With all the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons getting drunk and not wearing underwear, and with all the Tiger Woodses plowing their way through every single halfway decent looking girl in America, a lot of people might think that the depravity of Hollywood is at a new, never before reached level. You might even hear people wishing that things were as good and wholesome in Hollywood as they were “back in the day”.
Clearly, these people know nothing about Hollywood history. Because, really? There was some pretty fucked up shit happening “back in the day”.
The Death (Suicide? Murder? 100% Dumbass Behavior?) of Olive Thomas
The Background: Olive Thomas was the Most Beautiful Girl In the World. No, seriously, she won a contest. A former Ziegfeld Girl, Thomas started working in films around 1915-1916, under the tutelage (meaning she was probably banging them) of such Hollywood bigwigs as Thomas Ince. She was the first woman to be described as a “flapper”, pre-dating famous flappers like Clara Bow by several years.
In 1916 she met and married Jack Pickford, baby brother of Mary Pickford. You know, the most powerful woman in Hollywood at the time. Olive was, by Pickford’s account, the love of his life, and he was never happier than he was when he was married to her. He probably said that because they hardly ever saw each other. They were based on opposite ends of the country. When they did see each other, they fought constantly. And when they weren’t together, Jack was banging anything that wasn’t nailed to the floor (and probably a few things that were.)
Thanks to not being able to keep it in his pants, Jack contracted syphilis. Back in the early 20th century, Doctors prescribed bichloride of mercury to treat syphilis, clearly not realizing that it’s incredibly toxic and, if not diluted correctly, can cause a person’s insides to disintegrate (if digested) or simply slowly burn through their skin (if topical). Of course, syphilis also causes people to lose their minds, so a bunch of syphilis patients screaming about “the burning” probably didn’t give a lot of doctors pause.
The Scandal: In September of 1920, the Jack and Olive took a vacation to Paris. On September 9, they couple returned to their hotel room at around 3am. The two had been doing some pretty hardcore partying, and had likely taken a pharmacy’s worth of drugs. Jack fell asleep while Olive prepared herself for bed. At some point, she took Jack’s bichloride of mercury. Jack awoke to his wife screaming in agony as he insides literally burned away. He summoned a doctor, but Olive was dead in less than an hour.
Whether she took the medication intentionally or not is still unknown. The French police chalked the death up to an accident and the case was closed, but theories still swirl about what really happened. It is entirely possible that Thomas, in her altered state, simply thought the bottle was full of water or sleeping aid or liquor.
Or, it could be more nefarious than that.
Some theorized that Thomas intentionally took the medication to commit suicide, after learning of her husband’s cheating ways when he passed his syphilis on to her.
Others thought that the existence of a life insurance policy, taken out on Olive the year beforehand, proved that Jack somehow fed the medication to Olive to kill her so he could collect on the policy. Because, you know, it’s not like he was already one of the richest men in the country.
Even more shady, some people thought that Jack’s big sister and mother, who apparently despised Olive, had plotted the death and had made it happen. Despite the fact that they were on a completely different continent at the time.
The Aftermath: Officially, Olive Thomas’ death was 100% accidental. It was the first celebrity funeral Hollywood had ever really seen, and thousands of people showed up for the event. Because she died at what would likely have been only the beginning of her success, Thomas is mostly forgotten today. Jack Pickford’s career remained fairly steady throughout the silent era. Olive’s ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam theater in New York, where she began her acting career as a Ziegfeld Girl.
The Rape and Manslaughter Trial of Fatty Arbuckle
Background: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was an America film comedian hugely popular in the 1910s. He become famous for his work with Mack Sennett, mostly in films alongside Mabel Normand, no stranger to scandal herself.
In the summer of 1921, Fatty signed a contract with Paramount for three years at $1 million – higher than any paid star at the time. To celebrate, he threw a huge Labor day party in San Francisco. He invited several friends and business associates.
Not invited were party crashers Maude Delmont and Virginia Rappe, both of whom were notorious in Hollywood. Delmont was something of a Hollywood madam who specialized in the blackmail of her clients. Rappe was notorious for a simpler reason. She was pretty much the biggest slut in Slut City. Which, in this case, was Hollywood.
