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Hollywood Stars Who Were Actually Jerks In Real Life

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Movie stars in Hollywood‘s illustrious Golden Age became household names and lived illustrious lives that most of us can only dream of. But they could quickly lose it all if a scandal sullied their reputations, shattering illusions and proving that even the most beloved Hollywood stars could be jerks. Fortunately for them, keeping their personal lives out of the media was much easier than it is today.

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It’s time to discuss the biggest jerks in the history of Hollywood. Everyone has difficulties at work, but some film heroes commit villainous acts behind the scenes. In fact, some of their actions were so heinous that they would probably end their careers if they happened today.

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Milton Berle

THE LOVED ONE, Milton Berle, 1965 / Everett Collection

Milton Berle had a reputation as an unapologetic joke thief, earning the nickname “The Thief of Bad Gags.” RuPaul even called him out at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards. The two got along poorly on-camera and off, and what should have been a torch-passing got awkward when RuPaul went off-script. RuPaul ended his professional relationship with MTV shortly after the incident.

RELATED: Classic Hollywood Stars Who Were ALWAYS Drunk

Uncle Miltie also earned a lifetime ban from hosting NBC’s Saturday Night Live. When he guest-hosted in 1979, Berle attempted to take control of the entire show during rehearsals, upstaged his fellow cast members, and recycled old comedy bits. Lorne Michaels tried to keep the show from being rerun, but copies of the show surfaced in 2003. In this case, this Hollywood star’s jerk behavior impacted other people’s work.

Charlie Chaplin

THE REAL CHARLIE CHAPLIN, Charles Chaplin, in archival footage, 1940s, 1930s, 2021. © Showtime Networks /Courtesy Everett Collection

Sir Charles Chaplin’s films were silent, but he certainly wasn’t if the cast and crew didn’t work up to his standards. He was well-known in Hollywood as a perfectionist who would fly off the handle, become a complete jerk, and fire crew members at the drop of a bowler hat.

Chaplin was married four times to women many years his junior. His first wife was 17 on their wedding day, and his second wife was 16. At 54, Chaplin married 18-year-old Oona O’Neill, daughter of the famous playwright Eugene O’Neill. Oona’s father disowned her, but the couple remained married until Chaplin’s death. He was reportedly an abusive husband to all his wives, and he had no qualms about sleeping with other women.

Lucille Ball

Going by stories of Ball, both she and Arnaz were beloved Hollywood stars capable of being notorious jerks / Everett Collection

Lucille Ball broke a lot of new ground for what could be aired on television and revolutionized the modern sitcom. But she was very demanding behind the scenes. Tony Randall claimed that Lucy “bossed everybody around and didn’t spare anybody’s feelings.” in 1979, Richard Burton called Lucy “a monster of staggering charmlessness and monumental lack of humor” and said that if he had been drinking, he might have killed her.

Errol Flynn

CAPTAIN BLOOD, Errol Flynn, 1935 / Everett Collection

Charles Higham’s 1980 biography Errol Flynn: The Untold Story made shocking allegations about the iconic swashbuckler. In addition to claiming that Flynn had multiple same-sex affairs, Higham accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer. His claims were based purely on circumstantial evidence and subsequently debunked in later biographies.

The well-known expression “In like Flynn” was inspired by three separate statutory rape trials in 1942. He was acquitted each time, but the damage to his reputation was already done. His lifestyle choices also took a toll on his good looks, and he mostly played aging alcoholics later in his career. When Flynn died of a heart attack in 1959 at 50, the medical examiner said he had the body of an 85-year-old man.

Bing Crosby

DIXIE, Bing Crosby, 1943 / Everett Collection

Bing Crosby’s oldest son Gary authored the 1983 tell-all biography Going My Own Way and claimed the crooner handled most disciplinary issues with a stern lecture and a studded leather belt. Gary Crosby was also punished when his brothers acted up, and the discipline didn’t stop at spankings. Housekeepers allegedly gave the children the drowning treatment in the bathtub if they heard them talking in bed or if they woke up too early. Two of Crosby’s children suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide.

Despite doing seven road movies together, Bing Crosby and co-star Bob Hope weren’t friends. Bob Hope once told a friend, “he simply didn’t like Bing and, at times, detested him.” Hollywood has seen too many jerks like this, but how many fans know what happened behind closed doors?

Gene Kelly

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, Gene Kelly, 1951 / Everett Collection

When dancer Cyd Charisse came home from the MGM lot covered in bruises, her husband assumed she must have worked with Gene Kelly that day. But Kelly may have done something far worse than being too rough with his co-stars. In 1970, he reportedly donated to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He met covertly with IRA leader Cathal Goulding during an underground fund-raising mission in the USA and gave him a check for £20,000. Kelly reportedly told Golding. “This money is for guns. I certainly don’t want it going to any do-gooders.”

Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia Ward Kelly disputes the allegations, which surfaced after his death. She claimed her late husband was proud of his Irish heritage, but he didn’t have much money and wasn’t a violent man.

