Old Hollywood’s Most Tragic Screen Sirens


She may have been a punchline to some and sex personified to others, but the life of blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe has become the ultimate tale of tragedy since her premature death at age 36 in 1962. Before she became a titillating screen goddess, Norma Jeane spent her childhood in foster homes, but fame didn’t give her the life she truly desired. Emotional insecurity, failed marriages, and drug dependency are just a few of the many things that took over the fragile woman’s life before her early demise. This week, audiences will get a chance to get a glimpse of Monroe’s inner struggles in the film, My Week with Marilyn. However, there have been many other screen queens before Monroe who suffered similar fates. Click through for a look at some of Hollywood’s fallen film goddesses.

Dorothy Dandridge

In an era of racial segregation, Dorothy Dandridge changed how audiences viewed movie goddesses by becoming one of Hollywood’s first black sex symbols. Before fame, Dandridge endured sexual abuse from her mother’s lover and struggled to take care of her brain-damaged daughter alone. While she garnered popularity among her peers and white moviegoers, Dandridge was unable to obtain roles that went beyond the color of her skin. By 1963, domestic violence from her second husband and financial setbacks left Dandridge bankrupt and depressed. To ease her frustrations, the once reigning beauty became an alcoholic with an addiction to prescription drugs. In 1965, Dandridge was found dead from an overdose.

Linda Darnell

Crowned “the girl with the perfect face,” sultry screen siren Linda Darnell was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood during the glamour-obsessed ’40s, but she wasn’t blessed with a happy ending. Burdened with an overbearing stage mother and frustrated with her sweet, virginal roles, Darnell attempted to heat up her flicks by transforming herself into a vixen. Being faced with financial trouble after her business manager embezzled her life savings, Darnell went on a downward spiral involving three failed marriages and alcoholism. In 1965, the former glory girl with a lifelong fear of flames died at age 41 from injuries caused by a house fire. Coincidentally, she spent the last hours of her life watching the 1940 film, Stardust.

Peg Entwistle

Like many other women during her lifetime, English actress Peg Entwistle yearned for stardom and had her eyes set on “Hollywoodland,” the place where dreams became reality. It was a final chance of happiness for an orphan who left behind a growing Broadway career to be discovered, a move that would prove costly. Despite garnering a credited role for RKO’s 1932 thriller Thirteen Women, the film was a box office flop. With no contract, work, or even money for train fare back to New York, Entwistle was overcome with despair. In 1932 her body was discovered below the now-Hollywood sign, along with a suicide note. According to tinsel town legend, a letter arrived to her home the next day from the Beverly Hills Playhouse, offering Entwistle the leading role of a woman who kills herself.

Frances Farmer

During the ’30s, Frances Farmer was considered the most important discovery since Greta Garbo. Garnering a seven-year contract with Paramount meant being groomed for stardom, something Farmer publicly resented. In 1942 the boozed-up actress was pulled over by police, but she didn’t go down without a fight. Before getting arrested, she assaulted officers, something she would do again the following year when she was charged for a warrant. After striking a hairdresser and attacking her mother, Farmer spent several years in sanitariums where she endured shock therapy and a reported lobotomy. During the ’50s, she attempted to revive her career, but her erratic behavior destroyed any chances she had left. Farmer spent her final years living in solitude, passing away from cancer at age 56 in 1970.

Judy Garland

Following her early beginnings as a ’30s child star with no formal education, Judy Garland spent decades delighting audiences with heartfelt musicals. However, her personal life was no walk on the yellow brick road. By the time she was 21, Garland struggled with yo-yo dieting and insomnia caused by the pressures of appearing picture perfect. To cure her ailments, she began taking pills, which ultimately developed into an addiction. Not even psychoanalysis could help overcome her growing anxiety and drug dependence. Over the years, not only did Garland attempt to commit suicide several times, but all five of her marriages failed disastrously, and public drunkenness ruined her live performances. Just when she was embarking on a comeback, Garland was found dead at age 47 from an overdose in 1969.

