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There’s no business like show business  

  Scandals of the 20th Century
A sordid stroll down memory lane…

By Rose Cooper
down under with Rose main pagedown under with Rose

  Here we are – we’ve seized a juicy big new millennium by the love handles. We’ve had some time to start afresh and collectively take the blue Gap dress of our psyche to the drycleaners. I mean…hello? Talk about airing dirty laundry! It stuck out like a birthmark on Michael Jackson’s todger - the 90s went down in 20th Century lore as The Decade of Shame. Consider the following names for a moment and feel your head spin as the nasty mental pictures schoo-wing to mind:

Hugh Grant/Divine Brown; Fergie and The Toe-sucking Texan; Squidgygate; Charles, Camilla and Tampax; OJ Simpson; Michael and Paula; Michael and…well, Michael; Pammy and Tommy on Honeymoon; Bill and Paula/Gennifer/Monica/etc. Oh, and who can forget Monica and that big, fat Cuban. Holy smoke!

And that’s just to mention but a few. We choked on scandal overkill. Eddie Murphy’s faux pas in 1999 raised nary an eyebrow. So he was found trolling the streets at 4am with a trans-sexual in the car. Big whoop. We dragged our kiddies along to see Dr. Dolittle anyway. There’s nothing new under the sun. Somewhere along the line, the private lives of our public celebrities booted the real news right off the front page. ‘The Public’s Right to Know’, became the mandate by which a million tabloid magazines were spawned and, ultimately, the means by which the world lost it’s most charismatic icon to date – Princess Diana. Well, assuming the ‘conspiracy theorists’ are wrong. Who knows? Remember when you heard Whacko Jacko married Lisa Marie? You thought – “Nah, that’s just too fucking far-fetched!”

Down Under daring

Where did we go so tragically wrong? Scandals at the beginning of the Century were rare - Victorian morals abounded. In 1906, Australian swimming star, Annette Kellerman created a stir when arrested on a beach in Boston, for wearing an ‘indecent’ swimming costume. She wore a man’s streamlined one piece, in favour of the baggy two-piece pantaloon-style ladies’ costume. This may not seem particularly scandalous by today’s standards, but try looking up ‘Annette Kellerman’ on the Internet. You get bombarded with over 400 links – mostly to sleazy porn sites. While this highlights the ridiculous fact that the raincoat brigade has hijacked our state-of-the-art communication technology; it also suggests Annette’s name is still associated with risque business – at least in the cyber-gutter.

Bow Legged

Fast forward to Hollywood in the Roaring 20’s for the real dirt. Silent screen siren Clara Bow, was known as The ‘It’ Girl. When Bow accused her private secretary of embezzlement, she in turn sold her employer’s secrets to the tabloids. It later emerged this was one little lady that really needed It. One running joke in Hollywood claimed ‘Clara Bow laid everything but the linoleum’ and had a penchant for the boys on the University of Southern California Football team. This scandal, plus the invention of talkies forced Bow into retirement, which found her popping in and out of sanatoriums for the rest of her life. Hmm, the Twit Girl.

A Most Bizzare Murder Trial

By far the most incredible scandal and subsequent court case(s) of the 20s involved another silent screen legend – Fatty Arbuckle. Arbuckle, a huge star, at the height of his popularity was charged with the rape and resulting death of an obscure 25-year-old starlet named Virginia Rappe on the Labor Day weekend in 1921. Details of the case are still incredibly sketchy - the bizarre rumours, innuendo and the resultant media frenzy was like nothing else before its day. Picture Lindy Chamberlain meets OJ Simpson. What is clear is that Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle took some friends and bucketloads of prohibited booze to a hotel in San Francisco to celebrate his 3 year/$3 million deal with Paramount Studios. Some time during the 48 hour drunken orgy he found Virginia Rappe in the bathroom, vomiting and in tremendous pain. According to Arbuckle, he cleaned her up, put her on his bed to sleep it off, and rejoined the party. Later she became hysterical, tearing off her clothes. Party revellers gathered around her and began arguing about how best to help her. At one stage they put her in a bath filled with ice and Arbuckle placed ice on her upper thigh and vulva. Eventually they called a doctor, but Virginia still wasn’t taken to hospital until three days later. The day after that she died. Cause of death: ‘peritonitis brought on by a ruptured bladder that had been caused by an extreme amount of external force’. Due to Arbuckle’s immense girth, rape was insinuated.

