For everyone on the outside looking in, Hollywood is a fantasy land, filled with magic and mystery. Since the early days of film, there has been an obsession with movies and movie stars and the events that surround them. Tales of events that took place on the set of classic films have blown up and turned into something likely closer to myth. We’ve all played broken telephone, or some modern version of that game, so we understand how stories can change over time. Stories that might have had some truth to them evolve into tall tales ripe with hyperbole and raised stakes. How much truth is left in these Hollywood urban legends is tough to say, though it would be really interesting if any were actually real.
With the power of the Internet at our fingertips, you would think that myths and legends from Hollywood would all but disappear, but they haven’t. Maybe it’s because people are too lazy to look anything up for themselves; maybe it’s because the stars don’t want to comment and thus the stories live on. Maybe it’s lists like this that keep them going. In fact, it almost certainly is. Whatever. Urban legends are awesome. That’s why they made a movie about them. Urban legends about Hollywood are double awesome. Some of the Hollywood urban legends have been proven to be false, so this list will help clear some things up. Others on this list are true, so this list will be a source of amazing trivial knowledge for you to tell to your friends or to tell yourself while looking in the mirror. Many of these urban legends have been claimed to be false, but there is no proof to actually shut them down, so this list will serve to perpetuate incredible, but potentially harmful, rumors.
No matter who gets hurt, the important thing here is that rumors are meant to be spread. Whether or not these urban legends are true is beside the fact; they’re interesting, and hearing interesting things is vital for any work week. Prepare to be amazed. Here are the 15 most unbelievable Hollywood urban legends.
15. The Munchkin Suicide
OK, OK. This one has been around for a bit. The word on the streets is that a munchkin with a broken heart can be seen committing suicide in the background in one particular scene in The Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are singing “We’re off to see the Wizard,” look off in the distance and you’ll see a shape swinging from one of the tree branches. Now this is crazy, right? Yes, if you believe MGM. They claim that the munchkin scenes hadn’t even been shot at that point, so no munchkins were actually on set. They also said it was a large bird, a crane or an emu, because they let real birds walk around the set to make it appear more real. When the remastered version came out, fans saw quite clearly that it was a bird just spreading its wings. There is a small problem with this though. The image in the remastered version is completely different. The bird is off to the left and the wing doesn’t look anything like the shape in the old version. Did they change it to hide the munchkin? Oooooooh.
14. The Curb Your Enthusiasm Alibi
This one is all true. Juan Catalan was in jail for the murder of a young woman even though he claimed he was not the killer. His alibi stated that he was at a Dodgers’ game with his daughter and he had the ticket stubs to prove it. That wasn’t good enough for the courts, however, so Catalan’s attorney set out to prove it without a doubt. He first subpoenaed the game tapes from Major League Baseball, but he was unable to see any clear shots of his client’s face. Then, in a stroke of luck, Catalan remembered that Larry David‘s film crew were shooting part of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm near where he was sitting. After reviewing those tapes with David, Catalan’s attorney finally saw his client in the background and was able to get him acquitted. Whew.
13. Real Hoverboards In Back to the Future
Sick of answering questions about how the special effects team achieved the realistic hoverboard scenes in Back to the Future II, director Robert Zemeckis told everyone they were real. He lied, half-jokingly, and people believed him—stupid people mind you, not you or I. He told the press that there were no effects, that Michael J. Fox practiced and actually rode on a hoverboard. Now, before you start throwing things at your computer, their effects were pretty realistic, especially for 1989. I mean, look at the shadows on the ground underneath it. It looks pretty real. Too bad. I always wanted one.
12. Scorsese The Madman
There’s a legend out there that shows a different side of Martin Scorsese. The story goes that, when Scorsese first sent in his masterpiece Taxi Driver, to the MPAA, they slapped it with an X. This was crushing blow for Scorsese, who felt that it would destroy his work. Word is that he grabbed a gun that night and started pounding back drinks. His plan was to shoot one of the MPAA members (a la Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver). Some friends came over to talk him down from the ledge, but he was set in his ways. Then, it came to him. He decided that night, that rather than shoot the MPAA member, he would just desaturate the color of the blood in the violent scenes, making it look less realistic. He chose the less killy path and it worked. Taxi Driver was given a rated R and everyone lived.
11. The Horror Of An Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat
They say that the Lumiere Brothers’ film, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895)—a film that shows a train coming toward to camera—was so realistic for the audiences of that time that they ran from their seats, shrieking in terror. Now this legend was a lot more believable when it was thought that the Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat was the first movie ever shown. But this has been shown to be false as it wasn’t on the list of their 10-film showing. That doesn’t mean that the audience reaction isn’t true, just less likely. These audiences had already seen at least 10 films by the time Arrival of a Train came out, they were practically movie-watching vets by that point. Like, if they had only seen six films, maybe, but after 10 films, that’s about when people start telling stories about what it was like when they first started watching movies, back in the day.
10. Charlie Chaplin Lookalike Contest
The details in this legend vary a little, like they do in all good legends, but the story suggests that Charlie Chaplin entered into a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest (which were real), but he didn’t win—his placing varies depending on who you hear it from. While this story was never confirmed by Chaplin or anyone in his family, it has been around for many, many years. The earliest mention of it was from a 1920 newspaper that claimed that Mary Pickford (famous actress) told a story to Lord Desborough (unknown) that Chaplin entered a lookalike contest and came in twentieth. Over time, Chaplin’s position in the contest has lowered to usually sit around second or third, making it more believable for skeptical modern listeners.
