By Lori Acken,
Some of Hollywood’s most notorious affairs begat its most legendary romances: Liz and Dick, Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Newman and Woodward. But many — and, oh, were there many — just brought trouble, from studio-ordered abortions to shattered lives and careers. Here are just a few of Tinseltown’s most active extracurricular lovers.
Gable’s dashing good looks and distinctive acting style were themselves the products of an affair, when the then 23-year-old theatre actor ended an engagement to another woman to marry much older drama teacher Josephine Dillon and moved to Hollywood. Dillon paid to have Gable’s teeth fixed, his look refined and his speech and talent polished — which resulted in her getting left behind when Gable returned to New York, seducing a series of wealthy women to help him further his career until he finally made it big. Later, while still wed to Texas socialite Maria Langham, Gable embarked on a series of high-profile Hollywood affairs, most notably with Joan Crawford, herself an avid adulterer, and then starlet Loretta Young. Young became pregnant in 1935, giving birth in secret to protect their careers, then “adopting” the girl nearly two years later.
The doomed starlet (she died of renal failure at 26) nevertheless made the most of her rising star and sexpot reputation, enjoying countless flings and marrying three times. Her second, most infamous union was to MGM executive Paul Bern, who had been in a common law marriage with emotionally troubled minor actress Dorothy Millette. When Bern turned up dead of a gunshot just two months into his and Harlow’s marriage, both women were rumored suspects, though the death was ruled a suicide. Shortly after, Harlow began a public affair with actress Dorothy Dunbar’s husband Max Baer, landing her in a brief, studio-arranged marriage to her friend, cinematographer Harold Rosson.
Silent onscreen with deadly good looks, Cooper cut a wide swath through the boudoirs of Hollywood’s hottest leading ladies, including Clara Bow, Evelyn Brent, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly. While still married to his socialite wife Veronica “Rocky” Balfe, Cooper juggled romances with Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich and Lupe Vélez (whose frequent abuse reportedly caused the actor to lose 45 pounds before his mother intervened). But his most notorious extramarital dalliance was with his The Fountainhead costar Patricia Neal, 25 years his junior, which resulted in a pregnancy he demanded she abort.
Married at 22 to Rudolf “Rudi” Sieber, Dietrich didn’t let that stop her from bedding a virtual who’s who of leading men, including Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (fresh off his marriage to Joan Crawford), James Stewart, an also-married John Wayne and Yul Brynner. So packed was Dietrich’s sexual dance card that she and Rudi often went on double dates with their respective lovers. Openly bisexual (to the consternation of studio executives), Dietrich was rumored to have enjoyed a romance with fellow femme fatale Greta Garbo after both women ended dalliances with actor John Gilbert.
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