8 Movie Star Life Stories (That Were Completely Made Up)

You know you shouldn't believe everything you read about famous actors and actresses. Here are eight stars whose life stories (or significant parts thereof) were as fictional as the movies they starred in.

1. Theda Bara

The publicists promoting Theda Bara, Hollywood's first major sex symbol, let their imaginations run wild. She was introduced in fan magazines as the daughter of a desert prince and an Italian or French sculptor (or an Egyptian seeress, depending on the story you read). "Born in the shadow of the Sphinx," and weaned on serpent's blood, she was "a crystal-gazing seeress of profoundly occult powers." She had previously been a star of the Paris stage and, in her spare time, she drove men wild with desire. She would also go heavily veiled in public (thanks to a contractual obligation) and was often photographed with skeletons.

In actuality, she was a girl from Cincinnati named Theodosia Goodman, the daughter of a Jewish tailor. Can you believe that people used to fall for that "daughter of an Egyptian seeress" line? In truth, she was known to be demure and prudent. As a teenage actor on the New York stage (sorry, not Paris), she had tried to make herself sound exotic (or at least non-Jewish) by calling herself Theodosia de Coppet.

But it was as Theda Bara that she became a superstar. She later told stories of public exclusion and being refused service in restaurants. "Audiences thought the stars were the way they saw them," she recalled. "Once on the streets of New York a woman called the police because her child spoke to me."

2. Douglas Fairbanks

Douglas Fairbanks was one of the top film stars of the silent era, a successful producer, and an all-around athlete. The evidence is still there, on film. Many of the things he said about himself, however, were not so reliable. Was he a Wall Street stockbroker (which was a great job back then, when the stock market was cool)? Was he a cattle freighter? Or were they just stories?

If you believe one story that he told throughout his life, he was a Harvard graduate. However, there is no record of him on that university's esteemed register. Perhaps he was trying to add an intellectual side to his dashing image. Or perhaps there's truth to the story that he attended Harvard for a few months before deciding to travel to Europe – and the "graduation" part of the story was added later. Whatever the case, his son Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (a top star in his own right) said that it was one of many tall tales that his father made up about his early life.

3. Erich von Stroheim

Before he became known as one of Hollywood's great directors, Erich von Stroheim was the classic evil German soldier in many films made during World War I – and, like Theda Bara, audiences had trouble telling him apart from his roles. People would heckle and spit at him in the streets. But unlike Bara, he loved the attention, as it proved what an effective movie villain he was.

Although he seemed German enough, he wasn't quite there. When it was revealed that he was actually born in Vienna, he claimed to be of a noble Austrian family. In fact, his parents were Jews from Prussia and the Czech Republic. He was an officer in the Austrian army before moving to America at age 21. He wasn't an evil German; in fact, despite his name (and, as later films would reveal, his accent), he wasn't even German.

4. Max Schreck

German actor Max Schreck's unusual features inspired director F.W. Murnau to cast him as the title vampire in the horror classic Nosferatu (1922). Schreck's performance was so chilling that, as nobody remembers him for anything else, legend states that he was a real-life vampire, cast in just one film. Many horror fans, in fact, believe that this might be true. In the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Willem Dafoe played him like this, as a mysterious actor who avoided the sunlight and casually sucked the blood from a low-flying bat. Dafoe's performance won him an Oscar nomination and was added to Schreck's vampirical reputation.

In fact, Schreck was a happily married man who was a 43-year-old established theatre actor when Nosferatu (his fifth film) was released. Though he specialized in horror, he made several more films in Germany (usually playing non-vampires) until his death of a heart attack in 1936. None of them, however, are even remotely as famous as Nosferatu.

5. Adolphe Menjou

Another silent movie star, Adolphe Menjou was famous as a debonair charmer, with a waxy mustache and an impeccable dress sense. His name fit the image perfectly, allowing his fans to assume that he was French. The truth was less glamorous. He was actually an Irish-American born in Pittsburgh.

When talking pictures came in, many stars' voices revealed them as frauds. Menjou, however, used a French accent to match his name in his first speaking role as a womanizing musician in Fashions in Love (1929). Formerly a stage actor, he was skilled with his voice, but movie stardom meant maintaining an image. He continued making films for another 30 years, though he eventually dropped the accent.

