Although Old Hollywood has a glamorous reputation and is often referred to as the "Golden Age" of cinema, it was actually just as scandalous and messed up as modern day show business. In the 1930s, it wasn't uncommon for studios to pump child stars full of amphetamines, force women to have abortions, and expose black stars to blatant racism.
Child Stars Were Forced To Work 72 Hour ShiftsMondadori Portfolio/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
By now, most people know that show business just might be the worst place for a child, and things were no different in Old Hollywood. Child stars Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney are perfect examples of how poorly children were treated in movie business in the 1930s. Both Garland and Rooney were forced to work 18-hour days, six days a week, and acted in movies at a nonstop pace. The two would finish a movie and be on a different set within hours, and before long it started to take a toll on their bodies.
Studios Like MGM Gave Children AmphetaminesJohn Springer Collection/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
As a solution to slumping child stars, MGM decided to pump up their performers with amphetamines. The kids were given large does of pharmaceutical amphetamines to keep them going for 72 hours straight, and then were put to sleep with strong sleeping pills. By the time Garland was an adult, she struggled with the ups and downs of being a drug and alcohol addict. She stated, "They had us [Mickey and Judy] working days and nights on end. They'd give us pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us out with sleeping pills…after four hours they'd wake us up and give us the pep pills against so we could work 72 hours in a row."
Hollywood Stars Were Given The Drug Abuse Catch 22Clarence Sinclair Bull/Moviepix/Getty Images
Although Hollywood execs were pumping their child actors full of stimulants, they were simultaneously trying to control adult actors by any means possible. As part of their contracts, stars were expected to be the face of the studio at all times—even when they were off the movie set. Movie stars were strictly banned from immoral behavior, and ironically that included drug use. However, many stars were given plenty of drugs by the studio to keep them working long hours.
Extreme Makeovers Were More Common Than You'd Thinklifebooker.com
While extreme plastic surgery makeovers are a huge part of celebrity culture today, it was also fairly common for stars to get dramatic makeovers in Old Hollywood. And, to make matters worse, most of the decisions came from their higher-ups at the studios. One perfect example of that is singer Margarita Cansino, who transformed from a Latina beauty into a classic all-American white girl, who went by the name of Rita Hayworth. Additionally, actresses were strongly encouraged to stay thin. Garland reported that the studio often gave her diet pills, restricted her food consumption to chicken soup, and told her to smoke 80 cigarettes a day to keep the weight off.
Actors' Personal Lives Were Highly Controllednationalenquirer.com
At this point, it's pretty obvious that actors and actresses lives were highly controlled in Old Hollywood, perhaps even more so than they are today. Agents and studio executives had complete autonomy over a star's looks, public persona, and overall career, and they also longed to control the fine details of a star's life—like who they hang out with or even marry. When actress Kim Novak fell in love with black singer Sammy Davis Jr., producer Harry Cohn stepped in to stop the union. He told Davis that if he didn't end the affair with Novak, he would reach out to his contacts in the mob and have a hit put out on him.
Studio Execs Provided Actors With 'Friends' Who Were Really SpiesVanity Fair
Additionally, stars were also "given" friends by the studios they worked for. These fake friends were actually spies, who watched over stars as if they were their parents. Both Garland and Rooney were assigned "assistants," who gathered as much information about the actor's state of mind as possible and then reported the news back to the studio. Garland had no idea her assistant wasn't actually her friend, and was devastated when she found out her closest confidante was actually a studio spy.
Studios Forced Women To Have AbortionsBettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images
According to one anonymous Old Hollywood actress, abortions were considered birth control for young starlets. The patriarchal powers in Old Hollywood were so influential that studio executives were able to control nearly everything in a starlet's life, even their own reproductive organs. Heads of studios like MGM, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and RKO were quick to push stars into abortions if they felt the pregnancy wasn't appropriate for the woman's public image. One perfect example, unfortunately, was 18-year-old Garland, who tried to gain some distance from her studio overlords when she married a 31-year-old songwriter and got pregnant.
Controlling A Starlets Image And PregnanciesKeystone-france/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
Jean Harlow wasn't allowed to get married because the studio wanted to maintain her "bombshell" image. As a result, Harlow hopped into the sack with her boyfriend and when she inevitably got pregnant, the studio arranged for the baby to be aborted. On yet another occasion, Joan Crawford got pregnant while having an affair with Clark Gable, and the studio helped her get an abortion and keep it a secret from her husband.
Big Surprise! Old Hollywood Was Super RacistMondadori Portfolio/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
As if pumping kids full of drugs and forcing women to get abortions wasn't bad enough, Old Hollywood was also known for being incredibly racist. In the 1930s, studios were still segregated and white and black stars were kept separate, even if they were working on the same movie set. When Lennie Bluett, who played a nanny in "Gone With The Wind," gave Clark Gable a tour of the segregated studio, he vowed to quit the movie business unless the racist "white" and "colored" signs were taken down. Additionally, black women in particular were typecast into maid roles to the point that if they turned them down, they weren't given any work. Hattie McDaniel, who played the Mammy in "Gone With The Wind," also appeared in 70 other maid roles before she died in the 1950s.
Stars Were Hopped Up On LSDbostworld.files.wordpress.com
Depending on who you talk to, this might actually be one of the best things about Old Hollywood. Although stars like Cary Grant and Esther Williams had pretty clean public personas, in their private lives they were huge advocates of the psychedelic drug LSD. Grant's wife Betty Drake introduced him to the drug in the 1950s, when psychiatrists and medical professionals were using it during psychotherapy sessions. Even Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson said he took the drug in the 1950s and '60s. He claimed the experience was "beautiful and eye-opening."