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10 Sordid Rumors From The Golden Age Of Hollywood

by Kate Masters
fact checked by Jamie Frater

It may be known as the City of Angels, but dirty rumors still run rampant in Los Angeles. Sordid stories and whispered scandals reached their fever pitch in the golden age of Hollywood, when puritanical public morales masked hidden affairs and the rampant sexuality of the stars. From a feces-loving lead actor to a silver screen starlet who died under mysterious circumstances, we have 10 of the dirtiest rumors to grace Hollywood’s history books.

10 Actor Charles Laughton’s Feces Fetish


In his memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Sex Lives of the Stars, Scotty Bowers claims to have slept with or arranged sexual liaisons for hundreds of the best-known celebrities in the Golden Age of Hollywood. In one of the most shocking stories in his book, he reveals the secret fetish of British actor Charles Laughton.

According to Bowers, the actor asked him to come over to his house with a hot, young, male guest for him to spend some time with while his wife was out. When Bowers and the young man arrived, Laughton started making a sandwich, slicing up lettuce and tomatoes and arranging them on sourdough bread with a bit of lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Finally, after a few minutes of prep work, the actor took the bread slices in one hand, picked up a pot with another, and asked the young man to follow him into the bathroom.

This is what happened next according to Bowers:

“Charles was the first to return. He put the plate with the bread slices on the kitchen table. I could see that the lettuce and tomatoes had been lightly smeared with a light brown substance. Seconds later Ted appeared in the kitchen. His erection was gone and he was looking decidedly sheepish, perhaps even a trifle embarrassed. I stared at him curiously, and he pulled a face, hoping that Charles wouldn’t notice. He pointed at the bread slices on the plate and then lightly patted his backside.”

And then he ate the sandwich.

9 Ronald Reagan’s Lust For Young Virgins


Ronald Reagan is better remembered for his life in politics than his career in acting, but the former president was one of Tinseltown’s leading men in the 1940s and ‘50s. One of the most cringe-inducing rumors about Reagan’s time in Hollywood comes from Piper Laurie, his co-star in the 1950 drama Louisa. The actress claims that the GOP icon took her virginity when he was 39 years old and she was only 18.

In her memoir, Laurie writes that she was first seduced by Reagan on the set of their film Louisa, in which he was playing her father. The actor was supposedly a gentleman at first and even asked Laurie’s mother for permission to take her on a date, but instead of the glamorous evening the actress had pictured, Reagan instead took them both to his house, where he cooked hamburger steak and salad.

Things got stranger when Reagan led her back to the bedroom. According to Laurie, the actor was “an insensitive show-off in bed,” and made sure to brag not only about the length of time he had already been erect (40 whole minutes), but also about how much his condom had cost.

Poor Ronnie . . . there’s really nothing in this story that makes him look good. Laurie also reports that the actor not only failed to pleasure her, but criticized her roughly when she told him so. “There’s something wrong with you that you should fix,” he supposedly retorted after she mentioned her lack of an orgasm.

8 Ramon Novarro’s Black Rudolph Valentino Dildo


Both Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino were well-known leading men of the 1920s, famous for their roles as dashing young romantics in films like Mata Hari and The Son of the Sheikh. Novarro was Mexican and Valentino was Italian, which quickly led tabloids to brand them as “the Latin Lovers.”

Because of their flamboyance on and off screen, rumors began to swirl that both Novarro and Valentino were closeted homosexuals. The rumor was true for Novarro, but not for Valentino—his alleged homosexuality was a legend that chased him his entire life. Still, it didn’t take long before the two stars were linked as lovers, with one interviewer claiming that Novarro had secretly admitted the affair to Cary Grant.

That’s where the dildo rumor comes in. Valentino may or may not have gifted Novarro with an art deco model of his penis, which Novarro kept on his nightstand. The model would later become part of a graphic tragedy—in 1968, Novarro was brutally murdered by two petty criminals in the bedroom of his Los Angeles ranch house. Details about the case vary wildly from report to report, but one of the most widely accepted details is that Novarro choked on his own blood after the two hustlers shoved the dildo down his throat. The motive for such a horrific crime? A paltry $5,000, which the murderers had heard was hidden in the actor’s home.

7 Clara Bow’s Orgies, Affairs, And Bestiality

dog lady

Beautiful Clara Bow was one of the biggest stars of the 1920s, famous for being one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols. But by 1931, a series of scandalous rumors had erupted around the movie industry’s first It Girl, ruining her career and resigning her to a life of anonymity.

The rumors about Bow were shocking (and ludicrous) even by today’s standards. The Coast Reporter ran a three-week series about the actress’s private life claiming that poor Clara was an irremediable alcoholic, a drug abuser, and a gambler. She was supposedly the mistress of multiple men, had sex in public and threesomes with prostitutes, and would sleep with women when no men were available (or dogs when she couldn’t find a human). The biggest whopper was that she regularly held orgies for the USC football team and would sexually service every player there.

