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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scandal in Classic Hollywood

Hi everyone,

I'm sorry I disappeared on Sunday for the Sunday Movie Review; in addition to not changing the header! It is, indeed, changed now -- this week's movie is "Mildred Pierce"; I had a busy weekend and was unable to watch a movie on Friday or Saturday night like I usually do, so therefore if I had managed to make it to my computer on Sunday to blog it would have been a review for something I had seen weeks before. Like "Mildred Pierce". Maybe. Anyway, the Sunday Movie Review will be back next Sunday.

I had a lot of fun at the Fashion in Film Blogathon on Saturday! Thank you everyone for the lovely compliments and it was a lot of fun to read everyone else's posts. Speaking of blogathons, The Darling Deborah Blogathon to celebrate Deborah Kerr's 90th birthday is coming up this Friday (hosted by Sophie over at Waitin on A Sunny Day); I also just joined Meredith (Forever Classics)'s Humphrey Bogart blogathon which will take place around Christmas.

So, and I think you all may have gotten the gist of it by now, that I love blogging about Classic Hollywood behind the scenes. Contrary to popular opinion, the innocent face of Classic Hollywood with all it's Hays Code limitations and three second kisses had some very riveting and spicy stories to tell beyond the soundstages.

Today, I just thought I'd blog about scandal in the good old day of days of Hollywood. Nothing new that you probably didn't know before; but just fun to go over the details again. ;) So, here's three scandals for you...

A policeman inspects Johnny's body in Lana's LA home.
Lana had eight marriages and seven husbands, just like Elizabeth Taylor. Out of these unions, she had only one daughter - Cheryl, who's father was Lana's second husband, Stephen Crane.

In between husbands Lex Barker and Frederick May, thirty-seven year old Lana began an affair with "gangster" Johnny Stompanato. The affair at first was passionate and exciting for Lana, who was nearing the end of the climax of her career. But her romance made her feel young and desired again.

It was not long, however, before the relationship turned stormy and quite violent. Johnny was threatening and their fights were long and hard. Lana was away in England filming "Another Time, Another Place" in 1957 with Sean Connery. She wanted to break off the relationship with Johnny, but he wasn't about to let it happen. He followed her to England and showed up on the set of the movie, accusing Lana of having an affair with Sean and brandishing a gun to prove his point. In their defense, Sean punched Johnny once and managed to take away his gun. These actions resulted in Johnny's arrest by Scotland Yard.

Still, the relationship wasn't yet over. One Friday night in 1958, Lana was in her new Beverly Hills home with daughter Cheryl, who was fourteen at the time. Lana and Johnny began fighting over the phone and Lana invited Johnny over to resolve things in person. Come over he did.

Lana went up to Cheryl's bedroom, in which the fourteen year old was "working on a book report" for school. Telling her that Johnny was there and not to come down, she returned back to the ex-lover and the fighting began. It got louder and louder, more and more violent. Cheryl would remember Johnny threatening Lana that he'd kill Lana's mother and Cheryl. She also knew he was violent - though she had never seen Johnny actually hit Lana, she'd seen the marks and bruises. She also knew that her mother was trying desperately to end her relationship with Johnny but had asked Cheryl to please not tell anyone; not even her grandmother or father.

Eventually, Cheryl got nervous and decided to do something. She rushed downstairs and into the kitchen - opened a drawer and impulsively grabbed a long, kitchen knife. Clutching the knife, she ran to the closed door in which behind Lana and Johnny were fighting. She called inside to her mother, begging her to open the door - Lana told her not to, go away. Cheryl insisted. Finally, the door opened. It was Johnny - Cheryl was holding the knife pointing outwards, and Johnny walked straight into it. He fall back, saying,
"Oh my God, Cheryl, what have you done?" His eyes fluttered close.

Lana on the witness stand, the "performance of her life"
Lana tried in vain to bring Johnny back, giving him CPR while the ambulance and police came. But nothing worked. The fourteen year old Cheryl had killed the gangster.

