Hollywood's Biggest Dirty Little Secrets

To those of us on the outside, Hollywood often seems like a magical place full of beautiful people with fairy tale lives. In reality, it can be as seedy as some of the movies it produces. Here are some secrets Tinseltown doesn't like to talk about.


L. Ron Hubbard knew that to attract people to his new "religion" he needed to have celebrity practitioners. In order to achieve this, he bought a huge hotel in Los Angeles and designated it the Celebrity Centre, where people with even a tiny bit of fame can enjoy perks regular followers could only dream of. According to the Los Angeles Times, this was all part of something Hubbard called "Project Celebrity," which even came with a directive to regular church members that they would receive "a small plaque as a reward" should they successfully recruit a star.

Amazingly, Hubbard's plan worked, and according to former Scientologists, actors such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley allegedly have access to teams of Sea Org members who do everything from clean their houses to pimp their rides, all for only a few dollars a week. One of the most scandalous accounts of this alleged practice came from former high-ranking Scientologists Marty Rathbun and John Brousseau who presented a detailed account, complete with photos, of what appears to be pretty damning evidence that Cruise may have enjoyed the fruits of underpaid Scientology labor for years.

Outside of the church's questionable labor practices, the arguably bizarre beliefs of Scientology have now been exposed for years, most notably the idea that Earth's population was seeded by an "intergalactic warlord named Xenu." No, really. And yet, the religion still boasts an astoundingly large number of celebrity followers, including Jenna Elfman, Beck, Danny and Christopher Masterson, Juliette Lewis, and many more.

Awards voting scandals

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Alone Yet Not Alone was disqualified from the 2014 Academy Awards best original song category because the writer sent out an email to voters just to let them know his work was nominated (*wink wink*). That is a big no-no. On the other hand, the publication pointed out that when one of the producers of The Hurt Locker sent out an even less subtle email in 2010, he was banned from the ceremony, but the film was allowed to remain (and eventually win) the best picture Oscar.

Scandals involving stripped Oscar nominations are rare, and if we're being honest, they're also pretty tame, considering they typically involve hopefuls politely offering their work for Academy consideration. When it comes to the Golden Globes, however, there have been far more overt controversies. According to People, Pia Zadora won the "new star of the year in a motion picture–female" category in 1982 for a decidedly terrible performance in the forgettable film Butterfly. It was widely believed that her win was purchased by her multimillionaire husband when he allegedly flew Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) voters to his Las Vegas casino and treated them to a lavish lunch and a screening of the film.

Whispers about bribery and corruption involving the Golden Globes eventually reached a deafening roar when the HFPA was forced to settle a lawsuit brought against it by its former publicist, Michael Russell, who claimed he was fired for trying to root out misconduct. According to the New York Post, Russell settled with the HFPA for an undisclosed amount, because nothing screams not guilty like secretly paying to make something go away, right?

Calling the paps on themselves

While some celebrities genuinely hate the paparazzi—looking at you, Sean Penn—others know that having their pictures show up in tabloids and on gossip sites is the only thing keeping them relevant. According to Rolling Stone, Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears, and Tori Spelling regularly called the paps to snap flattering pictures when they're decked out in perfect makeup and a blowout. Rolling Stone also alleges Lindsay Lohan received "gratuities" from photogs in exchange for tipping them off, and even Ryan Reynolds—presumably in his pre-superhero days—allegedly used paparazzi photos in a guerilla-style product placement campaign that produced not-so-candid candids of the actor enjoying brands such as Chobani, Burger King, and Nespresso.

Though the aforementioned celebs have never admitted to these practices, reality TV villain Spencer Pratt not only copped to doing it but boasted about how lucrative it is. In an interview on Bethenny (via TooFab), Pratt says the paparazzi "were never following us, I was calling them." He explained, "There's big money in there. Every photo you take, they are selling them to the tabloids. So if you partner up with them, you get a cut. We were making like half a million dollars in photos a year."

Remember that next time you reach for some guilty beach-reading via OK! or Life & Style magazines. You could be crowdfunding the next Speidi.

Fake relationships

You'd think that when you're rich, successful, and attractive you would have no problem getting a date, but that hasn't stopped publicists from allegedly pushing their clients into completely fake relationships. In the old days, this was often done to cover up someone's sexuality, like when Rock Hudson married his agent's secretary to maintain his leading-man image.

