10+ Facts About Old Hollywood That'll Change Some Perspectives

If you think Hollywood is weird now, think again.

Back in Old Hollywood, actors and actresses were given pep pills to stay awake, forced to fake marriages for publicity, and pressured into looking a certain way.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Here are 10+ facts about Old Hollywood that'll change some perspectives.

1. They had to sign long-term contracts.


While most actors and actresses today move from studio to studio freely, this wasn't the case back then.

With five- to seven-year (or even longer) contracts, the talent was locked in for a long time.

2. The only way around this was when talent was loaned to other studios.


Elizabeth Taylor, for example, would instigate a loan from her home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), so that she could work on other films.

3. They couldn't pass down roles.

These days, actors have the freedom to pass on a role if they so choose.

But back in Old Hollywood, actors didn't have that same freedom, as they had to accept what they were offered.

Turning down a role was even potentially career-killing.

Bette Davis felt this firsthand, as she was suspended by Warner Brothers for turning down roles.

On the flipside, actor John Gilbert was reportedly intentionally placed in bad movies by MGM to tank his career.

4. Child actors had to sit on a block of ice whenever they misbehaved on set.

This was called the "black box."

"So far as I can tell, the black box did no lasting damage to my psyche," child actress Shirley Temple once said.

5. Tippi Hedren was attacked by live birds while filming Alfred Hitchcock's *The Birds*.

She wrote about the traumatizing experience in her memoir, Tippi.

While mechanical birds were supposed to be used for the famous bird attack scene, that all changed when they weren't working.

“It was brutal and ugly and relentless,” Hedren wrote about pigeons, ravens, and other birds being hurled at her for five days.

For the final scene, live birds were even loosely tied to Hedren’s costume while she laid on the floor.

6. Joan Crawford would soak her eyes in boric acid to make them "sparkle".

It was part of her beauty ritual, outlined in her autobiography, My Way of Life.

"While the masque is working, place pads soaked in witch hazel and boric acid over your eyelids and put on your favorite music."

She also had her back molars removed in order to help accentuate her cheek bones

I'm rubbing my face right now as I write this. The procedure Joan had was known as "the buckle."

Supposedly, with the back teeth removed, it allows a person to smile more elegantly.

7. Margaret O'Brien's mother would go to extremes to get her to cry on demand.

While filming the crying scenes in Meet Me in St. Louis, her mother would tell her that the rival actor could cry on command, thus making her jealous.

8. Gene Kelly once made Debbie Reynolds hide under a piano, crying.

They had a huge rivalry after all.

Debbie cried after Gene Kelly insulted her dancing mercilessly while they were filming Singin' in the Rain.

9. A lot of the relationships were fake.

This was done to drum up publicity for movies.

Judy Garland and Mickey Roonie faked a relationship while promoting their movie, Babes in Arms. In real life, though, Rooney was known for dating a lot of women.

Some marriages were even faked.

A huge example of this was when Rock Hudson was forced to marry his agent's secretary, Phyllis Gates. But here's the real kicker: Hudson was actually homosexual.

This wasn't revealed until he publicly announced his AIDS diagnosis.

10. There were rules against actresses having children.

How could they work if they were pregnant? To avoid any penalties from studios, some actresses went to extreme measures.

Ava Gardner wrote in her memoir that she would have an abortion if she was pregnant just to avoid penalties from MGM.

11. They used cancer-causing asbestos on movie sets in the '20s and '30s.

This was used to give the illusion of snow and other purposes.

Steve McQueen even believed that the harmful substance caused him to develop pleural mesothelioma cancer later in life.

12. Margaret Hamilton had to wear toxic paint to play the Wicked Witch of the West in *The Wizard of Oz*.


The copper in the paint made it toxic.

"Every night when I was taking off the Witch's makeup, I would make sure that her face was thoroughly clean," her makeup artist, Jack Young, revealed.

Margaret wasn't the only *Wizard of Oz* cast member who almost died at the hands of makeup.

Buddy Ebsen was the original Tin Man, but the aluminum dust from the makeup reportedly almost killed him.

He was replaced by Jack Haley, but the damage was done. Ebsen suffered breathing issues for the rest of his life and attributed it to the Tin Man makeup.

13. Female actresses had to maintain their slim figures.

As it turns out, the pressure to look a certain way has always been a part of Hollywood.

