6. Veronica Lake
Veronica Lake was a film goddess of the 1940s, but by 1962 she was working for tips in a New York cocktail lounge. When she died in 1973 of hepatitis and kidney injury, she was so low on money that a friend had to pay for the funeral.
Born Constance Ockleman in Brooklyn, New York, there were symptoms of mental issues very early on including rebelliousness and a mercurial nature. She was kicked out of an all-girls Catholic boarding school for her constant disregard for authority and refusal to follow even basic rules. Regardless of how or why the trouble started, the mental issues progressed into odd speech patterns, hallucinations, and paranoia, eventually leading to a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Despite her mental issues, which were certainly less understood at the time, her family supported a career in acting. They had moved to Miami which is where a talent agent first spotted Veronica. Upon his suggestion, they moved again to Los Angeles in order to take a chance on Veronica’s talent or, perhaps more accurately, exploit her as a golden ticket.
In 1948, once Veronica was a household name, her mother sued her for support claiming that the star would have never been an actress without her help and that Veronica had allegedly agreed to pay her mother and stepfather $200 a week for life.
Veronica’s career fell apart early. She was in her first movie by age 17, a star by 19 thanks to Sullivan’s Travels, but unable to find work in Hollywood by 30. Three divorces, the death of a child, untreated mental illness, alcoholism, and a generally difficult nature had finally broken Veronica down. The woman who had been known for her haughty beauty on screen died a bloated alcoholic with rotting teeth. Who knows what could have been had Veronica received the medication and treatment she needed?
7. Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood’s birth name was Natalia “Natasha” Zakharenko. Her mother, Maria, wanted desperately for her daughter to become a star. “God created her, but I invented her” was Maria’s claim regarding her Natalie’s carefully crafted persona, right down to the name “Natalie Wood.” It worked, for better or worse.
When Natalie was five years old, Maria got her daughter a bit part in the film Happy Land. The film led to many more, and Natalie became a well-known child actress known as “one-take Natalie” because of her talent and professionalism at such a young age. Maria was behind the scenes, of course. At one point, she even went so far as to tear apart a butterfly to ensure Natalie could cry on cue.
As Natalie grew up, Maria used various methods to keep her in the limelight, such as setting up 15-year-old Natalie with 38-year-old Frank Sinatra and, when Natalie was 17, setting up a relationship with 43-year-old Nicholas Ray. Once again, Maria’s machinations worked. Nicholas Ray directed Rebel Without a Cause and the film showcased Natalie’s talent in a new light and introduced her as a serious young actress.
But it didn’t always end well. Another meeting with a significantly older and very powerful actor allegedly ended in a brutal rape while Natalie was still in her teens. The story was recounted by Natalie’s friends, including her close confidant from childhood, Jackie Eastes, and Dennis Hopper, who had co-starred in Rebel Without a Cause. Natalie was reportedly scared to tell her mother, but she was forced to tell when she had to seek medical treatment for excessive bleeding and pain from the incident. The emotional trauma only deepened when her mother showed no support for her ailing daughter, even pressuring Natalie to stay silent. One friend of Natalie claims that Maria actually “thought it was great” that Natalie was able to spend time with the man who allegedly raped her, as he could further her career.
Natalie suffered from alcohol abuse and had a number of high-profile but tumultuous relationships. She tried to commit suicide in 1966, prompting daily psychoanalysis for years. After becoming a mother, she put Hollywood aside to raise her two daughters. Her mysterious death in 1981 is still covered in the news and tabloids over 30 years later.
8. Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren was born in a charity ward in Rome but grew up in Pozzuoli, near Naples, a place once described as “the most squalid city in Italy.” Her mother and father never married after two kids, which was very scandalous in Catholic Italy, and he left the family destitute when Sophia was a child. She was teased throughout childhood for being a bastard.
Shamed for her behavior, Sophia’s mother had to move in with grandparents. The home was so crowded with a family that Sophia shared a bedroom with eight other people. World War II made life even harder for the people of Italy, and it was practically unbearable in Pozzuoli. Loren has memories of her mother taking water from the car radiator so her daughters would have something to drink, each taking their drink by the spoonful so it was divided up properly.