So where did these rumors come from? It all started in 1930 when Bow’s secretary Daisy DeVoe left the star in a fit of anger after an argument, taking piles of the actress’s personal documents with her. DeVoe tried to blackmail Bow, but the star called the police and took DeVoe to court, which ended up backfiring horribly. The trial ensured that all of Bow’s private dalliances became public knowledge, and the actress never had the cleanest record. Her dirty laundry was nowhere near as bad as the tabloids made out, but she did gamble, had taken multiple lovers without marrying them (still shocking in the 1920s), and was guilty of starting some sort of affair with an older married doctor, whose wife named Bow as a cause for “alienation of affection” in the couple’s divorce.

Ultimately, the rumors surrounding Bow were enough for Paramount to cancel her contract with them—the actress’s star was already fading, and it was hard work doing constant damage control on the many allegations surrounding her.

6 George Cukor’s Dirt On Clark Gable


Actor Clark Gable was a real man among men: tough, rough-and-tumble, and known for his cocksure young characters from Peter Warne in It Happened One Night to Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Director George Cukor was one of the most famous gay men in Hollywood and was known as a “woman’s director,” coaxing the best performances out of the beautiful starlets he directed.

Cukor was the original director on the set of Gone with the Wind, and stayed with the film through its pre-production stages and screen tests. But before filming could start, he was ungraciously fired from the set, only to be replaced by Victor Fleming at the behest of lead actor Clark Gable. Gable’s reasons for having Cukor canned are the basis for one of the juiciest rumors in Hollywood.

One simple theory is that Gable resented the attention that Cukor lavished on the film’s female leads, Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland, and wanted more of a “man’s” director who could help him deliver his best performance. Then again, there may have been a deeper reason: Cukor knew a secret about Gable that the actor was eager to bury. So eager that he had the director kicked off the set.

Gable’s secret, if it were true, is one that would make the conservative actor understandably uncomfortable. According to gossip at the time, Gable was forced to work as a “rent boy” at the beginning of his career and had sexually serviced silent movie actor William Haines around 1925. Cukor and Haines were close enough that the director would know all about the affair, and Gable was paranoid that Cukor would spill his secret. Whatever the case, Cukor left the film, and the rumors around Clark Gable remain a closely guarded secret.

5 Jeanette MacDonald’s Forced Abortion


The love triangle between Louis B. Mayer, Jeanette MacDonald, and Nelson Eddy is tragic, complicated, and mired in mystery, but one particularly nasty rumor about it spread around Hollywood for years. According to the story, Mayer forced MacDonald to have an abortion when he found out she was pregnant with Eddy’s baby.

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald were both stars for MGM back in the days of the “studio system,” which kept actors and other creative personnel bound by tight contracts. Louis B. Mayer was one of the tyrannical heads of MGM, and inadvertently pushed Eddy and MacDonald together by assigning them starring roles in many of the studio’s most popular musicals. MacDonald and Eddy never got married, but they were the loves of each other’s lives (much to the chagrin of Mayer). Allegedly, the magnate feared they would distract one another from their incredibly lucrative careers.

In 1935, after spending a blissful summer together, MacDonald found out she was pregnant with Eddy’s baby. This was an absolute disaster for Mayer—the two actors were young, unwed, and made money hand over fist for the studio. The last thing he wanted was to lose MacDonald just because of a pregnancy. So, he purportedly did what any good tyrant would do: Mayer told the actress that if she didn’t have an abortion, he would blacklist both her and Eddy, ruining the remainder of their careers.

The rumor gets even sadder at the end of the summer of 1935. MacDonald miscarried her child, but when Eddy and Mayer heard the news, both assumed she had bowed to Mayer’s threats. Eddy broke up with the actress because of it, but Mayer was giddy over the news and forced MacDonald into more and more pictures.

The studio chief worked hard to discourage the pair from ever getting back together. He constantly made threats against Eddy’s life and pushed the actor’s car off the road as a warning.

4 Joan Crawford’s Porn, Crabs, And Stepfather


Joan Crawford will always be remembered as a glamorous icon of the silver screen. Her career took off in the late 1920s, and her star never really dimmed until her death in 1977. Most remember Crawford as the picture of sophistication—her film costumes were designed by some of the most famous designers in history, and she was always pictured as immaculately dressed and tailored, with a cigarette or a drink in one gloved hand.

According to Rachel Shukert, a writer who extensively researched the private lives of old Hollywood stars for her book series Starstruck, Joan had a tawdry past that she was constantly trying to put behind her. The star wasn’t born into the Hollywood elite—her father was a common laborer from San Antonio, Texas and left the family shortly after Joan’s birth. Her mother then moved the family to Lawton, Oklahoma where she remarried a man who ran the local opera house. That man, Henry Cassin, is the subject of one of the Joan Crawford rumors: It’s alleged that Henry was sexually involved with Joan when she was only 11 years old. Once discovered, this led Joan’s mother to end the marriage.

A few years after the move to Oklahoma, the family relocated again to Kansas City, which is where the rumors get even dirtier. According to Shukert, Joan’s poor hygiene as a teenager resulted in her spreading crabs around Kansas City, which later led to her obsession with cleanliness once she reached Hollywood.

