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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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15 Surprising Facts About David Tennant
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Jeff Spicer, Getty Images

Though he’s most often linked to his role as the Tenth Doctor on the legendary sci-fi series Doctor Who, David Tennant is much more than that, as audiences around the world are beginning to discover. Born David John McDonald in West Lothian, Scotland on April 18, 1971, the man who would become David Tennant has spent the past 30-plus years carving out a very particular niche for himself—both on the stage and screen in England and, increasingly more, as a staple of the big screen in Hollywood. To celebrate the award-winning actor’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about David Tennant.

1. HE TOOK HIS NAME FROM THE PET SHOP BOYS.

As a teenager, the budding actor learned that because there was already a David McDonald in the actors’ union, he needed to come up with an alternate moniker to pursue a professional acting career. Right around the same time, he read an interview in Smash Hits with Neil Tennant, lead vocalist for the Pet Shop Boys, and "David Tennant" was born.

Today, he legally is David Tennant. “I am now actually Tennant—have been for a few years,” he said in 2013. “It was an issue with the Screen Actors' Guild in the U.S., who wouldn't let me keep my stage name unless it was my legal name. Faced with the prospect of working under two different names on either side of the globe, I had to take the plunge and rename myself! So although I always liked the name, I'm now more intimately associated with it than I had ever imagined. Thank you, Neil Tennant.”

2. HE BECAME AN ACTOR WITH THE SPECIFIC GOAL OF STARRING ON DOCTOR WHO.

While a lot of young kids dream of growing up to become astronauts or professional athletes, Tennant set his own career goal at the tender age of three: to star on Doctor Who. It was Tom Baker’s version of The Doctor in particular that inspired Tennant to become an actor. He carried around a Doctor Who doll and wrote Who-inspired essays at school. "Doctor Who was a massive influence," Tennant told Rolling Stone. "I think it was for everyone in my generation; growing up, it was just part of the cultural furniture in Britain in the '70s and '80s.”

On April 16, 2004, just two days before his 34th birthday, Tennant achieved that goal when he was officially named The Tenth Doctor, taking over for Christopher Eccleston. “I am delighted, excited, and honored to be the Tenth Doctor,” Tennant said at the time. “I grew up loving Doctor Who and it has been a lifelong dream to get my very own TARDIS.” 

3. THOUGH BECOMING THE DOCTOR WAS A LIFELONG DREAM, THERE WAS SOME TREPIDATION.

Though landing the lead in Doctor Who was a lifelong dream come true for Tennant, the initial excitement was followed by a little trepidation. When asked by The Scotsman whether he worried about being typecast, Tennant admitted: “I did remember being thrilled to bits when I got asked and then a few days later thinking, ‘Oh, is this a terrible idea?’ … But that didn't last very long. Time will tell. The only option is you don't take these jobs when they come up. You've got to just roll with the punches.”

4. HE MADE HIS PROFESSIONAL DEBUT IN A PSA.

While most actors have some early roles they’d prefer to forget, Tennant’s first professional gig didn’t come in some otherwise forgettable movie, TV series, or play. When he was 16 years old, he booked a role in an anti-smoking PSA for the Glasgow Health Board, which played on television and was shown in schools. Thanks to the power of the internet, you can watch his performance above. 

5. HE MARRIED THE FIFTH DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER, WHO ONCE PLAYED THE TENTH DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER.

Confused? In 2011, Tennant married Georgia Moffett, who played his artificially created daughter, Jenny, in the 2008 Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Daughter.” In real life, Moffett really is The Doctor’s daughter; her father is Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor from 1981 to 1984.

6. HIS FIRST MOVIE ROLE HAD HIM ACTING OPPOSITE CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON.

In 1996, Tennant landed his first movie role in Michael Winterbottom’s Jude, where he played the very descriptive “Drunk Undergraduate.” His big scene had him acting opposite Christopher Eccleston—the man who, less than a decade later, would hand over the keys to the TARDIS to Tennant.

