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.
It's reasonable to assume that few would call Judy Garland a "fat little pig in pigtails." But that's exactly what studio execs told the 14-year-old Garland when she first tried to enter show biz. After signing with MGM, Garland was immediately put on a strict diet and had her calories counted by the execs. In fact, sometimes, she would reach for a plate of food, only to have it swiftly taken from her.
Whenever Garland snuck away from set to have a snack, execs would inform each other about her diet-breaking actions in internalized memos. When she was 18, to avoid this cheating, she was encouraged to smoke 80 cigarettes a day. She was even forced to pop pep pills to keep her awake and quell her appetite. However, this only perpetuated a cycle of binging and purging that likely contributed to her eventual death.
Mickey Rooney worked as a child actor at MGM alongside Judy Garland. The two were frequently paired together on screen as teenagers, but beneath their happy veneer was a very dark secret. The studio was feeding them a near-constant supply of pills to keep them in performance mode. Garland later said:
They had us [Judy and Mickey] working days and nights on end. They'd give us pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us out with sleeping pills - Mickey sprawled out on one bed and me on another. Then after four hours, they'd wake us up and give us the pep pills again so we could work 72 hours in a row. Half of the time, we were hanging from the ceiling, but it was a way of life for us.
When she was a 16-year-old child star, Natalie Wood was reportedly raped, repeatedly, by a superstar actor who claimed he could help her land more mature film roles. According to one of her biographers, Wood long said that this actor made her his "sexual hostage" during the encounter, in which she was lured to a hotel room under the pretense of auditioning. Though the identity of her attacker has never been completely certain, rumors have long persisted that it was Kirk Douglas. The details of the alleged assault reveal a level of brutality almost inhuman. In the words of an unnamed source:
He raped her repeatedly, spitting on her, and did permanent damage to her body. She was bleeding everywhere, with a battered face. She passed out. When she came to, the actor was still in the room gloating, and told her to come see him tomorrow night and he might give her the role. He laughed at her as she fell down, her legs so wobbly and weak. She gathered her torn clothes, and tried to walk out of the hotel and to her car - blood and semen running down her legs and bruises already forming on her face.
Arthur Freed was a high-powered film producer during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with The Wizard of Oz, Easter Parade, and Singin' in the Rain among his many credits. Shirley Temple, arguably the most famous child star of all time, was looking to transition to more grown-up film roles when, as a 12-year-old in 1941, she was invited to Freed's office. In her autobiography, Temple recounted their meeting. "To visit an executive of such stature was enough to send my spirits soaring," she wrote. During the meeting, however, Freed had other things on his mind. He unzipped his pants and exposed himself to the pre-teen. Frightened and nervous by the unexpected turn of events, Temple says she started giggling, which enraged Freed and likely saved her from an even more traumatizing experience. "'Get out!' he shouted, unmindful of his disarray, imperiously pointing to the closed door. 'Go on, get out!'"