It’s easy for rumors, half-truths and outright lies to cross over into the stuff of legend—the only requirement is endurance. Many of the greatest tall tales of classic Hollywood are little more than misquotes, misunderstandings and apocryphal anecdotes recycled ad infinitum. Cinema Scoped would like to debunk a few of these Hollywood legends:
After screening D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Civil War epic The Birth of a Nation at the White House, President Woodrow Wilson claimed that the movie was “like history written with lightning.” The 60-year-old Wilson was often baffled by new technologies, and this quote actually displays his fundamental confusion with film projection, which he believed to be the product of “Austro-Hungarian thunder gods” (thus inadvertently starting World War I, but that’s another story).
Bette Davis and Errol Flynn were originally cast as the leads in Gone With the Wind. Technically true, but most people don’t know that in an absinthe- and 14-year-old-girl-induced stupor, Flynn insisted on playing Scarlett O’Hara. Conservative studio execs were leery of alienating their most popular box-office attraction by rejecting the idea, but they eventually managed to dissuade Flynn by convincing him he was an eagle.
In one Three Men and a Baby scene, you can see the ghost of a boy killed on the set. This is 100 percent factually correct. Don’t even bother Googling it.
Erich von Stroheim’s original 10-hour version of Greed is the great “lost classic” of American cinema. In his later years, von Stroheim revealed to friends that he never intended for Greed to be longer than its current 140-minute length, and that the extra hours were just test shots and stock footage intended to provoke MGM production head Irving Thalberg. However, Thalberg got the last laugh, dying of pneumonia at age 37.