In some ways, cinema is one great big pile of smoke and mirrors. CGI, make-up and huge amounts of post-production wizardry ensure that what we see on screen masks the often messy reality of actually being on set. Sometimes, however, the backstage reality of a movie is just so bad it risks tainting a film forever. Take these ten much-loved family classics for example, where truly unspeakable things happened behind the scenes.
10. A child almost drowned in The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music – that super-sentimental, happy-go-lucky musical about a woman in Austria taking a group of seven children under her wing – isn’t generally associated with anything grim or negative. Well, apart from its World War II setting, of course. But as cheery as the plot is, there’s one particular part that left five-year-old Kym Karath, who played little Gretl, greatly traumatized.
It’s the segment in which Karath had to plunge into the water, while gesturing frantically to Captain von Trapp. Sounds easy, but there was just one problem: little Karath had never learned to swim. And so when she went into the water, she nearly drowned and had to be pulled out by another child. It’s little wonder, then, that to this day the actress still feels uncomfortable taking a dip.
9. The child stars of Stand By Me got high during filming
The four boys in the classic coming-of-age movie Stand By Me got caught up in a whirlwind of life-changing events on screen – from discovering a dead body to getting into fights. Behind the scenes, however, they engaged in an altogether different “coming of age” activity.
Between shoots, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman would regularly unwind by getting high. And, one day, the boys went to a hippie fair, where 11-year-old Jerry O’Connell accidentally devoured a pot cookie. He then wandered off from the group, who finally discovered him a couple of hours later weeping in a parking lot. Coming of age off as well as on screen then!
8. The Munchkins got kinky while filming The Wizard of Oz
They seem so sweet, don’t they? Those little people dancing around Dorothy’s skirts throughout the Wizard of Oz. But comments from other actors suggest that behind the scenes, the men and women who played the Munchkins in this family classic got up to all sorts of sordid mischief.
“They had orgies in the hotel and we had to have police on about every floor,” producer Mervyn LeRoy revealed later. Pimps, prostitutes, fighting and gambling were the order of the day. What’s more, one insatiable dwarf even took 17-year-old Judy Garland on a date – albeit with her mom there as a chaperone.
7. Willy Wonka’s chocolate river isn’t as sweet as it sounds…
The sweet factory belonging to the legendary – if slightly creepy – Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a place that we all dreamed of visiting when we were kids. In fact, it was probably right up there with Richie Rich’s mansion. And even more so considering that some of the candy you see in the film was actually real, including the chocolate river!
But the reality of being on set was anything but sweet. That delicious-looking river was actually created using plenty of cream, which emitted a truly terrible stink when it turned rancid. And while lots of the candy was edible, some of it was fake, so that the kids on set would bite into wooden food without even knowing it. And the foam in the “Wonka Wash” scene? Well, it was actually so toxic to human skin that the cast had to take a few days off to recover!
6. A child star was molested on the set of Lucas
Corey Haim was one of the big child stars of the ’80s, best known for his role in The Lost Boys. But he also played the lead in Lucas, a touching movie about a 14-year-old boy who is intelligent beyond his years.
Haim’s experience off-set however, was one of many that would scar him for life. The young child actor later revealed all to his The Lost Boys co-star Corey Feldman, who wrote about the revelations in his 2013 autobiography. Feldman claimed that Haim told him he had been sexually abused by an older man on the set of Lucas, when he was just a young boy.
5. Harry Potter’s stunt double was paralyzed during filming
The Harry Potter movies are considered some of the best family films this side of the millennium, but even they had their behind-the-scenes tragedy. David Holmes was the brave stunt double who performed all of the stunts for Daniel Radcliffe in the franchise, and he did so superbly well. But while filming The Deathly Hollows, one action scene went horribly wrong.
A high-power cable was attached to Holmes in order to propel him through the air, giving the impression that he had been knocked back by an explosion. But the cable yanked Holmes too hard, slamming him into a wall and smashing his neck. Tragically, the accident left the 25-year-old stuntman paralyzed from the waist down. Holmes has become an inspiration for the disabled community now, though, and currently works as an ambassador for London’s Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
4. A hoverboard rider was seriously hurt in Back to the Future Part II
Those legendary hoverboards in Back to the Future Part II have been hovering around the top of our “gadgets we’d like to own” lists since they first appeared on our screens in 1989. But have you ever thought of the safety implications involved in actually riding one?
Well, as it turns out it’s not the safest mode of transport – a fact demonstrated to horrific effect by stuntwoman Cheryl Wheeler. Wheeler was stunting in the sequence where four hoverboard riders chase Marty McFly before crashing through a window. But instead of hitting the window, Wheeler smashed into a pillar instead. Furthermore, when her harness was then erroneously released, she was sent plummeting to the ground in a 30-foot free-fall that nearly killed her. Her injuries were so severe that she required reconstructive surgery on her face.
3. The director pretended to kill the child actor’s puppy in Skippy
While you might not have seen it, most people of a certain age have at least heard of the 1930s kids classic Skippy. The movie follows a couple of young boys who go off in search of a dog that’s fallen victim to a dog catcher. And its child star actually made history too: nine-year-old Jackie Cooper, who played the titular Skippy, became the youngest person ever to be put forward for the coveted Best Actor Oscar.
That nomination came at an emotional price for Cooper, though, because director Norman Taurog took quite an unorthodox approach to get the boy to shed some tears on screen. Determined to get him crying convincingly, Taurog actually took the boy’s real-life pet dog off set, and pretended to kill it. Horrible, yes. But it clearly worked!
2. Jim Carrey needed counseling while filming The Grinch
Any role that requires unspeakable amounts of prosthetics is going to be pretty taxing, especially when it takes eight and a half hours just to get it all on. And that’s exactly what happened to poor Jim Carrey during filming of The Grinch – a movie about a green, furry killjoy intent on ruining Christmas.
Carrey later told Graham Norton that performing inside his complicated costume was “like being buried alive each day.” The claustrophobic costume was so bad, in fact, that former CIA operatives were actually brought in to teach Carrey torture-resistance techniques! But Carey had his own survival tools: he said that listening to the Bee Gees helped him carry on.
1. The Adventures of Milo and Otis was rife with animal cruelty
The Adventures of Milo and Otis was one of Japan’s highest-grossing films of all time when it was released in 1986. But the family favorite, about the adventures of a cat and a pug, has since been flagged by countless animal rights groups for the cruelty inflicted on its furry stars.
Multiple cats and dogs were used to play the titular characters in the movie – but not all of them lived to see the premiere. In fact, it’s been reported that 27 cats were killed during filming. Furthermore, there are some disturbing scenes that show the animal cast in clear distress – a pug trying to swim away from a bear, for instance, a cat trying to rescale a cliff after being thrown off it or another feline forced to protect its young from a snake.