9. Jack Nicholson’s Sister Is Really His Mom
When Jack Nicholson was shooting Chinatown, a movie about a woman whose sister is also her daughter, a story came out that Nicholson’s deceased sister was actually his mother. This had got to be fake right? Wrong? It’s true. That sounded confusing. Let me be more clear. The women that Nicholson believed to be his sister and his mother were actually his mother and his grandmother, respectively. So Jack’s story is not nearly as incestuous as Chinatown, but it’s pretty coincidental that it all happened when it did. Apparently, Time Magazine was doing a story on Nicolson’s past and dug up the truth. He didn’t even know it until he was asked about it. Both the women were already dead when he found out, so he asked other family members who confirmed the story’s truth.
8. Jamie Lee Curtis Is Transgendered
No one really knows if this is true because Jamie Lee Curtis has never answered to it. The rumor probably comes from the fact that Jamie is a gender-neutral name and she never quite lived up to the amazing looks of her parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. There was a transgendered Bond girl and no one knew the difference. Plus, if you’ve ever seen True Lies, Curtis certainly is not a man any longer if she ever was. Lady Gaga also got a similar rumor attached to her, but to that she answered outright that she didn’t have anything extra down there. Case closed, I guess.
7. Richard Gere, The Gerbil Guy
It’s unclear when, where or how this started, but we’re going to get to the bottom of it. Rumor has it that, in the early 80s, a fax was sent out around Hollywood from the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in regards to Richard Gere stuffing a gerbil into a very private place in his body. This spread like wildfire and a legend was born. Richard Gere was a gerbiler. Over time, thousands of examples of gerbiling have been heard, but there’s never been one medically documented case. So where did it start? If you asked Gere, he might suggest it started with Sylvester Stallone after their altercation on the set of Lords of Flatbush. It’s unclear if Gere is an animal lover or not, but it is clear that you don’t mess with Sly Stallone.
6. Stanley Kubrick’s Faked Moon Landing
It’s not really clear when this rumor first took flight, but there are still some that believe that Stanley Kubrick directed a Moon Landing hoax. The small group of people that believed the moon landing was a hoax have been very vocal for many years. It was probably the stunning visuals in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that gave life to this urban legend. Yes, Kubrick could have probably faked the moon landing. No, he didn’t. Just because something could be done doesn’t mean that it was. There was even a movie put out recently that had a fake Kubrick admit that he faked the landing, but it wasn’t a good enough fake. NASA has released a ton of photos from the landing since then and not one of them shows Kubrick, so it’s gotta be untrue.
5. Mikey, The Kid That Ate Pop Rocks And Soda
This is a legend that is too legit to quit. John Gilchrist, was a semi-famous commercial child actor. He is best known for his role as Mikey, the kid who doesn’t like anything from the LIFE cereal commercials. Well, rumor has it that Mikey ate pop rocks and drank soda which caused his stomach to explode. He died. Now we know John Gilchrist is alive and well, or so they tell us, but how did the urban legend start? Well, any urban legend needs someone somewhat well-known but obscure (hence the friend of a friend). Mikey fit this well. Then, pop rocks stopped marketing their product in the 80s, which of course means something was wrong with them. Then, take a bunch of kids who have nothing better to do with their time than start rumors and you got yourself a good old fashioned urban legend.
4. Extra Death In Ben Hur
There’s long been a legend in Hollywood that a stuntman was killed while filming the chariot race scene in Ben Hur (1959). While the claim has been shot down by the filmmakers and Charlton Heston, it still remains intact in back alleys and dark corners. The claim is that the stuntman died and the shot was left in the final cut, much to the chagrin of the stuntman’s widow, Mrs. Stuntman. The source for this legend probably comes from the fact an earlier Ben Hur film (1926) was riddled with problems, including, you guessed it, the death of a stuntman.
3. Hungry MGM Lion
Some say it was the day after, some say it was only an hour after, but everyone believes that after the film crew recorded the MGM lion roaring for the MGM logo, the lion ate its trainers. Ok, maybe everyone doesn’t believe it but a lot of people do. This is, kind of unfortunately, not true. Neither of the two major MGM lions, Slats or Leo, ever killed anyone. Well, maybe they did, but we never heard about it. So no, the lion did not kill anyone before or after the roar. No, the other rumor, that the lion was meant to be still but only roared because burglars had broken into the studio, that’s also not true at all. No, nothing neat like that happened. They shot the lion (with a camera) and everyone went home.
2. Death By Goldfinger
The story goes that the actress Shirley Eaton, the woman who played Jill Masterson died in real life when she was covered in gold paint in Goldfinger. The movie talks about Masterson’s death at the hands of Goldfinger, describing that the body will asphyxiate if all the skin is covered. This is why, they say, filmmakers always leave a path of skin uncovered at the base of the spine. Now, first of all, the actress Eaton is alive and well, so it’s not true at all. Second, the human body will not asphyxiate if covered in paint. Third, the filmmakers of Goldfinger must have actually believed this asphyxiation myth because they left a patch of skin uncovered on Eaton’s stomach. This paint rumor might have stemmed from Buddy Ebsen’s allergic reaction to the Tin Man paint in The Wizard of Oz, but who knows such things.
1. Walt Disney Is Cryogenically Frozen
They say Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen to preserve his body until the cure for lung cancer (which he was dying from) was found. This legend seems to have started when the President of the California Cryogenics Society (now called the American Cryonics Society), Bob Nelson, told the LA Times that Walt Disney wanted to be frozen. There’s also the interesting relation of the Disney’s death December 15, 1966 and the society’s creation December 10, 1966 (though this number has been changed to 1969). Even though the family says that Disney was cremated after his death, conspiracy theorists will argue the validity of this claim. There’s even a video from the American Cryonics Society made in 1967 that talks about a California man who died from cancer that had been frozen. California, check. Died from cancer, check. Man, check. Could it be anyone else? Plus, if this isn’t true, then why is there a Disney movie called Frozen?