Sex! Stabbing! Erotic vagrancy! No one did scandal like old Hollywood. Below, the top five eyebrow-raising, headline-grabbing incidents perpetrated by the silver-screen set.
Fatty Arbuckle’s wild party
1 Second only to Charlie Chaplin in popularity, silent-screen comedian Roscoe ”Fatty” Arbuckle signed a $3 million contract with Paramount in 1921, and decided to celebrate. At the end of a now legendary San Francisco hotel party, 25-year-old bit player Virginia Rappe lay dying, and witnesses said she blamed Fatty for raping her. Rumor compounded upon rumor, all gleefully printed by the tabloid press. After two hung juries, a third acquitted Arbuckle, but his career had been dealt a fatal blow.
Lana Turner’s kid kills Mama’s lover
2 When 14-year-old Cheryl Crane stabbed Johnny Stompanato with a kitchen knife as he fought with her movie-star mom in 1958, the modern media scandal came of age. The inquest was filmed for TV, and Turner delivered one of her finest performances, nearly collapsing on the stand. It was ruled justifiable homicide, and Turner’s 1959 film, Imitation of Life, was a huge hit.
Roman Polanski flees the country
3 On March 10, 1977, the Rosemary’s Baby director invited 13-year-old Samantha Gailey to an L.A. photo shoot, gave her champagne (and, allegedly, quaaludes), and had sex with her. Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, then fled to France before his sentencing. When he won the Best Director Oscar for 2002’s The Pianist, Harrison Ford accepted the award. Polanski remains a fugitive from U.S. justice.
Errol Flynn’s statutory-rape trial
4 The star of The Adventures of Robin Hood loved women, and they loved him right back. So in 1942, when he was charged with having sex with Betty Hansen, 17, and Peggy Satterlee, 15, the trial was a winking diversion for a war-weary public. The defense portrayed the girls as morally lax groupies, and the actor was acquitted. Soon after, the phrase ”in like Flynn” entered the lexicon.
Liz Taylor’s love life
5 For a good half decade, La Liz was a one-woman scandal factory. After third husband Mike Todd’s 1958 death, she set her sights on his best friend, singer-actor Eddie Fisher — that is, Debbie Reynolds’ husband. Fisher got a quickie divorce and married Taylor the same day; three years later, she ditched him for her Cleopatra costar Richard Burton. (The Vatican newspaper charged the actress with ”erotic vagrancy.”) Burton and Taylor wed in 1964, divorced a decade later, remarried in 1975, and split again in ’76.