Arbuckle was immediately charged with rape and murder. Key witnesses proved unreliable and self-serving, using the publicity to further their own careers. Crazy rumours leaked to the press were reported as fact, thus the brutal elements of the folklore surrounding this story began to surface: that Arbuckle raped the girl with a coke bottle, a champagne bottle or a jagged piece of ice (or all three depending on which report you read). It was never actually established that a rape had even occurred. At the vanguard of the muckraking was William Randolph Hearst’s flagship newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner. It was Hearst’s trademark of the time to rail against the “liquor and sex orgies” of Hollywood, not out of a sense of decency - he knew scandals sold newspapers. Hearst himself had a mistress. Orson Welles alluded to this in his thinly veiled biopic of Hearst, Citizen Kane. The dying newspaper magnate’s final word in the film was “Rosebud” - Hearst’s pet name for the clitoris of his actress girlfriend, Marion Davies.

Hearst painted Arbuckle as depraved and violent and Rappe as a demure, virtuous, promising starlet. More authoratative accounts however described her as extremely promiscuous, having several abortions by the time she was sixteen. A persistent story reported that Rappe gave either syphilis or crabs to half of the men at the Keystone Film Company, prompting a livid Mack Sennett to ban her from the premises and have the area where she worked fumigated. One theory speculates that her death was the result of a botched abortion.

Fans boycotted and jeered Arbuckle’s films. And although witness after witness had their testimony discredited and evidence surfaced revealing the prosecution coerced certain witnesses, only anti-Arbuckle reports went to press. Eventually his initial conviction for manslaughter was completely overturned, with the jury issuing an unprecedented and lengthy apology to Arbuckle for everything he’d endured. Ironically, years later, when Arbuckle was trying to get back into films, Hearst gave him one of his first post-scandal jobs. When asked “Why are you giving me a job when you did everything you could to hurt me?” Hearst replied; “I don’t care what you did son, all I ever wanted to do was sell papers”.

Talking Dirty

With Paramount Studios’ major drawcard achieving such notoriety, they needed a new, shining star to lift their fortunes. Thereupon arrived the female phenomenon that was Mae West. After starring in a series of revues on Broadway which she wrote and produced herself (one, entitled ‘Sex’ landed her in jail for obscenity) West wrote her own screen vehicle Night After Night in 1932, aged 40. Despite a constant backlash from the censors, West dazzled audiences in a string of hit films, all laced with her signature sexual innuendo and double entendres; “So, you’re six foot, seven inches. Forget the six foot and tell me about the seven inches”. By decade’s end however, her popularity waned as a tide of puritanical sentiment swept the US. Unfazed, West returned to the stage and the international nightclub circuit, where she remained a legend in her own lifetime.

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Charlie Chaplin made a name for himself as endearing Little Tramp of the silent screen. Off screen he spent a large portion of his time ushering little tramps into his bed. His first two wives were 16 – when he married them and his last was 18. In 1943 he was the defendant in a paternity suit. Due to his ‘unsavoury morals’, various citizen’s groups led a boycott of his pictures and he sought sanctuary in Europe until his death.

So, scandals destroy careers…or do they? That swashbuckling macho man, Errol Flynn was the villain in a highly celebrated trial for the statutory rape of two schoolgirls. The girls’ testimony was given in exchange for pending charges against them to be dropped. Flynn’s prosecution was seen as an unscrupulous attempt by corrupt city officials to extort money from the matinee idol. Ironically the trial heralded a surge in his popularity among female fans. He was in like, um, Flynn.

If Chaplin and Flynn were cradle robbers, the big daddy of them all was 50s rock and roll idol, Jerry Lee Lewis. Elvis was The King of rock’n’roll, but Jerry Lee Lewis was the Clown Prince. In 1958, during a tour of the UK, his fans were aghast to discover that we was being accompanied by his third wife, who happened to be his 13 year old second cousin! While the stigma affected his career, his hard core base of fans never deserted him and he enjoyed varied chart success for the next couple of decades.

