We all know the Hollywood of yesteryear was full of scandals and secrets swept under the rug by the studio system. In our seventh episode, we take some of these skeletons out of their closets and discuss some shocking and sensational scandals involving the murders, affairs and mysteries of some of Tinseltown’s brightest stars.
Joan Bennett’s Jealous Husband
In our first story, Joan Bennett’s husband, the esteemed Hollywood produce Walter Wanger, experiences a moment of madness. He shoots her agent. The public and everyone else think Joan is experiencing her own moment of madness when she decides to stay with him. We explore what really happened.
Interestingly, Walter Wanger’s first wife was silent film actress Justine Johnstone. She gave up her acting career, enrolled at Columbia in New York and became a pathologist. She was on the team that developed the I.V. drip and made her own breakthrough advances in cancer research. She was so dedicated to her work that she even had her own laboratory in her house!
- “Wanger Will Spend Christmas With Wife”, New York Times, 25 December 1951.
- “Temporary Insanity Pleaded By Wanger”, New York Times, 8 January 1952.
- “Wanger Trial Postponed”, New York Times, 8 February 1952.
- “Wanger to Be Released Today”, New York Times, 13 September 1952.
- “Wagner Victim May Be Crippled”, New York Times, 20 January 1952.
- “Wanger Is Sentenced To 4 Months In Jail”, New York Times, 23 April 1952.
- “Jury Trial Waived By Wanger On Coast”, New York Times, 16 April 1952.
- “Wanger Gets Bail In Shooting Scrape”, New York Times, 15 December 1952.
- “Wanger Asks Ban on Prison Abuses”, New York Times, 20 June 1955.
- “Walter Wanger: Hollywood Independent” by Matthew Bernstein, Commerce and Mass Culture Series, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis & London, 1994.
- “Hollywood Actors’ Agent Is Shot; Joan Bennett’s Husband Questioned”, New York Times, 14 December 1951.
- “Walter Wanger Filmography”, IMDB, 2016.
- “Joan Bennett Filmography,” IMDB, 2016.
- “Hollywood Sunset” by Tad Friend, New Yorker, x September 2015.
Marie McDonald’s Mysterious Kidnapping
Our second story follows Marie McDonald’s mysterious, but brief, disappearance in 1957 which sounded too bizarre to be true…because maybe it wasn’t. Police were baffled by her story until they made a very interesting connection which we’ll discuss in the episode.
Life magazine followed Marie during the initial part of the police investigation and I’ve included many of the photos above. They’re even crazier once you hear the story! Also notice all the books even under her coffee table, she really was a voracious reader as we discuss in the podcast.
*See the movie poster at the end of this post for another hint about Marie’s kidnapping.
- “Marie McDonald Divorce Final”, New York Times, 17 April 1958.
- “Kidnap Jury Divided”, New York Times, 23 January 1957.
- “Marie M’Donald Rests At Her Home”, New York Times, 7 January 1957.
- “Marie M’Donald Missing On Coast”, New York Times, 5 January, 1957.
- “Marie M’Donald Is Found On Road”, New York Times, 6 January 1957.
- “Father of Late Actress Found Shot to Death”, Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 4 May 1967.
- “Marie McDonald’s Mate Found Dead”, Independent (Long Beach, Calif), 3 January 1966.
- “Actress’s Death ‘Accidental’”, New York Times, 31 December 1965.
- “Marie M’Donald, Actress, Is Dead”, New York Times, 22 October 1965.
- “Hectic Hollywood” by Thomas M. Pryor, New York Times, 13 January 1957.
- “‘Fuzzy Pink Nightgown’ Studied In Marie Case”, The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), 14 January 1957.
The film based on Dorothy’s life behind bars, starring Barbara Stanwyck.
Dorothy Mackaye was a silent film actress who let two men fight over her to the death, and she didn’t seem much bothered by it.
- “The ‘Come-Back’ Fight of the Beauty For Whom Men Fought to Death,” The Times Recorder (Zanesville, Oh.), 8 September 1929.
- Paul Kelly Biography, IMDB, 2016.
The Trouble With Mabel
Courtland Dines was a rich man from a wealthy family back in Coloroda…so he didn’t exactly want stories of his free-wheeling time spent in California with an actress girlfriend to reach back home. Unfortunately, being shot by his friend Mabel’s chauffeur made huge headlines. And this wasn’t Mabel’s only brush with scandal or tragedy.
Edna, Courtland’s girlfriend at the time, was Charlie Chaplain’s frequent co-star. They co-starred in 30 films together and were briefly romantically involved. She retired from acting in the late 1920’s after proving unsuccessful as a lead actress but Charlie kept her on his payroll until her death in 1958.
- “Jury Acquits Greer of Dines’ Shooting,” The Decatur Herald, 20 June 1924.
- “Horace Greet on Trial Today,” The Republic (Columbus, Ind.), 17 June 1924.
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing
Here’s a story that remains deeply mysterious. Sarah Miles’ secret and dangerous fling ended fatally while she was filming “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing” with Burt Reynolds, the trailer is above.
Her boyfriend had been manipulative and abusive but it didn’t answer all the questions about his death. A pathologist hired by his mother found that David Whiting’s body showed signs of being in a fight just before his death and even may have been “a contributing factor.”
Troublingly Whiting’s death was ruled a suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. A professor of pharmacology at UC Berkeley said the amount of drugs taken by Whiting was too small to be consistent with a fatal, lethal dose. In the end the verdict of a suicide stood but it never settled matters for everyone involved. Either way, you can read more about Whiting’s strange and manipulative behavior here for more insights on the case.
- “People in The Sun,” The Lowell Sun (Lowell, Mass.), 2 January 1973.
- “Film Agent’s Death Recounted,” UPI, The Pittsburgh Press, 28 February 1973.
- “Pathologist Argues Manager of Actress Hurt in Struggle,” Galesburg Register-Mail (Galesburg, Ill.), 23 March 1973.
- “The real Hollywood mystery that inspired The Gatsby Game by Anne R. Allen” by Lara Pauling, 8 May 2012.
The Girl With The Golden Voice
Lon Chaney surprised everyone, including old friends, when his will was read leaving $1 to his ex-wife. They had no idea he’d ever been married before. His first wife had been a popular cabaret singer known as “the girl with the golden voice” until their marriage literally cost her her voice.
- “Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces”, American Masters, 2 October 2002.
- “Secrets from Lon Chaney’s Oklahoma Odyssey” by Sam Henderson, The Oklahoman, 14 November 1982.
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