Her daughter may land up in jail for the incident; as the news scandalized the country, Lana's team worked on convincing the court that Cheryl's act had been one of self defense.

On the day of her daughter's trial, Lana showed up on the witness stand in a gray suit and white gloves and hat; it was something out one of her movies, perhaps, except this was real. Giving what people would declare "the performance of her life," Lana broke down several times and was close to fainting by the end of the trial. Lana had to explain why she would stay with a man so abusive, something she herself did not understand, as she would say in her autobiography.

Lana was convincing enough. Cheryl's "murder" was declared an act of self defense. She was, however, sent to a reform school in which she would try to escape from in 1960 and was eventually released from a few years afterward. Sticking by her mother's side, she would later write several books about the incident (in their defense) and help her mother pen her autobiography.

As for Lana, she won her comeback in 1959's "Imitation of Life", and went on to marry three more times. None of them worked out, though.

As in every scandal, there was talk of conspiracy. Some claimed that Lana herself had murdered Johnny and was putting the blame on Cheryl as she was a juvenile and the consequences would be more lenient. But I wouldn't like to think so, and I'm sure Lana Turner fans wouldn't, either. How about you?


Rossellini, Ingrid, and Lindstrom in a ironic shot taken before
the affair came to light.
When producer David O. Selznick brought Ingrid Bergman to Hollywood in the late 1930's, he wanted to cap her teeth, pluck her eyebrows, and change her name.

Ingrid, wide eyed, declared, "If you do that, I'll return to Sweden!" And that was a threat.

What sort of image was he to build for her if she wasn't going to be a glamour girl? Selznick wondered. A new one, he figured. Totally different. Ingrid would be the good girl in Hollywood: natural, angelic, and saintly.

Ingrid projected this wholesome image on screen, and movie goers ate it up. She became, quite ironically, "St. Ingrid of Stockholm" - parents wanted their daughters to grow up to the kind of a woman Ingrid Bergman was. They watched her in pious films, like "The Bells of St. Mary's" (in which she played a nun) and "Joan of Arc" (in which she obviously played the saint in question).

Off screen, they knew she was married to Swede Petter Lindstrom, and had been for quite a while. They had one daughter, Pia. This only further confirmed the glossy image they had of "St. Ingrid."

But little did they know that Ingrid was not happy in her marriage. She'd already indulged in a few affairs - the director Victor Fleming and the wartime photographer Robert Capa, for example. It wasn't that she meant to, only she was not getting very much out of her marriage.

In the late 1940's, she saw for the first time work by the Italian director Roberto Rossellini. It was pure Italian no realism, and rumor had it Rossellini did not use professionals but street people for his actors. If the role called for a fisherman, a fisherman would truly play it. Ingrid was enchanted by all of this and excited by the prospect of working for Rossellini, so she decided to write him a letter. All the trouble began with this letter:

Dear. Mr Rossellini,
 I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, and who is very understandable in French, and who, in Italian knows only “ti amo”, I am ready to come and work with you.
Best regards
Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid with her lover, the Italian director Roberto
Rossellini, who only spoke Italian (and all Ingrid knew, as the letter explains, was "ti amo", her last words in "The Arc of Triumph") was actually very interested in working with the Swedish beauty despite the fact she was a professional.

Rosellini visited the United States, staying with the Lindstroms. Everyone got along fine - especially Ingrid and Roberto. It is suggested the affair began around this time.

The film got into the works; Ingrid flew to Italy for a few months to begin filming. She would quickly discover working for Rossellini did not offer the comforts and glamour of Hollywood. She worked with non-professionals, in long hours, being forced to climb the actual volcano Stromboli, in which the film was named after.

Still, the affair continued and in full swing now. As Roberto ran around Italy boasting that he was having an affair with Ingrid Bergman (And how easy it had been, too - something about Swedish woman being easy to attract because their husbands were cold blooded), Ingrid wrote home to Petter asking for a divorce.

