The Scandalous Affairs of Old Hollywood

Iconic Italian actress Sophia Loren was born on this day in 1934. The international star was the first actor to win an Oscar for a foreign-language performance (Two Women), playing a woman in war-torn Italy who deals with the aftermath of a rape; the role went against the va-va-voom type directors often cast her in. Sophia starred opposite some of Hollywood’s biggest and sexiest leading men, such as Paul Newman and Marlon Brando — but it was her personal life that the tabloids were after. An affair with a co-star, which we detail below, created scandal and sometimes overshadowed her fantastic performances. Of course, there are plenty of juicy affairs where the rich and famous are concerned. Here are just a few from the days of Old Hollywood.

Sophia Loren and Cary Grant

Hollywood’s dashing hunk first starred with the Italian siren in 1958’s Houseboat. Grant’s wife at the time, actress Betsy Drake, wrote the original script for the film. It cast her alongside her husband in the movie, but after Grant took up with sexy Sophia, Grant commissioned a new script that ditched his wife and cast Sophia in the role. Oh, and Drake didn’t receive any credit for her work on the film. Eventually Sophia left Grant to marry Carlo Ponti.

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini

Ingrid Bergman’s affair with director Roberto Rossellini, which started during the production of Stromboli, ruined her wholesome image and caused the actress to lose fans in America. Both Bergman and Rossellini were married at the time, and Bergman became pregnant with the first of their children. The scandal was so great that Bergman was ordered to remain in Europe. United States Senator Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado even condemned the actress publicly as “a powerful influence for evil.” Bergman made a big return to Hollywood in 1956 with Anastasia, which won her a second Academy Award. The couple married in 1950.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Taylor’s affair with Burton was just as controversial as her multiple marriages to the actor. During the making of Cleopatra, the co-stars began an affair (both were married to others at the time), which created a tabloid frenzy. The Vatican even condemned their relationship as “erotic vagrancy.” They married, divorced, and married again, and divorced again. The turbulent relationship, plagued by alcohol, abuse, and professional jealousy, was not meant to be — but Taylor considered Burton the love of her life.

And then there was that time that Taylor stole Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds even though the trio had been friends for some time.

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner

Frank Sinatra left his wife Nancy for one of the most high-profile actresses in Hollywood, Ava Gardner. Naturally, the affair made headlines and even pissed off one of the most powerful men during that time, Gardner’s close friend Howard Hughes. The couple married only days after Sinatra’s divorce was final, which didn’t sit well with the press. Gardner considered Frank her greatest love, but their rocky relationship brought things to a screeching halt. “We were high-strung people. Possessive, jealous and liable to explode fast,” Gardner once recalled.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

A very married Bogart met Lauren Bacall while filming To Have and Have Not in the 1940s. He was 44, and she only 19. He nicknamed her “Baby,” and an affair quickly developed. Director Howard Hawks had feelings for Bacall, too. He disapproved of the relationship, telling Bacall that Bogie was just toying with her. The Bogart and Bacall relationship carried out over the next few films they did together, and they eventually married.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

“I can get a divorce whenever I want to, but my wife and Kate like things just as they are.” —Spencer Tracy

Clara Bow and whoever the tabloids paired her with that week

One of Hollywood’s earliest sex symbols, flapper “It Girl” Clara Bow was the subject of tabloid rumors (that she hosted orgies for the USC football team, and slept with women and dogs, for starters). The gossip cost her a contract with Paramount. From the Hairpin:

And, like many female stars of the time, she treated the boyfriends that she (most likely) slept with as “engagements.” This led to a series of quickly formed and broken “engagements” to the likes of Gary Cooper (so, so hot when young, trust), the director Victor Fleming, and “Latin Lover” Gilbert Roland. When she had a “case of nerves” in the late ‘20s, she was treated by a Hollywood doctor. She developed a crush on the doctor, but who knows if they just played MASH or made out or what. But when the doctor’s wife sued for divorce, she named Bow as cause for “alienation of affection.” No good.

Lilyan Tashman and her relationships with Hollywood women

Vaudeville star and actress Lilyan Tashman was “the biggest dyke Tinseltown had ever seen,” according to writer William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood. But she married longtime friend and closeted gay actor Edmund Lowe, despite having open affairs with other women — including Greta Garbo. The duo’s wild parties, A-list orgies, and fast-paced lifestyle were the talk of the town.

Errol Flynn and Beverly Aadland

Flynn had a penchant for drinking, drugs, and women. The playboy actor made headlines after being accused of statutory rape. Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee were underage and brought the case to trial, but Flynn was acquitted. The headlines from the incident followed him for much longer, however. Also in the tabloids were his close relationships with Hollywood women such as Lupe Vélez, Marlene Dietrich, Dolores del Río, and Carole Lombard. Flynn’s relationship with 15-year-old Beverly Aadland (his co-star in Cuban Rebel Girls) while married didn’t hit the press until after the actor’s death when a tell-all biography was published by Aadland’s mother in the 1960s.