Vintage Pictures That Define Old Hollywood
The Golden Age of Hollywood was all about glitz, glamour and great work, but there was a lot more going on behind the scenes. In a time before Tinseltown had fully embraced the darker aspects of society on the silver screen, the early days of the entertainment industry were filled with scandals that involved people from every level of the business.
There were as many triumphs as tragedies, and this article will cover everything you need to know about how Hollywood came to be. From drug addiction, betrayal and murder to surprise successes that changed the course of history, we found the most important events spanning the first half a century of La La Land. With every win comes a loss, and it didn’t become what it is today without a heavy dose of both.
Many of the secrets uncovered here remained hidden for years and will certainly change the way you feel about your favorite stars, but it’s important to know the truth behind the industry that is currently one of the most popular on the planet. Read ahead to travel back in time and relive the reality of Old Hollywood…
The Complicated History Of Walt Disney
Walt Disney was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer who holds the record for the most Academy Awards earned by an individual, having won 22 Oscars from 59 nominations, as well as many other prestigious honors throughout and after his life. But his story has become much more complicated over the last several decades…
He founded the first version of Disney in the 1920s and developed Mickey Mouse in 1928. By 1937, he took a huge risk on a full-length animated feature called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was a hit, and Disney eventually expanded into live-action entertainment, amusement parks and everything in between. He died of lung cancer in December of 1966 at the age of 65, but his influence lives on.
While many continue to celebrate Walt Disney and his work, others have questioned aspects of his life and personality. Rumors have spread that he was anti-Semitic and racist, stemming from his attendance at meetings of a pro-Nazi organization, the German American Bund, and relationships with questionable individuals like Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, who got a personal tour of Disney Studios. But still…
Walt Disney wanted to create a place where families could go and have fun together. It was originally referred to as Mickey Mouse Park back in 1948, and was partially motivated by the fact that people often wrote letters to Disney about visiting the Walt Disney Studios. By the early 1950s, development of the park, now called Disneylandia, was underway. After its final renaming, on July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened…
The plan was to have an “International Press Review” that would only be open to around 15,000 invited guests and the media. Incredibly, double the number of invitees showed up, many with counterfeit tickets and some instead choosing to just hop the fence and sneak in. This resulted in a seven-mile freeway backup and quite a bit of unexpected chaos at the park…
A local plumbers’ strike caused Disney to choose running toilets over working drinking fountains, which didn’t help the atypical 101 °F temperature. In later years, this was referred to as “Black Sunday”. After the extremely negative press from the preview opening, Walt Disney invited attendees back for a private “second day” to experience Disneyland properly.
The Arrival Of Greta Garbo
Hollywood was a largely domestic pursuit in its early days, but that would soon change. In 1925, European actress Greta Garbo was discovered by Louis B. Mayer, chief executive of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, also known as MGM, during a talent hunt in Berlin. Soon after, she came to America, accompanied by director Mauritz Stiller, who was also her mentor. Garbo immediately booked her first American film, The Torrent, which was only her second on-screen performance.
Garbo’s next movie, Flesh and the Devil, made her an international star. Her presence started a craze that saw Tinseltown embracing foreign talent. It helped that she was a great actress. Garbo was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actress and received an Academy Honorary Award in 1954 for her “luminous and unforgettable screen performances.”
At the age of 35, Garbo retired after acting in twenty-eight films. From then on, she declined all opportunities to return to the screen, shunned publicity, led a private life and became an art collector. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Garbo fifth on their list of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
MGM’s Harassment Of Judy Garland
The Wizard of Oz came out in 1939 and is still one of the most beloved films of all time. But its star, Judy Garland, went through a lot of turmoil during her time with the studio. MGM executives, including the aforementioned Louis B. Mayer, subjected her to seemingly relentless abuse. This is the true story behind the real life Dorothy Gale…
Garland became a part of MGM studios at the young age of 13. In her first year with the company, high ranking members began commenting on her appearance, specifically her weight. By the time she was 14, it has been reported that she was told she looked like a “fat little pig with pigtails.” And at 16, an MGM executive said she was “so fat she looked like a monster.”
By 18, Mayer himself forced Garland to start a diet of black coffee, chicken soup, 80 cigarettes a day, and diet pills every four hours. Because of this, Garland became addicted to the pills and began starving herself. Tragically, she struggled with an eating disorder and addiction issues for the rest of her life.
