Some of these stories are well known and others need to be searched. Some are easy to understand and others are still mysteries. Most involved a pretty lady and violence. I recommend a thorough search of each case I present here and if you are a movie maker who wants to do a real horror story, use these for meat. Death often appears in mysterious ways, even to the rich, powerful and famous.
Florence Lawrence was known at first as "The Biograph Girl." Biograph thought it would be wise not to use the actresses name because she might become famous and want more money. Florence asked for more money and Biograph fired her and replaced her with the "New Biograph Girl." That was in 1909.
A rumor was circulated stating that the original Biograph girl had died in a streetcar accident in St Louis. This rumor started after fans wrote letters to Biograph stating they wanted the original Biograph Girl. Florence was sent to St Louis on a train to establish to the adoring fans she was indeed still alive. Florence began a new screen career as a star for a company called IMP.
In 1915 while doing a stunt in one of her movies Florence was badly burned. She would never fully recover. She did make more movies after a few months of recovering from the injuries. Movie parts became fewer and fewer for the first movie star. She became a relative unknown in the mid 1930s. She appeared in small parts into the mid 1930s.
Two days after Christmas of 1938, Florence Lawrence was heard screaming in her West Hollywood apartment. An ambulance arrived and took Florence to a hospital where she soon died. She had committed suicide by consuming ant paste, an insect poison.
For many years her body would rest in an unmarked grave at Hollywood Memorial Park.
Roddy McDowall, an actor who was a film historian, paid for a grave marker for Florence in 1991. It read "The Biograph Girl/The First Movie Star."
Rebbecca became a star on TV with her successful role as Pam Dawber's sister in the sitcom, My Sister Sam. She did not know that her fame would gain her a stalker.
On July 18, 1989, Rebbecca had a vistor who had found her address in West Hollywood through the Department of Motor Vehicle records. Robert John Bardo was a schizophrenic who had a history of mental problems. He also had a gun. He spoke for awhile with Rebbecca and then left.
Rebbecca was preparing to go on an audition for The Godfather, Part 3. Her visitor returned a few minutes later. Rebbecca told him she was very busy and he would have to leave. Bardo shot and killed her.The Department of Motor Vehicles no longer gives public access to its records. The law was passed in response to Rebbecca's murder. Her death was the price for a law change which might be saving lives today.
Alfalfa was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s. He was known for his voice that cracked when he sang and his unmanageable hair. His appearances in the Our Gang comedies from Hal Roach studios would have seemed to guarantee him a very happy lifetime. Growing up in Hollywood can offer many speed bumps for child actors who mature and who no longer are cute children with funny voices and hair.
By the mid 1950s Carl's career was behind him. He did manage to get a few small parts occasionally. His last appearance in a 1958 movie with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis seemed to hold the promise of new life for his lost career.
On January 29, 1959, Carl and a friend went to visit Bud Stiltz in Mission Hills in the San Fernando Valley. Carl wanted to collect $50 that he felt was owed to him by Stiltz. A physical scuffle followed an argument over the money. Carl, who was apparently drunk, hit Stiltz over the head with a clock. Stiltz grabbed a gun and threatened Alfalfa. Carl pulled a knife and went after Stiltz. Bud Stiltz pulled the trigger and shot Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in the stomach, killing him. It was ruled to be self defense.
Sam squeezed a lot into his 38 years. He was a preacher before he turned to comedy. His loud, sometimes screaming comedy persona was brought into the spotlight by none other than the most successful stand up comic of his era, Rodney Dangerfield. Sam appeared on one of Rodney's TV shows and then in one of Rodney's films. He became very much sought after by all the late night shows and by live venues. He was a favorite of the Howard Stern Show and he did a memorable part on Married, With Children.
He had been married about one week when he was killed in a strange head on collision. Sam was driving to Laughlin, Nevada to do a live show. His car had slowed to 15 mph when he saw an oncoming pickup truck driving out of control. the vehicles collided.
