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The Quick 10: 10 Shocking Hollywood Deaths

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Does it seem like only 15 years ago that we were all plastered to the screen, watching a white Bronco speed down Interstate 405? That's because it was. Although it's definitely up there in terms of media coverage, it's far from the first scandalous murder to befall Hollywood. Here are 10 others that stunned the world.

rappe1. Virginia Rappe. In what was one of Hollywood's first big murder scandals, huge (literally and figuratively) film star Fatty Arbuckle was accused of raping actress Virginia Rappe, who then died, allegedly of injuries she sustained during the rape. Arbuckle and Rappe were both guests at a party at the St. Francis Hotel. Rappe, who had a reputation for such things, became rip-roaring drunk and started tearing her clothes off and screaming. She somehow managed to stumble into Arbuckle's bathroom; he walked in and very unexpectedly found her vomiting in the toilet. She swore she was dying and loudly told anyone within earshot as much. And she was right - the next day she died due to a ruptured bladder. The friend she had been at the party with told police that Fatty had raped Virginia and police concluded that her bladder had ruptured under Arbuckle's immense girth. The problem is that it seemed completely out of character for him - people testified that he was a very shy man, especially with women, and was probably one of the most chaste men in Hollywood. After three trials and more than seven months of sensational newspaper headlines, Fatty was unanimously acquitted by a jury who also issued a written apology to the actor. But the harm was done - his career was pretty much over, his marriage was ruined and he was too far in debt to his lawyers to recover. It was later thought that Virginia's ruptured bladder was the result of a recent abortion - one of many - gone wrong.

2. William Desmond Taylor. Taylor was well-known in Tinseltown, directing the likes of Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid and Mary Miles Minter. It was quite a shock when he was found shot to death inside his L.A. bungalow in 1922.

The crime scene was shockingly sloppy - people traipsed in and out, items were removed and Paramount's general manager went in and destroyed evidence. It's speculated that this was allowed because the police were highly influenced by Adolph Zukor, then head of Paramount. Because of all of the tampering, we don't know who shot Taylor to this day. Suspects include two of his lovers (Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter), Minter's mother, Taylor's valet and his former valet, and an actress named Margaret Gibson. The latter confessed to his murder on her deathbed in 1964.

lindy3. Charles Lindbergh, Jr. It's every parent's worst nightmare: a kidnapping. The 20-month-old baby Lindbergh was discovered to be missing from his crib on March 1, 1932. A handwritten note demanded $50,000 and said that further instructions would come. Coming up with the money wasn't a problem - the government offered $25,000 on top of the $50,000 the Lindberghs were willing to give up. No less than Herbert Hoover said he would "move Heaven and Earth" to find the baby, but it was to no avail. On May 12, a truck driver pulled off to pee in the woods just 4.5 miles from the Lindbergh house and found the corpse of a toddler. It was badly decomposed and it was obvious that the kidnappers hadn't waited long to kill Charles, Jr. And yes, I know that the actual kidnapping didn't take place in Hollywood, but because of the elder Lindbergh's star status, I'm counting it.
4. Johnny Stompanato. Blonde bombshell Lana Turner had been dating mobster associate Johnny Stompanato for over a year when, learning of his crime ties, she decided to break things off. But he wasn't ready to break things off and followed her to England, where she was filming Another Time, Another Place with Sean Connery. The story goes that Stompanato thought that Lana was having an affair with Mr. Bond and stormed on to set with a gun; Sean Connery quickly dispatched him and punched him in the face. Whether that's true or not, Stompanato had a nasty habit of showing up on airplanes and in hotels where Lana was staying even after they broke up. He wouldn't let her break up with him, essentially, and even beat her pretty badly on at least one occasion. Finally, on April 4, 1958, it all came to a head. In the middle of a fight at her house, Stompanato threatened to ruin her face and, therefore, her career. Lana's 14-year-old daughter had been listening to the whole argument from her room, and, fearing that her mother was in danger, rushed in and stabbed him in the stomach. She sliced a kidney and punctured his aorta and it was basically all over for Stompanato. It was decided that the murder was justifiable homicide based on the fact that Lana's daughter thought she was protecting her mother and no one served any jail time.