United Artists Is Formed
United Artists is one of the biggest studios in the world. Almost exactly a century ago, in 1919, D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks founded UA on the premise that actors should be allowed to control their own interests, rather than being dependent upon commercial studios. This was a huge shift for Hollywood…
Pickford, a Canadian-born film actress and producer, Chaplin, an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer, Fairbanks, an American actor, screenwriter, director, and producer, and Griffith, an American director, writer, and producer, incorporated UA as a joint venture on February 5, 1919. Each held a 25 percent stake in the preferred shares and a 20 percent stake in the common shares of the joint venture, with the remaining 20 percent of common shares held by lawyer and advisor William Gibbs McAdoo.
The four Hollywood veterans came together against the powerful studio system, causing Richard A. Rowland, head of Metro Pictures, to famously say, “The inmates are taking over the asylum.” This move changed how movies were made and individuals were treated, allowing the industry to evolve in a way that continues to this day.
The Trials Of Fatty Arbuckle
Just two years after the founding of United Artists, comic actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, one of the highest-paid movie stars in Hollywood, went to trial for rape and murder when a crazy party in San Francisco led to a manslaughter. This fed into Hollywood’s questionable image and gave birth to the industry’s self-regulatory Hays Office.
Arbuckle had reserved a suite of rooms at the St. Francis Hotel for a wild weekend celebrating his signing of one of the biggest deals in history. One night, Virginia Rappe, a young, unknown actress, ran screaming from the hotel and died days later. Arbuckle was charged with her rape and murder, and the first two trials resulted in a hung jury. But a third trial was underway…
Because there was no evidence that he had anything to do with what happened to Rappe, he was acquitted, but the scandal essentially ruined his life and career. After being blacklisted, he gave himself a new name and was able to continue working for a period, but ended up passing away at the young age of 46. Buster Keaton famously claimed it was of a broken heart.
The Mysterious Death Of George Reeves
Another mysterious death, involving a very well known actor, took place almost three decades later. Halfway through the 20th century, The Adventures of Superman’s George Reeves was part of the first phase of Hollywood’s obsession with super heroes. He had previously appeared in a variety of projects, and throughout the ’50s he played Clark Kent and his iconic alter ego. But in 1959…
Reeves was found dead from an apparent suicide, which many feel was due to the depression caused by his inability to find work after Superman, something that plagues many actors who take on these kinds of roles. While he certainly could’ve taken his own life, some question exactly what happened, especially considering that…
He had recently had an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of infamous Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix. The night of the death, she called her friend and said, “The boy is dead. He’s been murdered.” And in the years following his death, she was heard confessing to a priest that her husband had Reeves killed. But others, who were with Reeves the night he died, say he was clearly suicidal. The mystery remains unsolved.
The First Academy Awards
Hollywood’s biggest night, the Academy Awards, has happened every year since 1929. The inaugural ceremony took place on May 16 at the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with only around 270 attendees. It is now seen by over 30 million people worldwide. And the first one was different in more ways than just the number of people involved…
First of all, it was actually a dinner, with the guests seated at tables covered in waxed candy replicas of the new Oscar statuette designed by Cedric Gibbons. They were served Jumbo Squab Perigeaux and Lobster Eugenie as the awards were handed out. The winners had been announced three months earlier, something that changed the following year for obvious reasons.
Victors included Wings for best production, Sunrise for unique and artistic production, Emil Jannings for best actor and Janet Gaynor for best actress. When it came to the design of the statuette, screenwriter Frances Marion joked that, “It’s the perfect symbol of the picture business: a powerful athletic body clutching a gleaming sword with half of his head, that part which held his brains, completely sliced off.”
Grace Kelly Upsets Judy Garland
Everyone knows about the shocking mistake at the 2017 Academy Awards, which saw the wrong Best Picture winner, La La Land, being read before Moonlight was properly acknowledged. But the epic mixup was not the first time the Oscars experienced this kind of controversy. While the 1955 ceremony didn’t include an error, it is definitely considered an unbelievable upset…
Of all the films nominated, On the Waterfront swept most of the awards, receiving eight statues, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director. But the biggest surprise of the night took place in the Best Actress category, which heavily favored Judy Garland’s turn in George Cukor’s version of A Star Is Born.
