Marlene Dietrich Openly Identified As Bisexual, And 16 Other Intriguing Facts About Women In Old Hollywood

    RKO Radio Pictures was so against Katharine Hepburn wearing pants on movie sets, the studio hid them from her. In response to their sexist behavior, Hepburn walked around in her underwear until her pants were returned.

    A new documentary series titled The Last Movie Stars just dropped on HBO Max. It tells the story of legendary Old Hollywood couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, revealing behind-the-scenes secrets about their relationship and their rise to stardom in show business.

    Woodward and Newman posing for a portrait in the '60s

    Created and directed by Ethan Hawke, The Last Movie Stars reveals private interviews Newman recorded on tape with Hollywood legends like Robert Redford, Elia Kazan, and Joanne Woodward herself (which were intended for his memoir). But according to Hawke, Newman burned these legendary tapes, for one reason or another.

    Transcript of Eliza Kazan interview; cassette tape with Joanne Woodward's name on it

    Luckily, every interview was transcribed, so Hawke rounded up modern-day actors to read them as Old Hollywood stars. George Clooney plays Newman, Laura Linney plays Woodward, Bobby Cannavale plays Kazan, and so on.

    George Clooney and Laura Linney in "The Last Movie Stars," portrait of Newman in the '50s; portrait of Woodward in the '50s

    The Last Movie Stars is chock-full of information not only about Newman, the blue-eyed hunk, but also about Oscar winner Woodward, a groundbreaking actor in her own right. Woodward’s journey made me think about other women in Old Hollywood and how interesting their lives were. So here are some fascinating facts about famous women in Old Hollywood, courtesy of the BuzzFeed Community.

    Woodward in "The Three Faces of Eve"

    Note: Not all facts are from the BuzzFeed Community.

    Warning: Some facts include topics of suicide and sexual violence. Please proceed with caution.

    1. Joan Crawford used to soak her eyes in boric acid to make them sparkle in her movies. In an old beauty guide by Max Factor, he described the method Crawford used for sparkling eyes: "Her eyes were once merely a pretty blue, [but] today, she's made them the focal point in her face — wonderfully large. We all have that habit of rubbing our eyes before bed and upon rising, but Joan makes a point of keeping her eyes clean. She uses mascara to give the eyes that very open look, [and] when she raises them, they seem to widen the eyes even more that way."

    Crawford in "Mildred Pierce" and "Sadie McKee"

    2. MGM forced female stars like Judy Garland, Bette Davis, and Jeanette MacDonald to have abortions because they didn't want them to be perceived as "bombshells." Garland was forced to have abortions in 1941 and 1943; she gave birth to her first child in 1946: Liza Minnelli.

    Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," Davis in "All About Eve," Harlow in "Dinner at Eight"

    3. When Julie Andrews won the Golden Globe in 1965 for Mary Poppins, she thanked Warner Bros. director Jack Warner in her acceptance speech. This was a subtle dig at Warner, who cast Audrey Hepburn instead of Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (the role she originated on Broadway in 1956).

    Andrews thanking Warner in her Golden Globe acceptance speech

    Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady (1956) vs. Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady (1964):

    Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle; Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle

    4. Jane Fonda and Marilyn Monroe were in the same Method acting class — the Actors Studio — which was run by legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg. "I sat next to Marilyn Monroe in Lee Strasberg's classes — she and I would sit in the back of the room," Fonda recalled on Oprah's Master Class in 2012. "She'd have no makeup on, dark sunglasses, and a scarf around her head. She was too scared to get up and do anything."

    Jane Fonda studying at the Actors Studio, and Marilyn Monroe with Lee Strasberg's wife, Paula

    5. Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn and had a Spanish father, but Columbia Pictures essentially whitewashed her entire image. They made her get hairline electrolysis, dye her hair red, and lighten her skin tone so she wouldn't appear "exotic."

