Hollywood is known as the boulevard of broken dreams. We can add “the capital of cursed films” to Tinseltown’s list of credits, too. With Rebel Without a Cause star James Dean’s deathiversary approaching on September 30 — the actor died while driving his Porsche 550 Spyder, which many believe is cursed — we’ve got the shadowy side of the film industry on the brain. Here are just a few of the weirdest, wildest, and creepiest Hollywood legends.
The Playboy Centerfold Curse
There seems to be a dark cloud hanging over Playboy’s Playmate of the Month, according to one Hollywood legend. Many of the women have died young due to tragic circumstances. Claudia Jennings, the 1970 Playmate, fell asleep at the wheel of her convertible. Star Stowe and Dorothy Stratten were murdered. First-ever Playmate Marilyn Monroe, along with Willy Rey and Elisa Bridges, died of drug overdoses. And although murdered actress Sharon Tate wasn’t an official Playmate, she appeared in a 1967 pictorial.
The Atuk Curse
John Belushi, Sam Kinison, John Candy, and Chris Farley are the actors who were almost cast in an unproduced screenplay based on the 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk by Canadian author Mordecai Richler. Starting in the 1970s, Jesus Christ Superstar director Norman Jewison purchased film rights to the social satire about an Inuit hunter who attempts to integrate with life in the big city. One by one, the actors died before the film could get underway. And Kinison’s hiring was controversial, due to his demands for creative control, leading to a sour relationship with the studio (and eventually, his death).
The Three Men and a Baby Curse
Bizarre fact of the day: Leonard Nimoy directed Three Men and a Baby. But there’s more! The film was thought to be cursed (or just plain old haunted) by the ghost of a young boy. The 1987 comedy about three bachelors who can’t change diapers is an example of how an urban legend can quickly spiral out of control, even pre-Internet. In the below scene, a small boy is visible peeking from behind the curtains. The story goes that the boy was killed in the apartment where the scene is set — and that he killed himself (some people see an outline of a shotgun behind the curtain). The legend was eventually debunked. The movie was never shot on location, but on a sound stage. And the figure in question is a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson’s character Jack that was left on the set and used in a cut scene (although it does appear later in the movie).
The Little Bastard Curse
Rebel Without a Cause star James Dean crashed his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “Little Bastard,” and died at only 24 years old. The stories about what happened to Little Bastard following Dean’s death wildly vary, but all agree that the vehicle is cursed. Snopes goes into detail on all the rumors, but these stories are questioned in various Dean biographies and other texts, like Porsche historian Lee Raskin’s James Dean At Speed:
After the accident the Porsche was sold to a second-hand car dealer who put it on public view (supposedly in support of a campaign for road safety). He charged viewers twenty-five cents each to look at it.
Car designer George Barris next bought the car and planned to sell it for parts. When the car was delivered to his yard, it rolled back off the truck and broke a mechanic’s legs.
Troy McHenry, a Beverly Hills doctor, bought the Dean engine and used it to replace the engine in his Porsche. The doctor was killed in a crash the first time he took the car out.
(Troy McHenry died on 22 October 1956 during an automobile race at the Pomona Fairground near Los Angeles. He was driving a Porsche Spyder, but I’ve yet to determine if Dean’s engine was in that car.)
Another unnamed doctor bought the Dean transmission. He too was later seriously injured in a car crash.
An unnamed New Yorker bought two of the Dean tires. His car crashed when both tires mysteriously blew out at the same time.
The shell of the Dean car was being transported to a road safety exhibition in Salinas when the truck skidded and crashed. The driver was killed.
Stolen from the scene of that fatal accident was the shell of James Dean’s car. It’s never been recovered.
Another version of the disappearance of the shell was reported in a Los Angeles Times article on 30 October 1989. George Barris (the guy who sold the car for parts) was quoted as saying the last time he saw the shell was when he exhibited it in Florida in 1958. The car was loaded on a truck afterwards, but eight days later when the truck arrived at its destination, the car wasn’t there. No mention of an accident.
The Passion of the Christ Curse
Mel Gibson’s goreshow The Passion of the Christ, which details the final days in the life of Jesus, was given a sign from above when people on his crew were struck by lightning three times during the making of the 2004 film. Star Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, was one unlucky victim. He talked about the harrowing experience with The 700 Club — revealing that key set production assistant Jan Michelini was struck twice (once, minutes later):
I was lit up like a Christmas tree! I was doing the Sermon on the Mount. I knew it was going to hit me about four seconds before it happened. I thought, ‘I’m going to get hit.’ And when it happened, I saw the extras grab the ground.
What they saw was fire coming out the right and left side of my head. Illumination around the whole body. And during the shot they said, ‘Do you have it on camera?’ What happened was Mel had said, ‘Action’ and the cameras were panning to me and here is where this light just flashed. And by the time the cameras got to me, I hear Mel screaming out, ‘What the heck happened to his hair?’ I looked like I went to see Don King’s hair stylist.
