20 Infamous Feuds That Rocked The Golden Age Of Hollywood

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The golden age of Hollywood brought us some true classics of cinema. But behind the scenes of those intrepid, innovative and influential productions, trouble was often brewing. Whether it was between the cast, directors, crew members or even – on one occasion – a journalist, the movie industry of the early 20th century was notorious for its widely-publicized feuds. From Charlie Chaplin to James Dean, Hollywood’s elite found themselves wrapped up in one scandal after another.

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20. Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin

The comedy duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis took the world by storm in 1946. And over the following decade, the pair lit up the stage, small screen and silver screen, performing at nightclubs and on Hollywood film sets alike. Their success brought them fame and fortune – but it wasn’t to last. To the astonishment of their fans, Martin and Lewis called time on their double act in 1956.

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Rumors around why: their personalities clashed; Martin’s second wife didn’t get on with the Lewises; and Lewis’s ego left Martin resentful. While they both enjoyed continued – but separate – success, it would be 20 years before the pair spoke again. The duo eventually reunited during a Labor Day telethon in 1976, and Lewis later lamented their split at one of Martin’s Las Vegas shows.

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19. Olivia de Havilland & Joan Fontaine

The de Havilland sisters’ sibling rivalry formed in childhood but didn’t alleviate as the women approached their adult years. When Olivia made her Hollywood debut in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Joan followed close behind, setting up shop with a rival studio. From then on, both their lives and careers were inextricably intertwined.

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The sisters shared similar levels of silver screen success, and both were considered for Gone With the Wind’s Melanie. The role ultimately went to Olivia – but Joan had her revenge in 1942, pipping her to the Academy Award for Best Actress. While their icy relationship occasionally thawed over the years, they never truly reconciled before Joan passed away in 2013.

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18. Orson Welles & William Randolph Hearst

Orson Welles based his directorial debut, Citizen Kane, partly on the life of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. And in doing so, he stoked the flames of a fiery feud that almost ended the 24-year-old’s burgeoning career. Though Welles filmed in secret for RKO Pictures, Hearst eventually got wind of the script – which depicts its eponymous newspaper proprietor as a tyrannical businessman.

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Hearst immediately went on the warpath and reportedly employed multiple schemes to discredit both Welles and the film. The mogul’s lobbying and influence sank Citizen Kane at the box office, and ruined its chances at the Academy Awards. However, his campaign wasn’t completely successful, as his attempts to buy and destroy the original negatives were rebutted by RKO.

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17. Joan Crawford & Bette Davis

Bette Davis was still a fresh face on the streets of Hollywood when her bitter rivalry with Joan Crawford began. On the same day Davis was to launch into superstardom with Ex-Lady in 1933, Crawford announced her divorce, robbing the comedy of its limelight. Two years later, Crawford repeated her upstaging act, announcing her engagement to Davis’s Dangerous co-star Franchot Tone.

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Davis, who had fallen for Tone on set, was incensed. From then on, the two women became embroiled in a feud that spanned decades. As their careers waned in the 1960s, though, they astonishingly agreed to co-star in a movie. But it didn’t help: they butted heads constantly during production, and the pair never made peace. When Crawford passed in 1977, Davis savagely remarked, “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”

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16. Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

Few feuds can be traced so specifically as the hostility between Jayne Mansfield and Sophia Loren. Indeed, the two titans of Hollywood became forever linked by a photo snapped at a Beverly Hills party in 1957. The event was intended to launch Loren’s Hollywood career, coming off the back of her breakout success in Europe.

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However, the Italian actress’s American journey got off to a rocky start when Mansfield showed up to her party braless. Seemingly determined to steal the show, Mansfield made a beeline for Loren’s table – and almost suffered a wardrobe malfunction. Loren’s infamous side-eye has since gone down in Hollywood history. She explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “[I was] so frightened that everything in her dress [was] going to blow – BOOM! – and spill all over the table.”

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15. Vivian Vance & William Frawley

Famously bad-tempered actor William Frawley enjoyed a career resurgence as Fred Mertz in the hit 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. But the then-64-year-old clashed heads with Vivian Vance – the actress playing his on-screen wife – from day one. You see, Frawley overhead the much younger Vance complain to the show’s producers, “No one will believe I’m married to that old coot.”

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Funnily enough, Frawley bit back, and the pair remained hostile for the entirety of I Love Lucy’s nine-year run. Fortunately, they were wise enough to keep a lid on their mutual hatred for the sake of their jobs – and the show. But when the opportunity arose to reprise their roles in a spin-off series, Vance refused, saying she’d never work with Frawley again.

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14. Marlon Brando & James Dean

James Dean followed in Marlon Brando’s footsteps in more ways than one. They had the same acting coach, were discovered by the same director, and were both portraits of brooding, intense men – both on- and off-screen. In fact, Dean idolized Brando, and purposefully modeled himself on the older actor. Nevertheless, both men seemingly found the comparison grating.

