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

Updated June 29, 2020 365.1k 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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  • Jay North Was Abused By His Aunt

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He was beloved the world over as Dennis the Menace, but child actor Jay North faced a very different menace off the screen. In between Dennis the Menace's shooting schedule, he would travel around the country with his aunt and uncle doing promotional events for the show; his aunt was also his minder on set. But decades later, North revealed that he was abused by her both physically and verbally whenever he didn't meet her exacting standards. Like many victims of abuse, he lived in a world tightly controlled by his abuser. His aunt isolated him from the rest of the cast, and she even dyed his hair to ensure his famous locks stayed a particular shade of blond.

  • MGM Tried To Remake Elizabeth Taylor

    Photo: National Velvet / MGM

    MGM was having a hard time finding the right child actress to play the lead in National Velvet, but when they found a virtually unknown Elizabeth Taylor, they knew they'd hit the jackpot. In the leadup to filming, however, the studio tried to remake her into their own image of what a star should look like. She was 12. To prepare her for filming, they had her baby teeth pulled out and forced her to wear braces. They also wanted to give her a more masculine haircut, but her parents refused. They also wanted to change her name to Virginia but were again refused. It was the first, but certainly not the last, time that Elizabeth Taylor would be treated more like a product than a person.

  • Allen Hoskins Was Forced Into A Damaging African American Stereotype

    Photo: Produced by Hal Roach for Pathé / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It's no secret that Old Hollywood was not the most culturally sensitive or politically correct environment. But many of the only roles African American actors were offered at the time just furthered damaging stereotypes about Black people. Take Allen Hoskins, for instance. Hoskins is famous for playing Farina in more than 100 Our Gang (a.k.a. The Little Rascals) movies. Viewed through a modern lens, there is nothing remotely okay with how Farina as a character is portrayed or the things Hoskins had to do in the name of the character. His hair was typically in pigtails, his clothes - often girls' nightgowns - were shoddy and patched together, and his image and mannerisms were a grotesque caricature. And when Hoskins had outgrown the role, the media crucified him for simply aging out of his most famous character.

    "Master Hoskins is graduated from the Gang because he is no longer little and cute," The Register of Sandusky, Ohio, wrote.

  • Baby LeRoy Was Terrorized By W.C. Fields

    Video: YouTube

    At 16 months, Baby LeRoy became the youngest person ever to be put under a movie studio contract. He is most well-known for three W.C. Fields films he did in 1933 and 1934, but Fields was no fan of the infant star. Director Norman McLeod said, "He believed that Baby LeRoy was stealing scenes from him...He used to swear at the baby so much in front of the camera that I sometimes had to cut off the ends of the scenes in which they appeared." It's also rumored that Fields once spiked Baby LeRoy's baby bottle with gin in an attempt to quiet the fussy infant. Baby LeRoy retired at age three.