You might think of Old Hollywood as a rather more genteel and sedate time for the movie industry. However, it wasn’t always like that. Many of the actors and actresses who worked during that era went on to become legends, but behind all that they were real people. And, like most of us, they had some slightly weird (and in some cases downright disturbing) aspects to their personalities.
20. Peter Sellers was afraid of a color
Peter Sellers was by all accounts a very difficult man to get along with, to say the least. On movie sets he would reportedly have people fired on the slightest whim, and threw tantrums whenever things weren’t going his way. And he was also scared of the color purple. He thought it was a harbinger of death.
The actor’s fear of the color would lead to even more screaming fits if he saw it. His staff would make sure that Sellers never had to stay in a hotel room that featured purple. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Sellers hated the color green as well. If someone was wearing green on set, Sellers would refuse to act with them.
19. Elvis had a bizarre relationship with a chimpanzee
At the height of Elvis’s career, he was offered a chimpanzee named Scatter as a pet. The animal had previously been a fixture on a local Memphis TV station, but they wanted rid of him, and Elvis took him in. Scatter moved into Elvis’s home, Graceland, and thus began one of the weirdest animal-human relationships in showbusiness.
Scatter was not a good housemate. He would rip up the curtains, torment visitors, bite people, and of course do the extremely unhygienic throwing thing that chimpanzees tend to do. Elvis apparently encouraged all this bad behavior, but according to his friend Lamar Fike he also physically abused the chimp. Poor Scatter died while still in the “care” of Elvis and his staff.
18. Audrey Hepburn loved her unusual pet
Few stars were as universally popular as Audrey Hepburn and, true to her lovable persona, she was practically a real-life Disney princess. On the set of the 1959 jungle romance Green Mansions Hepburn befriended her animal co-star, a baby deer, and it likewise bonded with her. She took it home and it became her pet. Hepburn named the little creature Pippin, or just “Ip” for short.
Deer don’t always make great pets, but Hepburn was more than up for the challenge of raising one. Pippin was given a custom-made bathtub to sleep in, but sometimes she would sleep with Hepburn herself. Pippin also followed her human “mother” to supermarkets. Hepburn’s bond with the fawn both amused and amazed the people around her.
17. Elizabeth Taylor was made miserable by the same thing which made her beautiful
Actress Elizabeth Taylor had very striking eyes, and there was a good reason for that. Just after her birth a doctor approached her parents and informed them of something rather remarkable — their new daughter had a genetic mutation. To be specific she had lymphedema-distichiasis syndrome, which is caused by the FOXC2 gene.
That little mutation in Taylor’s genes helped make her beautiful, as it enhanced her eyelashes by giving her an extra set of them. And yet the price of this was incredibly high. Taylor suffered from medical problems all her life, which was clearly difficult for her. And when she passed away it was from congestive heart failure, possibly another consequence of the lymphedema-distichiasis syndrome.
16. Jayne Mansfield deliberately engineered wardrobe malfunctions
They say that when you’ve got it, flaunt it. And one Hollywood actress definitely took that to heart. Blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield would go out on the town, wait for the photographers and then conveniently allow part of her outfit to come off. Once, she dived into a swimming pool and came up without her top.
If Instagram had been a thing back in Mansfield’s day, she would no doubt have been the queen of it. Her tendency to disrobe, her scandalous Playboy magazine photoshoot and her rivalry with Marilyn Monroe all grabbed headlines. But sadly, like Monroe, she died young. In 1967 she was killed in a horrific car accident.
15. Natalie Wood was sensitive about an old injury
Natalie Wood was only a child when an on-set breach of health and safety changed her life. While the ten-year-old was filming a movie called The Green Promise in 1949, a bridge rigged to collapse fell down too early. Wood fell into the water and broke her wrist. The injury never healed properly.
In fact, the incident left a protruding bone on Wood’s left wrist. She hated it and sought ways to cover it up. Fans of the actress have noticed that in almost all of her movies Wood wears a bracelet, watch or long sleeved gloves — something in keeping with her movie costume, to hide the bone. And some biographers claim that the injury was so bad because Wood’s mother refused to get it treated.
