How The Fixers Of Old Hollywood Covered Up Some Of The Most Scandalous Celebrity Stories In History

clark gable
PHOTO: STF/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

It's the sort of thing you dream about in middle school. Maybe you just broke your mom's favorite vase and wildly think that you can get it replaced in half an hour before she gets home. Or you're lying in bed awake at night thinking about the project you didn't finish and wish, Hmmm, maybe I'll get lucky and the school will burn down tonight.

The concept of a "fixer" is something we've all imagined having at some point in our lives. Someone who can handle all the problems — especially the scandalous ones — that we simply don't want to deal with. But since we're not rich, famous and powerful, we don't have such luxuries.

But movie stars do.

The concept goes all the way back to the beginning of Hollywood. Famous actors didn't bounce from studio to studio for different projects; they were beholden to a single company for all their work. And since the number one thing that any celebrity has going for them is their "brand," defending that image was a priority that their studios would go to insane, and often criminal, lengths to protect.

Any conversation about Hollywood fixers has to start with Eddie Mannix. He was a Vice President/general manager at MGM for nearly 40 years starting in the early '20s. Back then, his studio was all about being the wholesome movie company; family-friendly virtuous men and women the public would feel comfortable leaving their kids around. Which is why Mannix spent four decades sparing no effort to cover up rape, abortions and worse on behalf of their talent and executives.

Most of this cannot be confirmed, of course, though much is so widely suspected and reported that you can't help but believe it. For instance, it's widely believed that Mannix, through his #2 Howard Strickling, would regularly manipulate the media to to destroy stars who wouldn't stay in line. When closeted gay actor Nils Asther threatened to leave his B.S. marriage to an actress, the two men contrived to release an article in a major magazine calling out the homosexuality they'd kept hidden for years. This was a less open-minded era and Asther was immediately fired.

Mannix was also responsible for manipulating the media into reporting a notoriously obvious case of superstar Clark Gable's drunk driving into a regular accident. The actor Spencer Tracy was assigned an entire team of drivers, doctors, and security for whenever he went out binge drinking, all arranged by Mannix.

But that's just the relatively innocent tip of the iceberg.

George Reeves had been a star for years before having a career resurgence in the '50s while playing Superman on the brand new medium of television. During his reign as a superhero, the actor would strike up an affair with Mannix's wife, Toni, that Mannix fully (and financially) supported — he was sleeping with their Japanese maid at the time, so everyone was on the same page about the arrangement. Apparently the foursome even flew on vacations together; Reeves and the maid in coach.

Extremely long story short, Reeves eventually ditched Toni for a younger woman from New York. Over the subsequent months, Reeves' dog would go missing, he'd have a terrible car accident on account of cut brake lines (his mechanic allegedly said, "Somebody wanted [George] dead"), and then ended up dead in his bedroom with a gunshot wound to the head.

The death was quickly ruled a suicide despite the fact that his body was taken to a coroner before it could be examined by police, and that multiple bullet holes were later discovered covered up in the house. The case was never reopened by the chief of police — who just so happened to be a close friend of Mannix's.

Admittedly, that one is more conjecture than anything. But these next two unthinkable coverups are virtually proven fact at this point, and the gender of the victims won't surprise you.

Arranging quiet abortions for MGM's stars was old hat by 1935. But the case of Catholic starlet Loretta Young's pregnancy couldn't be handled as such since she refused the procedure. On top of the drama an out-of-wedlock pregnancy for a devout Christian would cause the family-friendly studio, the child was Clark Gable's, who was at the time married to his second of an eventual five wives. Young's daughter would later claim that her mother said the sex between them was non-consensual.

Well, what to do? Mannix and his right hand man Strickling immediately put the girl into hiding, making up all manner of excuses to the press. Eventually, when the pressure finally reached critical mass, an interview was arranged with a studio-friendly reporter while Young was 9-months pregnant; they surrounded her with pillows to hide the bump, and even had a fake nurse changing fake IV bags to keep up the ruse of illness.

The baby was delivered, immediately taken away from Young and put into an orphanage for over a year, at which point Young happily announced to the world that she was adopting a daughter — in reality, her own child. Problem solved.

