don't jump right to "excruciatingly painful dental procedures" or "forced dieting." But those were the kind of forgotten Old Hollywood scandals going on behind the scenes of all your favorite old movies. Between dodging sexism and fending off gossip rags, the supposedly carefree stars of yesteryear were frequently miserable.

Compared to the relatively chaste news of E! True Hollywood Story in the 21st century, the behind-the-scenes secrets of Old Hollywood from the late 1920s to the late 1950s seem particularly horrific. 

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  • Tommy Kirk Was Fired After Walt Disney Found Out He Was Gay

    Photo: Walt Disney Pictures / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In the 1950s and '60s, Tommy Kirk was one of the most popular and prolific child actors of the era, a bona fide Disney superstar. But Kirk was far from happy. "I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings," he said in a 1993 interview. "It was very hard to meet people, and, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize. It wasn't until the early '60s that I began to hear of places where gays congregated." At one of those places, he met a 15-year-old boy who he started dating. But when Walt Disney caught word of the relationship, he promptly fired Kirk. "I was caught having sex with a boy at a public pool in Burbank. We were both young, and the boy's mother went to Walt," he told Movieline. "I was quickly fired."

  • Judy Garland Was Sexually Assaulted On The Set Of 'The Wizard Of Oz'

    The indignities heaped upon Judy Garland in her early career are shockingly high in number. While still a teen during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, she was groped on set by some of the actors who portrayed Munchkins. Garland's third husband, producer Sid Luft, revealed the abuse decades later in a memoir. "[The actors who groped her] thought they could get away with anything because they were so small," Luft recalled. "They would make Judy’s life miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress. The men were 40 or more years old."

  • Bobby Driscoll Was Fired By Disney After He Got Acne During Puberty

    Photo: NBC Television Network / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Throughout the '40s, Bobby Driscoll was an acclaimed child star who made dozens of high-profile movies and even won a juvenile Academy Award. He was the first actor Walt Disney ever put under contract. But by the early '50s, Driscoll was growing up - a cardinal sin for a successful child actor. Though he had just signed an extension on his contract, Driscoll was fired by Disney and the contract canceled. And all because the onset of puberty came with a serious bout of acne. The studio claimed his acne would be impossible to cover up with makeup, and this was apparently reason enough for them to terminate his contract. Driscoll ended up drifting for the rest of his life, becoming addicted to drugs and eventually dying, penniless and alone, in 1968 at age 31. No one claimed his body, and he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.

  • Jackie Coogan's Parents Squandered His Fortune

    Photo: Bain News Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Another very real threat faced by many child actors of Old Hollywood came not from a cold-hearted studio system, but from within their own families. The most famous case of this is Jackie Coogan, the wildly popular child star of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer, and dozens of other movies (as an adult, he played Uncle Fester on The Addams Family). From his childhood work, he had amassed a fortune somewhere between $3 and $4 million. When he turned 21, however, he discovered that his mother and stepfather had spent nearly all of his money, leading lavish lifestyles on their son's hard-earned dime. Jackie sued them and won, but after legal fees, he only recouped about $126,000. As a result, in 1939, the California Child Actor's Bill - also known as the Coogan Act - was passed by the state legislature, which ensured that studios who employed child actors placed 15% of any child performer's pay in a special trust.