When it comes to the showbiz world, we tend to see celebrity scandals as a recent phenomenon. But public outrage and publicized misconduct have existed for as long as Hollywood has been cranking out stars. And in the case of 1950s femme fatale Gloria Grahame, the backlash was enough to sink her career for good.
Born in Los Angeles in 1923, Gloria Grahame Hallward seemed destined for a career in front of the cameras. Taught acting by her mother Jeanne McDougall, the ingénue initially left home to begin a theater career in New York City. But it would be back on the West Coast where the star would really make her name.
After grabbing the attention of studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, Hallward agreed a seven-year deal with MGM in 1944. Under her mother’s maiden name Grahame, the actress made her film debut in the comedy Blonde Fever. Later, she would take a role in the 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
Nevertheless, Grahame fell short of her studio’s box office expectations and in 1947 MGM sold her contract to rival company RKO. Rather than spell the end of her career, however, RKO’s acquisition instead gave Grahame a much-needed push into the spotlight. Indeed – by casting their star in darker films – the studio discovered Grahame’s niche.
Starting with 1947’s Crossfire, Grahame began playing femme fatale roles in the era’s highly popular film noir crime thrillers. Well received by audiences and critics alike, Crossfire would result in Grahame’s first Oscar nomination. And just five years later, the actress would win a statuette for The Bad and the Beautiful.
In contrast to the confidence many actors feel after an Oscar win, Grahame became intimidated by her success. After suffering a case of “Oscar Fright” – as she admitted to Silver Screen in 1953 – the star tried to break free of typecasting with the 1955 musical Oklahoma! But purportedly abusive and unfriendly behavior made her unpopular on-set.
In addition to her on-screen struggles, Grahame also endured a string of difficult relationships. In 1945, she married actor Stanley Clements, a man whose alleged penchant for drinking and gambling alienated the screen idol. After three years of marriage, the pair ended their relationship – one that Grahame said was physically abusive.
Mere hours after legally separating from Clements, Grahame tied the knot with film director Nicholas Ray. Like his new bride, Ray had also been married once before. Grahame’s new husband had previously been wed to journalist Jean Evans, with whom he had a son named Tony. Having met on the set of A Woman’s Secret, Grahame and Ray seemed a perfect match.
Though it ultimately produced a son, Timothy, the couple’s relationship was fraught with difficulties. Despite worrying about his wife’s alleged infidelity, Ray himself was ambivalent towards his feelings for Grahame. In fact, the director once supposedly admitted, “I was infatuated with her, but I didn’t like her very much.”
Following completion of 1950’s In a Lonely Place, the pair briefly broke up before separating for good the following year. Subsequently, Grahame married producer Cy Howard in 1954 – a union that would similarly bear one child and end in divorce.
After her negative experience on the set of Oklahoma!, Grahame stepped back from the spotlight. Besides reducing her film work, the actress also managed to keep her name out of the papers. That is until 1962 when tabloids discovered the startling secret behind her split with Ray – one which would prove devastating for her career.
During a fleeting reconciliation with her husband in the summer of 1951, Grahame had received a visit from Tony Ray, who was looking for his father. Then 13, the director’s son had known his step-mother since the age of 10. However, that didn’t stop him developing a crush on the screen star, who shockingly returned his affections.
Nevertheless, the pair’s initial tryst proved to be short-lived. Soon after giving into their temptations, Grahame and Ray were caught in bed together by their respective husband and father. Unsurprisingly, Ray Sr. called an end to his and Grahame’s marriage, though he decided not to reveal details of the incident to the public.
Paying scant regard to the scandal such behavior could cause, however, Grahame would continue to pursue her step-son romantically. They got together again in 1958, and the illicit lovers married in secret two years later. And this revelation would prove too much for the star’s former fans to handle.
When word about both the affair and marriage broke in 1962, Grahame initially tried to downplay the public’s outrage. “I married Nicholas Ray the director,” she is said to have told a reporter. “People yawned. Later on I married his son, and from the press’s reaction you’d have thought I was committing incest or robbing the cradle.”
Nonetheless, the scandal had very real consequences for Grahame and her family. Angered by the news of his former wife’s remarriage, Cy Howard fought to block the screen icon from seeing their daughter, Marianna. Meanwhile, Grahame herself underwent electroconvulsive therapy after the ensuing stress caused a nervous breakdown.
Moreover, word of the affair meant that few producers were now willing to cast the Oscar-winning actress. Indeed, far from the Academy Award-worthy films of yore, Grahame now to had to settle for more meagre TV and grindhouse movie roles. Certainly, it was a striking fall for a star of such formerly monumental stature.
Despite the controversy, Grahame and Antony Ray proved a happy couple. In fact, the marriage would become Grahame’s longest and lasted almost 14 years – ten more than her previous union with Ray’s father. In that time, she also gave birth to two children, Anthony Jr. and James.
With little left for her in Hollywood after her and Ray’s divorce, Grahame eventually moved to London in 1978. Initially there to rekindle her love for theater, the actress eventually met her true soulmate. Although fellow actor Pete Turner was nearly 30 years younger than her, the two remained together until Grahame’s 1981 death from breast cancer.
Since her death, those who knew Grahame have tried to restore the star’s tarnished reputation. Turner wrote about their time together in his memoir Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which was turned into a film last year. Nevertheless, Grahame’s story remains one of Hollywood’s most shocking tales, and above all demonstrates our enduring love of – and thirst for – a good scandal.