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In his 2014 book The Unknown James Dean, author Robert Tanitch quotes Brando as once having said, “Mr. Dean appears to be wearing my last year’s wardrobe and using my last year’s talent.” For his part, Dean told Newsweek, “I have my own personal rebellion. I don’t have to rely on Brando’s.” However, in recent years rumors have circulated that the pair actually once had a physical relationship.

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13. Elizabeth Taylor & Debbie Reynolds

Once upon a time, Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor – along with their husbands, Eddie Fisher and Mike Todd – were practically inseparable. The actresses had met at MGM as teens, and became close friends. And Reynolds even served as Taylor’s matron of honor when she married Todd. But this wholesome foursome would be torn apart in 1958.

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That year, Todd was tragically killed in a plane crash. And in the aftermath, Fisher began an affair with Taylor – eventually leaving Reynolds for her. The two women, who had once been so close-knit, didn’t speak for the next seven years. But in 1966, a year after Taylor left Fisher for her Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton, the actresses reunited aboard a cruise ship and buried the hatchet.

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12. Bette Davis & Tallulah Bankhead

When All About Eve arrived in theaters in 1950, some critics claimed that Bette Davis based her performance of Margo Channing on Tallulah Bankhead. While she initially refuted the rumors, they proved difficult to fully dispel. In the end, Bankhead herself – who was considered for the role before Davis – accused the actress of imitating her.

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Davis later revealed that she’d lost her voice prior to filming, giving her Bankhead’s iconic husky tones. Even then, Bankhead’s possessiveness over the role didn’t end there. When she eventually played Margo in a 1952 radio version of the movie, she asked the story’s original author, Mary Orr, if the character was based on her. Orr said she only had Polish actress Elisabeth Bergner in mind – and a furious Bankhead never spoke to her off-air again.

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11. Laurence Olivier & Marilyn Monroe

When Marilyn Monroe teamed up with Laurience Olivier in 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl, they were hoping for a career boost. Monroe wanted to reinvent herself as a serious, capable performer; Olivier needed a box office hit. Unfortunately, their unusual pairing proved to be a struggle on-set.

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Yes, Monroe’s method acting clashed horrifically with Olivier’s matter-of-fact approach, and the stars soon found themselves at bitter odds. The turning point came when, exasperated with Monroe’s introspective interpretation of her character, Olivier told her, “All you have to do is be sexy, dear Marilyn.” Infuriated, Monroe never forgave the man who had once been her idol. However, Olivier eventually conceded that she had given a “star performance.”

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10. Frank Sinatra & Shelley Winters

Seven years before she won her first Oscar for The Diary of Anne Frank, Shelley Winters starred alongside Frank Sinatra in Meet Danny Wilson. But the actress’s fiery personality was seemingly impervious to Sinatra’s charms, and the pair soon traded blows. Indeed, they reportedly argued incessantly on set, culminating in Winters apparently raising a fist to Sinatra.

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Their animosity even extended to the public eye, as Sinatra blasted his co-star as a “bow-legged b**** of a Brooklyn blonde” in the press. Winters responded in kind, branding him a “skinny, no-talent, stupid Hoboken b******.” Unsurprisingly, the 1952 musical would mark both the first and last time they worked together.

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9. Kirk Douglas & Richard Harris

In his youth, Richard Harris developed a reputation for being tough to work with. On the first day of shooting for The Heroes of Telemark, then, Kirk Douglas asked his co-star, “Are you going to be as difficult as they say you are?” Harris responded in kind, “Are you going to be as big a b*****d as they say you are?”

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According to actor David Weston, who played a small role in the 1965 movie, the two men butted heads constantly. They argued over petty differences, including their cars, and the feud reportedly turned physical on one occasion. In the end, though, Douglas and Harris saw past their rivalry to become friends. Douglas even went on to help his co-star land the lead role in Camelot just two years later.

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8. John Wayne & John Huston

Place two ego-driven men who are at the top of their game in a room together, and chaos will ensue. That was the lesson learnt from 1958’s The Barbarian and the Geisha, which saw its director and lead actor physically tussle on set. Apparently, John Wayne – famed for his macho on-screen persona – was uncomfortable with the meek role John Huston had cast him in.

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Indeed, the actor is said to have frequently complained about Huston’s direction and even contemplated walking out on the production. Huston had apparently sought Wayne out to epitomize the visual contrast of the film’s final title, but it ended badly for him, too. The version that ended up in theaters was butchered by the studio at Wayne’s request, and the renowned filmmaker subsequently disowned his movie.

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7. Gene Kelly & Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds was just 19 years old when she began filming the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain. Her co-star and director Gene Kelly, on the other hand, was almost 20 years her senior – and came down on Reynolds hard. In 2013 the late actress told British newspaper the Daily Express that Kelly “never wanted” her in the movie.