Blonde Bombshells

An MGM executive once said of Lana Turner: “She was amoral. If she saw a stagehand with tight pants and a muscular build she’d invite him into her dressing room”. Discovered in the mid 40s, Turner became known as the Sweater Girl (what was it with those labels?) and while she filled a mean sweater on screen, she couldn’t wait to fling it off once the director yelled ‘cut’. Married seven times, she also achieved notoriety in 1958 when her then mobster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato was murdered by her 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, who stabbed him with a carving knife for beating her mother. During the trial, Turner’s sex secrets became front-page news. Her conquests read like a Who's Who of Hollywood (you go girl!). While the crime was ruled ‘justifiable homicide’, Turner’s career never fully recovered and she was relegated to B grade schlock and the occasional soap appearance.

On the flipside of the coin, America’s Swedish Sweetheart - Ingrid Bergman, was arguably the most talented actress of the 40s. The image of wholesomeness and respectability, Bergman shocked the world when she conceived a child – not with her husband, but with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, with whom she’d had a torrid affair during the filming of Stromboli in 1950. In the same month the film was released, she gave birth to a boy, Robertino. She was banned from American films for 7 years. A year after that, she married Rossellini, gave birth to twin daughters Isotta and Isabella (oft-nude actress and Revlon’s face of the 1980s). Her career nose-dived with a string of Rossellini directed flops. She returned to the American screen with a triumphant Oscar-winning turn in Anastasia in 1956. She then dumped Rosselini, married a Swedish squillionaire and scooped yet another Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express almost 20 years later.

While notoriety negatively affected most women’s careers, the exact opposite happened with the Blonde Bombshell’s answer to D-Day, Marilyn Monroe. As her career started to kick off, old nude shots of her resurfaced in the first issue of Playboy magazine. The resultant publicity shot her through the stratosphere.

Politically Incorrect

If scandal and corruption go hand in hand in showbusiness, they certainly like to go the grope in politics. Up until the 60s however, the press never touched the pollies peccadillos with ten foot-poles. While ‘open secrets’ about the dalliances of our highest officials abounded, in the US at least, they remained buried. It’s now popular belief that foul play was involved in Marilyn Monroe’s apparent ‘suicide’ in 1962, due to her involvement with both President JFK and his brother, Bobby, in the months leading up to her death.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the names Profumo, Ward, Keeler and Rice-Davies were being splashed across the tabloids in a complicated web of entanglements that shook Harold MacMillan’s government to it’s foundations. Stephen Ward, an osteopath and erstwhile good-time guy was an associate of then War Minister, John Profumo. Ward was known for his outrageous parties and Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were two of his favourite guests. They were also high-class call girls. At one of these parties, Keeler bumped into Profumo and soon they were bumping uglies on a regular basis. UK pollies, were as protected as their US counterparts, so none of this was ever likely to see the light of day, only Ward was also associated with a German guy, whom the M15 were keeping a very wary eye on and whom Keeler had also had the occasional dalliance. Once Keeler sniffed a scandal in the air, she sold her story to the papers and a full-scale enquiry was launched. The security of the nation was suddenly at stake. The girls revelled in their infamy and UK politicians never enjoyed the same freedom again. By the end of the decade it was open season worldwide. Nothing and no one was sacred ever again.

Rock and Roll Exhibitionism

He was known as the Lizard King. Jim Morrison - seductive, poetic, drug-fucked frontman of the Doors was as warped as he was brilliant. Revelling in his bad-boy image, Morrison finally made the ultimate connection with his public when he was convicted of whipping out and wiggling his little lizard at the behest of his adoring fans on stage in Miami in 1969.