todd5. Thelma Todd. This comedic actress of the late '20s and early '30s was found dead in her car in the garage of another actress. It appeared to be a suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning, but things didn't add up - she had no obvious motive to kill herself and had been in good spirits at a party just hours before her body was found. There are a few theories, including that she accidentally fell asleep in the garage, but since this post is about murders, we'll focus on that one. The first murder theory says that it was her ex-husband, whom she had had a public spat with earlier in the evening. The second says it was Lucky Luciano, because supposedly she wouldn't allow her club to participate in his illegal gambling schemes. And a third says that her current boyfriend locked her in the garage to keep her from going on to another party and accidentally killed her with carbon monoxide. Murder or not, the true reason behind Todd's death was never discovered because her body was very quickly cremated - another reason to suspect foul play, say conspiracy theorists. The reason listed on her death certificate is accidental poisoning.

tate6. Sharon Tate. Everyone knows this sad tale - young, beautiful and pregnant, Sharon Tate, along with Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, was brutally murdered by members of the Manson Family on August 8, 1969. The murders, along with the LaBianca murders that happened the following night, went unsolved for several months until Family member Susan Atkins bragged to a fellow inmate that the murders were her doing. The Hollywood community was shocked and scandalized, convinced that someone was hunting down celebrities. Dominick Dunne later reported that Steve McQueen was so concerned that he brought a gun to Jay Sebring's funeral.

dunne7. Dominique Dunne. Speaking of Dominick Dunne, he endured tragedy in 1982 when his daughter, the actress who played the oldest daughter in the Poltergeist movie, was killed by her ex-boyfriend. He surprised her in the driveway of her home, and, after a short fight in which she refused to get back together with him, he strangled her. She was in a coma for five days before dying on November 4. The boyfriend, John Thomas Sweeney, was found guilty of manslaughter but served less than four years in prison.
8. Natalie Wood. Another "accident" that maybe wasn't so accidental. On November 29, 1981, Natalie was out on a yacht with husband Robert Wagner and family friend Christopher Walken (yep, that Christopher Walken). Not much is known about exactly what happened, except that Natalie apparently left the yacht in a small dinghy in the middle of the night when waters were quite choppy. Some reports say Walken and Wood had been getting quite chummy, even going ashore without him while he slept, and that Wagner made no bones about his displeasure. Over the years, Wagner and Walken have given contradictory statements to the media, so what really happened that night might not ever be known.

bakley9. Bonnie Lee Bakley. E Tu, Baretta? Robert Blake started dating Bakley sometime in 1998. She got pregnant and told Blake he was the father - but she also told Christian Brando that he was the father, because she had been simultaneously dating him. She had a history of pursuing older celebrities - Bakley unsuccessfully tried to woo Frankie Valli and when that didn't work, set her sights on Jerry Lee Lewis. She even moved to Memphis to try to encounter him more often. Knowing her history, Blake insisted on a paternity test, which proved that the little girl was indeed his. He reluctantly married her in 2000. She moved into the guest house on his Studio City property, but things were less than peachy. On May 4, 2004, the two of them went out to dinner at Vitello's, one of Blake's favorite haunts. When dinner was over, they were just getting ready to pull away when Blake remembered he had left his handgun inside - he always carried one. He ran back inside to get it, and when he came back out, Bakley had been shot twice and was slumped over in the seat. She was dead before the paramedics got her to the hospital. Police reportedly suspected that he was involved just hours after her death. He wasn't arrested until nearly a year later. Two stuntmen came forward and said that Blake had tried to hire both of them, on separate occasions, to kill his wife. After standing trial, Blake was found not guilty on March 16, 2005. Bakley's children filed a wrongful death suit, however, and won $30 million. Blake filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

clarkson10. Lana Clarkson. Even if you don't know Phil Spector, you've almost certainly heard one of his albums - he produced everything from River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner to Imagine by John Lennon to End of the Century by the Ramones. That was all well and good until February 3, 2003, when the body of actress and nightclub owner Lana Clarkson was found in his house with wounds that suggested someone had put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. The two had first met on February 2. Spector insisted it was a suicide, but both his valet and his butler said that when he called them to report the death, he stated, "I think I killed somebody." Coroner's reports said that the bruising on her tongue indicated that someone had shoved a gun in her mouth pretty forcefully, and people testified that Spector was prone to pulling firearms when he was drunk. Spector's first trial was declared a mistrial; the second found him guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 19 years to life on May 29 of this year.

Whew! That's a lot of scandal. Let me know which ones I missed. And for scandals not necessarily involving death (some do and some don't), there's this old chestnut from last year.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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13 Smart Facts About The Big Bang Theory
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CBS Entertainment

The Big Bang Theory, which has held the title of television's most popular comedy for several years now, and will return for its 11th season on Monday, September 25th. In the meantime, geek out with these facts about the long-running cerebral comedy on the 10th anniversary of its premiere.