6. Errol Flynn

Many stories have been told about Errol Flynn: high seas adventurer, gun runner, alcoholic, morphine addict, murderer, serial adulterer (no one denies that one), Nazi spy. In his best-selling autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, he boasted about his misdeeds, but that's OK, because much of it was a lie. We can't be sure of exactly how much, but some of it we know was untrue.

He claimed, for example, that his film debut was playing Fletcher Christian in In the Wake of the Bounty. That's true enough, but he also said that he was discovered by an American producer named Joel Schwartz, and the film was shot on location in Tahiti. He was actually discovered by Australian producer-director Charles Chauvel, and the movie was filmed in Sydney. (Unlike Merle Oberon, he didn't want anyone to see him as an Australian. Doubt has even been cast over whether he was Australian-born.)

Even less reliable, perhaps, was Charles Higham's Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (1980). Higham accused Flynn of being all sorts of things: a closet bisexual, a drug-runner, a pedophile (OK, that was technically true), and a Nazi spy, supplying Japan with crucial intelligence for the Pearl Harbor attack. This was discredited by many of Higham's own sources, who accused him of inventing their quotes. Flynn's family tried to sue the author, but the case was thrown out of court because, as Higham was doubtless aware, the dead can't be libeled under American law. Instead, some of the stories gained wide acceptance – and added to the myth.

7. Shirley Eaton

Jill Masterson is one of the most famous James Bond girls, which is no mean achievement, as she really didn't have to do much, dying in an early scene of Goldfinger (1964) after betraying her titular boss, who suffocates her by covering her in gold paint. Jill's painted corpse, lying naked on the bed, still ranks as one of the most memorable sights from the Bond movies – and led to a long-running story that, like the character she played, Shirley Eaton had also died of asphyxiation thanks to Goldfinger. The story was so widespread that it might have done some damage to the career of the 27-year-old starlet (who already had a lengthy CV of British comedies), but she went on to make another eight movies before retiring in 1969, then wrote an autobiography called Golden Girl. Not bad for a dead woman!

Oh, and painting your body to death? As long as you can breathe through your mouth and nose, asphyxiation shouldn't be a problem.

8. Walter Matthau

Craggy-faced comedy star Walter Matthau was born Walter Matuschanskyayasky. His middle name was Foghorn and his mother was a gypsy. Or maybe not. Thought he would stick by such "facts" in several interviews, these were jokes that he told so that he wasn't driven crazy by his constant procession of media calls. In truth, his surname was Matthow (which has exactly the same pronunciation) and his parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants in New York. Those who knew him said that it was often difficult to know whether he was joking or being serious. Hence, it's anyone's guess whether his father was an Orthodox priest who lost his job after claiming that the Pope was infallible.


Mark Juddery is an author and historian based in Australia. His latest book, Overrated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History (Perigree), is already causing a stir. You can order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can see a slideshow excerpt from the book, and you can argue with Mark's choices (or suggest new ones) on his blog. Mark offers one tip: If you want to say "This book is overrated"... it's been done.

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11 Screenwriters Who Hated Their Own Movies
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John Phillips, Getty Images

Even the most successful screenwriters don’t always get what they want after a film is completed. Here are 11 scribes who didn't hold back when it came to reviewing their own films.

1. QUENTIN TARANTINO // NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994)

During the early 1990s, Quentin Tarantino sold his screenplay for Natural Born Killers to Oliver Stone and used the money to fund his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, which was released in 1992. Two years later, Stone released the film with Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in starring roles.

While it was a box office hit, Tarantino despised the production because of the changes and alterations to much of his original content. "I hate that f*cking movie," Tarantino told The Telegraph in 2013. "If you like my stuff, don't watch that movie."

Years after its release, the producers of Natural Born Killers sued Tarantino when he tried to publish the original screenplay as a book, as he had done with his original script for True Romance. The producers believed that Tarantino forfeited his rights when he sold it to them, but a judge ruled in Tarantino's favor.

2. PAUL RUDNICK // SISTER ACT (1992)

During the late 1980s, playwright and novelist Paul Rudnick tried his hand at screenwriting between stage productions. He pitched Sister Act to Touchstone Pictures, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, with Bette Midler in mind for the lead role. Though Midler passed on it, Whoopi Goldberg signed on to play the lovable lounge singer pretending to be a nun.

After months of rewrites and tedious studio notes, Rudnick was not happy with the final screenplay because it was nothing like what he originally wrote or intended the film to be. In fact, he was so unhappy with the movie that he asked Disney to remove his name and use the pseudonym “Joseph Howard” instead.