Grace Kelly was inarguably a great actress, having delivered many Oscar-worthy performances in films like Rear Window and Dial M for Murder, both of which came out the same year as the film she was recognized for. Most people didn’t consider her role in The Country Girl, for which she was nominated, to be at the same level. Garland, on the other hand, was poised to finally receive her Oscar, but voters gave it to Kelly.
Howard Hughes’s Hell’s Angels
Howard Hughes was known for many things throughout his iconic life. He was an American business magnate, investor, record-setting pilot, engineer, film director, and philanthropist who was one of the most financially successful individuals in the world. He got his start in Hollywood where he threw one of the biggest premiers ever…
Grauman’s Chinese Theater, home of countless movie premiers, was where Hughes decided to unveil his $3 million aviation epic Hell’s Angels. On May 24, 1930, ten of thousands of people flocked to Hollywood Boulevard, inspiring an aspect of Nathanael West’s novella The Day of the Locust. At the end of the story, his main character paints The Burning of Los Angeles, which had many similarities to the opening of Hell’s Angels.
After a notoriously difficult production that took over three years and caused the deaths of three stunt pilots and one mechanic, Hell’s Angels was released. The filming was so difficult because Hughes demanded realism that had never been seen before in a major motion picture. And he didn’t just sit back and make demands, he himself almost died after joining the shoot to fill in for a stunt pilot.
Lucy, Desi And RKO
Lucille Ball revolutionized television with her hit show I Love Lucy. She created and starred in the show along with her husband Desi Arnaz. It dominated U.S. ratings for most of its run, during which Lucy and Desi had a difficult back and forth with studio executives about relocating to New York from their home in Los Angeles. This led to one of the craziest deals in Hollywood history…
In order to stay in LA, the couple offered to take a pay cut to finance filming, on the condition that they would retain the rights of each episode once it aired. CBS agreed to relinquish the post-first-broadcast rights to them, not realizing they were giving up a valuable and enduring asset. In 1957, CBS bought back the rights for $1,000,000…
Lucy and Desi used that money, which was quite a lot at the time, as the down payment for the purchase of the former RKO Pictures studios, which they turned into Desilu Studios. In 1949, the number of television sets in use was around 3.6 million. Just four years later, that number had skyrocketed to 25.2 million.
Jean Harlow’s Secrets
Jean Harlow was a famous actress and sex symbol during the 1930s. In 1932, producer Paul Bern, Harlow’s husband, was found dead in their home. He was naked, holding a gun and a note that read, “Dearest dear, Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you. Paul. You understand last night was only a comedy.”
While his death was initially considered a suicide, police couldn’t figure out what the note meant. Harlow refused to discuss the message and claimed to be at her mother’s home the night Bern died. The previously discussed MGM did everything they could to protect Harlow, no matter what the cost…
Studio heads went to house the morning his body was discovered and many believe they attempted to get rid of any evidence that would implicate Harlow. The night before, Bern had attempted to send Harlow away so that he could reunite with a former lover, Dorothy Millette, who was found dead nine days later in the Sacramento River. Researchers think Harlow killed them both.
James Bond was created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who wrote a dozen novels and two short-story collections featuring the character. Less than a decade after 007’s first appearance in print, the first film, Dr. No, was released with Sean Connery in the title role. Then came From Russia With Love, but no one was ready for…
Goldfinger sparked the explosion of Bondmania, which saw “Shaken, not stirred” becoming a catchphrase and 007 taking its place in pop culture. The release of the film led to a number of promotional licensed tie-in items, including a toy Aston Martin DB5 car from Corgi Toys which became the biggest selling toy of 1964. It was the first Bond film to win an Academy Award and opened to largely favorable critical reception and financial success
Today, the Bond movies are the longest continually running film series of all time and have grossed over $7.040 billion in total, making it the fourth-highest-grossing film series to date. They are known for the title songs, his cars, weapons and gadgets, as well as his relationships with various women, known as Bond Girls.
The Hollywood Ten
On the darker side of the entertainment business, The Hollywood Ten were a part of an industry-wide blacklisting of individuals thought to be connected to or involved with the Community Party. In 1947, following nine days of hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington to examine “the extent of Communist infiltration in the Hollywood motion picture industry,” they were cited for contempt of Congress.
The Hollywood Ten were screenwriter Alvah Bessie, screenwriter and director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Lester Cole, director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr., screenwriter John Howard Lawson, screenwriter Albert Maltz, screenwriter Samuel Ornitz, producer and screenwriter Adrian Scott, and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was recently portrayed in a film about the events by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston.