He did not give it to her right away, and Ingrid and Roberto's relationship became public. It scandalized America, of course. Not only was she having an affair while being married (taken lightly today; dangerously then) - she was their St. Ingrid! What had happened to the wholesome girl they knew?

Things got worse. Ingrid discovered she was pregnant, and with Roberto's baby. Senator Edwin Johnson of Colorado took to the floor of the US senate to condemn Ingrid - declaring her a "free love cultist" and "a powerful influence for evil". America was mad; quite mad. It was a scandal that they had not seen the likes of before, not in Hollywood. Of course, years before Loretta Young had given birth to Clark Gable's lovechild, but no one knew about that as it had all been quietly cleaned up by Loretta going on a long vacation and then making a public show of "adopting" a girl that was indeed her own daughter.

In the end, Ingrid and Roberto got a quickie Mexican divorce. Petter fought hard for custody of Pia and got it. Ingrid settled down in Italy with Roberto; their son was born which caused another media frenzy - reporters even tried climbing into the windows of the Italian hospital in which Ingrid had given birth. Ingrid went on to have two more children with Roberto - twin girls, one of which became the actress Isabella Rossellini. She collaborated on several films with her new husband but they were not that sucessful nor well received with the public. Her comeback came with 1956's "Anastasia"; in which she won the Oscar for, America's symbol of forgiving her. She divorced Rossellini after her conducted an affair with an Indian actress (and got her pregnant as well) and returned as a star to American films. She would marry one more time, but that marriage would dissolve as well.


America was hurting for Elizabeth Taylor in March of 1958. Her third husband, Michael Todd, had died in airplane crash. Elizabeth had been married before, but it was said that Michael Todd was her true love. Despite the fact that he showered her in jewelry, the affection was real and true. But now he was dead - the crashed plane was called "The Lucky Liz", and Elizabeth had been this close to going on the trip with him.

Mike, Liz, Eddie, and Debbie when "everyone just got along."

Before the plane crash, Elizabeth, Mike, and his good friend Eddie Fisher and his wife, the actress Debbie Reynolds, had been a tight foursome. Mike and Eddie had been friends for a long time and Debbie and Elizabeth had attended the same one room school house at MGM. Debbie and Eddie had even been a bridesmaid and the best man at Liz and Mike's wedding.

Now that Mike was dead, both Eddie and Debbie stepped into lending a hand to the grieving Elizabeth. Debbie took care of Elizabeth's children while Elizabeth worked out the funeral details and all the other ugly things; meanwhile, Eddie offered Elizabeth a shoulder to cry on.

And, eventually, a little more.

It was a combination of their mourning for Eddie as well, as perhaps, physical attraction. Eddie and Debbie's marriage had been on the rocks for quite a while, though Debbie did had two kids and a newborn at home. As the friction of an affair began, Elizabeth considered this. She did think Debbie was a great friend and did not want to hurt her; but she also knew that Debbie had to have a thick enough skin to deal with it. She was a movie star, anyway, and you had to fight to get to the top. And besides, Debbie had already filed for divorce twice (though she had not gone through with it). So...

So, the affair began. Kept under covers, Debbie found out about it one night when she was alone at home with the kids. Eddie was away someplace (she'd discover where later), and she decided to call up her friend Elizabeth and see how she was doing.

You can imagine her surprise when her husband picked up.

"Suddenly, a lot of things clicked into place," Debbie would say later to UK's Dailymail upon being asked to recall her thoughts as she sat, holding the phone that night. She yelled into the phone for Eddie to "roll over and give the phone to Elizabeth!", because she was sure they were in bed together. Instead, Eddie slammed the phone on the receiver.
Yet another ironic photo!

Eddie rushed back home. He confronted her, told her her he was sorry but that he and Elizabeth were in love. He wanted a divorce; there was nothing Debbie could do about it.

Debbie consented to giving him the divorce, but told him that Elizabeth's love was only temporary, that Liz would "throw him out in eighteen months." He didn't care and insisted it was real love.

The scandal hit the papers. Elizabeth Taylor quickly became the adulteress instead of the grieving widow. Debbie was instead painted as the one for Americans to hurt for at this moment.

