We are currently living in what some refer to as “the #MeToo era.”
Since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, women in Hollywood and all over the world have found their voices and told their stories of sexual harassment and assault in an effort to hold abusers accountable and bring much-needed awareness and change to society. What you may not know is that actresses have been accusing men in the entertainment industry of predatory behavior for at least sixty years.
Here are five strong, courageous, badass stars of the silver screen who are remembered among the first to make their voices heard.
1. Judy Garland
When biographer Gerald Clarke found 68 pages of Judy Garland’s unfinished autobiography at Columbia University’s library nearly twenty years ago, he also unearthed a shocking secret, according to The Washington Post. The actress was repeatedly sexually harassed by Louis B. Mayer, the co-founder of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios, which produced The Wizard of Oz in 1939. The harassment started on the film’s set when Garland was 16 years old and continued until she was 20. Mayer would compliment Garland singing “from her heart” and then would grope her, until she finally told him to stop and Mayer started crying. According to Clarke, Garland wrote, “It’s amazing how these big men, who had been around so many sophisticated women all their lives, could act like idiots.”
2. Maureen O’Hara
Irish actress Maureen O’Hara (who you probably know from the wholesome Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street) also dealt with intense harassment throughout her career that wasn’t discovered until recently, when a Twitter user posted an excerpt from a newspaper interview O’Hara gave in 1945. She claimed that the verbal and sexual harassment from Hollywood producers and directors had escalated so much that she was ready to quit the acting business altogether.
“I’m a helpless victim of a Hollywood whispering campaign,” O’Hara said. “Because I don’t let the producer and director kiss me every morning or let them paw me they have spread word around town that I am not a woman – that I am a cold piece of marble statuary.”
3. Marilyn Monroe
The woman who would become Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous models and movie stars of the 20th century, if not of all time, lived a difficult life from start to finish. As a child, according to Marilyn Monroe biographer Lois Banner, Norma Jeane Mortenson was bounced around within the foster care system. She was sexually abused at ages eight and 11 at two different foster homes, which completely traumatized her and caused her to suffer from sex addiction, personality dissociation and PTSD that had severe effects on her throughout her life.
Once her career took off in the 1950s and her status as a sex symbol grew, she encountered many of the industry’s serial harassers. Monroe often warned other starlets about these dangerous men and described Hollywood as “an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.” She would become one of the first women in modern history to publicly speak out about her experiences with sexual abuse and harassment, an especially bold move given the conservative culture of the time period.
4. Shirley Temple
Even Shirley Temple, everyone’s favorite spunky, curly-haired child star from the 1930s, was not immune to the plague of sexual misconduct in the film world. Hollywood seized the opportunity to profit on her youth and she was unbelievably sexualized; for example, film critic Graham Greene published a review in which he mentioned Temple’s “well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality” (this is about a literal CHILD – nauseating and pedophilic, I know). And during her first visit to MGM Studios when she 12 years old, a producer exposed himself to her in his office, then threw her out when she innocently laughed, not knowing what to do. Despite all this, Temple went on to have an illustrious career as an actress, businesswoman and United States diplomat. She also called out the MGM producer in her autobiography – get ‘em, Shirley!
5. Carole Lombard
Famous 1930s comedienne Carole Lombard took quite an…unconventional approach to dealing with her abusers. According to biographer Anne Tapert, when Lombard became fed up with the disgusting treatment she received from agents and casting directors, she recruited her brothers to teach her every curse word they knew, then let loose a storm of profanity whenever anyone tried to harass her. The men were so shocked to hear such language coming from a woman that they left her alone. What a legend! For all you ladies who aren’t afraid of employing a little potty mouth to get rid of creepy guys, consider taking a leaf out of Carole Lombard’s book.
If these brave, intelligent, determined women had not decided to speak their truth, who knows where we would be now?
This has always been an important social issue, but because now it’s more encouraged to share our stories and easier to find support, we can forget that there was a time not too long ago when actresses were shamed into silence, which allowed the toxic entertainment industry culture to persist. We have these five actresses and many other trailblazers to thank for speaking up about sexual harassment and for paving the way for us to do so now.