In an era when studios had fixers who used money and intimidation to save the reputation of a starlet or the studio, countless scandals were covered up. Many of these secret old Hollywood scandals were swept under the rug when they happened, and sealed in airtight boxes for several subsequent generations, in an attempt to erase them from history, to preserve the legacy of those involved. In other cases, the public got wind, then, not soon thereafter, simply forgot they’d happened in the first place.
But as the years have passed, many of these secrets and cover ups have been revealed, showing a darker side to the studios and stars of old Hollywood.
Before she became a movie star, Joan Crawford appeared in at least one pornographic film. As the story goes, MGM spent years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, tracking the movie down and destroying it.
Crawford was one of MGM’s biggest stars, so when studio brass found out she starred in pornographic short Velvet Lips as a teenager, probably while underage, the gloves were off. Allegedly, MGM’s notorious fixer, Eddie Mannix, partnered with the mob to track down extortionists asking $100,000 for the film. The extortionists were given a choice: accept $25,000 for all negatives or the mob would kill them and take the negatives. In another version of the story, Mannix simply shelled out $100k for the negatives.
When Crawford left MGM in 1943, she paid the studio $50,000, an unusual move. Many historians believe she paid the studio back for acquiring and destroying the negatives to Velvet Lips.
In 1943, Errol Flynn, one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the late 1930s and early ’40s, most well known for roles in swashbuckling pictures like Robin Hood and Captain Blood, stood trial for statutory rape.
Flynn, once quoted as saying “I like my whiskey old and my women young,” was accused of sleeping with two 17-year-old girls. He denied the charges, and his lawyers worked hard to turn the jury against the accusers. After he was found not guilty, one accuser was quoted as saying: “[The jury] just sat and looked adoringly at him as if he was their son or something.”
The scandal did little to stop Flynn’s appetite for younger women. During the trial, he met a 19 year old he married. At the time of his death, at age 50, Flynn was in a relationship with a woman he met when she was 15.
In 1932, Jean Harlow’s husband, producer Paul Bern, died of an apparent suicide. His body was found naked in their home with a gun in his hand, along with a note, which read:
Unfortuately [sic] this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation, I Love [sic] you.
You understand that last night was only a comedy
The police assumed this to be a suicide note, though could make neither heads nor tails of what it actually meant, given Harlow’s refusal to talk about it other than to say she was at her mother’s house the night of the suicide.