These days, fake relationships seem to happen in order to generate interest in a movie or TV show. A 2016 Vice article examining these so-called "promances" highlights two hilariously transparent attempts. First, there was Henry Cavill and Kaley Cuoco's 2013 fling that was as brief as it was phony, "candid" public hand-holding sessions and all. Vice even speculates that the entire thing may have been orchestrated by their PR firm—yes, they happened to have the same one—in order to generate buzz for Cavill, who happened to be making his debut as Superman in Man of Steel (2013).

Next up was Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift's summer tryst, known annoyingly as "Hiddleswift," in 2016. You may remember them performing their sickening mashup of a Nicholas Sparks novel with an L.L. Bean catalog along the New England coastline, or perhaps the time Hiddleston took a dip in the infamous "I heart T.S." tank top during Swift's annual Rhode Island Fourth of July bash. The wide speculation was that the dubious dalliance was an attempt at "raising [Hiddleston's] profile in order to secure the role of James Bond," while Swift would, of course, get a few hit singles out of the deal. Hiddleston later maintained that the relationship was real even if it only lasted a few months, but as of this writing, they've still never, ever gotten back together.

Weight issues

At the time of this writing, the term "body shaming" has become a trending topic. Stars of all shapes and sizes are now speaking out against Hollywood's long-standing tradition of pressuring performers to take whatever means necessary to combat that mythical ten pounds added by the camera.

Actresses, in particular, have been dealing with this since the beginning of the motion picture industry, according to The Guardian, although some actors, such as Sam Clafin, have also recently shared their stories of being shamed. Some of the worst tales of body shaming have come from Hollywood's leading ladies. For example, Raven-Symoné admitted on The View (via People) that she was told at age 7, while starring on The Cosby Show (1984-92), that she couldn't eat certain things because people thought she was getting fat. The experience reportedly catalyzed a lifelong struggle with body issues.

Some adult actresses, such as Patricia Arquette and Emma Thompson, have famously fought back against the pressure to lose weight for a role. After a Medium (2005-11) producer made a comment about Arquette's weight—just as she returned to acting after having a baby, no less—the actress informed her that she felt her body was perfectly acceptable for her character, who was a "mother of three." When Thompson found out that Miramax was pressuring her co-star in Brideshead Revisited (2008) to lose weight, she called and threatened to quit if they didn't back off. Though the ladies of the silver screen are becoming more and more vocal about this issue, it remains one of Hollywood's nastiest and worst-kept secrets.

The pay gap

Speaking of women having to deal with sexist garbage in the workplace, the pay gap is also a smear on Hollywood's reputation that persists to this day. Though women have been complaining about being paid less than their male co-stars for years, the issue gained new traction when the infamous Sony hacks revealed email correspondence between Jennifer Lawrence and the studio regarding the startling salary discrepancies among the cast members of American Hustle (2013). According to the Daily Beast, Lawrence and Amy Adams received two points less on the revenue sharing agreement than their male co-stars, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, despite the fact that both actresses arguably brought just as much star power to the film.

Lawrence ended up penning a thought-provoking essay on the topic for Lenny, which in turn sparked even more public disclosures from really famous women getting screwed over by some really uneven compensation. Around the same time, Meryl "Pile O' Oscars" Streep told The Telegraph that her male counterparts make more than she does. A few months later, Robin Wright spoke out about demanding the same pay as Kevin Spacey in House of Cards (2013-) which she received after threatening "to go public." Sure, her telling that story essentially means she spilled the beans anyway after getting what she wanted, but who cares? She should never have had to play hardball just to be paid fairly in the first place.

Dangerous exploitation

Actors aren't just working for themselves. A small industry builds up around them comprised of agents, publicists, producers, etc., all of whom depend on that actor's success to keep getting a paycheck of their own. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to horrible experiences for the celebrity.