Now it must be said, Young was complicit in this scheme to protect her career; she only admitted to her own child that they were biologically related in 1960. Unfortunately, this next girl cannot claim the same.

Patricia Douglas wasn't a superstar, she was just a dancer who was dragged to LA by her mother. Still, she had done some work for studios and ended up getting cast for what she thought was a dancing role in an MGM film; it turned out to be a party for the studio executives on a private ranch, and over 100 "dancers" were being paid $7.50 to hang out in tiny cowgirl outfits.

According to her legal account of the event, a man named David Ross first pulled her head back and poured liquor down her throat against her will. When she returned from vomiting in the bathroom, he physically dragged her to his car and raped her.

Den Of Geek/LA Daily Times

Enter the full force of Eddie Mannix and MGM. The hospital she was taken to immediately after the rape was on the studio's payroll. They asked her to douche, thus destroying anything that could pass for evidence. Then the District Attorney, who's campaign had been partially funded by the studio, initially refused to take her case. The LA Examiner — whose owner's mistress had a deal with MGM — printed a story which convincingly slandered Douglas without using MGM's name once. And when the District Attorney finally did take the case, it was dismissed when every single witness suddenly couldn't remember what happened.

The most egregious case of amnesia came from a parking lot attendant who initially reported hearing Douglas' screams; he would continue to be paid by MGM until he died because, as his daughters admitted in an interview decades later, he was offered "any job he wanted" while the investigation was underway.

Eddie Mannix died in 1963, coincidentally along with the model for a traditional Hollywood studio and the need for his particular brand of work. But before he died that year, he was asked about Patricia Douglas: "We had her killed," was his reply (this was metaphor; Douglas left LA after the scandal and lived until 2003).

The role of a fixer didn't completely die with Mannix though. Besides the uncountable amount of people who must have been complicit in Harvey Weinstein's sexcapades, the most notorious name to come out of Hollywood in recent years is Anthony Pellicano. He was arrested in 2002 after a dead fish was sent to a reporter who'd been writing bad reviews of his clients; police investigated his office and found a huge amount of explosives. He'd later be caught tapping the phones of dozens of A-listers, and he was found in possession of taped conversations between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman from the time of their divorce.

But before we put the matter to rest, there's one other name that has to be mentioned, the man who allegedly mentored Pellicano: Fred Otash.

He was a private investigator who was employed by the stars — not the studios — to handle the problems they weren't equipped to. While his exploits remained the stuff of legend for many years, his daughter released his private archives to the public in 2013 (Otash had been dead since the '90s). In it, he claims to have found and destroyed Judy Garland's drug stash during her divorce and once caught James Dean shoplifting. Otash was the man contacted by the Kennedy family to clear out Marylin Monroe's house of anything incriminating after her death in 1962.

The anecdote that most people remember Otash for, however, was his involvement with the murder of Johnny Stompanato. The mobster was found stabbed dead — not by police, but by Otash.

Stompanato had been dating actress Lana Turner, and this star-powered homicide was huge news at the time. Eventually, the courts would rule that the crime had been committed by Lana's fourteen-year old daughter Cheryl Crane, who claimed she did it because Stompanato was abusing her mother. The judge accepted this explanation and let Crane off the hook.

But what happened in the time before the police arrived that night? With one of Hollywood's most notorious fixers there to coach Lana and Cheryl on their stories? Or worse?

According to a late-in-life interview by Otash himself, "Beverly Hills police chief Clinton Anderson once accused me of removing the knife from Stompanato's body, wiping off Lana Turner's fingerprints, putting on Cheryl Crane's fingerprints and then shoving the knife back into the body. Crazy."

But given everything you've read, would that really be so crazy?

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TOM BOMBADIL

I had a rough childhood. I watched my parents murdered right before my eyes. Shot point-blank by some two-bit thug.

So I ran away from Gotham and wandered the earth, until eventually Liam Neeson found me in an obscure Asian jail. He gave me a home, taught me to fight, and showed me the true meaning of justice meant wearing black rubber latex and speaking really deeply. 

Then I killed him with a flying commuter train.

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