Debbie's prediction would indeed come true; not much later Elizabeth dumped Eddie Fisher for... Richard Burton, whom she began a sultry affair with on the set of "Cleopatra". The "Liz and Dick" hysteria would last for another fifteen years.

But that's another story, for another day. Both Elizabeth and Debbie had resentment to Eddie Fisher in the years following; Eddie's career faded completely. Despised by both women, there wasn't much left of Eddie Fisher. He would become estranged from his children, as well, including Carrie Fisher (Princess Lea from Star Wars).

What about Elizabeth and Debbie? The one time friends would reconcile. Debbie and her new husband were on a cruise ship when she discovered that "Liz and Dick" were on board as well. Debbie would later jokingly recall her first instinct was to jump off the boat. But she instead wrote a note to Elizabeth, and as it turned out, a note from Elizabeth was coming to her already. She wanted to patch things up, and Debbie said, "Amen to that!" The couples dined that evening and Elizabeth and Debbie got along marvelously after that, even co-starring in the movie "These Old Broads" in the early 2000s.

One thing's for sure - no one can say that Debbie Reynolds holds a grudge!


Well, I hope you had as much fun reading over that as I had writing it. In the future I think I'll find some more "scandals" to write about.

That's all for today. Ciao!


StanwyckFan said...

Interesting to say the for the future, as long as you don't mix the Stanwyck up in any scandals we'll be set. ;)

Oh, and thanks for telling me about the Humphrey Bogart blogathon. My friend decided today was Humphrey Bogart Day, and we've been going back and forth about that, so it coincided nicely. :)

Rianna said...

Haha, I don't think that I'd be able to find anything real disturbing about Stany. At least, I hope not! ;)

You're welcome. I guess that settled everything! And since Bogie's birthday is Christmas.. well.. I guess that ought to make it Bogie Day, too. :)

Anonymous said...

Lol. I love reading posts like these. I found a webpage a few weeks when I was supposed to be asleep and one of the columns was on classic hollywood scandals. The woman is doing her college thesis on the tabloids and tabloid culture throughout the years, and her posts are very entertaining You can read her write-ups of them at this link:

Anonymous said...

...And I just realized that what was supposed to be the last two sentences became a run-on. Sorry about that...oops.

Maybe those articles can be sources for your writings in this particular series. :) She wrote about Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor as you'll probably see.

I'm enjoying reading the blog, btw. :)

Anonymous said...

I meant to write a few weeks ago in that first comment...oopss. And about the writer: she also covers Ingrid Bergman. I'll stop it with the multiple comments now. Lol.

Rianna said...

Lol, "when I was supposed to be asleep." :) I agree, Classic Hollywood scandals are so much more riveting than today's stories.

I think I happened to find that link when searching for photos; it looks familiar! In fact, I'm pretty sure I pulled one of my pictures from there. ;) I'll be sure and check it out and I can use them as my sources, like you said.

Hahaha, that's fine. I'm glad you like my blog! :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd agree that classic Hollywood Scandals do seem more riveting than those of today. This might be as a result of them seeming so perfect in the public eye.

The "supposed to be sleeping" part comes from the fact that I had had pre-test insomnia that night after staying up late to study. It doesn't help that I'm a bit of a night owl on normal nights; it was just exasserbated here.

But yeah, I'm enjoying the blog and it's good to find a person close to my age who enjoys these films and songs.

Rianna said...

I agree - to me, today's actors generally seem just quite sloppy and far from perfect. Yes, no one is or was perfect - but considering that movie stars are idolized as being that way (as Classic Hollywood was) made it should be lived up to. ;)

Oh, I get where you're coming from. I'm a total night owl myself and stay up too late. (And freak out over tests). I guess it'll catch up to me when I'm old and have too many wrinkles!

Thank you! I feel the same, one of the best experiences of my classic film blogging is finding classic movie lovers that are closer to my age since my own peers aren't into classic movies. ;)

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