In response to the Ten’s refusal to cooperate with the outrageous investigation, 48 studio executives held a secret meeting at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to officially create the Hollywood blacklist, which included anyone they thought could have ties to Communism. The blacklist put hundreds of people out of work and set a horrible standard for the industry. Many protested these events, and eventually the craze ended.
Humphrey Bogart Passes Away
Humphrey Bogart was one of Hollywood’s first true leading men. His performances in numerous films from The Golden Age of movie making made him a cultural icon. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him as the greatest male star of American cinema. It was a big deal when he died, especially considering what happened next…
After signing a long-term deal with Warner Bros., Bogart predicted that his teeth and hair would fall out before the contract ended. As a heavy smoker and drinker, Bogart developed esophageal cancer. He went to the doctor but his condition quickly worsened before undergoing a surgical operation in which his entire esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib were removed. However, the surgery failed, even with chemotherapy.
He passed away at age 57 in Los Angeles on January 14, 1957. Within the next couple years, a slew of leading would pass away, as well. And they were all under 60 years old. Errol Flynn died on October 14, 1959 of a heart attack. Clark Gable died the next year suddenly of a heart attack. And Gary Cooper died on May 13, 1961 of prostate and colon cancer.
The Death Of Marilyn Monroe
Another devastating Hollywood death came with the passing of Marilyn Monroe. An original blonde bombshell, Monroe was one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and was emblematic of the era’s attitudes towards sexuality. She died at the young age of 36 in Los Angeles on August 5, 1962.
Monroe, whose real name was Norma Jeane Baker, was found dead by her housekeeper Eunice Murray and her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who Murray had called when Monroe wasn’t responding. She was pronounced dead by her physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg. This would sent a shockwave through the world that no one was expecting.
Her toxicology report revealed that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning, or a drug overdose. The possibility that Monroe had accidentally overdosed was ruled out because the dosages found in her body were several times over the lethal limit. Monroe’s doctors stated that she had been “prone to severe fears and frequent depressions” with “abrupt and unpredictable mood changes”, and had overdosed several times in the past, possibly intentionally. Her death was classified as a probable suicide.
Rudolph Valentino’s Funeral
Well before Bogart and Monroe passed away, Latin lover Rudolph Valentino’s death caused mass hysteria among his female fans and further propelled him to iconic status. He was an Italian actor, an early pop icon and a sex symbol of the 1920s. The most tragic aspect of his death is that it happened when he was only 31 years old.
He starred in several well-known silent films including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle, and The Son of the Sheik. On August 15, 1926, Valentino collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador on Park Avenue in Manhattan. His condition was referred to as “Valentino’s syndrome” or perforated ulcers mimicking appendicitis. He died less than two weeks later.
An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Manhattan to pay their respects at his funeral. Suicides of despondent fans were reported. Windows were smashed as fans tried to get in and an all-day riot erupted. Over 100 mounted officers and NYPD’s Police Reserve were deployed to restore order and rows of officers lined the streets for the remainder of the viewing.
Oscar, Emmy, Tony And Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse was an American dancer, musical theatre choreographer, director and film director who won eight Tony Awards for choreography, more than anyone else, as well as one for direction. He was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for his direction of Cabaret. His Cabaret victory accompanied two others for a legendary hat trick…
At the 1973 Academy Awards, Fosse won the Academy Award for Best Director for Cabaret. In the same year he won Tony Awards for directing and choreographing Pippin and Primetime Emmy Awards for producing, choreographing and directing Liza Minnelli’s television special Liza with a Z. He was the first and so far only person to win all three major industry awards in the same year.
The only thing harder than what he did is called an EGOT, for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards. Winning all four awards has been referred to as winning the “grand slam” of American show business. The EGOT acronym was coined by actor Philip Michael Thomas in late 1984 who stated that it also means “energy, growth, opportunity and talent.” Only 15 people have ever done this.
The Manson Murders
In the late 1960s, Charles Manson formed what became known as the Manson Family in California. His followers committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. In 1971, he was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people, all of which members of the group carried out at his instruction.
At the time the Manson Family began to form, Manson was an unemployed ex-convict who had spent half of his life in correctional institutions for a variety of offenses. Before the murders, he was a singer-songwriter on the fringe of the Los Angeles music industry. He believed the murders would help precipitate an impending apocalyptic race war.