7. HE AVOIDS READING REVIEWS OF HIS WORK.

While it’s hard to imagine that Tennant has ever had to deal with too many scathing reviews, it doesn’t really matter to the actor: good or bad, he avoids reading them. When asked during a livechat with The Guardian about one particularly negative review, and whether he reads and reacts to them, Tennant replied: “The bad review to which you refer was actually for a German expressionist piece about the Round Table called Merlin. It was the first extensive review I'd ever had, and it was absolutely appalling. Not that it's scarred into my memory in any way whatsoever. I try not to read them, these days. Reviews aren't really for the people who are performing, and—good or bad—they don't help. You always get a sense if something you're in has been well received or not, that's unavoidable. But beyond that, details are best avoided.”

8. HE HOSTED MASTERPIECE THEATRE.

In 2007, Masterpiece Theatre reinvented itself. In addition to dropping the “Theatre” from its title, the series announced that it was splintering into three different seasons—Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Mystery!, and Masterpiece Contemporary. Unlike the days of the past, when Alistair Cooke held court, each of the new series had its own host, Tennant among them. (He was in charge of Masterpiece Contemporary.)

9. HE GOT A LOT OF YOUNGER AUDIENCES INTERESTED IN SHAKESPEARE.

Tennant has logged a lot of hours with the Royal Shakespeare Company over the years. In 2008, while still starring in Doctor Who, he took on the role that every actor wants in the RSC’s production of Hamlet, which ended up being one of London’s hottest (and hardest to get) tickets. The Guardian reported that hundreds of people were lined up to buy tickets, with some even camping out overnight outside the West End theater. Within three hours of the tickets going on sale, all 6000 of them were sold out.

Hamlet is a very popular play,” a RSC spokesperson said at the time. “It's the most famous. But obviously there's the factor that David Tennant is in it and the good news is that he's bringing a lot of younger audiences to Shakespeare."

10. HE WAS ON A ROYAL MAIL STAMP.

In 2011, the Royal Mail paid tribute to Royal Shakespeare Company’s 50th anniversary with a series of stamps featuring images from a handful of the RSC’s productions, including Tennant as Hamlet.

11. HE ALMOST PLAYED HANNIBAL LECTER.

Though it’s easy to see why Bryan Fuller cast Mads Mikkelsen in the title role of his television adaptation of Hannibal, Tennant came pretty close to playing the fava bean-and-chianti-loving, flesh-eating serial killer at the heart of Thomas Harris’s novels. Fuller was so impressed with Tennant’s dark side that he tried to make a guest appearance happen during the series’ run.

“I’m a huge fan of David Tennant, and we’ve been trying to get him on the show for quite some time,” Fuller said. “He’s such a spectacular actor. He brings such an effervescence to every performance. I would love to have David on the show. Or just write for David! I would kill and eat somebody to work with David! He’s my favorite Doctor.”

12. HE’S JODIE WHITTAKER’S FAVORITE DOCTOR.

David Tennant stars in 'Doctor Who'
Adrian Rogers, BBC

Fuller isn’t the only one who puts Tennant at the top of their Favorite Doctor list. Jodie Whittaker, who recently made her debut as the Thirteenth Doctor—and is the first woman to take on the role—recently told The Sunday Times that “David [is my favorite Doctor] of course, because I know him.” (The two spent three seasons co-starring in the British crime drama Broadchurch.)

When asked about Whittaker’s casting at the New Orleans Wizard World Comic Con, and whether he had given her any words of advice, Tennant said that, “We had a wee chat, yes. It is quite a unique job, because it's a show that has so much history to it. And it has a reach that's quite unlike other things. It's a bit of a kind of cultural thing—Who's going to be the Doctor?—it's a news story, really. So to find yourself in the middle of that is a bit overwhelming. I think inevitably, you sort of look to people who'd been there before to go, 'What is this like? What is this madness I entered into?' And that's certainly been the case with Matt and Peter, and now with Jodie. I know that Jodie's talked to Peter, and she's talked to Matt. You just for a little support group. You go, 'What is this madness? Tell me about it.' And of course, you know, she 's a little trepidatious, but she's basically really excited. She's such a fantastic choice for it. You see it in just those 30 seconds that she did at the end of the last episode. You just go, 'Oh my god, she's all over it. Brilliant. It's great.’”