14. Marlon Brando wouldn’t memorize his lines
There’s no doubt that Marlon Brando was a great actor in most respects. Unfortunately, though, he wasn’t great at learning lines, and that’s a pretty vital part of the job. So he essentially cheated when it came to that. He would have cue cards with his lines on them printed out and hidden around the movie set.
Brando’s cue cards were sneakily hidden in places where he could read them in a natural way — taped to walls off-camera and the like. But that wasn’t all. Apparently for the 1996 movie The Island of Dr. Moreau Brando had his lines fed to him through an earpiece, a problematic situation as it would sometimes pick up police radio messages.
13. June Vlasek loved to take baths
In the days before social media and Instagram, movie stars had other ways of sharing beauty tips. They would give them to newspapers so their fans could seek new ways of emulating their idols. Actress June Vlasek, aka June Lang, shared an unusual one to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in October 1932.
Vlasek told the newspaper, “Frequent baths — say twice a day — are my beauty hint.” But where would she or anyone find the time? The actress also recommended, “soaping and scrubbing with a brush cleanses the pores, I find, and increases the circulation, which lays the foundation for a healthy skin.” It seemed to work for her, anyway.
12. Doris Day liked to cover herself in Vaseline
Famous actress Doris Day had a trick she liked to use to keep her skin beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s one that’s rather difficult to pull off. In her 1975 autobiography Doris Day: Her Own Story Day explained that once a month she covered her entire body with Vaseline before getting into her pajamas and then into bed.
This was met with some mirth from columnists at the time. In 1977 Jean Kerr wrote in The New York Times, “What I want to know is where [Day] sleeps. In a bed? Suppose she turns over in the middle of the night. In her slippery condition wouldn’t she skid right out of the bed, knocking over lamps and alarm clocks and possibly damaging herself, wiping out the improvements?”
11. Lauren Bacall was difficult
Lauren Bacall was a take-no-nonsense kind of woman in an era which didn’t always react well to them. And her contemporaries didn’t always approve of her attitude. In 1945 the Hollywood Women’s Press Club voted for the year’s “Least Cooperative Actress” and Bacall was the runner-up (to Greer Garson). More recently, other people have discussed her combative personality.
In 2014, former President of Israel Shimon Peres told the newspaper Haaretz that he was distantly related to the actress. When he met her, he said, “She told me a bit about acting, about love, but she was not an easy woman. She had very strong opinions, was protective of her dignity, and was not easy to converse with.”
10. Grace Kelly had a big sexual appetite
Grace Kelly was known for being poised, classy, and in a way sort of sexless. But according to her biographers this probably wasn’t the case offscreen. She might have slept with almost all her leading men, a list which includes among others James Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ray Milland and William Holden.
According to TV and theatre director Don Richardson, who was interviewed for the 1987 biography Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess, Kelly indeed had plenty of affairs. He added, “Ironically, her Catholicism, which she believed in, didn’t prevent her from being promiscuous. She would jump out of bed on Sunday morning, wearing nothing but the crucifix, go to church, come back in an hour and jump into bed.”
9. Orson Welles hated his nose
Actor Orson Welles was extremely insecure about one part of his face. In 1955 he wrote in a sketchbook, “You may have wondered why I look so peculiar on the television. And it’s partly, I must confess to you, the fact that you see my nose as it is. In most of the films that I appear in, I put on a false nose. Usually as large as I can find.”
And Welles wasn’t kidding. After finishing shooting his 1948 Macbeth, Welles flew to Rome to act in another move and — as his biographer Barbara Leaming notes — “Orson seemed far more worried about the supply of false noses he had inadvertently left in Hollywood than about his unfinished picture.” As Welles grew older, his false noses in movies grew ever bigger.
8. Greta Garbo had a strange diet
In the days of Old Hollywood, actresses were expected to be thin. To achieve this, women sometimes went to worrying lengths. There was reportedly one period in Greta Garbo’s life where she ate nothing but spinach, and another era where she subsisted on no other food but dried apricots, brown beans, biscuits and chicken.
Garbo had some other odd eating habits as well, mostly involving strange combinations of food. Sometimes she would eat raw eggs mixed with orange juice, buttermilk mixed with yeast, or cornflakes mixed with lingonberry jam and coffee. Some enthusiastic foodies have reported that that last one is actually pretty tasty.