In her memoir Child Star (via People), Shirley Temple reveals a few harrowing experiences from her heyday. When she was 3-years-old and starring in a series of short films for a dance studio, the director reportedly used "a black box with a block of ice as the only seating" as a disciplinary tactic for when kids missed their marks. Temple also recounted the time when she was 12-years-old and MGM producer Arthur Freed allegedly exposed himself to her during a meeting while her mother was in studio boss Louis B. Mayer's office being similarly harassed. Other stars of the era, such as Judy Garland, were famously manipulated with drugs, resulting in a short, unhappy life.

It's not always the production team or studio bigwigs who lean on stars to produce results. Sometimes, especially in the case of child stars, their parents turn into greedy opportunists, treating kids more like commodities than human beings. You don't have to look any further than Macaulay Culkin and Ariel Winter, who both successfully sued to emancipate themselves from their parents/managers, to realize that sometimes a celebrity's worst enemy is the person who brought them into this world.

Writers lose out

Writing isn't the sexy part of Hollywood, so it's easy for writers to undervalue their work and get screwed out of the money they deserve. In fact, since 1960, the Writers Guild of America (the union that represents most Hollywood screenwriters) has resorted to walking off the job six times in order to renegotiate writers' compensation from the studios, according to Variety.

Over the years, some writers even took matters into their own hands, like in the case of the 1988 lawsuit Buchwald v. Paramount, in which screenwriter Art Buchwald exposed the shady practice of so-called "studio accounting," which allowed Paramount to claim that, despite earning $288 million at the box office, its film Coming to America (1988) hadn't actually made any money. Paramount refused to pay Buchwald the "net profit" he was owed under his contract. He sued, and the court ruled in his favor. Paramount wound up paying him $900,000.

In 2001, The Passion of the Christ (2004) scribe Benedict Fitzgerald found himself in a legal battle with director Mel Gibson, who allegedly withheld a $75,000 production bonus from Fitzgerald unless he allowed Gibson to be credited as a co-writer. They eventually settled privately.

It's almost like the studios, producers, and directors forget that without the writers, they have nothing to even point the camera at, which was a lesson most notably learned by the disastrous impromptu scripting efforts of the star and director of the critically-derided Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008).

The alleged pedophile ring

Sex scandals have been a part of the seedy Hollywood underbelly since the silent film days, but perhaps the most stomach-churning is the alleged pedophile ring that has been hinted at for years. The 2014 documentary, An Open Secret, brought Tinseltown's dark side to the forefront by showcasing many victims who claim they were abused at the hands of men in the entertainment industry who used parties, drugs, and coercion to systematically prey upon young actors and actresses.

Former child star Corey Feldman is by far the most outspoken celebrity on the subject. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he talked about the abuse that both he and fellow actor, Corey Haim, allegedly suffered at the type of parties highlighted in An Open Secret. Feldman claims he was repeatedly molested throughout his young career and alleges Haim was raped at 11-years-old. Citing expired statutes of limitation, Feldman said he is unable to name names, because not only would the abusers not be prosecuted, but he would be opening himself up to defamation lawsuits. Elijah Wood also discussed the issue with The Sunday Times, although he said that he was lucky to avoid abuse because his mother knew to keep him away from the well-known and lurid off-set activities.

While it may seem like these disturbing crimes have gone largely unpunished, Complex published a timeline of prosecutions against Hollywood sex criminals, including Leonardo DiCaprio's former agent, Bob Villard, who was convicted of "transporting child pornography" and "committing a lewd act on a child." There are many more on the Complex list, which does not claim to be comprehensive, and also points out that a large portion of sex abuse cases go unreported, making the problem nearly impossible to correctly diagnose.

Hollywood racism

Diversity was an issue in Hollywood long before the infamous #OscarsSoWhite campaign of 2016 that effectively changed the rules of Academy membership and prompted a leadership shake-up with a push towards more diversity among board members. While the racial disparity among Oscar winners was always obvious, the more insidious biases made at the casting level have been harder to pinpoint, that is, until the infamous Sony hacks.

Of the many damning revelations from the file dump of the studio's emails, private memos, and other documents, the undercurrent of racist dialogue among bigwigs was one of the lowlights that quickly went viral. According to The Independent, an email chain between Sony Chairman Michael Lynton and an unnamed producer revealed the producer's suggestion that Sony should have known better than to cast two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington in the lead role of The Equalizer (2014) and expect international success. After all, according to the producer, "in general pictures with an African American lead don't play well overseas." It should be noted that said producer praised Washington as "the best actor of his generation" while simultaneously suggesting he's no longer bankable.

