You may have seen his name pop up from time
There’s something to be said about Silent movie stars; they worked for small wages and when “talkies” entered the industry most of them were found out of work. As is the case of Agnes Ayers who was known for her roles in The Sheik and The Son of the Sheik (which also starred Rudolph Valentino). She went on to work for Paramount Pictures and would star in numerous Cecil B. DeMille films, including The Ten Commandments (1927).
Sadly, like many, Ayres lost most of her fortune and home in the Crash of ’29. In an attempt to make her money back, she stopped acting and turned to vaudeville, like most silent film stars of the time. Ayers eventually tried to go back to acting in the late 1930s, but her time was over. Agnes Ayers was committed to a sanatorium, where she would die of a cerebral hemorrhage on Christmas of 1940.
Horror icon Bela Lugosi put a face on vampires in Todd Browning’s Dracula. The suave, cultured, and dangerous look for the vampire lives on today, but unfortunately Lugosi would not last quite as long. His Hungarian accent made him an obvious choice for Universal; Lugosi fell victim to type-casting early on.
Type casting and drug addiction proved to be too much for Lugosi and he quickly deteriorated. Lugosi longed to break into bigger roles and fell deeper into depression. By the 1950s he was addicted to drugs and starring in notoriously terrible director, Ed Wood’s movies. Lugosi tried to overcome his addiction but by then he was completely broke.
Another siren of the silent screen, Theda Bara is widely considered to be one of the firs sex symbols in cinematic history. She became known as “The Vamp”, a nickname that would later lead to her downfall as an actress. Bara made over 40 films between 1914 and 1926, most of which were destroyed when a fire broke out in 1937.
Bara soon realized the studios would only cast her as a “Vamp” for so long and soon she would be old news. Shortly after she asked for a raise the studio stopped casting and she retired from film acting. Later on she would act on stage but nothing ever really took off for her again. As a final attempt to bring back some of her fame and fortune she wrote her life story and when she couldn’t find a publisher she sold it to Columbia Pictures, who never filmed it.
Joe “Brown Bomber” Louis gained fame from becoming the World Heavyweight Champion between 1937 and 1949. He saved boxing from slipping into obscurity and promoted the honest fighter mentality to combat the growing gambling interest in the sport.
Unfortunately, most of Louis’ winnings went to his handlers and he saw very little of it. Over his entire career, he made $4.6 million dollars and received only about $800,000 of it. Of the money he did get, most of it went into failed businesses, family finances, and he even paid the city of Detroit all the money he and his family ever received in welfare. Despite his generosity, Louis sank back into financial trouble when his former manager, Mike Jacobs, acquired $500,000 in debt to the IRS due to mismanagement.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Being a member of the Rat Pack doesn’t assure you riches to last you into your dying days. While Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra certainly stayed rich and famous, poor Sammy Davis Jr. died with nothing. Davis Jr. started out working vaudeville with his dad, traveling with the Will Mastin Trio nationally. He got his start with the Rat Pack from starring in Oceans 11.
Sammy lived the wild life of the Rat Pack but the lavish lifestyle would end up costing him more than he earned. In death he owed $5.2 million dollars to the IRS, his estate was promptly auctioned off in an attempt to put a dent in the debt. Among things sold were inscribed photos of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, an 8-foot-tall Planet of the Apes statue, and 350 of his musical arrangements.