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10 Scandalous Stars of the Silent Screen

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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entertainment
10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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IFC Films

In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

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Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

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In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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Space
NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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