When most people think of Old Hollywood, thoughts of classy, sophisticated matinée idols come to mind. The reality was a bit different though. Behind all the glitz and glamour, the golden age of Hollywood was populated by drunks, drug-addicted craziness, huge egos, and honest-to-goodness nutjobs. Modern weirdos like Gary Busey certainly don’t have a monopoly on the “crazy actor” job. In this video, we’re going to look at some of classic Hollywood stars who had dark secrets. Be sure to watch until the end of the video to hear about a star who lived with a lion long before Siegfried and Roy came on the scene. And remember to click and subscribe to the Facts Verse channel below so you don’t miss any of our upcoming videos.
In 1960, the editors at Good Housekeeping magazine got a rather unusual phone call. Gary Grant, the suave, sophisticated Hollywood star who rarely gave interviews, was on the other end of the line and wanted to talk. Unfortunately, what he wanted to talk about was the unbelievable amount of LSD he had been dropping.
That and the fact that he thought everyone else should start dropping acid along with him.
Grant was born into a poor family in Bristol, with a cheating father and a mother who disappeared suddenly when his father had her committed to an insane asylum. Grant spent most of his adult life in film dealing with the demons of his childhood.
After decades of trouble, his third wife turned him onto LSD therapy and those sessions apparently blew his mind. Between 1958 and 1961, Grant reportedly dropped acid at least 100 times and it turned him into an evangelist for his favorite cure for the blues. Of course, being acid, some of the things he went on about sounded a little nuts. One vision he recounted had him turning into a giant wang and blasting off into outer space. He only stopped dosing when the counterculture picked up on the acid craze — he didn’t want his image to get mixed up with all those hippies.
If you’ve seen pictures of Peter Lorre, you probably noticed his droopy eyes. He usually looked like he was about to fall asleep. He leveraged this look into a career of playing weirdos and villains but the look had less to do with genetics and more to do with what the actor was putting in his arm. Lorre spent most of his career whacked out on morphine.
He got addicted long before appearing on-screen, after having appendix surgery in his native Europe. According to the London Review of Books, Lorre’s doctors kept him so full of morphine that he ended up addicted. His addiction was a well-known fact in Hollywood, with his friends joking that the “M” stood for morphine in the German thriller M, in which he played the role of the serial killer. When he moved to Hollywood, he also ended up getting hooked on prescription pills and cough medicine.
For parts of his career, Lorre would choose roles based on how they interfered with his drug habit. For example, he took the role of Mr. Moto in an eight-film series because, while he needed the money, they would also let him shoot up in his crew trailer. Even with entire films getting shot where he was so drugged out he could barely get up a flight of stairs, he still out-acted everyone else on set.
Most people who go under the knife to get a nose job are concerned about making their nose smaller. That wasn’t the case with Orson Welles. The famous actor and director thought his nose was too small for the size of his face. Having an entire makeup department at his beck and call paid off — he had them make fake noses for every role he played. The bigger, the better.
Welles sported a fake nose in almost every role. At the beginning of his career, these noses were relatively normal-sized. By the end of his career, they became misshapen, bulging appendages that swelled up the center of his face. He was unwilling to work without them too. When he took an acting role in Black Magic while still trying to finish directing Macbeth, he was more worried about his box of fake shnozzes that he was about finishing his film.
After finishing a film, Welles would name his noses and keep them in his home in Hollywood. He would occasionally pull them out at parties and do magic tricks with them. Apparently directing the best film ever made lets you get away with a lot of craziness.
From the outside looking in, Joan Crawford seemed like she had the perfect life. She was a three-time Academy Award nominated actress who gave to charitable causes and adopted five children into her home. She even reportedly had a steamy one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe, proving that old Hollywood could keep up with anything in the modern internet age. In spite of her outward appearances, Crawford was an egomaniac who was consumed by jealousy, according to her adopted daughter Christina.
The year after she died, Christina published her infamous book Mommie Dearest, an account of her time with Crawford. It made the Hollywood star sound like the mother from hell. Some of the tidbits shared in the book include the revelation that Crawford had told Christina her birth mother was dead (when she wasn’t), stories of Crawford going nuts when she found her daughter’s dresses hung on wire hangers, and harrowing stories of physical abuse she occasionally unleashed on her adopted children.
To be fair, the book does have its detractors. Two of Crawford’s other adopted children have disputed the stories it contains. But because Crawford’s craziness is so well-documented in other ways, it’s still considered plausible. She used shady back channels to adopt her kids, resulting in one of their birth mother’s reclaiming his just a few days after his arrival. There’s also her well-documented feud with the equally weird Bette Davis, which ended up in Crawford sabotaging her own film’s success to stop Davis from winning her third Oscar.
W.C. Fields is well-known for playing a misanthropic, alcoholic jerk in all his movies. While he was very good at the role, it can’t really be considered acting — he was just as moody and drunk in real life as he was on-screen.
In his look back at Field’s classic 1940 comedy The Bank Dick, film critic Roger Ebert shared detailed insight into his alcohol fueled craziness. The overweight, mottled star was mostly drunk for his entire career. He was so obsessed with the thought of being caught without a drop of alcohol that he hoarded enough of it in his attic to last him 25 years. One version of the story claims this was an insurance policy against prohibition coming back.
Ultimately, this reliance on alcohol started to affect his career. Later in his life, Field’s would demand $15,000 for every screenplay he wrote. Any producer that managed to get caught in his trap ended up with some vague chicken scratches on the back of an envelope, if anything at all. According to his friend Groucho Marx, Fields also loved to mess with regular people. He would hide behind the bushes in front of his house and shoot passersby with a BB gun.
Most people fear things like heights, snakes, or spiders but not Peter Sellers — he was terrified of the color purple. Yes, the actual color purple. The actor who gave us Doctor Strangelove was even stranger than that legendary nut.
Sellers’ strangeness wasn’t the bumbling, goofy kind that he often played onscreen. He was such a nutjob that most people couldn’t stand to be around him. He’s have screaming meltdowns on film sets and freak out at his wives, smashing dishes and threatening them with his shotgun. To vent his frustrations with directors and producers on movies, who were typically more powerful than him, he would get low-level people fired from the set. He was vaguely racist and very superstitious, which led to his conviction that the famed director Vittorio de Sica was a source of supernatural knowledge.
While they worked together on After the Fox, Sellers saw de Sica yell at a script girl for wearing purple. The director told him it was the color of death and Sellers took that to heart. He became convinced the color purple could kill and would throw tantrums any time he came into contact with it.
Tippi Hedren is best known for acting terrified of a flock of birds in Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller The Birds. So it might seem a little strange to hear that she shared her Hollywood home with one of the scariest animals possible — a fully-grown, 400 pound male lion.
This unlikely pairing stemmed from Hedren’s conservation work. She’s been actively working to save big cats for decades, winning a host of award for her efforts. So living with a lion wasn’t just for show or to impress other Hollywood stars. Even so, it was pretty impressive and more than a little terrifying.
Hedren’s lion, Neil, had the run of the house and would often walk through the living room when she had guests visiting. At that time, Hedren’s teenage daughter Melanie Griffith was living with her and she would occasionally let Neil and Griffith sleep in the same bed.
Fortunately, Neil didn’t maul Hedren, Griffith, or any of their houseguests. But they later got other lions and each member of the family was attacked at one point or another. Griffith even needed facial reconstruction surgery after being badly mauled. Hedren has since come to her senses and admits that having a lion living in her house was “stupid beyond belief.”