Five minutes after I got hit, Jon Mikalini, an assistant, walks over and says are you okay? And then he got hit. The difference was that they saw the bolt come down and hit Jon; they didn’t see that when I was standing there. All I felt was this giant tremendous slap on my ears and a few seconds of a pink, red static in front of my eyes.
Scott Ross: You had a literal miracle on the set. What do you attribute it to? You could have died.
Jim Caviezel: Yeah. Or I could have been incinerated. Jon, who came up to me, had already been hit. I mean three lightning strikes on one film, one guy getting hit twice, and me obviously getting hit one time. And there were a lot of miracles other than that kind of a miracle.
Hilariously, Michelini is credited as “Jan ‘Lightning Boy’ Michelini” on the film.
The Conqueror Curse
The 1956 John Wayne film The Conqueror, featuring the Western icon as Genghis Khan (weird!), was filmed near a nuclear test site in St. George, Utah. While the government reassured the crew that no harm would come to them by shooting on location, the morbid occurrences that took place in the years after says otherwise to some. Only seven years after wrapping, director Dick Powell died of cancer. Star Pedro Armendáriz was diagnosed with kidney cancer and later committed suicide. Wayne, Susan Hayward, John Hoyt, and Agnes Moorehead also died of cancer. In 1980, People magazine revealed that of the 220-person cast and crew, 91 people contracted cancer. Families sued, but the evidence seems to remain inconclusive.
The Little Rascals Curse
The groundbreaking, long-running short film series featuring the Little Rascals (also known as Our Gang) is said to be cursed since multiple stars died fairly young (and one of them, Robert Blake, aka Mickey Gubitosi, was tried for murder). Here’s the rundown from Snopes:
Alfalfa: Carl Switzer was shot to death at age 31.
Chubby: 300-pound Norman Chaney died at age 22 following an operation.
Buckwheat: William Thomas died at age 49 of a heart attack.
Darla Hood: The Our Gang leading lady contracted hepatitis and died at age 47.
Brisbane: Kendall McCormas, known as Breezy Brisbane, committed suicide at age 64.
Froggy: William Robert Laughline was killed in a motor scooter accident at age 16.
Mickey Daniels: He died of liver disease at 55.
Stymie: Mathew Bear led a life of crime and drugs. He died of a stroke at age 56.
Scotty Beckett: He died at age 38 following a brutal beating.
Wheezer: Robert Hutchins was killed in an airplane accident at age 19.
Pete the Pup: He was poisoned by an unknown assailant.
And Snopes points to the obvious to explain the facts behind this legend: “If one were to choose any group of thirty or so people born in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s and follow them through the course of their lives, it wouldn’t be the least bit unusual to find that several of those people died well short of the average life expectancies of their times due to disease, accident, homicide, or suicide.”
The Blair Witch Curse
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 found-footage classic follows three filmmakers into the Maryland woods while they document a local legend about the Blair Witch and seemingly vanish without a trace. To promote the indie movie, directors created a website that featured news reports, interviews, and other convincing ephemera (all fake) that attempted to prove the existence of an 18th-century woman accused of witchcraft by her village who returned from the grave to curse the residents and murder the population’s children. People bought it, a viral sensation was born, and movies have never been the same.
The Poltergeist Curse
We’ve written about the Hollywood horror movies that were really cursed — including Tobe Hooper’s 1982 supernatural tale Poltergeist. The spooky behind-the-scenes stories are still being passed around more than 30 years later:
The movie is widely believed to be cursed due to several real-life tragedies involving the untimely death of co-stars Heather O’Rourke (who played little girl Carol-Anne) and Dominique Dunne (who played older sister Dana). O’Rourke passed away due to a medical misdiagnosis, while Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend. Many believe the curse was sparked by the use of real human skeletons as props (plastic ones were more expensive to make). In one scene in the film, brother Robbie (played by Oliver Robins) has a poster for Superbowl XXII in his room — which would take place six years later in 1988. O’Rourke died the day after Superbowl XXII in San Diego — the same city where the game took place.
The Twilight Zone Curse
The 1983 Steven Spielberg and John Landis-produced anthology Twilight Zone: The Movie suffered a tragic accident during shooting that took the lives of star Vic Morrow and two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (who were hired illegally since laws prohibited them from working at night, working without a guardian, and working near explosions). During the filming of the Vietnam flashback scene, an explosion caused a helicopter to spin out of control and decapitate Morrow and Myca. Renee was crushed to death. A nearly decade-long court battle ensued, but resulted in an acquittal. Morrow’s last film was 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Eerily enough, the Italian post-apocalyptic movie features a scene that fans say foreshadowed his death. From IMDb: “Murrow’s superior says to him, ‘If you don’t get the girl by 11 o’clock tomorrow, I’ll have your head!’ Morrow’s character replies, ‘We’ll fly her in — in a helicopter.’”