Since the dawn of film, humans have been unnaturally obsessed with the steamy personal lives of the celebrities, directors, and huge personalities that populate Hollywood. On the one hand, this predilection for sordid gossip is easily one of the most embarrassing things about our culture (How many times can you read about another alleged Jennifer Aniston pregnancy before it starts to melt your brain?). On the other hand, some of the stories that come out of Hollywood are so outlandish that it’s hard to blame anyone for finding them fascinating, regardless of whether or not they’re true (Richard Gere did what with a gerbil?).
Certain pieces of gossip, however, stand out above the rest. These are the stories whose details are so absurd that they actually start to sound feasible. Eventually, these stories are retold again and again until the origin is unclear and the facts are murky (making it even more intriguing than before). It is at this point that the entire tale becomes fodder of Hollywood myth.
While some Hollywood myths probably have some legitimacy behind them, many have been perpetuated for so long that they’re accepted as fact, when they are anything but. Here are four Hollywood myths that — let’s face it — simply aren’t true.
1. One of the extras in The Wizard of Oz hanged himself on the set, and you can see his lifeless corpse in the final cut of the movie.
The story has a few versions, but it usually goes something like this: One of the extras playing a munchkin fell in love with Judy Garland during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. When she rejected his advances, he hanged himself on set. Allegedly, you can see his body hanging in the forest behind the characters during a major musical number, and director Victor Fleming didn’t realize until the film was already shot and edited so he had to leave it in. Who knows exactly how this got started, but quite a few people have examined the footage in question and verified that the supposed “hanging corpse” is, in fact, a bird flapping its wings in the background.
2. Audience members at the first public film screening fled the theater because they didn’t understand special effects.
This myth is a fun one. Not only does it often serve as the origin story for modern movies as we know them, but it also makes people in the past look just as dumb as we imagine them to be. The story is that the first movie ever shown to the public — the Lumière brothers’ Train Arriving at a Station — had a shot in which the titular train is seen barreling toward the camera. Audience members sincerely thought that the train was going to jump out of the screen and crush them all to death, so they fled the theatre in panic like the innocent fools they were. The problem with this story? Train Arriving at a Station wasn’t the first publicly screened film. In fact, film historians have confirmed that it wasn’t even a part of the first 10 movies screened by the Lumière brothers. Maybe by the time they screened the movie there was one sad sack in the audience who got a little freaked out, but if the very premise of the myth is factually inaccurate then it’s a little difficult to believe the rest.
3. The Exorcist set was haunted by the devil.
Look, can I prove one way or the other that this isn’t true? No, but it’s the same way I can’t prove that werewolves aren’t real: I don’t have any data, but come on. Sure, this is a tempting myth to believe (assuming you think that Lucifer himself had nothing better to do than hang around and haunt a movie set in Georgetown, Md.). And yes, it’s true that strange things did occur during the shoot, particularly the mysterious fire that seemingly occurred out of nowhere one night on set and the death of actor Jack MacGowran shortly after he filmed his own character’s death scene. Honestly, though, the the film took over a year to shoot; a lot can happen over the course of year, including deaths and fire. Until Satan himself — or some lower-level demon acting as Hell’s ambassador — shows up at Comic Con to announce that he was, in fact, haunting The Exorcist set, I’m going to label this as gobbledy-gook. The Poltergeist set, on the other hand? Definitely cursed.
4. Fritz Lang fled Germany the very day he was offered the topmost position in the German film industry.
Sometimes you have to go straight to the horse’s mouth, as they say, to find out the truth behind a myth. In this case, however, it’s the horse that did the lying in the first place. Fritz Lang, himself, is the man behind this myth (or, as it probably should be called, a bold-faced lie). As he tells it, he was offered a huge position in the German film industry (which, at that point, served as Hitler’s personal propaganda machine), but narrowly escaped the country the very night he accepted the job, with Hitler and Goebbel on his heels the whole time. The groundbreaking German director behind cinematic classics like Metropolis and M did, in fact, emigrate to America during World War II. The circumstances were not as immediate as he described, however; he didn’t leave until July 1933, four months after his meeting with Goebbel. Lang used the story to perpetuate the myth of himself, which admittedly did wonders for his career.
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