The Scandal: At around 3pm on September 5th, Arbuckle left the party to retire to his room to get ready for a site seeing trip. He found Rappe in his bathroom, passed out on the floor. He took her into his room and settled her into his bed. Thinking she was just drunk, he left her there for a few moments. When he returned, she was on the floor. He put her back in the bed and then went for help.
And this is where things get a little fuzzy.
According to Arbuckle (whose account is now the one accepted as fact) he had tried to revive her by holding ice to her chest and thighs. This was when Delmont walked into the room, and Arbuckle again asked her to get help. This was when Rappe started tearing at her clothes.
According to Delmont, what she saw was Arbuckle holding ice to Rappe’s “unmentionable” areas.
Rappe started to scream while she tore at her clothes (because the crazy isn’t complete without screaming), which drew the attention of the party goers, some of whom came in to watch the spectacle. Hey, this was the Hollywood crowd, and film was still in their infancy. They couldn’t be sure what was real and what was fantasy.
Several party goers helped carry her out, and it was at this point that Rappe screamed “What did Roscoe do to me?”
Now, she could have been referring to him raping her. Or, considering she was looking down at her nearly dripping wet dress, she could have been referring to the fact that Roscoe’s attempts to revive her had left her cold and wet. And not in the fun way.
She was placed in a cold bath in an attempt to sober her up, and then put in a bed in a different room. A doctor arrived a few hours later and decided she was just drunk. Yeah, doctors in the 1920s were stupid. Satisfied with the conclusion. Arbuckle left for his sight seeing trip, and the party continued. Little did Roscoe know that, while he was out having fun seeing all the sights of the city, Maude Delmont was back at the hotel, badmouthing him. And when I say badmouthing, I mean telling everyone who would listen that he’d raped Rappe. According to her account, Arbuckle had dragged Rappe into his room and raped her, and that’s when she started to behave ill. However, even the doctor Delmont had in her pocket found no evidence of rape.
A few days later, Rappe had not recovered, and she was rushed to the hospital. It was there that they discovered that Rappe’s bladder had burst. Several days beforehand.
Yeah, for those of you who don’t know, dying of a ruptured bladder is among one of the most horrific ways you can die. For one thing, it takes DAYS to die from it, and the longer it goes undiagnosed, the worse it gets. First of all, it’s unbelievably painful. You’re then unable to urinate. So, where does the urine go? Oh, it’s just finding its way into your blood stream, poisoning your blood and driving you insane.
So this was what was wrong with Rappe. And she’d been sick for days, which meant she was at the most advanced stages of the illness. Which pretty much meant she was going to die. On September 9th, she died in the hospital.
When the question came as to how Rappe’s bladder managed to burst, Delmont again claimed that Arbuckle had raped her, and that his enormous weight on Rappe’s body had caused the rupture. And while the authorities were busy ignoring other ways that it could have happened, Arbuckle was arrested for rape and manslaughter. Arbuckle maintained his innocence. Because, really, with this broad, all he’d have to do was ask. If he even had to do that much.
Hearst, who for some reason had a hard-on for making Arbuckle’s life miserable, ran some of the most damning stories anyone possibly could in his publications. And if Hearst believed it, America believed it. Even the whole “he raped her with a broken Coke bottle, and that’s why her insides were ripped to shreds.”
Well, mostly. Thankfully the people on Arbuckle’s three juries weren’t entirely stupid. The first two juries were hung, and the final jury voted unanimously that Arbuckle was innocent, and even drafted an apology to the man for the ridiculousness he had to go through.
As it turns out, there’s no way Arbuckle’s external weight could have caused as much damage to Rappe’s insides as the prosecution claimed. It’s likely her injuries came about from a very poorly done abortion she’d had a few weeks before. And it probably wasn’t helped by the fact that somebody at the party had kicked her in the stomach while they were dancing.
The Aftermath: Though Arbuckle was cleared of all crimes, the public wasn’t really ready to forget. Arbuckle’s career was pretty much over. For most of the decade, he barely worked, despite the efforts of BFF Buster Keaton. Later in the decade, he did direct several films under a different name, including the silent masterpiece The Red Mill, starring Marion Davies. But he never really got his career back, and he died in 1933 of a broken heart (I assume).