“Good or bad, it was no longer my work, so I asked to have my name removed from the credits,” Rudnick wrote in The New Yorker in 2009. “The studio was unhappy with that, and I got a series of urgent calls offering me a videocassette of the final cut and asking me to watch it and reconsider. I refused, because, even if the movie was terrific, it wasn’t my script ... Disney agreed that I could use a pseudonym, pending its approval.” He continued, “I can’t vouch for the original film, for one reason. Sister Act may very well be just fine, but I’ve never been able to watch it."

3. KURT SUTTER // PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008)

Before Marvel’s The Punisher made a comeback as a TV series on Netflix in 2017, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter was hired to write a sequel to The Punisher starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. In 2007, Sutter started writing a new script and wanted to ground the antihero in a grittier reality and move the character from Florida to New York City.

However, after Jane dropped out of the project, Marvel Studios wanted to start over with a new sequel that felt more like the comic book version of Frank Castle instead of the more realistic idea that Sutter envisioned. The end result was so far removed from what Sutter had written that he asked for his name to be removed from what would turn into Punisher: War Zone.

“I threw away the first draft written by Nick Santora and did a page one rewrite,” Sutter wrote of the project in 2008. “I changed the locations, the characters, the story. I dropped Frank in a real New York City with real villains, real cops, real relationships. To me, the Punisher deserved more than the usual comic book redress. It shouldn’t just follow the feature superhero formula. Apparently, I was the only one who shared that vision.”

4. AND 5. LANA AND LILLY WACHOWSKI // ASSASSINS (1995)

During the mid-1990s, Lana and Lilly Wachowski sold the screenplays for Assassins and The Matrix to producer Joel Silver for $1 million per film. Assassins was the first to go into production, and Richard Donner signed on to direct with Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas attached to co-star.

Although Assassins was one of the hottest unproduced screenplays at the time (you can read the Wachowskis' original version here), Donner didn’t like the darker tone and artsy symbolism, so he hired screenwriter Brian Helgeland to do a page-one rewrite to make it into a standard action thriller instead. The Wachowskis were not happy with the decision to tone down their screenplay, so the siblings wanted their names to be taken off the project, but the Writers Guild of America denied their request.

“The film was not really based on the screenplay,” Lana said in a 2003 interview. “The one thing that sort of bothered us is that people would blame us for the screenplay and it’s like Richard Donner is one of the few directors in Hollywood that can make whatever movie he wants exactly the way he wants it. No one will stop him and that’s essentially what happened. He brought in Brian Helgeland and they totally rewrote the script. We tried to take our names off of it but the WGA doesn’t let you. So our names are forever there.”

If there’s a silver lining to this story it’s that the experience with Assassins led the Wachowskis to want more control over their work—so they decided to become directors; they made their directorial debut with Bound in 1996.

6. BRET EASTON ELLIS // THE INFORMERS (2008)

Although Bret Easton Ellis co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation for The Informers, from his own novel, the final cut was not exactly how he envisioned it. Ellis was upset that the tone of the story went from dark humor to something more melodramatic. He blamed Australian director Gregor Jordan for The Informers's missteps.

“You need [a director] who grew up around here,” Ellis said. “You also need someone with an Altman-esque sense of humor, because the script is really funny. The movie is not funny at all, and there are scenes in the movie that should be funny that we wrote as funny, and they’re played as we wrote them, but they’re directed in a way that they're not funny. It was very distressing to see the cuts of this movie and realize that all the laughs were gone. I think Gregor was looking at it as something else. I think we had this miscommunication during pre-production that it’s not supposed to be played like an Australian soap opera.”

In 2010, Ellis again commented on the woes of The Informers during a Q&A at the Savannah College of Art and Design, saying: “That movie doesn't work for a lot of reasons but I don't think any of those reasons are my fault."

7. KELLY MARCEL // FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)

In early 2013, Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to E.L. James's bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. The studio envisioned a new film franchise and hired Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel to adapt the book. While the movie studio promised Marcel creative freedom to explore the book’s characters and themes, the author had the final approval over the screenplay, director, and cast. James was unhappy with Marcel’s work and wanted the movie to be more like her novel.

