Salacious Scandals of Roaring ’20s!

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Salacious Scandals of Roaring ’20s!

The decadent 1920s were a fantastically insane time. We were going through vast changes within the industrial complex, liquor was about to be banned (though not thwarted), and urbanization was climbing at a rapid pace. I have a theory that almost everyone pre-WWII was absolutely out of their minds for a variety of reasons, namely the “medicinal” treatments most people were engaging in. Of course, my theory is based solely on nothing but the stories that follow are just a smidgen of what was going on at the time. Seriously, once you finish here Google scandals pre-WWII and you will tumble down a never-ending rabbit hole.

The Death of Olive Thomas

Hollywood never fails when it comes to scandals and during the 1920s, and most of the 30s, famous movie stars and starlets fell victim to suicide, accidents, and murder. Olive Thomas’ only crime was falling in love with a philandering man by the name of Jack Pickford. Younger brother to silent starlet Mary Pickford, Jack had a taste for women and because the life of a promising star often took Thomas away Jack was free to do as he pleased. Along with a few more notches in his belt, Jack contracted syphilis, a fairly common STD for the time. He was prescribed Bi-chloride of mercury to treat the horrid disease, which when ingested can cause internal damage. After a night of partying in Paris, the couple made their way back to the hotel room and locked the door. Presumably, Jack passed out drunkenly on the bed while Thomas was getting things ready. He was awoken by bloodcurdling screams to find that Thomas has drunk a majority of his Bi-chloride which proceeded to turn her insides into a gooey mess as she died.

Rumors flew about the reason behind the Olive Thomas’ death and eventually it was ruled an accident, but many speculated Thomas had taken her own life because she couldn’t deal with Jack’s cheating. However, an even darker rumor would suggest Jack’s more famous sister and his mother were behind the alleged “accident”. Mary Pickford and her mother were known to dislike Thomas and would often make Jack well aware of their distaste. It’s said that Pickford arranged for her brother to force the mercury on Thomas to get her out of the picture. Did Pickford have a vendetta? Who really knows but thank god we don’t treat illness with the same stuff that goes in your thermometer anymore.


The Questionable Suicide of Paul Bern

Paul Bern was, at the time, a big-name screenwriter/director/producer who married one of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time, Jean Harlow. She was 22 years younger than he but to her he was the center of her world. Bern was always self-conscious of his older appearance, he was balding, slight in appearance, and rumored to be impotent. The two met on the set of Howard Hughes‘ film Hell’s Angels and immediately hit it off. They were soon married and for all intents and purposes seemed very happy until Bern shot himself in the head two months after their wedding. A note was found near him saying:

Dearest Dear,
Unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done you and to wipe out my abject humiliation, I Love you.
You understand that last night was only a comedy

So what’s that scandal? Well for starters the end line about the prior night being a “comedy” was a bit off. The two had fought the night before, but it wasn’t anything to cause a major disturbance. Then there’s the maid who instead of calling the police first called MGM, where Paul was employed. A friend of Bern’s and a studio head showed up to assess the situation and didn’t call the police until an HOUR after they arrived. For reasons unknown, the studio head told everyone in Hollywood Bern had done it because he was impotent. Perhaps this was because Paul Bern had been living a double life. After his death, it was revealed he was sending money to a woman whom he had a common law marriage with prior to becoming a Hollywood big wig and meeting Jean Harlow. Speculation surfaced that his first wife, in a jealous rage showed up while Harlow was gone and killed Bern. Her body was found in a river just days after Bern’s death.

The final, and most disturbing and salacious aspect of this sad story occurred during Bern’s funeral. As with most Hollywood funerals, the guest list was quite extensive. The funeral proceeded normally, but no one could have anticipated what happened next. At the close of the funeral, guests were asked to view Paul Bern one last time as a pulley system sent the coffin standing straight up. The lid swung open and reveal the deceased writer seemingly standing up. Harlow burst into tears, guests were shocked, and rumor has it Clark Gable ran from the building vomiting. Nobody does theatrics better than Hollywood.


Nan Britton, Presidential Mistress 

Harding, from my home state of Ohio, was a charismatic and for all intents and purposes and handsome guy for the time. Before becoming president, a job he didn’t really seem to be all that interested in, he formed an extramarital affair with Nan Britton whom he allegedly fathered a child with. She first met Harding as a teen through her father, who he was friends with. She plastered her walls with photos of him (a tradition shared by all teenage girls) and was instantly in love. After Harding’s death in 1923, Britton was denied her monthly stipend as Harding promised in his will. His widow refused to give in so Britton wrote the very first kiss-and-tell book detailing her affair with Harding, including a variety of sexual encounters. She insisted the book was written to help earn money to support her and her baby daughter as well as to stick up for the rights of children born out of wedlock.

Whatever her reasoning, the book was a major success and spawned and entire new genre of writing with, The President’s Daughter. Some critics said she had help writing the book and embellished many of her stories, but Britton never backed down. She died at the ripe old age of 94 and her daughter died at the age of 85.


Related topics 1920s, Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford, Nan Britton, Olive Thomas, Paul Bern, Scandals, Warren G. Harding
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