Sophia and her sister watched German soldiers beating and shooting people in the streets, later saying, “My young eyes saw one appalling, gruesome spectacle after another.” The family nearly starved to death; her mother had to forage for food to supplement the small amount of rationed bread that was available. Sofia was so skinny she earned the nickname “Toothpick.”
At age 14, Sophia started to become the woman we all know her as today, and she was unbelievably gorgeous. It happened quickly, “As if I had burst from an egg and was born,” Sofia claims. When her mother entered her into a beauty contest, the family didn’t have enough money for new clothes so her grandmother used the pink curtains from the living room. Sophia was one of the contest champions and from then on Sofia was “the head of the family.” She would go on to conquer America, even winning a Best Actress Oscar, but the early years of struggle stayed with her. She said, “My life is not a fairy tale, and it’s painful still to speak about it.”
9. Rita Hayworth
Born Margarita “Rita” Carmen Cansino, Rita’s father was a Spanish-born dancer and her mother a former Ziegfeld girl. Rita was dancing professionally by age 10 and the family moved to Los Angeles for more work when she was in ninth grade. By age 14, Rita was performing with her father in nightclubs. It was an odd arrangement, to say the least. Rita’s father presented her as his wife, and he even taught her how to tantalize the audience.
The stage work only hinted at what was going on behind the scenes: Rita had been the victim of regular rape and abuse at the hands of her father since childhood. Rita’s mother tried to offer protection by sharing a bed with her daughter at night, but Rita’s father found a way to continue his behavior. In an effort to escape, 18-year-old Rita married a 41-year-old named Eddie Judson. Eddie, in Rita’s words, saw her as “an investment.” Even though she had already appeared in films as Rita Consuelo—mostly as a dancer—Eddie decided that a less “ethnic” look would boost Rita’s chances at stardom.
Electrolysis and a dye job followed, as well as a new name: Rita Hayworth. Eddie also got his wife into the press every way he could including “loaning” her out to men who could advance her career. Not surprisingly, he was as controlling as he was abusive. Eddie threatened disfigurement with lye if Rita ever left him, but she did leave him despite losing all her money to Judson in the process. Her second marriage to Orson Welles ended badly as well; he was cheating on her within two years. Welles later told stories of Hayworth’s rages and personality changes, both manifestations of childhood abuse.
She married five times, all her marriages failed, and she had two daughters who were shuffled from caretaker to caretaker while their mother went off with men. As her biographer, Barbara Leaming, put it, “If the only way you’ve been able to elicit affection from your father is by having sex with him, that’s what you’re going to think is lovable about you.”
10. Clara Bow
“Even now, I can’t trust life. It did too many awful things to me as a kid.” When going for tears during an emotional scene, some actors pick a nose hair, others use eye drops. Clara Bow? She just thought about the day her childhood friend Johnny died in her arms having been burned alive in a tenement fire.There are tough circumstances and then there are Clara Bow’s circumstances. She was born into abject poverty, and her parents moved often between derelict Brooklyn tenements during the early years of the 20th century.
Her father was thought by some to be mentally disturbed. Robert was slow, unable to hold a job, abusive, and obsessed with sex. Later in life, Clara confessed that at age 16 she was raped by her father. He would abandon the family on alcoholic benders for months at a time, leaving Clara’s mentally ill mother, Sarah, to come up with ways to pay the rent and feed Clara.
Sarah was a prostitute on a “for need” basis and would hide Clara in the cabinets while she entertained clients. Clara escaped life at the movies and was elated when she won first place in a fan magazine beauty contest because it landed her a bit movie part. Sarah, despite her own actions, equated being an actress with being a prostitute. After revealing the news of her win to Sarah, Clara awoke one night to find a butcher knife at her throat, wielded by her own mother. Sarah claimed that murdering Clara was better than letting her become a whore.
Luckily, she didn’t go through with the murder and Sarah eventually died in the same asylum that housed her mother and sisters. Clara was able to transcend her humble beginnings to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars during the 1920s, but she was never able to shake her past. She was ostracized by many in Hollywood because of her thick Brooklyn accent and unrefined manners. Behavior that would pass muster with some, like sleeping around or drinking heavily, was chastised when it came to Clara. An entirely fabricated major sex scandal hit the news and, unable to cope, Clara had a nervous breakdown. She left Hollywood by age 30 to marry Rex Bell. In 1949, she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!