The final rumor about Crawford plagued the actress until her death. It was constantly rumored that Joan had worked as a call girl and starred in at least one porno before she got her big break at MGM—specifically, a 1918 film called The Casting Couch. If the actress had correctly stated her age during her first studio screen test, the film would have been made while Joan was still going to school in Kansas City, but some argue that Crawford lied about her age so frequently that it’s impossible to be sure.

3 Olive Thomas’s Syphilis Medication Suicide


Olive Thomas was a gorgeous silent film starlet whose work has largely been lost to history thanks to the poor storage of early film reels. She’s remembered today less for her acting talent than for the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death at age 25.

In 1916, Olive met Jack Pickford, younger brother of actress Mary Pickford. Eight months later, the two were married. Jack may have described Olive as the love of his life, but that didn’t stop him from picking up other women who crossed his path. By 1918, their marriage was on the rocks, and Jack joined the Navy that year just to impress Olive and try to win her back.

That didn’t turn out to be the most effective plan. While enlisted, Jack managed to stumble into a serious scandal. He allegedly began to assist a lieutenant who arranged cushy assignments for wealthy soldiers. If the men could pay, they’d be guaranteed a military role far away from the dirt and danger of the front lines. Both men were caught and court martialed, but Jack managed to escape with a dishonorable discharge.

Obviously, Olive had plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied with her husband, but tragedy didn’t truly strike until 1920, when the couple sailed from Paris to New York for a second honeymoon. On September 9, the couple went out for the night and arrived back at their hotel around 3:00 AM. Just a couple hours later, Jack called downstairs to report that his wife had taken a serious overdose of medication.

Rumors still abound over what happened in their hotel room that night. The medication Olive took was almost undoubtedly bichloride of mercury, a common treatment for syphilis in the early 20th century. Many claimed that the actress committed suicide with Jack’s prescription after she learned he had caught the disease from his many infidelities and passed it on to her. Others believed that Jack had intentionally poisoned Olive to collect on her life insurance policy. The actress lingered for four days before she passed away, and her death was ultimately ruled “accidental” by the coroner.

2 Tony Richardson And Linda Lovelace’s Oral Sex Presentation


This is another yarn straight from the mouth of Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers. Tony Richardson was a famous director in the 1960s. According to Scotty, Tony was incredibly taken by porn star Linda Lovelace after her first and most iconic film, Deep Throat, was released. So taken, in fact, that he wanted Bowers to arrange a meeting between them so he could learn more about her talent for performing fellatio.

The two did end up meeting, and Tony paid a pretty penny to book Lovelace for a party he arranged for some of gay Hollywood’s top movers and shakers. The lecture apparently went pretty well. Linda showed up with a big latex dildo to demonstrate some of her moves, and some guests even went up to her afterward to trade tips.

According to his memoir, Bowers served at a Beverly Hills cocktail party just a few days later and told some of his guests about the party Richardson had thrown. Most of the guests at Scotty’s cocktail party were 60- to 80-year old women. At the end of the party, one of the more elderly women in the room asked him if he could give her Linda’s telephone number, which he happily passed on. Two weeks later, Linda called him to say that she had just given a demonstration to a large group of elderly Beverly Hills socialites.

1 William Desmond Taylor’s Murder


The murder of famous director William Desmond Taylor is one of the most enduring mysteries of Hollywood, and the case has still never been solved. There are still plenty of rumors about who might have killed him, and a mob hit man is one of the most popular theories.

The facts of the case, at least, are straightforward. On February 1, 1921, Taylor met his girlfriend and comedian Mabel Normand at his home in Los Angeles. At 7:45 PM, he walked her to her car to say good night, and at 7:30 the next morning, his valet found his body in the front room with a bullet through his back.

Unfortunately, the case gets more complicated when you bring in the list of suspects. The LAPD and Hollywood gossip columnists wanted to pin his murder on anything and anybody, including (but not limited to) Mabel Normand, who was found rummaging through his drawers at the scene of the crime. Mary Miles Minter, an up-and-coming starlet who had fallen obsessively in love with the director, also ended up on the list of suspects. Police found blonde hair matching Minter’s on Taylor’s jacket. Edward Sands, one of Taylor’s former servants, stole $5,000 from the director and had been stalking him at the time of the murder.

Finally, it’s possible the guilt lies with an unidentified mob member, angry at Taylor for busting up their Hollywood drug racket. The police knew Taylor had been an active anti-drug campaigner, and they knew the mob made big business from selling drugs outside studios in Hollywood.

Normand had gotten hooked on drugs thanks to the mob pushers who peddled outside film sets, and that made Taylor determined to take them down and save his girlfriend. He clued in the FBI to their activities and busted their drug racket, but some say that moment of heroism is what prompted mob bosses to send a hit man after him.

I’m a Reuters intern and aspiring narrative journalist with an irrepressible love for random trivia. Follow me on Twitter @kamamasters.

fact checked by Jamie Frater