From the beginning of Manson’s notoriety, a pop culture arose around him in which he ultimately became an emblem of insanity, violence, and the macabre. Next year, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will come out. The crime mystery stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie and will be centered on the Manson Family murders. It’s one of many to do this.
The Drowning Of Natalie Wood
At just 17, Natalie Wood received an Academy Award nomination for Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean. She became famous at 9 for her role in Miracle on 34th Street, as well as following performances in West Side Story and Splendor in the Grass, for which she finally received her Oscar. But then everything changed…
She married and started a family with actor Robert Wagner. On Thanksgiving in 1981, the couple, along with friend and fellow actor Christopher Walken, planned a yachting trip to Catalina Island. That morning, her body was found face down in the water, the victim of an apparent drowning. The coroner confirmed this, but…
The events surrounding her death have been controversial due to conflicting witness statements, prompting the LASD to declare the cause of her death as “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Rumors spread that the couple had fought over Walken on the trip. In his autobiography, Pieces of my Heart, Wagner admitted that he was jealous of Walken, and was angry that night, but even after the case was reopened in 2011 no new conclusions have been reached.
Al Jolson’s First Words
Al Jolson was an American singer, comedian, and stage and film actor. At the peak of his career, he was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer”. His performing style was brash and extroverted. Broadway critic Gilbert Seldes compared him to the Greek god Pan, claiming that Jolson represented “the concentration of our national health and gaiety.”
In the 1920s, Jolson was America’s most famous and highest-paid entertainer. Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had nine sell-out Winter Garden shows in a row, more than 80 hit records, and 16 national and international tours. He also spoke the first words of dialogue ever heard in a synchronized sound feature film, 1927’s The Jazz Singer: “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothing yet.”
Unfortunately, he has been called “the king of blackface” performers, which is a form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person. In an essay written in the 21st century, Tim Gioia of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia remarked, “If blackface has its shameful poster boy, it is Al Jolson”, showcasing Jolson’s complex legacy in American society.
Psycho is a prime example of the type of film that appeared in the United States during the 1960s after the erosion of the Production Code. It was unprecedented in its depiction of sexuality and violence, right from the opening scene in which Sam and Marion are shown as lovers sharing the same bed, with Marion in a bra. And, of course, the iconic shower scene…
Hitchcock did most of the promotion on his own, forbidding stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins to make the usual television, radio, and print interviews for fear of their revealing the plot. Even critics were not given private screenings but rather had to see the film with the general public, which, despite possibly affecting their reviews, certainly preserved the secret.
The public loved the film, with lines stretching outside of theaters as people had to wait for the next showing. This, along with box office numbers, led to a reconsideration of the film by critics, and it eventually received a very large amount of praise. It broke box-office records all over the world and was the most profitable black-and-white sound film ever made.
Easy Rider And Indie Cinema
Another influential release came with 1969’s Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda, who also wrote and directed, as well as co-writer Dennis Hopper and a young Jack Nicholson. Fonda and Hopper played two bikers who travel through the American Southwest and South carrying the proceeds from a cocaine deal. The success of Easy Rider helped spark the New Hollywood era of filmmaking during the early 1970s.
A landmark counterculture film, and a “touchstone for a generation” that “captured the national imagination”, Easy Rider explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, such as the rise of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle. Real drugs were used in the film.
It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and then opened later that summer on July 14, 1969, grossing $60 million worldwide from a filming budget of no more than $400,000. Audiences loved it and critics praised the performances, directing, writing, soundtrack, visuals, and atmosphere. In its wake, old executives were out and young directors with a vision were in. This brought independent cinema into the studio system.
Jaws Changes Everything
While the last couple releases were big, nothing came close to Jaws. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Jaws was the prototypical summer blockbuster, with its release regarded as a watershed moment in motion picture history. In 2001, it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Jaws was pivotal in establishing the modern Hollywood business model, which revolves around high box-office returns from action and adventure pictures with simple high-concept premises released during the summer in thousands of theaters and heavily advertised. The studio knew that had something special, so leading up to its release, they decided to try something that had never been done before.
Jaws opened on June 20, 1975 on and unprecedented 464 theaters and brought in $7 million, recouping its production cost in just two weeks. In a mere 78 days, it overtook The Godfather as the highest-grossing film at the North American box office. As of January 2018, it earned $470.7 million worldwide. Jaws was the highest-grossing film of all time until…
The Arrival Of Star Wars
The opening of Star Wars in 1977 was so epic it almost immediately became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. In the build up to the release, George Lucas negotiated a legendary deal with the film’s distributor 20th Century Fox that allowed him to retain merchandising rights.