The Unsolved Murder of William Desmond Taylor
The Background: William Desmond Taylor was one of the biggest directors in Hollywood in the early 1920s. Between 1913 and 1922 he directed 64 films. He also managed to romance pretty much every starlet in Hollywood. Whether intentionally or not.
The Scandal: On the evening of February 1st, 1921, Desmond met at his home with film comedienne Mabel Normand, his girlfriend. At about 7:45pm, he walked her to her car and said goodbye.
The next morning, at about 7:30am, Taylor’s valet, Henry Peavy, found Taylor’s body in the front room of his bungalow.
Now, I’m not saying that the LAPD was, you know, competent back in the 1920s. But they might have been able to find something resembling the truth halfway up their asses (you know, where their heads were) had Taylor’s Hollywood cohorts not come to his house before the cops did and remove any evidence of Taylor’s “bad behavior”. Many of the things taken from the house could probably have helped point the cops in the correct direction. Among those items were love letters from teenaged actress Mary Miles Minter, who was in love with Taylor. In the way that John Hinkley loved Jodi Foster.
The suspect list is long and complicated. It includes Minter, her mother, producer Mack Sennett (who was in love with Mable Normand), and other Hollywood folks.
It Gets Weirder: One of the strangest suspects was Taylor’s former manservant, Edward Sands. Well, that’s the name he was using at the time. When he worked as Taylor’s valet, he sported a cockney accent and was such a dedicated manservant that one would probably think he was totally gay for his boss.
The only problem was that his name was not Edward Sands, he wasn’t English, and he wasn’t gay (well, we don’t really know about that last one). He was also a criminal mastermind. He waited until Taylor went out of town and then made a move, cashing a blank check for millions of dollars, and leaving the house with several of Taylor’s more pricey possessions.
On Christmas Eve, Taylor received a letter in the mail from Sands, with a pawn ticked for a pair of cufflinks Sands had stolen, with the note “So sorry for the inconvenience to inconvenience you, even temporarily. Also observe the lesson of forced sale of assets.”
Sands didn’t really make sense as a suspect though, since he had pretty much gotten away with his crimes scott-free, and there was nothing missing from Desmond’s house. He was also very likely dead from suicide. The cops probably knew this, but, well…it was the LAPD. So they kept looking for him anyway.
And It Gets Even Weirder: It couldn’t have helped investigators that William Desmond Taylor wasn’t William Desmond Taylor at all. It was simply the second identity of one William Cunningham Deane Tanner, a man who had a pretty strange past. He moved to the US from Ireland when he was 18 and worked all kinds of jobs, from miner to antiques dealer, which is where he met his wife Ethel. The pair had a daughter, Ethel Daisy, in 1903. In 1908, he went to lunch and never came back.
Apparently, abandoning your family was in the Deane Tanner family blood. William’s brother Denis did the same thing. He also spent most of his life leaching off of his big brother.
William Deane Tanner became William Desmond Taylor when he became an actor, and then later a director. The truth is, though, that not much is known of his life during his pre-US years, or during the few years after he abandoned his family.
What Probably Happened: This case is too big for a small piece of an article, so I suggest you check out trucrime.com’s page on the murder. It’s likely that Taylor was killed because of Normand. Normand had quite a cocaine problem, and Taylor was determined to put and end to it, even if it meant he had to destroy the mob to do it.
In the 1920s, the mob would send pushers to the studios to basically stand around and wait for people to buy drugs off of them. This was how Normand got hooked, and Taylor was so determined to save the woman he loved that he went to the FBI to work with them to bring an end to it.
So, basically, the mob probably sent a hitman to kill him.
The aftermath: Well, the murder was never solved, but Minter’s career never recovered. Neither did Normand’s, who managed to make a few more movies before dying in 1930. And, yeah, the LAPD continued to suck ass for a few more decades. There was a deathbed confession decades later by former actress Margaret Gibson, who had known Taylor professionally. Gibson had ties to many notorious underworld types, so her confession is quite possibly true.