Witnesses said Sam appeared to be OK after the accident. He had hit his head on the windshield. Sam walked around and talked. He seemed to be having a conversation with someone only he could see. Sam said, "Why? Ok...OK." He collapsed and was pronounced dead at a hospital in nearby Needles, California.
Rebel Without a Cause had made Sal Mineo a big star while he was still a teen ager. He was nominated for an Academy Award for that film. Hollywood typecast Sal as the troubled teen in many of the films that followed.
Sal had taken charge of his career by the 1970s and he had begun to be recognized as a talented actor who could hold his own on the stage doing live performances of very serious material.
On February 12, 1976, Sal Mineo was stabbed in the alley behind his West Hollywood home. He died a few minutes later while several people who came to his aid tried in vain to help him. He had been stabbed in his heart. Robbery was probably not the motive since his wallet was still in his pocket.
Although some witnesses reported a white man fleeing the scene, a black man was arrested and tried for Sal's murder. The man who was convicted of the crime was Lionel Williams. In 1979 he was sentenced to 51 years in prison. He was paroled in the early 1990s but soon was behind bars again for other crimes. Many believe the actual killer of Sal Mineo was never known.
Unusual accident is the explanation for the death of young movie star, Brandon Lee. He was in a movie scene playing the part of someone who gets shot. The gun used to shoot him had a slug, or bullet in the chamber or barrel. The bullet had become lodged inside the barrel during previous uses in the movie filming. Bullets which had no gunpowder in them had been fired by actors in earlier scenes. Unfortunately, the firing pin itself had enough power to drive the bullet head just inside the barrel of the gun where it remained unnoticed.
When the weapon was then loaded with blanks which had gunpowder, the explosion of the gunpowder was enough to send the bullet out of the barrel toward the actor. That one bullet was fatal. Brandon Lee died about 12 hours later in a hospital after surgery.
Some people will mention the "curse" that befell the Lee family. Brandon's father had also died young after his movie career had built momentum that promised stardom which would last for generations. The movie Brandon was working on was The Crow. It was supposed to be the first of several Brandon Lee "Crow" films.
February 2, 1922 would be 2-2-22. That would be an unlucky set of numbers for William Desmond Taylor who was found dead on that day. A doctor announced the cause of death to a crowd of police officers and neighbors who had gathered. The famous director had died of a stomach hemmorrhage. The doctor announced that finding and then left the scene. Nobody saw that doctor again. When William Desmond Taylor was rolled over a bullet hole was found in his back. He was another 1920s Hollywood scandal. This time it would be a murder scandal.
The case of William Desmond Taylor's murder remained unsolved partly because there were too many suspects. A movie starlet, the starlet's mother, a famous director, two valets, drug dealers and a mysterious man who might actually have been a woman in drag who was seen leaving Taylor's residence after the killing, maybe. Those were the main suspects but there were more.
The evidence in the Desmond case had been compromised before the police showed up. It was further compromised by the police and there were reasons to suspect a cover up by three different District Attorneys for more than a decade after the murder. A true Hollywood whodunit?
Incredibly talented young actor, Bobby Driscoll had received a special Oscar when he was 12. He was the star of some Disney movies. In fact he was the first real human actor under contract to Disney. He was very successful as a child actor, not only with talent, but with a wonderful personality and a life filled with happiness.
Hollywood disposes of its idols when they become old. Teen ager is old for a child star. Bobby Driscoll was not now needed to be a cute kid. He was too old. He was rejected. Nowhere is rejection as harsh and cruel as in Hollywood.
Bobby at one time had been possibly the most famous and maybe the happiest child in the world. He was the star of Disney's Song of the South. It seemed fitting that it would be some children who would discover him a few weeks after his 31st birthday. His body had been laying in a tenement building for a few days, surrounded by beer bottles. He had died of hardening of the arteries caused by drug use. He began using drugs at age 17 and stopped using drugs the day he died. He had no money. He was not identified until almost two years later. He had been buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. His remains are still in that grave but now the world knows what happend to Bobby.