Rita Hayworth

In movies, Rita Hayworth appeared as a teasing temptress, but in reality, Margarita Carmen Cansino was a painfully shy girl who spent her life trying to please everyone she encountered. She began her career as a Spanish dancer with her family, leaving no room for school or friends. Biographies on the pinup insist that she was sexually and physically abused by her father, which could have been the reason why she married a 41-year-old car salesman at 18. For her Americanized transformation as a ’40s icon, Hayworth underwent torturous electrolysis and diets, which weren’t enough to get her lucky in love. Hayworth married five times, but all ended in divorce. The insecure star eventually faced several custody battles, public emotional outbursts, and alcoholism. Hayworth passed away in 1987 at age 68 from Alzheimer’s, a disease that was greatly misunderstood during her lifetime.

Betty Hutton

During the ’40s and ’50s this ninth grade dropout became the blonde bombshell of musicals, but despite helping audiences escape the doom and gloom of World War II, Betty Hutton couldn’t get away from her own personal woes. Spending more time popping pills and hitting the bottle, Hutton’s reign at Paramount came crashing down, leading to suicide attempts and later filing for bankruptcy in 1967. The forgotten actress re-emerged in the ’70s when reporters discovered she was working as a cook and housekeeper for a Catholic church rectory in Rhode Island. Despite planning several comebacks, Hutton never achieved the same success she yearned for. In 1999, she moved to Palms Springs in hopes of bonding with her estranged children, but to no avail. Then in 2007 Hutton passed away at age 86 from complications caused by colon cancer.

Veronica Lake

She was only 4’11”, but the peek-a-boo blonde single handily made World War II soldiers fall head over heels. However like many actresses, Veronica Lake was forced to please her demanding stage mother and was frustrated with her limiting roles. Consequently, her reputation for being difficult on set became notorious and rumors of suffering from schizophrenia began to surface. Then in 1948, she was publicly sued by her mother for lack of financial support. Around this time, Lake developed a habit for heavy drinking to ease her woes. With little work coming her way, Lake filed for bankruptcy in 1951. By 1959, Lake had three failed marriages under her belt and was working as a barmaid in New York City. Estranged from her children and suffering from paranoia, Lake died penniless in 1973 at age 50 from complications caused by alcoholism. Her ashes sat in a funeral home for three years before they were scattered in 1976. Then in 2004, portions of them were reportedly found in a New York antique store.

Maria Montez

The “Technicolor Queen” may have seduced audiences with her exotic beauty and sensational films, but Dominican actress Maria Montez wouldn’t live long enough to conquer Hollywood beyond “tropical pictures.” Previously a model, Montez was signed by Universal Studios in 1941 and was prompted to star in many colorful, campy spectacles, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Cobra Woman. As film noir became all the rage, her fame in Hollywood dwindled. Hoping to revive her career, Montez moved to France where she completed a few European films. In 1951 Montez was found dead in her tub at age 39 (some sources say 31). Physicians believed her death was caused by a heart attack while taking a bath with hot water, but the final hours of her life still remain a mystery.

Lupe Velez

This silent star of the ’20s wasn’t called a “Mexican spitfire” for nothing. Known for her fiery temper, sexual appetite, and box office smashes, Lupe Velez broke barriers as one of the few successful Latinas in Hollywood. Despite her comedic talent, Velez was unlucky in love and her tempestuous five-year marriage to Olympian Johnny Weissmueller ended in divorce. She later became involved with small-time actor Harold Raymond. In 1944, Velez discovered she was pregnant, but Raymond refused her pleads for marriage. Overcome with grief and unwilling to live with the scandal of being an unwed mother, the 36-year-old overdosed on Secondal. Velez’s legacy in Hollywood continues to be overshadowed by accounts that she reportedly drowned in her toilet after vomiting out the excessive pills she took to commit suicide.