When Swiss police apprehended director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby) after he'd spent more than thirty years as a fugitive from justice, they couldn't have known that the arrest would set off a fiery international debate between those who see Polanski as an important cultural figure who is being persecuted, and those who can't believe that anyone would rush to the defense of a convicted child molester. Since the arrest, some of the attention Polanski had been involuntarily hogging has shifted to David Letterman, whose confession of infidelity — delivered in front of his live studio audience as part of a damage-control strategy against an extortion plot — was actually reviewed as "brilliant television" by jaded TV critics. Both cases serve as a handy reminder that sex scandals, from Fatty Arbuckle to Charlie Sheen, have always been part of the show-business circus, and that one can tell a lot about shifting mores by charting the careers of those caught in the spotlight with their zippers down.


1) THE STAR: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, silent comedy star and director

THE SCANDAL: On Labor Day weekend, 1921, the overworked Arbuckle treated himself to a holiday by checking into a hotel with a couple of male cronies and as many women as would respond to their wolf whistles. One of them was Virginia Rappe, a twenty-six-year-old aspiring starlet whom Arbuckle was said to have been lusting after. Two days later, Rappe checked into a hospital and died there of complications from a ruptured bladder. Subsequently, a friend who had accompanied her to the party told police that Arbuckle had raped the girl, and Rappe's manager fanned the flames in the press. Various sources claimed Arbuckle had fatally injured Rappe by violating her with a Coke bottle, a chunk of ice, and/or his bigass self.

Although police concluded there was no evidence that Rappe had been raped, the Hearst papers flogged the public into a fury. There were calls for Arbuckle's execution, and when he was finally charged with manslaughter, somebody took a shot at his estranged wife as she was entering the courtroom to show her support. After two mistrials, the third jury acquitted Arbuckle and presented him with a letter of apology.

THE FALLOUT: Arbuckle deserved his vindication, but he was considered toxic by the studios and his onscreen career was over. A few loyal friends got him jobs as a director (under the name "William Goodrich"), but he had begun to slip into alcoholism and declined rapidly, both on the set and off. Louise Brooks later described Arbuckle after the scandal as "very nice and sweetly dead."

thomasince32) THE STARS: Thomas Ince, pioneering filmmaker and independent studio chieftain; Charles Chaplin; Marion Davies, cuddly star of silent comedies and early talkies; and her paramour, newspaper tycoon and close personal friend of the devil, William Randolph Hearst

THE SCANDAL: In November of 1924, Ince was taken ashore from Hearst's yacht, where he had been one of the celebrity guests brought together for one of Hearst's floating parties. Soon he was dead, officially of a heart attack, and the body was quickly cremated and interred. Rumors quickly sprung up that Hearst had shot his guest, but that it was all a simple misunderstanding: he had actually been gunning for Chaplin, because he suspected the beloved screen comedian and notorious womanizer of scratching on Marion Davies. One story had it that Ince had interrupted Hearst just as he was about to murder Chaplin and that the gun went off as they struggled for it; another version had Hearst mistaking Ince for Chaplin as Ince sat chatting with Davies in the moonlight. Another of Hearst's guests, Louella Parsons, was supposedly rewarded for her silence with a lifetime contract as a writer for his papers, a position that she used to promote Davies' movie career even as it was dying on the vine.

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-flynn3) 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."

Commentarium (21 Comments)

Oct 12 09 - 1:19am

so uh... I would think that the Polanski case would be on here. Didn't Chaplin get in trouble for sleeping with underage girls and also blacklisted?

Oct 12 09 - 10:07am

Re: the Charlie Sheen thing: a friend of mine in the business out in LA has said that she thinks the reason Charlie Sheen didn't catch more flak for the Heidi Fleiss thing was because he was covering for a whole lot of other people, and they made sure he received their appreciation.

Oct 12 09 - 3:51pm
Ret Marut

Remove Dave from the scandal ranks. He was single during those consensual relations with his staffers.

Oct 12 09 - 5:58pm

What about Hugh Grant? Roman Polanski?

Oct 12 09 - 8:03pm

Rob Lowe? Woody Allen? Hugh Grant? Roman Polanski? That "Great Balls of Fire" dude who married his tween cousin? This list was missing some of the big ones.

Oct 13 09 - 10:24am

What about the Lana Turner, her daughter and the wanna-be mafioso Johnny Stompanto? Sex scandal and murder in one!

Oct 13 09 - 3:11pm

Imagine the how juicy the ones we've never even heard about must be!

Oct 14 09 - 1:06pm
cyle sage

What about Alex Mucknicka?

Oct 16 09 - 8:28pm
Herbert Dorfman

The phrase "in like Flynn" did not originate with the Errol Flynn case. The comment was made earlier in reference to the influence of Boss Flynn of New York.

Oct 16 09 - 11:40pm
outraged mama

The rats are the "adult" predators who go after kids: Polanski and Woody Allen should be tops. Letterman, though "technically" single was not as his partner was pregnant for at least some of it. As for Sheen, his descent into being a known drug abuser saved his bacon (besides, he "collaborated" w/ highly compensated consenting adults; F them)

Oct 17 09 - 6:42pm

This list is absurd. Half aren't even "sex" scandals, while so many real ones are missing. Hope you kids had fun flipping through Hollywood Babylon.

Oct 22 09 - 8:48am

Like those rooms where leaders gather, this room will be a forum in which all countries, large and small, developed and developing, can air their grievances, highlight their aspirations, and hopefully, in the end, find consensus. ,

Oct 23 09 - 12:02pm

Wow, a sex scandal list that doesn't included Hugh Grant or Monica Lewinsky? Nerve.com, I totally love you!

Although the Hugh Grant thing is fascinating, not only did being caught with a hooker not hurt his career (because he owned up to it, let everyone get it out of their system and then everyone moved on) it's actually helped it. Having the public identify him as kinda sleezy has gotten him more interesting parts!

Oct 27 09 - 1:27am

What about Robert Blake and O J Simpson, people, died here, Pee Wee having abit of solo fun is hardly a scandal is it!!!!!! The only scandal above is that Blake and Simpson walked free.. Some real journalisim please

Jan 14 10 - 6:32pm

The story goes that when Robert Mitchum was asked by reporters how things were going when he was serving his jail sentence he replied "You meet a better class of people in here than you do in Hollywood."

Nov 30 11 - 2:35pm


Jun 28 12 - 7:04pm

ha ha ha yoy made it then!

Jul 09 12 - 2:51pm
steve price

what about jake (the snake) boylan

Jul 24 12 - 11:52pm
Jail Bait-er (LMAO)

I second Jerrry Lee Lewis. Nothing makes good copy like rock stars banging teenage girls.

Jul 24 12 - 11:58pm
Jail Bate-r

And wasn't she Jerry's cousin, on top of being only 13?

Jul 25 12 - 12:06am
Master of Bait

Sorry, I stand corrected: Jerry Lee Lewis and his young wife were "first cousins once removed" which means that Jerry was probably her father or mother's first cousin.