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Tales of the Broke and Famous
"Beverly Hills is a place where you spend a lot of money you don't have to
impress a lot of people you don't like!"- - Anonymous Hollywood Producer
If the rumors are true that Michael Jackson's lavish life style has left him
broke, he would not be the first famous celebrity in financial straights.
in hock after 150 movies. Three wives, seven children, investing his own money
in the box office troubled The Alamo (1960) combined with an exceedingly
generous nature left the Duke completely wiped out. He would often walk into
bars and shout,"Drinks for everybody on me!" He would get fan letters full of
wild pleas for money, from people who had tax problems to mothers who asked for
help to pay for their daughter's braces. Wayne would agonize over them but send
financial aid if he thought the requester was really needy. One time his second
wife Chata, with whom he was about to divorce hired a private detective to get
the goods on him. Down in Mexico near where Wayne was filming the western Hondo
(1953) the investigator forgot his identification one day and got locked up in a
Chihuahua jail. Not knowing anyone in a foreign land the desperate P.I. called
Wayne himself. The Cowboy Star arrived with his buddy and frequent co-star, a
disbelieving Ward Bond. "Duke, this guy is trying to ruin you! Let him rot!"
Wayne reached into his pocket and pulled out the necessary coin to pay the bail.
"Ah come on Ward, the poor man was only doing his job."
Stars can find themselves in money trouble before they know it. While performing
in Las Vegas with Dean Martin at the Flamingo hotel in 1953, twenty-seven-year
old Jerry Lewis ran up $137,000 dollars in gambling debts. The mobsters who ran
the casino confronted him to ask how he planned to pay it off. The nervy Lewis
told them it was their fault for letting a kid run up such a large tab. How
irresponsible! The gangsters, a bit bewildered, agreed, then repeated their
question. Realizing that these nice gentlemen could whack him, Jerry asked them
what they suggested. After a hasty conference they told him he would work it
off. The gambling addicted Lewis asked if he could win it back at the card table
instead, he was told a firm no. The debt took a year and half for the comedian
eliminate. He would have retired it quicker but the card games continued during
train rides with former Blackjack Dealer Martin, who kept putting the volatile
clown further in the red.
Another star who suffered through money trouble in the fifties was Marilyn
Monroe. Tired of playing dumb blondes, she bolted from her studio Twentieth
Century Fox to start Marilyn Monroe Productions. Actors are often advised not to
use their own name
in their personal ventures, it makes other ego-driven stars less willing to work
with them. Marilyn's film output slowed down and by 1959 her husband, playwright
Arthur Miller, was telling her she should accept the dumb blonde role in Some
Like It Hot, they needed the money. "I can't see through Jack Lemmon and Tony
Curtis in drag? Oh my God, I've been dumb before but never that dumb." She went
to her well renowned acting teacher, the revered Lee Strasberg to ask how she
could make the audience believe her character. Strasberg suggested that Marilyn,
always a man's woman, play the part as someone so desperate for female
friendship, she simply didn't pay attention to her co-star's masculine features.
She took his advice and the result was a comedy classic.
A celebrity's money trouble can spill over to others that they work with. Judy
Garland was a popular guest on television talk shows in the 1960s. The problem
with booking her was in cities where she appeared hotels were reluctant to put
her up. She was famous for abusing the help and skipping out on her bills. One
time New York based
Merv Griffin called up the Waldorf to see if she could stay there. Absolutely
not, he was told. She owes far too much money. What if Merv paid her outstanding
bills? He was told he could pay double what she owed and she still wouldn't get
a room there.
Comedian Stan Laurel found money so tight he ended up in a sixty dollar a month
apartment in Santa Monica in the early 1960s. He was listed in the phone book
and people would call him up. Are you the Stan Laurel? Can we come over and meet
you? Charlie Chaplin's former vaudeville understudy would warmly welcome the
fans who visited his residence. But what happened to all his money? Laurel would
joke about his three wives getting it all, then explain that Producer Hal Roach
owned all the Laurel and Hardy films. He and Oliver Hardy, (or Babe, as his
friends called him) had been scared to death when the silent films had ended in
1928. When Director Leo McCarey came up with the idea of teaming the skinny
English comic with the rotund Georgia born actor, the two were happy just to
keep getting a weekly check. Who knew that the two reelers that they were only
paid once for would be shown to new generations on television? Stan often told
the story about how he and Babe had gone touring in Europe. While browsing in an
airport gift shop in London they saw some miniature Laurel and Hardy figurines.
To take them back as gifts they had been forced to pay full price.
Comebacks abound in the movie business. Frank Sinatra, who had not served in
World War II due to a punctured eardrum, was very unpopular with American
fighting men who were jealous of him being back home crooning to their
girlfriends. As our military forces began returning his popularity began to
wane. By 1949 both his film and singing career had bottomed out to the point he
was telling his manager to pay people to attend his concerts. His voice was in
bad shape, his marriage was ending, his weight had gone down to 118 pounds and
there were reports of suicide attempts. Four years later he was back on top,
winning an Academy Award for his performance in the film From Here To Eternity
(1953). He decided to enjoy his accomplishment by taking a solitary moonlight
walk through the quiet streets of Beverly Hills, just him and his Oscar. After
ten minutes the Chairman Of The Board was stopped by two police officers who
rained on his parade by not recognizing him, and asking hard questions about
where he had gotten that statue.
Being broke in Hollywood is often a matter of perspective. One time at a party
Martin Scorsese was lamenting to his fellow director Frances Ford Coppola,"
Frances I'm broke. They've torn up my credit cards. I have nothing, do you
understand me, nothing!" "Marty, will you shut up? I owe fifty million dollars."
is the author and narrator of the audiobooks Fascinating Walt Disney and Tales
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