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Inside The Forgotten Scandals Of Early Hollywood

Everyone loves a good celebrity scandal. Who doesn’t like to see the inside lives of the rich and the famous? When I secret that was never supposed to leave the bedroom goes public, it’s human nature to stop and dive into every single detail.

On some level, celebrities have it hard. They’re followed night and day and sometimes that super private life is exposed to the public in a really shocking way. I imagine celebrities of classic Hollywood had it a bit harder. They were made to be this perfect image for the public, to not embarrass the studio and to keep on the straight and narrow. Sure, they slipped here and there, maybe had an affair or two, but only in the worst case scenarios did they find themselves in full blown scandals. After all, what’s done in that dark is not supposed to come into the light.

MGM’s Patricia Douglas Scandal

In the 1930s, MGM was one of the most powerful studios around, producing hit films such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), Gone With The Wind (1939), The Thin Man (1934), Freaks (1932), Anna Christie (1930) and more. Despite the massive success of these films, things hidden in the dark would soon came to light. Among the dirty secrets: The underage chorus girls hired by MGM were also expected to entertain guest at their stag parties. This all changed in 1937 when, a stag party at MGM ended in tragedy.

Patricia Douglas was one of those underage chorus girls looking to make her way in Hollywood. At the stag party, Patricia was raped and assaulted by David Ross, an MGM salesman. The news quickly hit the headlines when Patricia refused to keep silent about it. MGM scrambled quickly to damn Patricia, while working to uphold David’s reputation as a good man. Her quick character assassination hit the headlines like wildfire and MGM paid off a lot of people to keep quiet, including Patricia’s own mother. Patricia’s story was also overshadowed by the sudden and tragic death of another famed actress, Jean Harlow.

The case, buried underneath MGM’s weight, was never really talked about again until David Stenn, researching Jean Harlow’s life for his book, turned his attention onto Patricia’s Douglas’ untold story in the documentary Girl 27.

Lana and Cheryl Turner: He Had It Coming
In 1958, Lana Turner’s career was just at it peak. She’d just starred in top films such as The Postman Always Ring Twice (1946) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Lana’s career was on the up and up. She had plenty of acting chops and a lot of romance to keep her warm at night. Lana was a romantic and dated very often, marrying a number of different times. When she was married to restaurateur and actor Joseph Stephen Crane, they had a daughter together, Cheryl Crane. Sadly, the marriage didn’t work for either  of them.

By 1957, after ending her marriage to Lex Barker, she went on to have an affair with Johnny Stompanato, an LA “underworld boy” mixed with the gangster Mickey Cohen. In 1958, Cheryl, who was 14 years old, overhead Johnny and Lana arguing. Johnny threatened Lana with all kinds of things, but Cheryl leaped into action when she overheard him saying that he’d disfigure her. Cheryl grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Johnny Stompanato in the stomach, immediately killing him. Cheryl was taken to juvenile hall, but was released after the courts deemed it a justifiable homicide.

“In like Flynn…”
Errol Flynn was one of the most beloved and romantic leads to ever come out of Warner Bros.
Like any romantic lead, Flynn had a certain way with women – the phrase “in like Flynn” was coined because he was such a big hit with women. That all changed in 1942, when Peggy Satterlee alleged that she was assaulted while on a yacht trip with Flynn, and that he/d nicknamed her J.B for jailbait soon after the incident. In that same year, another woman, 17 year old Betty Hansen (dubbed S.Q.Q, San Quentin Quail), attended a Hollywood party where she alleged that Flynn seduced her while under the influence. After Flynn was arrested, every piece of the girls’ pasts were dug up and spread through the papers. The studios hired the best lawyers at their disposal to represent Flynn and pay off the ones who needed to be paid off in order to keep everything on the low.

The courts ended up finding him “not guilty” because the jury couldn’t believe the girl’s stories. Flynn’s career took a small hit, but he soon recovered. In a predictable turn, Flynn went on to marry the 18-year-old snack bar worker he was seen flirting with during the trial.


Mary Astor’s “Purple Diary”

No one’s laundry should be put out in the front yard and no one’s diary should be opened without permission. In 1936, Mary’s Astor’s world turned upside down when her husband got a hold of a personal object and it became front page news. Mary Astor was the leading lady of some great Hollywood films, such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Dodsworth (1936), Don Juan (1962) and more. She started off as a silent screen actress, but quickly went over to the talking pictures soon after.

Mary was married to Hollywood doctor, Franklin Thorpe, and had one daughter by him. Mary became unsatisfied quickly in her marriage and started to have an affair with George S. Kaufman, a successful Broadway playwright. This wouldn’t have been such an issue if Mary didn’t document all the time she had spent with Kaufman. She wanted to separate from her husband, but Thorpe wasn’t having it. He found Mary’s diary and used it to exploit her sexual escapades and take away custody of her daughter, Marylyn.

The press ate it up. They called it “the Purple Diary” and the whole thing became a media circus of the time, with reporters digging through every detail of Mary’s diary. Mary even professed that Thorpe knew about the affair with Kaufman, but just wanted to hurt her in order to take away her child. However, it came to an end when the judge finally ruled that Marylyn could go with her mother during the school months and with her father during vacations and weekends.