13. HE’S DYING TO WORK WITH AARON SORKIN.

When asked by Collider if there’s ever been a television show he’s watched and wished he was a part of, Tennant copped to being a huge fan of The West Wing.

The West Wing is finished now [but] that’s the one that I would have loved to have been part of," he said. "I’d love to work with Aaron Sorkin on something. Just the way he writes, he has no fear in writing people that are fiercely intelligent, and I love that. I love the speed of his stuff, and the way people free-associate and interact. That kind of writing is very exciting. It’s hard to have that kind of clarity of voice, especially in a world where there’s a million executives listening to everything you do and having an opinion and trying to drive everything towards the lowest common denominator because that’s what happens when things are made by committee. So, to have someone who’s got a strong individual voice that is allowed to be heard is quite increasingly rare. These people need to be cherished.”

14. HE HAS EARNED A LOT OF FAN ACCOLADES, INCLUDING “COOLEST MAN ON TV.”

David Tennant in 'Jessica Jones'
Linda Kallerus, Netflix

In addition to his many professional acting accolades—including a couple of BAFTAs and a Daytime Emmy and an Olivier Award nomination—Tennant has earned a number of less official “awards” over the years. In 2007, a Radio Times survey named him the Coolest Man on TV. The National Television Awards named him Most Popular Actor of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010. In 2008, he was one of Cosmopolitan’s Sexiest Men in the World. In 2012, British GQ readers named him the third Best Dressed Man (behind Tom Hiddleston and Robert Pattinson).

15. YOU CAN BUY HIS PANTS.

On April 17, 2018, as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stitch in Time fundraiser, the organization began auctioning off more than 50 original costumes worn during RSC performances. Among the items that you can bid on? The black trousers Tennant wore in Hamlet, and the white robe he wore in Richard II.

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12 Fascinating Facts About Rick Moranis
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George De Sota, Getty Images

Beloved for his film roles in the 1980s and 1990s, Rick Moranis played perfect iterations of an endearing geek in Ghostbusters (1984), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Spaceballs (1987), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), and The Flintstones (1994), amongst others. But in 1997, to the consternation of his many fans, he walked away from it all to focus on raising his family. Although Moranis has been mostly out of the limelight since then, he's kept busy with music and voice work, and he hasn't ruled out the option of appearing on screen again (fingers crossed).

In honor of his 65th birthday, here are some things you might not know about Rick Moranis.

1. HE GOT HIS BIG BREAK THANKS TO A CANADIAN TELEVISION CONTENT REGULATION.

After working at a Toronto radio station after high school, Moranis appeared on a sketch comedy show on the CBC called Second City TV. The show, which was in its third season when Moranis joined in 1980, legally had to devote a few minutes of airtime in each episode to “identifiable Canadian content.” In other words, Canadian television had to contain some Canada-related content, which Moranis found silly.

After the crew went home, Moranis and fellow actor Dave Thomas satirized the requirement by improvising the characters of Bob and Doug McKenzie, two stereotypically Canadian brothers. The sketch filled the extra airtime with Canadian content, and audiences loved Bob and Doug. Moranis and Thomas portrayed the McKenzie brothers in the 1983 film Strange Brew (which they also wrote and directed), and their comedy album The Great White North got a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album in 1983.

2. HE COUNTS FILMING LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS AS ONE OF HIS LUCKIEST MOMENTS.

In 1986, Moranis starred as florist Seymour Krelborn in the film adaptation of the musical Little Shop of Horrors. As he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015: "I'm the luckiest guy to get that … It was timing, and I fit the right type. It was an amazing experience. One of the greatest moments of my life was shooting that thing."

3. HE STARRED IN A PEPSI COMMERCIAL.

In 1995, Moranis starred in a funny Pepsi commercial, playing twins separated at birth—one twin is in America, while the other grows up in Germany. One sunny day, the twins telepathically connect via the power of drinking Pepsi.