1. THE SHOW WASN’T PITCHED IN A TRADITIONAL WAY.

Instead of writing up a premise—which includes outlines of the characters and the long-term vision for the show—and pitching it to CBS, co-creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady revealed at PaleyFest in 2009 that for their pitch, they wrote a complete script, hired actors, and, as Lorre explained, “put on a show” for CBS president Les Moonves. Lorre found the experience to be “crazy,” but it obviously worked.

2. IT TOOK TWO PILOTS FOR THE SHOW TO GET PICKED UP TO SERIES.

The show filmed two different pilots, because CBS didn't like the first one but felt the show had potential. The first pilot began with a different theme song and featured Sheldon, Leonard, and two female characters, including a different actress playing what would become the Penny role. Chuck Lorre thought the initial pilot “sucked” but is open to having the unaired pilot included as part of a DVD.

3. JIM PARSONS THOUGHT HE WAS AUDITIONING FOR A GAME SHOW.

Amy and Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory.
CBS Entertainment

When Jim Parsons’s agent called and said Chuck Lorre wanted him to audition for a pilot, Parsons misunderstood. “I did not know Chuck Lorre at the time,” Parsons told David Letterman in 2014. “I thought he was talking about Chuck Woolery. I thought, why are they so excited about it? We should see what the man has to offer before we’re like, ‘It’s a new Chuck Woolery pilot!'"

4. ED ROBERTSON OF THE BARENAKED LADIES HESITATED TO WRITE THE THEME SONG.

As the story goes, Lorre and Prady went to a Barenaked Ladies concert and were impressed that lead singer Ed Robertson sang a song on cosmological theory, so they tapped him to write the series' theme song, called “The History of Everything." In 2013, Robertson told CBS News that he’d previously written some songs for TV and films only to have his work rejected, so he was initially reluctant to take on the project.

“I was like, look, how many other people have you asked to write this? I’m at my cottage, I got a couple of weeks off right now and if you’ve asked Counting Crows and Jack Johnson and all these other people to write it, then I kinda don’t want to waste my time on it,” Robertson told them. Lorre and Prady told Robertson he was their only choice, so Robertson agreed to come on board. The first version was 32 seconds long but Robertson had to trim it down to 15 seconds. The original version was also acoustic, which Lorre loved, but Robertson insisted that his bandmates be on the track, and Lorre loved that one even more.

5. SHELDON PROBABLY DOESN’T HAVE ASPERGER’S.

Because of Sheldon’s anti-social nature, viewers have often assumed that Sheldon has Asperger's syndrome. But Prady has stated that, "We write the character as the character. A lot of people see various things in him and make the connections. Our feeling is that Sheldon's mother never got a diagnosis, so we don't have one.”

Parsons himself isn’t totally sure, though. “Asperger’s came up as a question within the first few episodes. I got asked about it by a reporter, and I had heard of it, but I didn’t know what it was, specifically,” he told Adweek in 2014. “So I asked the writers—I said, ‘They’re asking me if Sheldon has Asperger’s’ and they were like, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ And I went back and I said, ‘No.’ And then I read some about it and I went, OK, well, if the writers say he doesn’t, then he doesn’t, but he certainly shares some qualities with those who do. I like the way it’s handled ... This is who this person is; he’s just another human.”

6. KUNAL NAYYAR GOT HIRED BECAUSE HE WAS “CHARMING."

CBS Entertainment

In reminiscing about the early days, Prady explained to Buzzy Mag how Raj came to be: “When we were casting for that part, we were casting for an international member of the ensemble, [because] if you go into the science department at a university, it’s not [just] Americans,” Prady said. “It’s one of the most international kinds of communities. So we saw foreign-born people. And so we saw people who were Korean and Korean-American and Latino. And then Kunal came in and it was like Jim [Parsons]—it was just Person Number Eight on a day of Twenty-Seven people, and he was charming.”

7. AMY FARRAH FOWLER WAS MADE A NEUROSCIENTIST ON PURPOSE.

Mayim Bialik, who in real life has a PhD in neuroscience, told Variety how Amy Farrah Fowler’s profession came to be. “They didn’t have a profession for my character when I came on in the finale of season three,” she says. “In season four, Bill Prady said they’d make her what I am so I could fix things (in the script) if they were wrong. It’s neat to know what things mean. But most of the time, I don’t have to use it.”