The film series has spawned into other media, including books, television shows, computer and video games, theme park attractions and lands, and comic books, resulting in significant development of the series’ fictional universe. Star Wars holds a Guinness World Records title for the “Most successful film merchandising franchise”. In 2018, the total value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at $65 billion, and it is currently the fifth-highest-grossing media franchise of all time.
Star Wars debuted on Wednesday, May 25, 1977, in fewer than 32 theaters, and eight more on Thursday and Friday. Kurtz said in 2002, “That would be laughable today.” Fox initially had doubts if Star Wars would emerge successful. It immediately broke box office records, effectively becoming one of the first blockbuster films, and Fox accelerated plans to broaden its release. And the rest is history.
The Hollywood Sign Girl
The Hollywood sign was once the Hollywoodland sign, an American landmark situated on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains. The sign was originally created in 1923 as an advertisement for a local real estate development, but due to increasing recognition, the sign was left up.
Peg Entwhistle, a young actress struggling to make it in the entertainment industry, had previously been successful on Broadway. This prompted her to move to LA at a young age in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. She landed a role in the play The Mad Hopes at the Belasco Theatre, but things definitely weren’t going as well as she had hoped.
Tragically, on September 18, 1932, she went to the iconic sign, climbed up the letter H and committed suicide. A hiker later came across her purse with a letter inside that read, “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.” She was then referred to in the tabloids as The Hollywood Sign Girl.
Orson Welles Vs William Randolph Hearst
Citizen Kane, starring, produced, co-written and directed by Orson Welles, is largely considered the greatest motion picture of all time. It was Welles’s first feature film and was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories. Citizen Kane is particularly praised for its cinematography, music, editing and narrative structure, which have been considered innovative and precedent-setting.
Charles Foster Kane was based largely off of the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. To ensure that Hearst’s life’s influence on Citizen Kane was a secret, Welles limited access to dailies and managed the film’s publicity. But eventually, he found out. Hearing about Citizen Kane enraged Hearst so much that he banned any advertising, reviewing, or mentioning of it in his papers, and had his journalists libel Welles.
He also had many movie theaters ban it, and many did not show it through fear of being socially exposed by his massive newspaper empire. Despite Hearst’s attempts to destroy the film, since 1941 references to his life and career have usually included a reference to Citizen Kane, such as the headline ‘Son of Citizen Kane Dies’ for the obituary of Hearst’s son.
William Randolph Hearst Vs Thomas Ince
Well before the release of Citizen Kane, Heart had another feud with a Hollywood actor and director named Thomas Ince. He was known as the “Father of the Western” and was responsible for making over 800 films. Ince revolutionized the motion picture industry by creating the first major Hollywood studio facility.
Ince’s untimely death at the height of his career, after he became severely ill aboard Hearst’s private yacht, has caused much speculation and scandal, with rumors of murder, mystery, and jealousy. Prior to the fatal event, Ince and Hearst had been negotiating a deal whereby Hearst would use Ince’s studio for filming.
Several conflicting stories circulated about the incident, often revolving around a claim that Hearst shot Ince in the head mistaking him for Charlie Chaplin, who was also on board. Years later, Hearst spoke to a journalist about the rumor that he had murdered Tom Ince. “Not only am I innocent of this Ince murder”, he said. “So is everybody else”. But the myth of Ince’s death overshadowed his reputation as a pioneering filmmaker and his role in the growth of the film industry.
The Evolution Of Ronald Reagan
Well before Donald Trump became president, another former Hollywood personality paved the way for celebrities to enter politics. Ronald Reagan was an actor and trade union leader before serving as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. He eventually became the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.
Before moving to Hollywood in 1937, Reagan worked as a sports announcer on several regional radio stations in Illinois. Once he arrived in LA, he became an actor and starred in a few major productions. Reagan was twice elected President of the Screen Actors Guild, the labor union for actors, where he worked to root out Communist influence. In the 1950s, he moved into television and was a motivational speaker at General Electric factories.
Like Trump, Reagan was a Democrat before entering politics. In 1964, Reagan’s speech, “A Time for Choosing”, supported Barry Goldwater’s foundering presidential campaign and earned him national attention as a new conservative spokesman. Building a network of supporters, he was elected Governor of California in 1966. He was re-elected in 1970 and went on to become the oldest president-elect until Trump took office.
