CLOSE
Original image

10 Scandalous Stars of the Silent Screen

Original image

Recently, I found one of my co-workers glued to the Britney-cam live feed on CNN.com. During the ensuing conversation on the ridiculous nature of stars "nowadays," I began to recall the ridiculous (and tragic) behavior of stars "back in the day" as well. Here are 10 celebrities and their scandals you may or may not be familiar with.

1. Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand (1895 - 1930) was one of the most popular comediennes of the silent era. After embarking on a relationship with legendary director Mack Sennett, Normand worked side-by-side with other notable (and scandalous) stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. In 1918, after her relationship with Sennett dissolved, Normand descended into alcoholism and narcotics abuse. Eventually pulling her life back together, Normand became the last person to see director William Desmond Taylor alive (see below), after Taylor was shot and killed only moments after Normand left his Hollywood home. The two had been friends and exchanged literature (yes, literally), and although she was never considered a serious suspect, newspaper rumors ran wild about her drug use and connections with Arbuckle. In 1924 she was involved in another scandal when her chauffeur shot her lover with Normand's own pistol. Never far from the headlines, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 35.

2. Jean Harlow

harlow.jpg

Jean Harlow (1911-1937), namesake for Nicole Ritchie's baby, seems in many ways to be early cinema's Anna Nicole Smith. Rising to fame at the end of the silent era as a sex symbol of the 1930s, the "Blonde Bombshell" was plagued with scandal all of her short life. Her father was a connected mobster, nude photos were taken of her at the age of 17, and she had a reported abortion of a child fathered by her one-time fiancee William Powell. However, Harlow's most recognized scandal involved her second husband Paul Bern, an intellectual luminary of Hollywood over 22 years her senior. On September 5, 1932 just months after their wedding, Bern was found shot in the head, sprawled in front of a bedroom mirror and drenched in Jean's perfume. A note accompanied his body, which was ruled a suicide, that confirmed rumors Bern suffered from an impotence which he found too embarrassing to live with. Harlow's own death a few years later was again tabloid fodder. Though the official cause of death was from kidney disease that became more aggressive after a string of illnesses, at the time many (untrue) myths suggested Harlow's kidneys were damaged because of beatings from her husband Paul, or that the bleach from her hair had seeped into her brain and killed her.

3. William Desmond Taylor

wdtaylor.jpg
Director William Desmond Taylor's (1872-1922) death became one of the Great Unsolved Mysteries of Hollywood. Shot in the back in 1922, rumors circulated that the suspects might include Mack Sennett, Rudolph Valentino, and Mabel Normand among other Hollywood notables. Taylor was himself an eccentric figure, abandoning his first wife and children in one of his "mental lapses" thought to be aphasia. During the media frenzy over his murder, many of his friends claimed Taylor had made "delusional" statements, and some feared he might be insane. The Irish-born director of over 50 films became another unfortunate casualty of the Silent Era, which had so many scandals that many movie studios began requiring their actors and directors sign "morality clauses" to their contracts.

4. Errol Flynn

Errol_Flynn1.jpg
Errol Flynn (1909-1959) set the gold standard for celebrity debauchery. A fan of drinking, fighting and fooling around, he was thrice tried on statutory rape charges and was accused of being a Nazi spy (according to biographer Charles Higham, although subsequent biographies have denounced this particular claim). One of Flynn's most infamous scandals involved his (recently deceased) friend John Barrymore. Flynn's posse stole Barrymore's body from the morgue and propped it up, Weekend at Bernie's style, inside Flynn's home so Flynn could be "greeted" by his old friend. The police didn't find the charade so funny, and neither did the newspapers or public. Flynn's mischief did not end with his death - he is said to be buried with six bottles of whiskey as a parting gift from friends.

5. Barbara La Marr

Lamarr.jpg
Barbara La Marr's (1896 - 1926) quote, "life is too short to waste on sleep" (she reportedly only slept two hours a night), seems like it could have been uttered by any number of current Hollywood starlets. Like her later counterparts, La Marr's film career flourished along with her love for the nightlife. However, an addiction to heroin soon took its toll on her as she juggled work schedules and a hyperactive social life. "The Girl Too Beautiful To Live," as the newspapers called her, died suddenly of tuberculosis at the age of 29.

6. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle

fatty.jpg
One of the most notorious scandals of the silent era involved Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (1887-1933), who was accused of the assault and murder of Virginia Rappe at a party in 1921. Although later acquitted, the incident ruined Arbuckle's career and cast a dark shadow on his Hollywood coevals. Rappe, for her part, was known for her wild behavior and promiscuity, and it is believed that complications from an abortion likely caused her demise. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Arbuckle was accused of misdeed by Maude Delmont (who did not witness any of the alleged crime, despite her reports), known to be involved in extortion, fraud and racketeering. Despite a written apology from the courts for their mismanagement of the case, Arbuckle's career was over. Falling into alcoholism, the formerly beloved actor died at age 46.

7. Charlie Chaplin

chaplin.jpg
A close friend of Fatty Arbuckle's (he borrowed Arbuckle's pants to create his most famous character, "The Tramp"), Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) always lived on the edge of scandal. Eventually forced to leave the country because of alleged Communist sympathies and troubles with the IRS, most of Chaplin's infamy revolved around his relationships with younger girls, many of whom he mentored and went on to marry or embark on relationships with. One biographer even claims Nabokov's "Lolita" was inspired by Chaplin. Additionally, Chaplin was involved with one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries, the death of producer Thomas Ince (the "Father of the Western") aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst in 1924, possibly caused by an argument Chaplin was having with Ince over the actress Marion Davies ...

8. Thelma Todd

thelma.jpg
Thelma Todd (1905-1935) rose to fame as a comedic actress alongside the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardey, and Buster Keaton. Unfortunately, the "Ice Cream Blonde" died from carbon monoxide poisoning in her car at the age of 30, although the supposed "suicide" was not so clear-cut. With blood at the scene, a high blood-alcohol content, and clean shoes (while the area outside the car was muddy), many believed it to be murder. While the theory was largely ignored by the LAPD, suspects ranged from Todd's highly possessive boyfriend, director Roland West (who was thought to have locked Todd in the garage to keep her from going to a party) to the gangster "Lucky" Luciano, who wanted to involve Todd's club in illegal gambling against her wishes. Roland West was said to have later confessed the murder to a friend, but his only punishment was a closing of ranks by Hollywood's elite so he never worked in motion pictures again.

9-10. Jack Pickford & Olive Thomas

pickford-olive1.jpg
Jack Pickford (1896 - 1933) came from a famous family of silent stars that included his sisters, Mary and Lottie. He worked in bit roles throughout the era, but was most well known for his tabloid romances (and three marriages, to be exact). The first one resulted in the death of his spouse Olive Thomas (1894-1920), a former Ziegfeld girl who had become a movie star. Though their romance was rocky, the two had hoped to repair their relationship with a second honeymoon to Paris. While there, it is rumored that Thomas took cocaine, and later, intoxicated and fatigued, accidentally ingested a large dose of mercury bichloride, which belonged to her husband to treat his syphilis. Accounts vary as to the confusion, but unfortunately the dose was lethal. Rumors circulated about her suicide or murder, but whatever the truth, Olive Thomas was yet another Hollywood starlet who succumbed to deep misfortune.

Original image
Gramercy Pictures
arrow
entertainment
20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
Original image
Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

Original image
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
arrow
Art
‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
Original image
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios