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The 10 Most Notorious Sex Scandals in Hollywood History

We can learn a lot about shifting mores by charting the careers of those caught in the spotlight with their zippers down.

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THE FALLOUT: Because of Ince's hasty burial and the confusion surrounding the whole mess, we'll probably never know for sure just what happened. Hearst inadvertently stoked the rumors through his own papers, which issued false reports about where and when Ince was supposedly taken ill and about everything else to do with the case. Others onboard the yacht, including Chaplin and Davies, also lied about whether they'd even been there -- maybe because many of the guests, Ince included, were spending the weekend with romantic partners other than their spouses -- but Hearst's enemies were eager to assume the worst. Whatever happened, "the strange death of Thomas Ince" is now officially part of the Hearst mythology; an early draft of Citizen Kane referenced it, and in 2002, Peter Bogdanovich made a movie about it called The Cat's Meow. As for Ince, he was one of the men who built Hollywood, but he remains best remembered for his death.

errol flynn The 10 Most Notorious Sex Scandals in Hollywood History3) THE STAR: Errol Flynn, high-living action star of the 1930s and 1940s

THE SCANDAL: In 1942, a pair of underage girls charged Flynn with statutory rape. The star was picked up and tried for the crime early the next year.

THE FALLOUT: Reflecting the attitude of the times, Flynn's defense team basically argued, yeah, he did it -- wouldn't you? The high point of the trial came when Flynn's lawyer asked one of the girls if she hadn't wanted Flynn to undress her, and she replied, "I didn't have no objections." Because of the girls' ages, it shouldn't have mattered in the eyes of the law whether the sex was consensual or not, but given Flynn's rascally charisma, it apparently seemed that having any woman he liked was the movie star's honest due. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed; people had more important things to worry about. The jury quickly voted to acquit. Not only did the scandal have no negative effect on the star's career, it inspired U.S. serviceman to invent a new slang term designed to honor his sure-thing success with women: "In like Flynn."

4) THE STAR: Robert Mitchum, heavy-lidded writer, sometime calypso musician, and definitive practitioner of the "I'm just doing this movie-star shit until I win the lottery" style of acting

THE SCANDAL: One night in 1948, Mitchum was arrested at a late-night house party in Laurel Canyon, after cops who'd staked out the place observed him smoking a joint. The circumstances of the arrest left many convinced that the whole thing was set up as a plan to blackmail Mitchum, which had been a not-uncommon occurrence in the early decades of the studio system. If that was the idea, they seriously misjudged their target. Mitchum, as cooly sardonic in real life as the characters he played, shrugged, loped into the police station, and gave his occupation as "former actor," indicating that he saw the implosion of his career as one more bad joke that the universe had pulled on him.

THE FALLOUT: Mitchum was sentenced to two months for possession and ambled off to do his time, amid industry speculation that he was finished in the movies. But the public loved seeing that their hero really was a bad boy with a bone-deep who-gives-a-shit attitude. The famous courtroom photo of Mitchum's "ain't that a bitch?" expression on receiving his sentence would become as much a part of his iconography as anything he ever did in a movie. He went through his two months in the jug as a regular prisoner and was greeted, upon his release, as if he'd just flown across the Atlantic Ocean by waving his arms. Technically not a sex scandal, but thanks to Mitchum's grace under pressure, a very sexy one.

 
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