Three Tales of Hollywood Scandal of the 1920s and 1930s
Hello Art deco guys and gals! That’s me back from my hols, had a great time with friends and family and now hubby and I are getting organised for emigrating to Australia, so I’ve been very busy to say the least! Enough about me though, and on with the show…
We all love a bit of gossip, but forget Hello! Magazine and the celeb gossip columns of today; my next few ADG posts will be all about the outrageous Hollywood scandal of the 20s and 30s!
The glitz and glamour of Hollywood have always attracted beautiful people with lots of money or in the pursuit of having lots of money to spend and of course, celebrity. Not surprisingly, Hollywood has enticed young and often innocent wannabe starlets from around the world since 1915, and in turn this has led to big producers, directors and fat-cat executives being able to offer jobs and exposure in return for young people’s bodies and souls.
Tragedy was also, sadly, a frequent occurrence in Hollywood and still is.
Hollywood scandal is certainly nothing new and has been rife since the early 20s. According to ‘America in the 1920s’ author Edmund Lindop, Hollywood’s finest (actors and directors) were caught up in all sorts of scandal involving murder, rape, and drugs. Lindop quoted a U.S. senator of the time who wanted the movie industry to clean up its act as saying, “Hollywood is a colony of … people where debauchery [moral corruption], riotous living, drunkenness … [and] free love seem to be the conspicuous.”
Hollywood needed a huge publicity machine and the studios created stars whose public image was completely different to their real selves. Innocent young virgins on screen were actually fast-living sex kittens with a taste for drugs and alcohol. Loveable family men were known behind the scenes for their numerous sexual conquests and more than one hero who made the ladies swoon secretly found young men more to his liking.
The Curious Case of Olive Thomas
Olive Thomas was a Ziegfeld Girl, nude model and also won the ‘Most Beautiful Girl in New York’ contest in 1914.
She began working in films ca. 1915 and it’s thought she slept her way into the business but she always denied this and claimed she just walked up and asked for the job and got it. She subsequently performed in the very risqué Midnight Frolic, a show staged after hours in the roof garden of the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Her first film was ‘Beatrice Fairfax’ in 1916.
In 1918, she married the handsome Jack Pickford, famous actress Mary Pickford’s brother. Although she was the love of his life, they fought a great deal when they were together and being on opposite sides of the country didn’t help. He was known to be unfaithful and eventually came down with syphilis.
While on holiday in Paris in September 1920, the couple returned to their hotel room after a night out on the town. Pickford fell asleep and for whatever reason, Thomas took his bichloride of mercury prescribed by doctors for syphilis. The thing about bichloride of mercury is that, unknown to doctors of the time, it would either cause a disintegration of the insides or it would slowly burn through the skin. So when Pickford woke up, it was to the sound of his wife screaming in excruciating pain and agony. She died within the hour.
No one knows for sure if Thomas’ death was accidental, intentional, or if she was murdered.
Her ghost is said to haunt the theatre that gave her a start as a Ziegfeld Girl, the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York.
Hollywood’s First ‘It Girl’ Clara Bow Plagues by Rumours:
Clara Bow was known as the ‘It Girl’ and was the screen’s first megastar International sex symbol. (I am a huge fan personally.)
She was the first actress who visibly flaunted her sex appeal and, in turn, became the most talked-about resident of Hollywood. Idolised by Louise Brooks in the 20s, Marilyn Monroe in the 50s, and Madonna in the 80s, Clara was an icon of sexual freedom for women everywhere and arguably, still is.
Her acting ability has unfortuantely been overshadowed by the scandalous stories which followed her. Most have been generally dismissed as urban legends, but Clara’s sometimes (what was to be considered) innappropriate behaviour did give the rumourmongers fuel for the fire.
Clara Bow was linked to many affairs with both men and women and blamed for many divorces; the biggest scandal being when she was sucessfully sued by her doctor’s wife for ‘alienation of affection’.
In 1930, Bow sued one of her former secretaries for embezzlement. The secretary was hell-bent on revenge and went to the press with shocking, scandalous accusations against Bow. She was relentless as she told all kinds of stories about the actress. She alleged Bow had sex in public, had sexual encounters with other women when a man wasn’t available, and so on.
These were considered to be truly outrageous accusations at the time, particularly as actors in the 20s and 30s were held in such high moral regard. However, the infamy also served to make her extrememly popular with aspiring flappers and generations of women to come.
In 1931, Paramount dropped Clara. This, coupled with the negative press surrounding the scandals and a horrible childhood in which her own father sexually assaulted her, proved to be too much for Clara Bow and she had a nervous breakdown. In 1949, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Bow married handsome cowboy star Rex Bell when she was 26 and soon retired from making movies. Her last was ‘Hoop-La’ in 1933. She tragically died on September 26, 1965 of a heart attack in Los Angeles. She was just 60-years-old.
Peg Entwistle Jumps To Her Death From Hollywood Sign
Born in Port Talbot, Wales, in 1908 – Peg Entwistle’s dream, like so many others, was to become a big Hollywood actress. Peg’s family soon moved from Wales to London. There, her mother died while Peg was still a teenager, and she and her father moved to New York City in the 1920′s. The father soon remarried and had two sons. Tragedy would strike again when her father was killed by a truck on Park Avenue.
The two young boys were sent to live with their Uncle Harold in Hollywood, but Peg, bitten by the acting bug, became part of the well-known Theater Guild, and stayed on in New York. She did get stage work, and actually appeared in eight consecutive productions, alongside such luminaries as Humphrey Bogart and Billie Burke. Unfortunately, every single one of the shows flopped.
In 1927, she married older actor Robert Keith, who neglected to tell her he was previously married and had a son Brian—later to be known as Uncle Bill Davis of TV’s Family Affair.
Not surprisingly, the marriage dissolved in 1930, as Peg got more Broadway work in productions that were not flops, even if they did not become giant hits. Still, by 1932, the Depression had taken its toll on legit theater, so Peg headed for Hollywood and movie work.
She went on to be known as a comedienne. Her last film was called “Thirteen Women” and, apparently, received very poor reviews.
Upset by the comments of the critics, as well as the greatly reduced screen time featuring her, Peg walked up the hill featuring the famous Hollywood sign wearing a borrowed dress and having no money to get a train back to New York, she then climbed atop the ‘H’ and jumped off, falling to her death.
In a bizarre twist to this tragic story, the following day a letter came in the mail for Entwistle offering her a role in a play about a woman who commits suicide.
On the supernatural side, there have been numerous sightings, around the top of Beachwood Canyon of a young woman dressed in 1930′s attire. On the other side, Peg’s stepson Brian Keith, suffering from lung cancer, committed suicide in June, 1997. Keith took his own life two months after his daughter also killed herself. Three generations of suicide, a posthumous job offer, and a Hollywood sign ghost.
This stuff could just not be made up, and proves how compelling Hollywood has always been, particularly in our favourite era.
- Clara Bow (I) – Biography (IMDb)
- IMDb biographies and wikipedia.
- Pinterest images