That same year, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sent the press into a spin by inviting them to share their bed for an entire week. The former Beatle and his home-wrecking concubine were found in a suite at the Amsterdam Hilton where what appeared would be a bizarre sexual escapade turned out to be a sedate, weeklong ‘bed in for peace’. This was the first in a long line of publicity stunts orchestrated by the avante-guarde couple, who first coined the term ‘bagism’ in a protest which involved them being covered entirely by plastic bags. “If you can’t see us, you’re not distracted by the way we look, you just have to listen to what we’re saying – and that’s to give peace a chance.”

Boys will be boys

Some guys are chick magnets – others are just plain repellent. Polish Director Roman Polanski had more than his fair share of tragedy thrown his way. First, his mother perished in Nazi concentration camps. Then, the year after his American directoral debut with the gynaecological horror story – Rosemary’s Baby, his second wife, Sharon Tate was 8 months pregnant when she was murdered along with three of Polanski’s friends by the Charles Manson cult. In 1979, he switched from victim to perpetrator when arrested in California on charges of unlawful sexual intercourse with a thirteen-year-old girl. He apparently talked her into posing for a few pictures, at Jack Nicholson’s house. He then drugged and forced himself on her. What’s not clear is what the girl was doing at Nicholson’s in the first place. Polanski was sent for psychological evaluation, but before futter criminal proceedings could get underway, he fled the US, and hasn’t set foot on Yank soil since. His exile certainly didn’t prevent him from becoming one of the most diverse (if sometimes disturbing) and critically acclaimed directors of our time. Hey, what’s a spot of paedophilia between artistes?

In the late 70s, comedian Paul Reubens a virtual unknown. One of his many characters however, achieved success and notoriety beyond his wildest dreams. Pee-Wee Herman was a giggling man-child who dressed like a 50s characature. By the early 80s he starred in a movie and had his own successful children’s program Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Reubens never appeared publicly during the height of Pee-Wee’s fame. He even granted print interviews decked out in full Pee-Wee regalia. Then, in 1991 during summer hiatus, Reubens was visiting his parents in Sarasota when he snuck into a screening of the x-rated Nancy Nurse. Police busted Reubens for indecent exposure – officers allegedly saw him masturbating. He was released on bail, and nobody seemed the wiser until someone recognized Pee-Wee beneath Rueben’s scruffy off-season appearance. The media went wild - “kid’s show star in sex scandal”. The scandal sounded the death knell for Reuben’s alter ego. He appeared for the last time at the MTV awards, skipping onto the stage before a standing ovation and asked “Heard any good jokes lately?” referring to being the brunt of many a current punchline. While not enjoying the same success, Reubens is nonetheless gainfully employed as a character actor, scoring numerous off-beat roles throughout the 90s.

Blessed with impossible good looks and almost as impressive acting skills, Rob Lowe was the Brad Pitt of the 80s. Cinematically prolific charter member of the infamous Brat Pack, his most famous movie turned out to be that of the homemade variety. During the Democratic convention in Atlanta, Rob had a wild night with two young women, a video camera and a tripod. The video surfaced soon after, when one of the girl’s mothers brought charges. Her daughter was only 16. “It was just one of those quirky, sort of naughty, sort of wild, sort of, you know, drunken things that people will do from time to time,” Lowe was quoted as saying at the time. Lowe was penalised with a mere 20 hours of community service and underwent drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The barrage of negative publicity all but ended his career for but in true Hollywood tradition, he re-invented himself and resurfaced in a self-parody in Wayne’s World. All would appear to be forgiven…well, who wouldn’t love that face?

There’s no business like show business

That’s Hollywood for you! In the early days, scandals meant ruination. Now it registers extraordinarily low on the failure-metre. In fact, what initially appears to be a scandal, quite often turns out to be a publicity stunt. Pirated video footage of Pamela Anderson with hubby Tommy Lee on their honeymoon did such a roaring trade; rumour has it that the once-happy couple had considered producing a sequel, intended for public release. Any day now, we’re likely to hear the news that Prince Charles will wed his secret squeeze of over 20 years, Camilla Parker Bowles. His unseemly behaviour to date would have once put accession to the throne beyond his reach. Now it seems entirely likely that England will not only be ruled by a pair of low-down cheating divorcees, but Charles could well become the most popular King to sit on a throne since Elvis fell off his in ‘77. Our icons have been shown to be human beings after all and with their privileged existence, comes power. With power, comes corruption and as any White House wife since the dawn of American Independence will tell you, power corrupts, abso-fucking-lutely. Hopefully the new millennium will bring a change to the tabloid dictum about the public’s right to know - and instead let us reserve our right not to give a shit.

