LIFE

15 Classic Hollywood Hunks Who Kept Tragic Secrets Hidden From Their Fans

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

Stars — they’re just like us! As cliché as that sounds, it really is the truth. No matter how glitzy or glamorous they appear to us now, they all started out as normal folks.

That’s why I love digging into their pasts to see where they made the shift from regular Joe to mega-celeb, especially when it comes to the handsome actors from golden era of old Hollywood. You just can’t deny the appeal of those chiseled jawlines as they walk across our screens, and being in black and white only gives them more charm.

Unfortunately, many of these beloved icons have some seriously depressing backgrounds. Whether it was a less-than-desirable upbringing or a shocking moment after they found fame, it was definitely jarring to stumble across secrets on a handful of our favorite fellas from Tinseltown.

Let us know if we left out any tragically beautiful hunks from the past and be sure to SHARE their tales with your loved ones.

1. Tony Curtis

1. Tony Curtis

Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, NY, Curtis grew up living in a single room behind his father’s tailoring shop, along with both his parents and two brothers. His mother was often aggressive with him and his brothers and, eventually, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

2. Jimmy Stewart

2. Jimmy Stewart

Stewart suffered a particularly nasty case of scarlet fever at 19, prior to which he spent his childhood mostly by himself, shy and quiet, building model airplanes in his basement.

3. Burt Lancaster

3. Burt Lancaster

The handsome thespian lost his mother as a teen due to a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. He battled a lifelong heart condition and almost died during a routine gall bladder surgery. Documents found after his death described him as “troubled by bouts of insecurity and depression.”

4. Cary Grant

4. Cary Grant

The classy British-born actor, whose name at birth was Archibald Leach, had a rough upbringing with his alcoholic father and clinically depressed mother. His father even sent his mom away to a mental hospital, lying to Grant and saying she passed away when he was only 9. He didn’t learn the truth that she was still alive until he was 31.

5. Charlton Heston

5. Charlton Heston

After his parents split up when he was 10, Heston and his siblings moved with his mother where he describes his childhood: “I was more or less a loner. We lived in a North Shore suburb, where I was a skinny hick from the woods, and all the other kids seemed to be rich and know about girls.”

6. Clark Gable

6. Clark Gable

The famously mustachioed man lost his mother when he was still an infant at just 10 months old. Gable spent his youth feeling awkward as a tall, shy adolescent whose booming voice — which helped in his career — only embarrassed him.

7. Sidney Poitier

7. Sidney Poitier

His parents were on vacation in Miami, away from their home in the Bahamas, when Poitier arrived 2 months premature. They were told he would most likely not survive. They remained in the United States for another 3 months while he was, thankfully, nursed back to health.

8. Clint Eastwood

8. Clint Eastwood

On June 17, 1964, Eastwood’s first child was born out of a 14-year-long torrid affair the actor had while married to his first wife. He hid the daughter, Kimber, from the public for over twenty years before the truth was finally revealed by tabloids in 1989.

9. John Wayne

9. John Wayne

His birth name, Marion, was an unfortunate choice by his parents. But the most shocking moment from the Duke’s past happened was when he returned home from wrapping a film one evening, and his second wife became so prone to extreme bouts of jealousy that she attempted to shoot him.

10. Marlon Brando

10. Marlon Brando

The moody actor was famous for his method approach and always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder — something that likely stemmed from growing up with his alcoholic mother. He was quoted saying, “The anguish that her drinking produced was that she preferred getting drunk to caring for us.”

11. Peter O'Toole

11. Peter O'Toole

Apart from having two birth certificates listing different dates and places of his birth, the Lawrence of Arabia actor nearly lost his life several times in the 1970s — once, due to a case of stomach cancer almost misdiagnosed because of excessive drinking, and again, to a blood disease near the end of the decade.

12. Sammy Davis Jr.

12. Sammy Davis Jr.

After enlisting in the Army during World War II, the multi-talented entertainer was completely blindsided by the racist actions of his fellow troops — something his father had managed to completely shield him from as a child.

13. Richard Burton

13. Richard Burton

The Welsh actor described his father as a “twelve-pints-a-day man” who would often go on benders lasting weeks at a time. Burton was the 12th child in the family, his mother passing away while giving birth to his younger brother.

14. James Dean

14. James Dean

The teen idol’s tragic passing is well-documented, but that wasn’t the first time he was dealt a sad hand. At age 9, he lost his mother to uterine cancer and was sent away by his father to live with an aunt.

15. Gary Cooper

15. Gary Cooper

His characteristic off-kilter walk was the result of a hip injury in his youth. His doctor at the time recommended horseback riding as therapy, which obviously only made matters worse.

Did we leave out any of your favorite Hollywood hunks who were forced to endure hardship? Let us know below and please SHARE with your friends!