Judy Garland, for instance, was called the “fat little pig with pigtails" by the bosses at MGM to encourage her to lose weight. She was also given pills to curb her appetite.

14. Rita Moreno had an on-and-off eight-year love affair with Marlon Brando.

She called him "one of the most sexual men on earth." Um, interesting!

The actress even dated Elvis Presley to make Brando jealous.

But when it came to who was a better lover, the King didn't reign supreme.

"Elvis wasn't so good. He was really a sweet fellow. He was a very shy, handsome boy," she said on The Wendy Williams Show.

"But, you know, Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando? Come on. Amateur night."

15. Audrey Hepburn's iconic eyelashes didn't come easy.

Audrey became famous for her doe-eyed look and expressions. In order to achieve this, she would first apply a heavy layer of mascara.

Afterward, she would sit and painstakingly separate each individual eyelash with a safety pin.

16. Director Norman Taurog threatened to kill a dog to get his child actors to cry.

Jackie Cooper was the star of Skippy. He was having problems crying on cue, so Norman came up with a solution.

He took the boy aside and told him that a policeman was holding his dog hostage. When that didn't work, Norman had someone fire a gun off-set.

17. *The Conqueror* was filmed adjacent to a nuclear testing facility.

Of the 220 cast members that worked on the film, 90 of them were later diagnosed with some type of cancer.

John Wayne was the lead in the film, and his children believe that it was this movie that killed their father.

18. Silent film star Harold Lloyd was the victim of a prop bomb explosion.

As Harold would come to learn, it wasn't a prop bomb at all.

The live explosive detonated in his hand and instantly severed his thumb and index finger from his hand.

19. Hattie McDaniel was forced to sit in the back of the auditorium during the Academy Awards.

Hattie McDaniel was nominated for "Best Supporting Actress" for her work in the classic film, Gone With The Wind.

She was the first Black woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

At the time, the hotel hosting the Oscars had a strict "no Blacks allowed" policy.

Because of the rampant racism of the day, Hattie couldn't join her castmates and had to sit at her own table.

Despite all of this, she walked away with Oscar gold.

20. Actors were given prescription meds to keep them awake and working.

Judy Garland once wrote that the studio would often prescribe pep pills and force both she and Mickey Rooney to take the drugs.

It wasn't uncommon for Judy and Mickey to shoot for 72 hours straight.

21. Lucille Ball was forced to audition for *Gone With The Wind*.

As Lucille explained to Bob Hope, everybody knew that this was nothing more than an obvious publicity stunt.

Still, since she was under contract and in the early stages of her career, Lucille wasn't allowed to refuse.

22. Angela Lansbury had to uproot her family to Ireland because of Charles Manson.


Angela's daughter, Deirdre, fell in love with Charles Manson and her son was experimenting with heroin.

The renowned actress had to then make the difficult decision to relocate to Cork, Ireland.

23. Debbie Reynolds had an interesting approach to dealing with her daughter's drug issue.

Debbie's daughter was none other than Carrie Fisher, known primarily for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

Carrie was incredibly rebellious and began experimenting with substance abuse at a young age.

When she started using hard drugs, her mother intervened.

Carrie recalled that her mother became worried when she began shooting LSD. But instead of taking Carrie to a hospital, she called the legendary film star Carey Grant.

He and Carrie spoke on the phone, and he cautioned her to make better choices.

24. Lana Turner's daughter murdered her abusive boyfriend.

Lana's daughter, Cheryl Crane, murdered her then-boyfriend, John Stompanato Jr., when she was only 14 years old.

Stompanato had a history of brutal abuse and served as an enforcer to a known gangster.

After he threatened to disfigure Lana, her daughter came to her rescue.

Stampanato ran through the doorframe just as Cheryl stepped around the corner with a knife. According to reports, he ran directly into the blade and died of his wounds.

The death was deemed a justifiable homicide.

25. Betty White is older than sliced bread — seriously.

The automatic bread slicing machine was invented by a man named Otto Frederick Rohwedder. A small bakery in Chillicothe, MO, first used the machine to package bread for their customers in 1928.

As many people no doubt already know, Betty recently celebrated her 99th birthday.

She was born on Jan. 17, 1922 — six whole years before the advent of sliced bread. Betty really has seen it all.

Do you have any incredible facts about Old Hollywood? Leave a comment and let us know!

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