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

Evan Lambert
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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. 

Judy Garland Was Forced To Develop An Eating Disorder To Maintain Her Weight

Judy Garland Was Forced To Dev... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list In Old Hollywood Child Stars Were Forced To Do Drugs, And Other Awful Realities
Photo: George/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

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, and she was given sleeping pills to knock her out. However, this only perpetuated a cycle of binging and purging that eventually killed her. When Garland died, she had advanced cirrhosis and hepatitis, thanks to the alcohol addiction that she said resulted from the stresses of working with MGM.

Joan Crawford Had Her Teeth Painfully Extracted To Get Roles

Joan Crawford Had Her Teeth Pa... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list In Old Hollywood Child Stars Were Forced To Do Drugs, And Other Awful Realities
Photo: RH Louise/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Old Hollywood siren Joan Crawford underwent a dental procedure to remove her back teeth when she was younger. Like many young actresses in Old Hollywood, Joan felt she needed to be more beautiful in order to have a successful career. While the procedure did allow her cheekbones to sink in attractively, it also caused her gums to become infected and swell up. This caused her upper lip to expand permanently, leading to the famous Crawford mouth. 

Gossip Columnists Destroyed Actors' Lives

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Photo: Photoplay Magazine/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

If you think tabloids are invasive in the 21st century, consider the fact that in Old Hollywood, a single journalist, Hedda Hopper, was able to destroy the lives and careers of any actors or writers she hated. Hopper, a failed actress with a penchant for outlandish hats, was a gossip columnist who went after anyone she suspected of Communism, homosexuality, or career success. 

The 2015 movie Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston, illustrates how Hopper helped send A-list screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to jail over his identity as a Communist supporter. Trumbo then had to return to Hollywood anonymously in order to continue writing, forfeiting bonuses and Oscar nominations. 

You Couldn't Be Gay

You Couldn't Be Gay is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list In Old Hollywood Child Stars Were Forced To Do Drugs, And Other Awful Realities
Photo: classic film scans/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

If you were gay and working in Hollywood (like Rock Hudson, pictured above), you had to sneak out to bathhouses for DL hookups and risk being caught in gay raids by the police. If you weren't careful, a gossip columnist might sniff you out and ruin your career forever. Hudson's longtime boyfriend, Lee Garlington, has since opened up about the lengths he and Hudson would have to go to to hide their relationship - including bringing female beards with them whenever they went out together in public.“Nobody in their right mind came out,” said Garlington. “It was career suicide. We all pretended to be straight. Once we met Paul Newman and his wife [Joanne Woodward] at a premiere. He looked at me and smiled. I just read in his face - that maybe he knew Rock and I were together. We kind of laughed about it.”

In 2012, a former Marine by the name of Scotty Bowers revealed in a memoir that he actually ran a gay sex ring for closeted Old Hollywood stars like Cary Grant, George Cukor Hudson, and even Katharine Hepburn