4. HE LEFT HOLLYWOOD TO BECOME A STAY-AT-HOME DAD.

In 1991, Moranis's wife died of breast cancer, and he had to reshuffle his priorities in order to take care of his two young children. In a 2005 interview with USA Today, he explained that he stopped making movies in 1996 because he couldn't juggle being a stay-at-home dad and traveling to make movies. "I took a little bit of a break. And the little bit of a break turned into a longer break, and then I found that I really didn't miss it," Moranis said.

5. HE HAS DONE VOICE WORK ON A FEW ANIMATED MOVIES.

Although Moranis shifted his focus from movies to raising kids, he never completely retired. In 2001, he did voice work as both the Toy Taker and Mr. Cuddles the Teddy Bear in the animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys. In 2003, he voiced Rutt in the animated film Brother Bear, and reprised the role for its 2006 sequel, Brother Bear 2.

6. HE'S A GRAMMY-NOMINATED MUSICIAN.

In 2005, Moranis let the world know about his love of country music. The Agoraphobic Cowboy is a comedy album comprised of 13 songs inspired by alternative country and bluegrass. Although Moranis admitted that the album began as a lark, it was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for Best Comedy Album. "I started writing a song," Moranis told Billboard. "I wrote one, and then another one. I was singing them to a couple of friends, and they'd be relatively amused."

7. HIS JEWISH UPBRINGING INSPIRED HIS MOST RECENT ALBUM.

In 2013, Moranis released another musical comedy album called My Mother's Brisket & Other Love Songs. Thematically, Moranis focused on his Jewish upbringing, and he used a mix of klezmer and jazz sounds on songs like "The Seven Days of Shiva" and "Live Blogging The Himel Family Bris." The best part? The deluxe pack of the album comes with a purple yarmulke.

8. HE'S STILL GOT TONS OF FANS.

Moranis lives in Manhattan and often gets recognized on the street. As he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, "People are very nice when they see me." Moranis attributes some of his enduring influence to his clean style of comedy. "We were governed by a certain kind of taste at that time, and there were places we wouldn't go with language and bodily fluids and functions. I think that's what [fans are] nostalgic for."

9. HE NEVER SOUGHT FAME FOR ITS OWN SAKE.

Moranis says he never decided to be an actor for the fame. Rather, he focused on the art itself, and fame and publicity followed. “The need to do publicity and everything other than the work is not something that I set out to do," Moranis told Heeb in 2013. "For some people it is. They want that. They want the connection to the audience. They want their name in the paper. For me, that was just a by-product of the work's success. I didn't really seek out any of that stuff." He also didn't seek out celebrity friends; he told the magazine that he hasn't kept up with any of his co-stars in more than 20 years.

10. HE AVOIDS AIRPLANES BUT ISN'T AFRAID OF FLYING.

In an interview in 2013, Moranis revealed that he avoids airplanes in favor of driving, but not because he's afraid of flying. Moranis dislikes the dragged out process of flying, from getting to the airport a couple hours early to dealing with sick seatmates. “We started to hear the stories of people stuck on the tarmac for six hours," he said. "If that happens to me, I'll be on the front page of the New York Post the next day. I'll fake a heart attack or melt down. So it’s better for me to stay away from airports."

11. HE DECLINED A ROLE IN THE GHOSTBUSTERS REBOOT.

Although original Ghostbusters stars Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver all appeared in Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot, Moranis wasn't among them. As he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, he was offered a cameo role but declined: “I wish them well. I hope it's terrific. But it just makes no sense to me. Why would I do just one day of shooting on something I did 30 years ago?”

12. HE'LL BE BACK ONSCREEN AS SOON AS HE FINDS AN INTERESTING ROLE.

Although Moranis's acting hiatus has lasted more than 20 years, he may act again. His two kids are in their twenties now, and he says he'll act again once he finds an interesting role. “I still get the occasional query about a film or television role, and as soon as one comes along that piques my interest, I'll probably do it,” Moranis said last year. "I'm happy with the things I said yes to, and I'm very happy with the many things I've said no to. Yes, I am picky, and I'll continue to be picky. Picky has worked for me."

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