It is impossible to so much as glance at the magazines lining the checkout counters of our stores without seeing at least one scandalous headline about a beloved celebrity.
I have to admit, I’ve been known to buy my fair share of those gossip rags when a tawdry topic is just too tempting to resist — that, or it’s so ridiculous that I just want to show the rest of my friends how silly it is, which might actually be the case more often.
Anyone who wants to become famous knows that this portion of the media attention is an unfortunate side effect of their success, dating all the way back to the first stars of the silent movie era.
However, as you can see below, some of those notable names found themselves embroiled in stories that would make those about today’s celebs seem like nursery rhymes in comparison.
Take a look to see just how much early Hollywood stars were really hiding behind their innocent personas.
1. Charlie Chaplin’s Exile From America
Few remember that scandalous headlines swirled around Chaplin later in his career. In 1952, long after his reign over the silent era, the British comedian was scorned by U.S. Attorney General James P. McGranery, who believed Chaplin was anti-American. Because of this, McGranery banned Chaplin from re-entering the country following the European press tour for his last film, Limelight.
Chaplin eventually surrendered his permit for re-entry and refused to step foot back in the country until he received his honorary Academy Award in 1972.
2. Fatty Arbuckle’s Deadly Debauchery
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the first mega-stars of the silent film era thanks to his incredible physical-comedy abilities, earning salary and praise on par with Chaplin.
All of that came crashing down after hosting a party in his San Francisco hotel room one evening. After copious amounts of alcohol during that party, a young aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe fell seriously ill and ultimately lost her life.
A friend of Rappe’s who joined her that evening but was not present in the room when she fell ill, accused Arbuckle of assaulting the young woman and causing her internal injuries. After three separate manslaughter trials and a few weeks spent in jail, Arbuckle was fully acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence and the accuser’s own criminal past.
Despite his exoneration, Arbuckle’s career never recovered.
3. Clara Bow’s Spilled “Secrets”
The original Hollywood “It Girl” made the mistake of putting her trust in the hands of a secretary, Daisy Devoe, whom she relied on as both a financial assistant and confidante throughout her rise to fame.
After becoming one of the world’s biggest and most beloved stars, Bow was threatened with blackmail by Devoe, who then leaked false claims about the actress’s personal life.
A tabloid known as Coast Reporter soon began printing rumors detailing Bow’s supposed promiscuity, making allegations as harsh as bestiality and a particularly unfortunate story involving the entire USC football team.
Both the publisher and Devoe were eventually thrown in jail, but Bow was unable to reclaim her status and quietly retired from the film industry.
4. Clark Gable’s Secret Daughter
While starring in 1935’s The Call of the Wild with Loretta Young, the leading man had an extramarital relationship with his co-star that produced a daughter.
In order to keep both of their careers from being hindered, Young attempted to conceal the baby through an elaborate plot that involved leaving the country “for a holiday” as soon as she started to show, then giving birth in California, taking the child to an orphanage, and then “adopting” the infant. She named the baby Judith after St. Jude, the patron saint of “hopeless cases, and of things almost despaired of.”
Despite all that effort, however, Judith’s true father was known throughout most Hollywood circles due to her inheriting Gable’s famous ears.
5. Joan Bennett’s Jealous Husband
Bennett found success with her role in Little Women alongside Katharine Hepburn, and went on to marry the film’s producer, Walter Wanger.
After meeting with her agent of 12 years, Jennings Lang, Wanger happened to drive by and see Lang leaning on the actress’s car and chatting with her as she started the engine. This was apparently enough to send him into a jealous rage wherein he rushed over to the pair and began firing a gun at Lang’s groin.
This all happened right across the street from the Beverly Hills Police Department. Officers immediately took in the irate man, and he eventually served a four-month jail sentence for the assault. Bennett claims her husband was in the midst of a nervous breakdown due to financial stress.
Lang was quickly sent to the hospital and made a full recovery while Bennett’s career suffered a much worse fate.
6. Lana Turner’s Criminal Beau
Famously known as “The Sweater Girl” after being discovered by studio bosses while sipping on a milkshake at a drug store, the beautiful actress had much worse luck when it came to her love life.
Throughout the 1950s, Turner was involved with a man named Johnny Stompanato in an on-again/off-again romance.
Though she claimed to have had no prior knowledge of his connections to notorious crime families, his aggressive nature was revealed when their relationship became physically violent to the point that her 14-year-old daughter ended up stabbing the man to death in order to protect her mother from his abuse.
The death was ruled a justifiable homicide by the courts, in spite of the shocking headlines.
7. Ingrid Bergman’s Italian Affair
The Casablanca beauty may seem far too glamorous to ever appear in the headlines of a tabloid back when she was at the peak of her award-winning fame, but that’s exactly what happened when she found herself pregnant outside of her marriage.
Bergman met Italian director Roberto Rossellini while filming Stromboli, and the two began a relationship despite both being married to other people.
Although she obtained a divorce just before the birth of their son, the U.S. audience was so scandalized by the whole ordeal that even members of the government went on record calling her “vile and unspeakable.”
Thankfully, she was able to mend her reputation six years later and earn herself a second Academy Award for her work in Anastasia.
8. Elizabeth Taylor’s Crooning Comfort
Taylor was no stranger to scandal, but this particular headline was a doozy. When Taylor’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, passed away suddenly in a 1957 plane crash, she found solace in the arms of one of Todd’s best friends, singer Eddie Fisher.
The only problem: Fisher was still married to fellow entertainer Debbie Reynolds at the time, who also happened to be a friend of Taylor’s. Unsurprisingly, the Fisher-Reynolds marriage quickly dissolved and he went on to become Taylor’s fourth husband the next year, their union lasting only five years.
For Reynolds’ part, she was gracious enough to eventually forgive her former friend.
9. Thomas Ince’s Rocky Waters
You might not recognize his name, but Hollywood headlines were all abuzz with Ince and the scandal surrounding his death.
The early producer was instrumental in setting up the whole studio system, and he was dubbed “Father of the Western.” On paper, his death was said to be the result of a tragic accident while he was out enjoying a party with his famous friends on the yacht of media mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Also at the party on the evening of November 16, 1924 was the aforementioned silent film actor, Charlie Chaplin. The official story has Ince growing more and more ill on the boat before being escorted home by a doctor, then dying of a heart attack the next morning.
However, conflicting reports from the other guests have suggested that Ince was the unlucky victim of mistaken identity and was shot by Hearst thinking it was Chaplin making a move on Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies. This theory remains unconfirmed and hotly debated.