  An excerpt from a certain phone conversation, recorded on the 18th December, 1989:

Camilla: …I know it would revive me. I can't bear a Sunday night without you.
Charles: Oh, God.
Camilla: It's like that programme Start the Week. I can't start the week without you.
Charles: I fill up your tank!
Camilla: Yes, you do
Charles: Then you can cope.
Camilla: Then I'm all right
Charles: What about me? The trouble is I need you several times a week.
Camilla: Mmmm, so do I. I need you all the week. All the time.
Charles: Oh. God. I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!
Camilla: (laughing) "what are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers?
Both laugh
Camilla: Oh, You're you're going to come back as a pair of knickers.
Charles: Or, God forbid a Tampax. Just my luck! (Laughs)
Camilla: You are a complete idiot (Laughs) Oh, what a wonderful idea.
Charles: My luck to be chucked down the lavatory and go on and on forever swirling round on the top, never going down.
Camilla: (Laughing) Oh, Darling!
Charles: Until the next one comes through.
Camilla: Oh, perhaps you could come back as a box.
Charles: What sort of box?
Camilla: A box of Tampax, so you could just keep going.
Charles: That's true.
Camilla: Repeating yourself...(Laughing) Oh, darling I just want you now.
Charles: Do You?
Camilla: Mmmmm
Mmmm…horny stuff eh?

The Dirty Dozen …12 questions about other scandals that rocked our world.

1. Name the song released in 1998 by George Michael, parodying the scandal of him being arrested in a public loo for lewd conduct.

2. Which Australian Talkback Radio personality was busted ‘chucking a George Michael’ in London in the early 90s?

3. In 1993, Mia Farrow was alerted to the fact that her husband Woody Allen was having an affair with her teenage adopted daughter, Soon Ye Previn. – How?

4. During Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss’s trials for money laundering, many famous names emerged. One of her girls testified that she and seven of Heidi’s girls were flown to Las Vegas in 1992 to meet with a wealthy Australian Businessman. – Who?

5. In 1986, Paul Hogan and Linda Koslowski displayed their love at the premiere of the blockbuster, Crocodile Dundee. This was big news to one special person – Who?

6. Teddy Kennedy ran away from a bridge in Chappaquiddick, in 1967, but he left something behind – What?

7. Who’s toe is Madonna sucking on the back cover of her smash CD, Erotica?

8. What naughty word was Lucille Ball carefully avoiding in a landmark episode of I Love Lucy?

9. Another of Prince Andrew’s ex-flame’s had the Royal Family in a lather – Who?

10. What do Liberace, Rock Hudson, Peter Allen, Robert Reed and the second Darren Stevens from Bewitched have in common?

11. What’s long and green and smells like pork?

12. Bill Clinton once said in a sworn deposition that he “embraced” her, “but there was nothing sexual about it.” – Who?


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read responses to the Scandals of the 20th Century
  read responses to the Scandals of the 20th Century questionnaire
1. Outside. 2 Alan Jones. 3. She found nude Polaroids of Soon Yi, taken by Allen. 4. Kerry Packer 5. His wife, Pauline, who was at their family home, watching it on TV. 6 His car, which sunk…oh, and in it was a lass by the name of Mary Jo Kopechne 7. Naomi Campbell’s. 8. The naughty word was “pregnant”. When writing her real-life pregnancy into the show, they went to extraordinary lengths to disclose her condition very delicately to her on-screen partner Ricky. 9. Soft porn starlet, Koo Stark. 10. They were all outed when they contracted of AIDS – although anyone who was surprised about Peter Allen and Liberace has serious problems. 11. Kermit’s index finger. (Oh, Miss Piggy, how could you?) 12. Former White House volunteer, Kathleen Willey, (although, as the world now knows, it could have been just about anyone).
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