Legends With Skeletons In Their Past

Sexual assault, domestic abuse and anti-Semitism – the sordid side of some pop-culture greats.

Alfred Hitchcock believed that “blondes make the best victims,” which is why he often cast them in his movies as damsels in distress. His words take on ominous undertones, however, when you consider how the actresses who played these blondes felt about the director off screen.

In her new memoir, Tippi Hedren – star of Hitchcock classics like The Birds and Marnie – reveals that the director was an obsessive stalker who had a door installed connecting her dressing room to his office. Hedren, whose book Tippi released this month, also accuses the filmmaker of “perverse” sexual misconduct.

Cinephiles have long wrestled with Hitchcock’s genius in front of the camera and his dark persona. While his legacy is largely untouched by his controversial behaviour, there are several other figures that have challenged an audience’s ability to separate art from the artist.

Bill Cosby                      

To many Americans, who grew up watching the comedian portray Cliff Huxtable, the patriarch of an upper middle-class African-American family on The Cosby Show, he was a quasi-father figure. However in 2014, past allegations of sexual assault against the funny man began to be re-examined.

An avalanche of charges followed soon, of Cosby drugging and sexually assaulting women during his prime years. At last count, the comedian had been accused of rape by 57 women since 2005. The scandal has left Cosby’s public image in shambles. His Presidential Medal of Freedom was revoked while NBC cancelled a show it had been working on with him.

Re-runs of The Cosby Show were also stopped by various platforms. The comedian himself, after remaining mum through most of the proceedings, said in one interview, “A guy shouldn’t answer to innuendo.”

 After Bill Cosby's sexual assault scandal, reruns of The Cosby Show were discontinued by several American TV stations
After Bill Cosby’s sexual assault scandal, reruns of The Cosby Show were discontinued by several American TV stations

Charles Chaplin

Hollywood’s ‘Tramp’ offered socio-political commentary on many life-altering events of his time, be it a satire of industrialisation in Modern Times or the rise of Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator. Chaplin was, outwardly, a man of exalted ideals but his approach to personal relationships was markedly different.

When asked to describe his ideal woman by Vanity Fair once, the comic icon quipped, “I am not exactly in love with her, but she is entirely in love with me.” Throughout his career, many women were “in love” with him and many ended up essaying the female lead in his films. It started with 19-year-old Edna Purviance who appeared in The Kid with him. She was followed by 16-year-old Mildred Harris, 15-year-old Lita Grey and Paulette Goddard, who had claimed to be 17 while dating Chaplin.

Besides the fact that most of these women were minors, what is more horrifying is that the filmmaker demanded that they fulfil his “abnormal, unnatural, perverted and degenerate sexual desires”. This, according to Peter Ackroyd’s book Charlie Chaplin.

In one instance, when his second wife Lita was standing on the observation car of a train, he went up to her and said, “This would be a good time to put an end to your misery — why don’t you jump?”

Charles Chaplin with his second wife Lita Grey, with whom he began a relationship when she was 15.
Charles Chaplin with his second wife Lita Grey, with whom he began a relationship when she was 15.

Woody Allen

A line from Allen’s latest film Café Society – “Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer” – probably best describes the prolific filmmaker, actor, writer and comedian.

Although revered for his autobiographical movies that often feature a neurotic, self-loathing and sexually awkward protagonist, Allen’s canon has come under rigorous scrutiny lately because of his alleged molestation of adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was 7.

Allen’s current wife, Soon-Yi Previn, was also adopted by him and Dylan’s mother Mia Farrow, his long-time girlfriend and muse. Mia, who starred in 13 of Allen’s films, ended the relationship after discovering that the director had taken naked pictures of Soon-Yi.

Most of Hollywood has complicated feelings about Allen but actress Susan Sarandon took a stand this year during the Cannes Film Festival when she said, “I think he sexually assaulted a child and I don’t think that’s right. I have nothing good to say about him.”

(From left) The Allen-Farrow clan: Dylan, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Ronan.
(From left) The Allen-Farrow clan: Dylan, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Ronan.

Charlie Sheen

Sheen’s role as the alcoholic womanizer lazing around in his Malibu beach house in Two and a Half Men made him the highest paid actor on TV. On the show, Sheen is both flawed and charismatic. But in real life, the actor has often displayed a reckless and dangerous side to his personality.

He has led an alcohol and drug-fuelled lifestyle and has an abusive history with women. Most famously, in 2011, Sheen had a prolonged and disturbing public meltdown, during which he launched rambling and addled rants against Chuck Lorre, the creator of Two and a Half Men. His bizarre tirade got him fired from the show.

Charlie Sheen recently also revealed that he was HIV positive.
Charlie Sheen recently also revealed that he was HIV positive. (Peter Kramer/NBC via AP)

Mel Gibson

The swaggering actor was your typical Hollywood A-lister, who had made beloved films like Braveheart and Mad Max. But Gibson became an industry pariah for a long period, after being caught making anti-Semitic remarks in a drunk driving incident during 2006.

He was subsequently also involved in a bitter break-up with his girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. Leaked audio-tapes revealed him lobbing crude insults at her and saying that she deserved “a bat to the side of the head”. He even called her “a bitch in heat” for wearing “provocative” clothes.

Still, 2016 might be the year that things return to normal for Gibson. His upcoming film Hacksaw Ridge has received early critical acclaim and the actor’s press tour for the movie feels like an exercise in image rehabilitation.

Mel Gibson during a promotion tour of his latest film Hacksaw Ridge.
Mel Gibson during a promotion tour of his latest film Hacksaw Ridge.

 

 

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