But the Sony hacks weren't finished there. The Independent also reported that leaked documents revealed emails between Sony Chairwoman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin in which they mused over President Barack Obama's possible film preferences, which all happened to be largely cast with black actors. Though admittedly just a small sample of instances, these brief glimpses into the private communications of the predominantly white executive class of the Hollywood studio system suggest a much larger problem that has yet to be fully addressed.

Shady methods to combat piracy

Remember when everyone was talking about "net neutrality" for a while, even though nobody really knew exactly what that was? Well, it turns out Hollywood was secretly one of the largest players in the fight to pass the failed Stop Online Piracy Act legislation, better known as SOPA, which critics argue would have handed unfair control of internet access over to major internet service providers, or ISPs.

It gets a bit technical, but Hollywood, in particular, the MPAA, which is the lobbying arm of the entertainment industry, has been trying ever since the failure of SOPA to figure out a workaround that would allow ISPs to block sites who host pirated content, according to The Verge.

Granted, online piracy is a huge problem for showbiz that needs to be dealt with, but the argument against the MPAA's tactics, which comes mainly from Google and other "open internet" proponents, is that allowing ISPs to block sites based on the discretion of powerful interests is the beginning of a slippery slope to bandwidth restriction, which could lead to the eventual control of the internet by said powerful interests who are hiding behind shady and broadly written anti-piracy rules. The bottom line: the movie studios want you buying tickets from the box office, not streaming pirated screeners from your living room, and they don't mind partnering with media conglomerates who have questionable ulterior motives to achieve this.

Animal cruelty still happens

Audiences are familiar with the "No animals were harmed during the making of" disclosure that accompanies the credits of every movie and TV show starring a non-human, but not every production can make that claim. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the problem of on-set animal cruelty is worse than everyone thinks.

The report cites a string of gruesome tales, including the near-drowning death of a tiger during the filming of Life of Pi (2012), the beating of a dog on the set of Eight Below (2006), the squashing death of a chipmunk on the set of Failure to Launch (2006), and "the dozens of dead fish and squid that washed up on shore over four days during the filming of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003).

Perhaps the most egregious example in recent years was the HBO series Luck (2011-12), which had its plug pulled just two episodes into its second season after four horses died during production. Supposedly, showrunners David Milch and Michael Mann were "adamant about achieving realness" for their horse-racing series, which allegedly resulted in extreme conditions for the horses, as well as the suppression of outcry waged by on-set American Humane Association (AHA) monitors. Ultimately, no charges were filed against anyone following two dubious AHA investigations. One of those so-called investigations was reportedly conducted "by phone and from out of state, didn't attempt to procure a search warrant to pursue crucial toxicology results from the Racing Board and never interviewed key AHA staffers who were working on Luck."

Hollywood 'fixers' are a real thing

As of this writing, the hit Showtime series Ray Donovan (2013-) has thrust the idea of the "fixer" back into the mainstream discussion, but do Hollywood heavy-hitters really employ teams of tough guy private investigators to do their dirty work and clean up their messes? The answer is yes, kinda.

Back in the Old Hollywood days when the studios essentially owned their stars via lengthy and controlling contracts, men such as Fred Otash and Eddie Mannix—the latter was the basis for the 2016 Cohen Bros. film, Hail, Caesar!—actually did things like arranging cover-ups for the pregnancies of young starlets and allegedly making rape charges against a powerful MGM executive disappear, according to Vintage News.

In more recent Hollywood history, the "fixing" was less overt, but still just as shady. According to The Independent, Anthony Pellicano, the "P.I. to the stars," got up to all kinds of shady business while working for assorted celebs. Pellicano was eventually arrested after sending threatening notes, accompanied by a dead fish, to a reporter, which, while disturbing, is an undoubtedly Hollywood thing to do, right? He was also famously convicted of "tapping the telephones of Sylvester Stallone and several other industry figures." Although no celebs were ever directly linked to any of Pellicano's crimes, he was employed at times by stars such as Michael Jackson, Chris Rock, Kevin Costner, and Steven Spielberg. That begs the question: what exactly was he doing for them?