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Baron / Stringer

Hollywood 'It Girls' and Their Tragic Downfalls

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Baron / Stringer

Heavy is the head that wears the "It Girl" tiara.

History has no dearth of young women who burst onto the scene, captivating audiences and artists alike with their vim and vigor, only to crumble just as suddenly under the pressures of their newfound fame. From extremely public and scandalous affairs to drug addiction to homelessness, It Girls through the ages have been there, done that—and few have lived to tell the tale.

The Original "It Girl"

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The "It Girl" title was born with silent film star Clara Bow. Bow, who exuded a glamorous air of barely-concealed sexual voracity, became one of film's first sex symbols after being discovered while still in her teens, growing up in Coney Island. Bow's breakout role was in a film unsurprisingly called It. Not, of course, the one about the scary clown, but a 1926 silent film based loosely on a provocative novelette by contemporary tastemaker Elinor Glyn. Just to clinch the title for their very bankable new star, Bow's studio paid Glyn $50,000 to declare publicly that Clara Bow had It.

Bow's fame grew exponentially after It, and later Bow vehicles tended to stick to a prescribed formula: Insert Bow into some plot about a poor girl trying to make her way in the world and let her take off as much clothing as censors would allow.

As Bow became the first real sex symbol of silent film, tall tales of her supposed sexual appetite outside of her films piled up. The fledgling celebrity media followed with strict attention Bow's real extracurricular activities, which included public affairs with leading men and a string of engagements. More salacious rumors churned around Bow, claiming she had a threesome with two Mexican prostitutes, bedded the entire starting lineup of the 1927 USC Trojans football team, and knew both her Great Dane and pet koala bear on extremely intimate terms. And you thought TMZ was bad...

In Hollywood, Bow came to be treated as a kind of pariah—a dirty-joke-telling, hard-drinking outsider with a thick Brooklyn accent—but to the public following her exploits in the papers, she was fascinating.

In truth, Bow's personal life, which began with a dark and difficult childhood, was unraveling quickly. She had been sexually abused as a teenager by the father who later lived off and squandered her earnings in Hollywood, and when she was a young girl, her schizophrenic and sometime prostitute mother had tried to slit her throat. Later, Bow found herself feeling betrayed by friends and family alike, from the best friend who married her father to avoid deportation to the cousin who lived with her and regularly stole money from her. Under intense strain, Bow suffered a severe nervous breakdown in 1931, causing her studio, Paramount, to fire her.

Out of the spotlight, Bow married and had two children before beginning to display signs of mental illness. She became withdrawn and developed severe depression and hypochondria. She attempted suicide in 1944 and checked into The Institute of Living, a residential psychiatric facility in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1949, where she underwent electro-shock therapy and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"A sex symbol is a heavy load to carry when one is tired, hurt and bewildered," Bow wrote once, near the end of her life. She died a recluse in 1965, 32 years after her last film appearance.

The Not-So-Lucky In Love Blonde Bombshell

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Platinum blonde Jean Harlow succeeded Clara Bow as the silver screen's sexual It (and id) Girl.

Born in 1911, Harlow escaped her weird and controlling mother, known as Mother Jean, by getting hitched at age 16 and moving to Beverly Hills, only to find that Mother Jean's own lifelong ambition to become an actress had followed her. Her mother pressured her into finding work as an extra in films and, soon after, Harlow starred in the curiously named Why Is a Plumber? Not long after, Harlow was discovered by producers and consummate weirdo Howard Hughes, who cast her in his film Hell's Angels. The role catapulted Harlow into the sex symbol stratosphere.

As befitting a sex symbol, especially one barely 19 years old, Harlow stumbled through a well-publicized series of husbands, affairs, and strange tragedies. Her second husband (there were three in total), producer and director Paul Bern, was found naked and dead in the bathroom of their Hollywood home in 1932. A coroner's inquiry determined that he had shot himself in the head. At first, Harlow was widely suspected of being responsible for or at least connected to his death. But, in the hopes of sidestepping what would surely be a scandal, MGM, Harlow's studio, spread the totally unscandalous story that he had killed himself because he was impotent.

In 1937 and at only 26 years old, Harlow died from renal failure after the onset of severe kidney disease. She was buried in the negligee she'd worn in the last film she made, Saratoga.

The Ultimate Blonde Bombshell

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Before she died, Clara Bow wrote to several gossip columnists to bequeath her It Girl crown to perhaps the best-known blonde bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson and christened Norma Jeane Baker, Monroe's childhood was first spent with her mentally ill mother. After her mother was institutionalized, Monroe grew up in foster care and state homes, before marrying out of the system at age 16.

While her young husband was off serving as a Merchant Marine in World War II, Monroe found work as a model. That led to a contract with a major studio, which led to a name change—Norma Jeane became Marilyn—and a divorce from her first husband, but no real film work. Small parts in good and bad films alike made her a recognizable face, but her real ascent into stardom came with her 1953 role in Niagara. Monroe's now-classic films followed: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven-Year Itch.

