While plenty of progress seems to have made in Hollywood lately regarding the treatment of talent by those in power. Classic Hollywood filled with some incredibly corrupt studio heads. Though it’s easy to get nostalgic for the days of the past, these true stories might make you see classic entertainment in a new light! Join Facts Verse as we explore studio heads from classic Hollywood who were actually terrible people.
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer was the head of MGM studios from classic hollywood, and he had a particularly ruthless view of the way he treated the studio’s stars. According to Louis, stars weren’t born, but made. In particular, he made stars, and he felt that fact entitled him to a good deal of authority over them. If one of the stars at MGM didn’t want to do what Louis wanted, they would face the studio head’s wrath. That wrath would often see them forced to sit through one of Louis’ loud tantrums. However, he also sometimes got physical with the stars.
On the surface, Louis presented himself as a calm and balanced individual that the stars of MGM could look up to as a father figure. But that all changed once you truly got to know him. Still, there were some stars that maintained respect for the mogul. After all, it was he who was in charge of MGM when the studio put out such classics as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.
Louis liked to exert a good deal of control over the stars in his stable. And even tried his best to make sure his stars only went to physicians that he recommended. During his teenage years, star Mickey Rooney lectured by Louis about his public behavior. Though Mickey claims to have terrified, he maintained respect for the studio head due to Louis’ immeasurable business talents.
Many other stars have shared less kinds words about Louis. This includes Elizabeth Taylor, who called Louis a monster while she was working for him. Of all of the stars that the studio head mistreated, the one who received his abuse the worst was arguably Judy Garland. Louis sexually abused Judy when she was only a teenager. Groping her breasts and forcing her to sit on his lap. Louis would also bully the poor young woman, which many credit for her immense self-esteem issues later on in life. Louis made fun of her posture and commented on her weight. And Judy later suffered from numerous eating disorders later on in life.
Louis worked Judy Garland to the bone. And she got to the point where she had a mental breakdown and couldn’t show up to set. This resulted in Louis firing her, and she subsequently attempted suicide. Once Louis done obsessing over one of his starlets. He would move on to the next one and leave the prior one to rot. The studio head was also incredibly afraid of germs. And this phobia would often get in the way of him living a comfortable life.
Speaking of germaphobes, another studio head from classic Hollywood that seems to have been a terrible person was Howard Hughes. Known for his work in aviation before his entrance into the film industry, Howard was one of the most eccentric individuals of his time. Though the obsession that drove Howard most during his lifetime was arguably aviation, he made waves in Hollywood upon his entrance.
Though Howard had always known to be eccentric, he seems to have become much more eccentric in Hollywood. Amongst the beautiful denizens of the entertainment industry, Howard had a field day helping himself to any young starlet that he could find. Howard didn’t seem to care much how old they were. He apparently enjoyed giving young girls a chance to get away from their parents, and didn’t mind being the one to take their virginity.
Howard Hughes’ entrance into the film industry came with the 1930s feature Hell’s Angels, which he directed. He subsequently began producing other peoples’ films, including producing Howard Hawks’ Scarface in 1932. When Howard put actresses under contract with his studio, he evidently became very controlling of their personal lives. Howard turned Hollywood into a buffet where he could satiate his sexual desires. And there were many young women whose lives were ruined because of the eccentric studio head.
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David O. Selznick
David O. Selznick was a studio head that infamously lost out on the rights to Gone with the Wind. Many years after this debacle, he sizzled out of classic Hollywood to little fanfare after making a strange feature film that seemed to be dedicated purely to objectifying his own mistress, Jennifer Jones. During her time with David, Jennifer infamously tried to commit suicide and then had to have her stomach pumped. David’s wife was named Irene, and she left him after finding out about Jennifer. David’s last American film was dedicated to his mistress, and it was titled Portrait of Jennie. The film cost three times as much as it ended up making, and David didn’t live very much longer after that.
Everyone has heard of Warner Bros., but did you know that the studio is named after actual brothers? The Warner brothers were real people, and the most notable of them was Jack Warner. There were four Warner brothers in charge of the studio, and Jack was the biggest dog. The brothers were all ruthless, but Jack was the most ruthless. They had grown up in an immigrant family with a total of 11 children and had learned to fight to get the things that they wanted.
In Classic Hollywood, Jack’s ruthless practices could be seen in his treatment of his stars. However, those who received Jack’s abuses the worst were arguably his family members, including the three brothers that he started Warner Bros. with. Jack always treated his brothers terribly. Though things came to a head in the 1950s when he tricked them out of their shares of the studio. Jack scammed his brothers out of their shares, and subsequently became the studio’s head.
One of the brothers that Jack Warner scammed in his successful attempt to become the sole head of Warner Bros. was Harry Warner, who died only two years later. Harry died after suffering a series of strokes. And other members of the family were quick to point out that the stress that he had been dealing with after getting scammed out of his share of the studio that he helped create was arguably what had killed him. At Harry’s funeral, his widow declared during a speech that Jack Warner had killed her husband.
Mere days after Harry Warner’s funeral, Jack Warner got into a car crash that landed him in a coma. He ended up recovering, and lived another two decades. Jack Warner finally passed away in 1978, after suffering from his own series of strokes. At his death, the studio head was 86 years old. In the years after claiming the throne of Warner Bros., Jack remained estranged from his family.
Harry Cohn was head of Columbia Pictures for nearly four decades, from 1919 to 1958. During that time, Harry Cohn reportedly took advantage of his power to have sex with many actresses that worked at the studio. Though this type of behavior has since become a Hollywood stereotype. Many consider Harry to be one of the stereotype’s originators. Despite the fact that Harry treated his talent the wrong way, the studio head was still incredibly successful when it came to business. Columbia Pictures started out as one of the lowest studios in all of Hollywood. And eventually became one of the industry’s biggest players.
Harry considered himself to be the dictator of Columbia Pictures, and that meant that he always got his way. This was true even when the things that Harry wanted had nothing to do with the movies he was making. Harry loved taking advantage of his female actresses, and also loved spying on the various film sets around the studio. The studio head apparently had equipment done up around all the sets that would allow him to listen in on others’ conversations and make sure that they weren’t speaking ill of him. If they were speaking ill of him, he would surprise them on the intercom.
One of the stars that Harry Cohn was said to have treated the worst was Rita Hayworth. Harry Cohn got Rita Hayworth her start in the industry. However, he only did so under the presumption that the Spanish actress was going to have sex with him in return. Once it became apparent to Harry that Rita wasn’t interested in giving him any sexual favors in exchange for the contract that he had gotten her. He set about harassing and stalking her to show her who was boss.
Another star that faced the wrath of Harry Cohn was Kim Novak. Harry and Kim were together before Kim left him for Sammy Davis Jr. This made Harry so mad that he put a mob hit out on the singer. Perhaps as retribution, Harry ended up dying himself only a few months later.
Though plenty of progress has been made in Hollywood as of late in regards to how stars are treated. It seems that there was a lot of corruption amongst studio heads in classic times. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Howard Hughes was seen as being even too creepy for his Hollywood peers. And did you know that David O. Selznick dedicated the last years of his life to making a bizarre film about his mistress that everyone hated? As always, like this video to show your support. And subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!