    Hayworth posing for a portrait in the '50s

    6. Rita Moreno was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Marlon Brando for eight years, which has always been glamorized by the public. In a 2021 interview with AP, Moreno revealed the truth behind her relationship with Brando, which was actually toxic. In the interview, she said, "We did a movie together long after I tried to do away with my life, and all of that had to do with my relationship with Marlon Brando. The movie's called The Night of the Following Day [1969] ... and I hauled off and slapped him in this scene ... And, to my absolute astonishment, he not only slapped me back, he slapped me back so hard I — I now understood what it meant when you said, 'I saw stars.'"

    Moreno and Brando in "The Night of the Following Day"

    7. Hattie McDaniel was the first Black person to win an Oscar, but the hotel hosting the ceremony in its nightclub had a discriminatory policy against Black people. Her Gone With the Wind producer had to call in a favor, and she was eventually allowed inside the Cocoanut Grove. In her acceptance speech, McDaniel said, "I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry. My heart is too full."

    McDaniel making her Oscar acceptance speech

    8. Josephine Baker, the American-born French actor and dancer, refused to perform in segregated clubs in the US. She continued her iconic dancing career through the 1930s and 1940s, and although she was married to four men over the course of her life, she reportedly also had relationships with famous women like French writer Colette.

    Baker posing for a portrait in a dance outfit in the mid-'20s

    Colette, author of famous queer novels like Claudine (1901):

    Colette posing for a portrait in the '40s

    9. Marlene Dietrich openly identified as bisexual and allegedly had sex with notable actors like her Shanghai Express costar Anna May Wong. Dietrich referred to her affairs with women as "sewing circles" and created a safe space where lesbian and bisexual women in the Old Hollywood community could be themselves.

    Dietrich and Wong in "Shanghai Express"

    10. Dietrich was also one of the first actors to have a lesbian kiss in a major motion picture in the US. Dietrich's character in Morocco (1930), Mademoiselle Amy Jolly, kissed a female audience member during one of her performances in a to-die-for black tux and top hat.

    Dietrich in "Morocco"

    11. Joanne Woodward sewed her own dress for the 1958 Oscars. When she won the Best Actress Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve, she ran up to the stage holding on to her dress because it was too big on top. In The Last Movie Stars, she said, "When I realized I had won, I [flung] off my coat — but it was a strapless dress. And as I began to run, I had those staves to hold it up, but I kept thinking, My dress is gonna fall down!"

    Woodward holding up her dress as she accepted her Oscar

    12. Shirley Temple was investigated by the Vatican because there was a rumor that she had dwarfism and was an adult impersonating a child.

    Temple posing for a portrait as a kid

    13. Hedy Lamarr was responsible for inventing the groundbreaking frequency-hopping technology used in World War II that would eventually contribute to major inventions like GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

    Portrait of Lamarr in the '40s; notes of Lamarr's inventions

    14. Natalie Wood injured her left wrist as a kid on the set of The Green Promise (1948), which resulted in her left wristbone popping out. Because she was so self-conscious about it, she always wore a big bracelet to cover up the injury for the rest of her adult life.

    Wood posing for a portrait in the '60s; Wood promoting "West Side Story" (1961)

    15. Tallulah Bankhead allegedly sprinkled Marlene Dietrich's gold wig dust on her pubic hair and showed it off to random people who passed by her dressing room. Bankhead was quoted as saying, "Going down on a woman gives me a stiff neck, going down on a man gives me lockjaw, and conventional sex gives me claustrophobia."

    Tallulah in a close-up and Marlene in a bow tie and top hat

    16. And RKO Radio Pictures was so against Katharine Hepburn wearing pants on movie sets, the studio hid them from her. In response to their sexist behavior, Hepburn walked around in her underwear until her pants were returned.

    Hepburn posing for a portrait wearing a pantsuit and smoking a cigarette

    17. Hepburn addressed the "suit issue" in the most Katharine Hepburn way possible in an 1981 interview with Barbara Walters. When Walters asked her if "she ever wore a skirt," Hepburn responded with, "I'll wear [one] to your funeral."

    Hepburn interview with Walters

    What's an Old Hollywood fact most people don't know? Let us know in the comments below!