Although news about stars’ hookups and breakups, meltdowns and tantrums and other “secrets” behind the big screen are constantly reported in the media nowadays, things weren’t always so transparent or public in Hollywood. In fact, not that long ago, filmmakers, producers, actors and other insiders tried really hard to keep certain things under wraps. It’s no wonder: some of the secrets that eventually surfaced over the years reveal very dark realities behind a few classic and beloved films and television. From the actual wartime danger that the cast and crew of Apocalypse Now found themselves in, to the physical, mental and sexual abuse that is rumored to have taken place behind the scenes of movies like The Wizard of Oz, to the behind-the-scenes hookups and drugs, there are some dark secrets lurking in the shadows of the Hollywood productions that we know and love.
From the frightening to the frivolous, here are a few on-set secrets that insiders have tried to suppress over the years. Fair warning: you may never look at some of these movies and shows the same way again.
Physical abuse in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds
There have long been rumors and reports of physical abuse in Hollywood, especially on the sets of classic films before there were as many protections for actors in place as there are today. Over the years, many Hollywood actresses have talked about the sexual and physical abuse that was sanctioned on set. Alfred Hitchcock is rumored to have abused many female actresses. Tippi Hedren, who is known for little other than a few television ads and being the mother of actress Melanie Griffith and grandmother of 50 Shades of Grey star Dakota Johnson, has actually spoken out about her experiences with him. Hedren was once an up-and-coming starlet who was cast in the lead role in Hitchcock’s 1960s movie The Birds. She said that when first cast in the role, she learned a lot from the legendary director, but then things changed as she refused his sexual advances. For five days on the set of The Birds, she had to work with live birds that defecated on her, were thrown on her, tied to her and bit and otherwise harmed her. When the unknown actress finally admitted defeat and wanted out of the project, for years Hitchcock allegedly prevented other filmmakers from contacting or hiring her. She is now most influential as an animal rights activist and founded a large animal refuge in California in the 1970s.
Apocalypse Now nearly killed Martin Sheen
Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film Apocalypse Now, a story about a treacherous mission during the Vietnam War, itself was actually filmed under very tense – if not downright dangerous – working conditions. The movie was initially planned to be filmed in 1969 in Vietnam, but the original studio backed out. The project wasn’t revived until 1976, when Coppola took over the project and planned to film it over a few weeks in the Philippines. During the filming, however, numerous disasters impeded progress on the film. Cast and crew came down with tropical diseases and the helicopters that were supposed to be used in combat scenes were called back into a real warzone by the country’s president to fight an actual war against anti-government rebels. Those rebels actually got too close to the movie set at times. At one point, star Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack in the jungle, and Coppola, convinced he was to blame, went into an epileptic seizure. Unsurprisingly, some cast and crew dropped out of the project. However, when the film finally came out, it was a success and is now considered one of the greatest films of all time.
Abuse on the set of The Wizard of Oz
There are endless rumours surrounding the physical, mental and sexual abuse that occurred on the set of the classic Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz. Let’s start with the poor working conditions: the Wizard of Oz actors had to put in 16 hour days on hot stages (and keep in mind that some of them had ridiculously hot costumes… just imagine the Cowardly Lion or the Tin Man). The Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, was rushed to the hospital when his lungs failed as a result of his makeup, which contained toxic aluminum dust. The Wicked Witch didn’t have it much easier: her green makeup was copper-based and fatal if ingested, requiring her to avoid eating on set so that she wouldn’t accidentally consume any of the green paint. Then there’s Judy Garland who, shockingly, was the second lowest paid actor in the film. If that’s not enough, it’s fairly well known that she was fondled on set by a MGM executive, and even the munchkins apparently propositioned her and harassed her. Garland also had a slight curve to her spine, and the MGM exec called her “my little hunchback.” Furthermore, Garland had to wear corsets to force her back upright and was given drugs to help her cope with the pain and the long workdays. After taking her drug cocktail, she had difficulty concentrating and it is said that others frequently slapped her in order to keep her focused during the shoots.
Animals have long been treated poorly on sets of films. In the early years of Hollywood, there were no regulations in place for the treatment of animals on set. Up to 100 horses died during the filming of the 1926 movie Ben Hur. In the Western movies that were so popular in the early 20th century, horses were often killed when doing stunts, although eventually “stunt horses” were trained that could actually perform stunts on command. In the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, a water buffalo was slaughtered with a machete. Finally, after years of public outcry as stories of animals being harmed and killed behind the scenes flooded out of Hollywood, in 1988 a set of guidelines was written which outlined the treatment of animals on set. Since these guidelines were put in place, animals have enjoyed much better working conditions behind the scenes, although controversies still arise from time to time such as the story that a tiger allegedly almost died on the set of the 2012 film, Life of Pi.
Drug abuse on (and off) set
It’s no surprise that there has been a lot of experimentation with substances on set of some of Hollywood’s greatest films – which inevitably leads to other stories about actors and stars who can’t seem to shake substance abuse problems. Many celebrities have made no secret of their struggles with substance abuse, and have published memoirs about their experiences with drugs on the sets of films and tv shows. For instance, individuals who have worked with Jack Nicholson have said that cocaine and alcohol were common on his movie sets in the 70s and 80s. Nicolson himself has admitted that being stoned helped his creative processes, and his ex-girlfriend claimed that he used to snort cocaine in between takes. Dennis Quaid has said that cocaine was so common in show business back in the 70s that it was even in the petty cash budgets of movies back then. Of course, if more contemporary actors can’t find drugs on set they seem to have no problems finding it after hours: former teenage television star Melissa Joan Hart makes no secret of the fact that she experimented with ecstasy, mushrooms and other drugs in the 90s and 2000s.
On set hookups, breakups and broken marriages
A lot of stars hook up on set, much to the delight of gossip magazines and fans who are eager to see fictional romances turn into real-life affairs. One of Hollywood’s most well-known romances is the relationship between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The two met in the summer of 2004 on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Their “friendship” obviously turned into a romantic relationship pretty quickly, since by January 2005 Pitt and then-wife Jennifer Aniston announced they were separating. Actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are another pairing that hooked up – then later, broke up – during their work together on the Twilight series.
Their relationship played out during the height of the craze surrounding the teenage vampire books; first came their real-life romance, then the bombshell that Stewart was allegedly cheating on Pattinson with the married director of another film she was working on, Snow White and the Huntsman. Then, there are those movie and TV sets that seem to have accommodated an orgy of hookups according to some actors’ tell-all accounts. TV actor Dustin Diamond wrote a tell-all about what he claimed were the many sexual exploits between the cast of the “Saved by the Bell” television series, not to mention the endless rumors of hookups, relationships and broken hearts among the cast of Glee over the years.