“I very much wanted to do something different with the screenplay, and when I spoke to the studio and the producers and made that quite clear, they were very enthusiastic about that and kind of loved the things I wanted to do,” she explained on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast in 2015. “I wanted to remove a lot of the dialogue. I felt it could be a really sexy film if there wasn’t so much talking in it.”

Marcel didn’t return to write the film's sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, and never even bothered to watch the original. “My heart really was broken by that process, I really mean it,” Marcel said. “I just don’t feel like I can watch it without feeling some pain about how different it is to what I initially wrote.”

8. JOE ESZTERHAS // JADE (1995)

During the 1990s, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was the toast of Hollywood after Basic Instinct became a smash hit. His screenplays would sell for upwards of $4 million apiece, with Paramount Pictures acquiring the film rights to Jade for $1.5 million after Eszterhas turned in a mere two-page outline. However, after William Friedkin signed on to direct, the screenplay was completely changed with Friedkin doing an uncredited rewrite. Eszterhas was not happy that his work was butchered.

"I stared in disbelief," Eszterhas wrote in his autobiography, Hollywood Animal, about watching Jade for the first time. "I watched entire plot points and scenes and red herrings that weren't in my script. I heard dialogue that not only wasn't mine but was terrible to boot."

9. GORE VIDAL // CALIGULA (1979)

Although he was paid $200,000 for the screenplay for Caligula in 1979, novelist and screenwriter Gore Vidal was not happy with Penthouse Magazine founder and film producer Bob Guccione after he changed the film from a political satire to a $17 million piece of mainstream porn. Vidal was also very unhappy with the film’s director, Tinto Brass, with whom he had several clashes during production. Guccione sided with Brass and kicked Vidal off the set, while Vidal requested that his name be taken off the project altogether.

Eventually, Brass also walked off Caligula after butting heads with Guccione; Brass, too, asked for his name to be taken off the movie. The end result was Brass receiving a bizarre “Principal Photographer” credit, while Vidal got an even stranger “Based on an Original Screenplay by Gore Vidal” attribution.

“When I asked to see the first rushes, I was told by the Italian producer, ‘But, darling, you will hate them!,'" Vidal told Rolling Stone in 1980. "To which I said, ‘If Gore Vidal hates Gore Vidal's Caligula, who will like it?’ This was never answered. I quit the picture. Meanwhile, the director told the press that nothing of my script was left, except my name in the title.” Vidal later continued, “I threatened legal proceedings to remove the name. Finally, it was agreed that I would get no credit beyond a note that the screenplay was based upon a subject by Gore Vidal. But a fair amount of damage has been done.”

10. GUINEVERE TURNER // BLOODRAYNE (2005)

Screenwriter Guinevere Turner is mostly known for her thoughtful, character-driven movies like American Psycho, Go Fish, and The Notorious Bettie Page. She was even a staff writer and story editor on the hit Showtime TV series The L Word during the mid-2000s. With such an impressive resume, it was a little surprising that German director Uwe Boll, who is known as one of the worst directors of all time and the “schlock maestro” of movies like Alone in the Dark and Postal, commissioned Turner to write the film adaptation of the video game BloodRayne in 2005.

Turner wrote the screenplay in a few weeks and turned in a first draft to Boll, who was really excited about her work and decided to film it right away. However, he only ended up filming about 20 percent of the script and let the actors "take a crack at it" with improv and ad-lib work.

To no one’s surprise, BloodRayne turned out to be terrible, while Turner later said she was the only one “laughing out loud” during its premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “It’s like a $25 million movie, and it blows! I mean, it’s like the worst movie ever made,” she admitted in the Tales From The Script documentary.

BloodRayne was later nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Director and Worst Picture.

11. J.D. SHAPIRO // BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)

In 1997, John Travolta commissioned screenwriter J.D. Shapiro to adapt Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 for the big screen. Shapiro wrote a darker version of the novel, which resulted in him getting fired from the project altogether for refusing to change its tone.

However, much of what he wrote ended up in the final movie, so Shapiro ended up with a writer’s credit, much to his dismay. Battlefield Earth was released in the year 2000 and went on to be known as the worst movie of the decade. Shapiro even penned an open letter to apologize for his involvement.

"Let me start by apologizing to anyone who went to see Battlefield Earth,” he wrote in the New York Post in 2010. “It wasn’t as I intended—promise. No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn’t really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those."

Although Shapiro hated Battlefield Earth, he was a good sport about its failure. He even showed up to accept a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay in 2001.

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David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

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