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For instance, he demanded numerous consecutive takes of the film’s dance sequences. “My feet were bleeding from all that dancing and when I pointed it out, Gene would say ‘Clean it up!’” she recalled. On the first take of the kiss scene, meanwhile, Kelly apparently thrust his tongue down Reynolds’ throat – much to the youngster’s chagrin. She later described the incident in her memoir as “an assault,” but also said that Kelly “taught [her] a lot.”

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6. Tippi Hedren & Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was Tippi Hedren’s first feature film. And according to the actress, her time on set would ultimately define her entire career. You see, Hedren alleged in Donald Spoto’s 2008 book Spellbound by Beauty that Hitchcock sexually assaulted her during production of the 1963 movie. And she later claimed that when she rebuffed his advances, the director took steps to destroy her livelihood.

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In her 2016 autobiography, Hedren said that Hitchcock blocked Universal from submitting her performance for the Academy Awards and barred her from taking jobs elsewhere. Hedren’s ordeal, which she described in her memoir as “perverse” and “ugly,” was dramatized in the 2012 TV movie The Girl. Hitchcock historians and crew members responded to Hedren’s allegations by defending the late director, claiming the actress’s story hadn’t remained consistent over the years.

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5. Charlie Chaplin & Louis B. Mayer

In the 1920s, Hollywood’s most powerful movie exec clashed with one of its most influential comedians. Following Charlie Chaplin’s divorce to his first wife Mildred Harris, Louis B. Mayer hired the young woman for a six-picture deal. Yet while Harris had worked as an extra during her teenage years, she was best-known for her marriage to Chaplin.

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In his 2008 book Lion of Hollywood, author Scott Eyman described Harris’s contract as “exploitation pure and simple.” Chaplin was furious, and confronted Mayer at Los Angeles’ Alexandria Hotel. After the comedian told the movie producer that he couldn’t use his name, the two men became embroiled in a now-legendary fist fight.

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4. Brigitte Bardot & Henri-Georges Clouzot

French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot spent much of his career embroiled in controversy. His 1943 breakthrough picture Le Corbeau was categorically rejected by all sides of the political spectrum, and he was banned from making movies for many years. However, it was his fondness for tormenting his actors that landed him in hot water with Brigitte Bardot.

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You see, Clouzot would frequently physically and emotionally abuse his stars in order to elicit emotion. While filming Manon, the director struck Cécile Aubry. In Quai des Orfèvres, he gave Bernard Blier a very real blood transfusion. And for La Vérité, he gave Bardot tranquilizers and made her down whiskey, to inject emotional exhaustion into her performance.

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3. Marlene Dietrich & Greta Garbo

From the beginning of her long and storied career, Marlene Dietrich was paraded as an adversary to Greta Garbo. Yet the bitter rivalry between the actresses stemmed not from their professional careers, but their personal lives. Yes, it’s thought that the two women actually embarked upon an affair in 1925. And while their fling may have only lasted a few weeks, they spent the next six decades denying they ever knew one another.

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According to author Diana McLellan, Dietrich quickly grew jealous of her younger lover’s success, and made callous remarks about Garbo to friends. When they went to work in Hollywood, a mutual friend mediated, having them agree they would never meet or speak badly of each other. By the end of World War II, Dietrich attempted, but ultimately failed, to invoke her own peace treaty with Garbo.

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2. Norma Shearer & Joan Crawford

While Bette Davis was seen as Joan Crawford’s biggest rival, the latter actress also faced intense competition from Norma Shearer. In fact, Crawford’s rivalry with Shearer was arguably worse, given they both worked at MGM – and therefore competed for the same roles for 17 long years. Also Shearer was married to the studio’s head of production, which only sowed further resentment between the two women.

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Over the years at MGM, Shearer trumped Crawford to many roles – and even stole a few from under her nose. For instance, Shearer’s Oscar-winning performance in The Divorcee was for a role originally intended for Crawford. Despite the press playing up their feud, though, both women actually shared a degree of mutual respect. And they even appeared to be on friendly terms in their later years.

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1. Louella Parsons & Greta Garbo

At one time, Louella Parsons was the most powerful movie columnist in Hollywood. Her words were read by more than 20 million people across the world, many of whom took her reports as gospel – even when she published untruths. Indeed, Parsons would frequently attack stars who refused to give interviews, establishing a litany of long-running feuds.

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Perhaps the most notorious of these bitter quarrels involved Greta Garbo, who had developed a reputation for being uncooperative on set. That hostility extended towards the press, and therefore Parsons was outraged by Garbo’s behavior. She excoriated the actress in a 1930 column, writing, “She certainly has never let any newspaper writer peep beneath the surface of that cold, reserved nature.”

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