A Real Life Femme Fatale
Over the course of her nearly 50-year career, Lana Turner achieved fame as both a pin-up model and a dramatic actress as well as for her highly publicized personal life. In the mid-1940s, she was one of the highest-paid women in the United States and is frequently cited as a pop culture icon of Hollywood glamour.
Public controversy surrounded Turner in 1958 when her daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed Turner’s lover Johnny Stompanato to death in their Beverly Hills home during a domestic struggle. Stompanato, a known mobster with ties to Mickey Cohen, had threatened to kill Turner, her daughter, and her mother before Cheryl grabbed a kitchen knife and ran to Turner’s defense.
Due to Turner’s high profile and the fact that the killing involved her teenage daughter, the case quickly became a media sensation. After four hours of testimony and approximately 25 minutes of deliberation, the jury deemed the killing a justifiable homicide. Though Turner and her daughter were exonerated of any wrongdoing, public opinion on the event was varied, with some theorizing that Turner had killed Stompanato and forced her daughter to take the blame.
The Shooting Of William Desmond Taylor
Another highly contested Hollywood murder took place on February 1, 1922 when actor and director William Desmond Taylor’s body was found at his apartment. A crowd gathered inside, and someone identifying himself as a doctor stepped forward, quickly looked over the body and declared Taylor had died of a stomach hemorrhage. The doctor was never seen again…
When doubts later arose, forensic investigators revealed the 49-year-old had been shot at least once in the back with a pistol that was not found at the scene. With evidence of money and valuables on Taylor’s body, robbery was ruled out, but a large sum of cash that Taylor had shown to his accountant the day before was missing and apparently never accounted for.
More than a dozen individuals were eventually named as suspects by both the press and the police. Newspaper reports at the time were both overwhelmingly sensationalized and speculative, even fabricated, and the murder was used as the basis for much subsequent true crime fiction. Through a combination of poor crime-scene management and apparent corruption, much physical evidence was immediately lost and the rest vanished over the years…
The Pawnbroker Breaks The Rules
Not every Hollywood scandal discussed here took place behind the scenes. In 1964, Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, which was the first film produced entirely in the US to deal with the Holocaust from the viewpoint of a survivor, was one of the first American films to feature nudity during the Production Code, and was the first film featuring bare breasts to receive Production Code approval.
Although it was publicly announced to be a special exception, the controversy proved to be first of similar major challenges to the Code that ultimately led to its end. The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry moral guidelines that was applied to most US motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968.
It spelled out what was acceptable and what was unacceptable content for motion pictures produced for a public audience. The film industry followed the guidelines set by the code well into the late 1950s when it began to weaken due to the combined impact of television, influence from foreign films, controversial directors pushing boundaries, and intervention from the courts. It was eventually replaced by the MPAA film rating system.
Preston Sturges’s Five-Year Stretch
Preston Sturges was an American playwright, screenwriter, and film director who, in the 1940s, pulled off a then-unmatched feat. Though he had a thirty-year Hollywood career, Sturges’ greatest comedies were filmed from 1939 to 1944, during which he turned out The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero.
Half a century later, four of these, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, were chosen by the American Film Institute as being among the 100 funniest American films. In 1941, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Great McGinty, his first of three nominations in the category.
Sturges famously sold the story for The Great McGinty to Paramount Pictures for $1, in return for being allowed to direct the film. It was quietly raised to $10 by the studio for legal reasons. Sturges took the screwball comedy format of the 1930s to another level, writing dialogue that, heard today, is often surprisingly naturalistic, mature, and ahead of its time, despite the farcical situations.
The Birth of a Nation
Another legendary Hollywood figure was director, writer and producer D.W. Griffith. He pioneered modern cinematic techniques and helped to establish the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization responsible for The Oscars. He is among the most important figures in the history of film and is known for popularizing the use of the close-up shot.
The Birth of a Nation is a silent film that was adapted from the novel and play The Clansman. The three-hour-long movie was originally presented in two parts separated by an intermission. It chronicles the relationship of two families, the pro-Union Northern Stonemans and the pro-Confederacy Southern Camerons, in the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era over the course of several years.
The film was a commercial success, though it was highly controversial for its negative portrayal of black men, as well as its use of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force. There were widespread black protests against the film, and the NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban it. The film’s release is also credited as being one of the events that inspired the reformation of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.