7. James Dean had little concept of hygiene
James Dean was a teen idol of his era. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him. However, if any of his admirers had actually met him, they might have found his hygiene habits to be a bit of a turn-off. Dean didn’t care much about how he dressed. Sometimes his clothes were filthy and he neglected to wear shoes.
According to those who were around at the time, Dean showed up in jeans held together with safety pins when he went to rehearsals and sometimes wore the same unwashed t-shirt for over two weeks. In May 1955 the Detroit Free Press wrote of the movie star, “Jimmy dresses like an unmade bed.”
6. Tippi Hedren was very reckless about her pets
Tippi Hedren didn’t exactly display good judgement when she bought a particular animal home. The beast in question was a massive male lion named Neil, who Hedren thought she could care for after working in the field of conservation. She was wrong. Neil, like all lions, simply wasn’t meant to be in a house. And later he was joined by others.
Hedren even let the lions and her own daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, sleep in a bed together. This relationship ended exactly how you’d would expect: Griffith was attacked and needed surgery on her face. In 2014 Hedren told the Daily Mail newspaper she now considered her actions “stupid beyond belief.”
5. Charlie Chaplin had a disturbing alter ego
To most of the world Charlie Chaplin was a talented movie clown. But behind the scenes there were some pretty unpleasant psychology at play. Chaplin considered his most famous character, the Tramp, to be a manifestation of sorts of his own father. And he also reportedly indulged in some distinctly unfunny behavior.
According to those who knew him, Chaplin would prey on younger girls (waiting until they were only just of legal age) and mistreat them once they were in a relationship. He claimed to have slept with thousands of women, but his marriages were generally disastrous. And his co-stars didn’t much like him either. In Marlon Brando’s 1994 autobiography he called Chaplin “probably the most sadistic man I’d ever met.”
4. Marilyn Monroe loved to read
When Marilyn Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956, it was seen as a comical mismatch, with Variety magazine running the witty headline, “Egghead Weds Hourglass.” But in truth Monroe was far from a dumb blonde — she was intelligent and well-read. She was even told to stop reading more “radical” books while she was on set.
Before her tragic death, Monroe had apparently collected up 400 books for her personal library. These included Ulysses, A Streetcar Named Desire, and the children’s book The Little Engine That Could. Monroe also enjoyed taking literature classes and writing for herself, and critics have said her work is excellent.
3. Alec Guinness hated Star Wars
Even though it introduced him to a whole new generation of fans and earned him a tremendous amount of money, Alec Guinness loathed Star Wars. He never expected the movie to do anywhere near as well as it did and was furious that young children knew him only as Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi.
And Guinness made absolutely no attempt to hide his contempt. If he received fan mail about Star Wars, he attempted to send it back. He begged George Lucas to give him a way out of the movies. And in one of his autobiographies he detailed a story about making a kid promise to never watch Star Wars again. A pretty long way from Obi-Wan.
2. Alfred Hitchcock was disturbingly obsessed with one woman
After casting Tippi Hedren in The Birds, Hitchcock put her through something far more terrifying than anything in the movie. He made an advance on her and she said no, so he tormented her as revenge. He would throw live birds at her instead of fake ones and pay people to stalk her off set.
Hitchcock’s creepy behavior even extended to Hedren’s own children. The megalomaniacal director had a mask made of Hedren’s face, created a realistic-looking doll out of it, and then gave that doll in a coffin to Hedren’s daughter Melanie Griffith. Unsurprisingly, Griffith still hates Hitchcock to this day.
1. Cary Grant was a big fan of LSD
Leading man Cary Grant didn’t handle fame very well. He was desperate to find something, anything, that would give him inner peace. More traditional things such as yoga didn’t work for him, so he turned to LSD. And he loved it. Reportedly, he would drop acid around a hundred times throughout his life.
This little-known aspect of Grant’s life became the basis for a documentary, Becoming Cary Grant, in 2017. That year the director Mark Kidel told The Guardian, “He claimed he was saved by LSD. You have to remember that Cary was a private man. He rarely gave interviews. And yet, after taking acid, he personally contacted Good Housekeeping and said: ‘I want to tell the world about this.’”