8. ASTROPARTICLE PHYSICIST/SCIENCE CONSULTANT DAVID SALTZBERG ONCE GOT A JOKE ON THE AIR.

The Big Bang Theory has had David Saltzberg on retainer since the beginning of the series. Every week he attends the tapings and offers up corrections and ensures the white boards used in the scenes are accurate. During episode nine of the first season, Saltzberg wrote a joke for Sheldon, who has a fight with another scientist. Penny asks Sheldon about the misunderstanding and Sheldon replies, “A little misunderstanding? Galileo and the Pope had a little misunderstanding!”

Even though Saltzberg teaches at UCLA and publishes papers, he thinks his work on The Big Bang Theory is more impactful. “This has a lot more impact than anything I will ever do,” he told NPR. “It’s hard to fathom, when you think about 20 million viewers on the first showing—and that doesn't include other countries and reruns. I’m happy if a paper I write gets read by a dozen people.”

9. WIL WHEATON GOT THE “EVIL WIL WHEATON” GIG THROUGH TWITTER.

Wil Wheaton and Jim Parsons in a scene from The Big Bang Theory.
Sonja Flemming - © 2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc

Wil Wheaton, who plays a “delightfully evil version” of himself on the show, tweeted about The Big Bang Theory. Wheaton told Larry King, “I was talking on Twitter about how much I loved the show and how I thought it was really funny.” Executive producer Steven Molaro—who will be taking on the same role in the Young Sheldon prequel, which also premieres Monday night—saw the tweet and told Wheaton to let him know if he wanted to come to a taping. A few days later Wheaton received an email from Bill Prady’s assistant about appearing on the show. “I just thought the email was a joke from one of my friends, so I just ignored it,” Wheaton said.

When Wheaton realized that the email was legit he phoned up Prady, who explained they wanted a nemesis for Sheldon. “It’s always more fun to be the villain,” Wheaton said. Even though the character has evolved into Sheldon’s ally, Wheaton said, “I still call him Evil Wil Wheaton.”

10. CHUCK LORRE THOUGHT THE SHOW AIRING AT 8 P.M. WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

The show aired a handful of episodes in the fall of 2007, but a Writers Guild strike halted production until the following year. When the show returned in March, it had an earlier time slot. During a 2009 Comic-Con panel with the show’s cast and producers, the moderator asked Lorre about how CBS once again changed the time slot, this time from Mondays at 8 p.m. to Mondays at 9:30 p.m. “You guys followed us when they put us on at 8 and that is what kept us alive,” Lorre replied. "We did eight shows before the strike took us out in our first season. When the strike was over, CBS put us on at 8 p.m. and we thought that might be the end of it. You followed us and kept us alive and that was when we got the two-year pickup when we did well at 8.” The show eventually returned to the Mondays at 8 p.m. slot.

11. PARSONS ATTRIBUTES THE SHOW'S SUCCESS TO ITS LACK OF CHARACTER ARCS.

In a 2014 interview with New York Magazine, Parsons gave his theory (if you will) on why The Big Bang Theory attracts more than 20 million viewers per week—a number unheard of since the Friends-era sitcom reign. “There’s not anything to keep up with,” he said. “You don’t go, ‘I didn’t see the first three seasons, and now they’re off with prostitutes, and they no longer work in the Mafia, and I don’t understand what happened.’ People have so many choices on TV now, so no one’s asking for you to marry us. You can enjoy our show without a weekly appointment.”

12. A NEW GENUS OF JELLYFISH IS NAMED BAZINGA.

CBS Entertainment

In 2011, a photographer spotted the unnamed grape-sized rhizostome in Australia’s Brunswick River, snapped a photo of it, and sent the photo to marine biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin. In 2013, she named the jellyfish and published a paper on it for the Queensland Museum. In her findings she called it “a new genus and species of the rhizostome jellyfish, which cannot be placed in any known family or suborder.” She told The Huffington Post that it’s the first time in more than 100 years that a new sub-order of jellyfish had been discovered. For now, it’s the only member of the genus Bazinga, the family Bazingidae, and the sub-order Ptychophorae. Sheldon’s catchphrase also inspired the naming of a new bee species in 2013.

13. THE CAST MEMBERS ARE SOME OF THE WORLD’S HIGHEST PAID TV ACTORS.

In August 2017, Variety released a list of television's highest paid actors, and the main cast members of The Big Bang Theory—Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg, and Kunal Nayyar—came out on top for comedy, earning an average of $900,000 per episode.

BONUS FACT: WE'RE ON THE COFFEE TABLE!

Image credit: Wil Wheaton

In 2010, Wil Wheaton shared this close-up of the coffee table in Sheldon and Leonard's apartment. "I saw a lot of things that could have been on my own coffee table," he wrote, "so I decided to grab a picture."

Here's one from 2014:

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