Throughout, Monroe's personal life mirrored Bow's: She was often taken advantage of by those close to her, developed a series of high profile romances (Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller), and developed a dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs. In addition, Monroe was rumored to be involved with the mafia as well as the Kennedy family. By 1960, Monroe was also no longer entirely bankable as an actress—her last two completed films, Let's Make Love and The Misfits, were failures, and she was dropped from what would have been her final film, Something's Gotta Give, in 1962 after missing too many days of filming.

Not long after that, at the age of 36, Monroe died at home in her Los Angeles bungalow, an empty bottle of sleeping pills found next to her body. While rumors circulated—and continue to circulate—that she was murdered, the official ruling was of an overdose.

The Factory Girl

edie.jpgEdie Sedgwick was an erstwhile actress and socialite who found her 15 minutes of fame in the originator himself, Andy Warhol, after he discovered her at a party in 1964. For nearly a year and a half, the two were practically inseparable—Sedgwick, 21, tall, slim, and provocative, even tinted her short hair silver to match Warhol's wigs. As part of his gang and in her own right, Sedgwick was all over the Page Sixes of the day and, in August 1965, Vogue dubbed her, along with other such trendsetters as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, as a leader of the "Youthquaker" movement.

As Warhol's muse du jour, Sedgwick also appeared in a number of his films, including Restaurant, Kitchen, and Poor Little Rich Girl. The latter seemed to be an avant garde interpretation of Sedgwick's own life—in it, a sometimes out-of-focus Sedgwick wanders around her apartment and talks about how she spent her inheritance. Sedgwick was an actual heiress—she came from good Northeastern stock (her great-grandfather was the Rev. Endicott Peabody, founder of the Groton School), was raised in California, and grew up attending private schools. At the age of 21, she had moved to New York to become an actress and a model.

But her success didn't last long. Warhol, who had a habit of making "superstars" out of attractive young women and then replacing them after a little while, soon dropped Sedgwick. By that time, her life was unraveling at the edges—drugs, eating disorders, and self-destructive relationships propelled her through stays in psychiatric wards and hospitals and to her eventual death. Sedgwick died of an overdose—"acute barbitual intoxication," the Santa Barbara Coroner's Office declared—at 28 years of age.

Interestingly, Edie Sedgwick's cousin is Kyra Sedgwick, who is married to Kevin Bacon, thereby proving that the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is indeed gospel.

The Rolling Stones' Muse

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Marianne Faithfull was still in school—a convent, actually—when she met the Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham at a party in 1964. Faithfull was an aspiring singer-songwriter with real talent, and with Oldham's help, as well as a little from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, her first hit, "As Tears Go By," made a respectable showing on both the American and British charts. Of course, at the time, Oldham, Jagger and possibly even Richards seemed a bit more interested in Faithfull's 17-year-old breasts than her music—according to one story, Jagger actually poured a glass of champagne between them to get the girl's attention.

But while her career seemed to have a promising trajectory, tales of sex and drugs began to eclipse those of rock 'n' roll. Though she married in 1965 and had a child about six months after that, she quickly returned to the London rock, folk, and drug scene, dropping her son off with her mother in a bit of very extended daycare. By 1966, she was divorced and Jagger's fulltime lady—meaning that virtually everything she did ended up in the papers. She made headlines in 1967, for example, when Richards' London home was raided by the cops during a night of partying. Faithfull was found stark naked under a fur, which she conveniently let fall as soon as the cops burst in. Both Jagger and Richards were arrested, but the verdict was later overturned, reinforcing the gang's sense of invincibility.

Time passed, more drugs were consumed, and Faithfull became pregnant with Jagger's child. When she had a miscarriage—one day before Yoko Ono, carrying John Lennon's baby, also miscarried—both she and Jagger were destroyed. She began using drugs with a vengeance. Before, it had been recreational, but now it was personal. The summer of 1969, Faithfull swallowed a bottle full of barbiturates in a suicide attempt that left her in a coma for six days.

Their relationship staggered on for another year or so, and Faithfull did too, drinking, throwing herself wholeheartedly into the pursuit of a stupefying drug addiction: From passing out face-first into bowls of soup at the homes of English gentry to arrests for drunken and disorderly conduct at Indian restaurants, Faithfull was in rough shape. Bouts of homelessness and hospitalization ruled the better part of the '70s for her, until her transcendent 1979 punk-inspired album, Broken English, seemed to put her back on the map.

Still, it took the better part of another decade before Faithfull could kick her drug habit for good. Faithfull has actually managed to recover from the swinging sixties (and seventies and eighties, really), although her career hasn't exactly hit the same heights of notoriety as it did when she was party-hopping with Mick Jagger. As the surviving matriarch of the '60s rock-drug-folk scene, Faithfull continues to make genre-pushing music as well as act, in films like Marie Antoinette and Gus Van Sant's Paris, I love you.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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