John Wayne

Wayne showed his true colors when he tried to charge at Sacheen Littlefeather / Everett Collection

John Wayne was known for his ultra-conservative views, but many people don’t know that he referred to himself as both a socialist and a liberal early in his career. John Wayne supported Barry Goldwater for president in 1964 after the Arizona Senator voted against the Civil Rights Act, and he made his most controversial remarks in the May 1971 issue of Playboy. Wayne said he believed in white supremacy and didn’t support African-Americans holding office until they could be “educated to a point of responsibility.”

Wayne also publicly denounced homosexuality. He considered Suddenly, Last Summer “too disgusting even for discussion” and claimed Midnight Cowboy was “perverse.” Surprisingly, Wayne befriended Rock Hudson when they co-starred in The Undefeated, and they remained good friends until Wayne died in 1979.

Some film school students still walk out of classes when John Wayne’s movies are screened, and Democratic leaders want to remove his name from the Orange County Airport. The Duke even got dissed by Public Enemy in the 1989 hit “Fight the Power”

Bette Davis

Davis is one of the most glamorous Hollywood stars who could be quite the jerk / Everett Collection

To quote songwriter Kim Carnes, screen goddess Bette Davis was “ferocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush.”

Producer William Frye told Vanity Fair about once having dinner with Davis and director Herschel Daugherty. Daugherty made the mistake of wagging his finger in her face, and she responded with a verbal tirade that cleared out half the restaurant. Davis then returned to her dinner and acted as if nothing had happened.

Film set lighting gets pretty intense, and Bette Davis often rinsed her legendary eyes between scenes. During the filming of Mr. Skeffington, someone entered her dressing room and poisoned her eyewash. The culprit was never found, and director Vincent Sherman reportedly told detectives, “If you were to line up the cast and crew and ask them: ‘Okay, which one of you wanted to kill Bette Davis?’ A hundred people would raise their hands.”

Joan Crawford

THE GORGEOUS HUSSY, Joan Crawford, 1936 / Everett Collection

Joan Crawford would have pushed her way to the front of the line and raised her hand as high as Lady Liberty. Her backstage battle with Bette Davis during the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was dramatized in the 2017 miniseries Feud. Davis did everything she could to get Crawford fired from the picture, but she was unsuccessful. When Davis was nominated for an Academy Award and Crawford wasn’t, all hell predictably broke loose!

Joan got herself booked to present the best director award and sabotaged her own movie by actively campaigning against her archnemesis. The Oscar went to Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker in 1963, and Joan Crawford accepted the trophy on her behalf.

The 1978 tell-all Mommie Dearest was Christina Crawford’s response to a lifetime of abuse. Two of Crawford’s other children claimed they weren’t abused, and several of her personal friends came to her defense. But Joan Crawford’s alcoholism, jealousy, and obsessive cleaning habits were well-known throughout Hollywood. Crawford allegedly had a one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe and was named “the other woman” in at least two divorces.

Christina Crawford spent most of her childhood in boarding schools and claims her mother adopted children merely as a publicity stunt. Crawford wasn’t married and illegally adopted her children through back channels. One birth mother even arrived to reclaim her child days after Crawford brought it home.

Joan Crawford left behind a $2 million estate when she died in 1977, and two of her adopted children inherited $77,500 each. Christina and her brother Christopher were wholly excluded from the will.

Mickey Rooney

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT! III, Mickey Rooney, 1994, ©MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Mickey Rooney was married eight times and boasted about having countless extramarital affairs in his tell-all autobiography Life Is Too Short. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer reprimanded Rooney in 1938 for having a torrid affair with Norma Shearer because it caused problems during the production of Marie Antoinette. Rooney also claims that he took his first trip to a bordello with his mentor Milton Berle and witnessed Tallulah Bankhead engaged in a lesbian encounter; the two could be jerks in Hollywood together. As if that wasn’t enough, Rooney also outed his close friend Judy Garland for having a brief affair with a woman and described his first wife Ava Gardner’s private parts in explicit detail. Once again, one of the alleged Hollywood jerks exhibits behavior that negatively impacts others.

Hollywood journalist Craig Bennett makes even more shocking allegations in his 2019 book  True Confessions of a Shameless Gossip. Bennett characterizes the actor as “abrasive, nasty, curt and rude and claims that Rooney’s lengthy list of sexual conquests included bedding a 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor on the set of National Velvet when he was 24. Bennett also claims Rooney “almost wore out the casting couch” auditioning young actresses for roles that didn’t exist. If it’s any consolation, it’s widely believed that many of Rooney’s claims were either exaggerated or completely false.

Movies are where ordinary people go to escape for a few hours, and we’ve idolized movie stars for over a century. They’re people we want to be and people we want to be with. But we should all remember that what happens behind the scenes can often be far more shocking than what makes it onto the screen.

Do movie stars owe it to their fans to be role models, or should we just enjoy their movies and mind our own business? Does this change how you feel about these screen legends, or do you consider their actions tame compared to today’s celebrity controversies? Who do you know to be a jerk among the ranks of Hollywood stars? Get in the comments and let us know!

Beloved alleged jerks of Hollywood, stars Gene Kelly and Lucille Ball / Everett Collection
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