The Greatest Director Of All Time
As Old Hollywood transitioned into the modern era, a new group of filmmakers, many of whom have already been discussed here, revolutionized the traditions and techniques established before their time. While movie fans endlessly debate about who’s the best, it’s hard to argue that there was anyone like Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick’s legendary career was filled with masterpieces that were very different from each other in terms of genre, but always had his signature look and feel. He was a perfectionist, so shot composition and tone were incredibly important and he would sometimes require dozens of takes to get exactly what he wanted. A quick overview of his films shows how truly talented and versatile he was…
After a series of well-received early movies, such as The Killing, Spartacus and Lolita, he transcended to another level. In regard to his genre-jumping, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was a comedy, 2001: A Space Odyssey was science fiction, A Clockwork Orange was a futuristic crime thriller, Barry Lyndon was a historic period piece, The Shining was horror and Full Metal Jack was a war film.
Russ Meyer’s Independent Success
Another important and iconic, but lesser-known, director was a man named Russ Meyer. The multi-talented Meyer was a director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, actor, and photographer. He wrote and directed a series of successful sexploitation films that featured campy humor, sly satire and large-breasted women, sparking a Hollywood trend that continues to this day.
He made almost 20 of these movies, including such notable films as 1965’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and 1968’s Vixen!, which was a huge success, making over $6 million after a small $76,000 budget. This helped him secure a deal at Fox for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, his first film at a major Hollywood studio. It was written by legendary critic Roger Ebert.
Meyer was a true auteur who wrote, directed, edited, photographed and distributed all his own films. He was able to finance each new film from the proceeds of the earlier ones, and became very wealthy in the process. This, along with the aforementioned Easy Rider, helped to establish the basis for modern independent cinema. His headstone includes the quotes “King of The Nudies” and “I Was Glad to Do It”.
The biggest events of Old Hollywood largely revolved around movies, but that would soon change as television became more popular and accessible. SNL, originally called Saturday Night, premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975. It has since become one of the longest running programs on TV, launching the careers of countless stars, including many who were part of the first cast back in the ’70s.
To name them all would be tough, but some of the most notable alumni are Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, John Belushi, Dana Carvey, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Norm Macdonald, Mike Myers, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Tracy Morgan, Chris Farley, Martin Short, Adam Sandler, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon and Bill Murray.
Throughout four decades on air, Saturday Night Live has won a number of awards, including 65 Primetime Emmy Awards, of 252 nominations, the most of any television program ever. SNL has also received four Writers Guild of America Awards and two Peabody Awards. In 2000, it was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
After the previously discussed independent film revolution of the 70’s, which saw creatives receiving an unprecedented amount of power and control, one disaster changed everything. Heaven’s Gate was an epic Western written and directed by Michael Cimino that was loosely based on the Johnson County War. Upon its release, it would go down in history as one of the biggest box office bombs of all-time.
Heaven’s Gate lost the studio an estimated $37 million, which would be well over $100 million today. It was also initially viewed as one of the worst films ever made. There were major setbacks in the film’s production due to cost and time overruns, negative press, and rumors about Cimino’s allegedly authoritarian directorial style.
In 1980, its writer/director and two stars, Isabelle Huppert and Kris Kristofferson, took Heaven’s Gate to Cannes where it was nominated for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or. This would be its one and only success. It’s disastrous release eventually caused United Artists to collapse and led to a move away from the brief period of director-driven film production in Hollywood and back toward greater studio control of films.
VHS Tapes Go Public
And finally, something that took movies out of the theaters and put them inside everyone’s homes, was the public release of VHS tapes on October 1, 1977. The Video Home System is a standard for consumer-level analog video recording on tape cassettes that was developed by Victor Company of Japan, or JVC, in the early 1970s.
From the 1950s, magnetic tape video recording became a major contributor to the television industry, via the first commercialized video tape recorders, or VTRs. At that time, the devices were used only in expensive professional environments such as television studios and medical imaging. But then…
In the 1970s, VHS technology entered home use, creating the home video industry and changing the economics of the television and movie businesses. After a brief war between VHS and Betamax, VHS became the dominant home video format until optical disc formats later began to offer better quality. By 2008, DVD had replaced VHS as the preferred low-end method of distribution. The last known company in the world to manufacture VHS equipment, Funai of Japan, ceased production in July 2016.