Eighty-seven years ago this week, actress Mae West was arrested for writing a ‘dirty’ play. Learn about other celebs with similar or much worse offenses.
You know the saying, ‘Celebrities are people, too’? Well, take heart: They can also be criminals. (Gives you a warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?)
Our social media landscape may be ever-attuned to the latest shenanigans of the Charlie Sheens and Lindsay Lohans of Hollywood’s dark side, but their “in-the-clink-ability” is nothing new under the sun.
From “immoral” behavior to downright murder, celebs have been accused, indicted, and acquitted for unlawful acts since the beginning of celebritydom.
Eighty-seven years ago this week, on April 19, 1927, Mae West was arrested for the seemingly innocuous violation of writing a “dirty” play—an event we look back at now with amused incredulity.
Inspired by Miss Mae, we decided to explore some of our favorite celebrities of the past and present who’ve made headlines for breaking the law.
Fatty Arbuckle (Booked in 1921)
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the silent screen’s most popular comic actors and directors, but his fall was swift. Accused of raping and causing the death of actress Virginia Rappe during a wild, drug- and booze-soaked party, the 250-pound Arbuckle was found innocent of the crime (after two mistrials) within six months. But it was too late. Amidst a national outcry over the loose morals on display both on- and offscreen in Hollywood, Arbuckle’s films were banned, his acting career finished. He did manage to rehabilitate his career as a director, but he died in 1933 at age 46.
Mae West (Booked in 1927)
Charge: Corrupting the morals of youth
Mae West had long been a shimmying agent of provocation on the vaudeville stage when she co-authored and starred in the play Sex in 1926, at the age of 33. This tale involving prostitution, illicit substances, and violence played on Broadway for more than 40 weeks before the cops shut it down, arresting West and her cast mates. The future Hollywood provocateur was sentenced to ten days, but received two off for good behavior. Or maybe, to appropriate a line from a later West script, “goodness had nothing to do with it.”
William Haines (Booked in 1933)
Move over, Hugh Grant and George Michael. Billy Haines was an MGM matinee idol when he was arrested in flagrante delicto with a male pick-up at the Pershing Square YMCA. The arrest was kept out of the press, but Louis B. Mayer handed down an ultimatum: Dump your boyfriend and marry a starlet or kiss your acting career goodbye. Billy went with the latter option; he launched a successful business as interior decorator to the stars and enjoyed a lifelong union with his partner.
The Hollywood Ten (Booked in 1947)
Charge: Contempt of Congress
In its initial round of Hollywood witch-hunting, The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) threw the book at ten non-cooperating witnesses—Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo—leading to sentences of six months to a year for the group of respected screenwriters and directors. Only Dmytryk had second thoughts: After several months in prison, he turned into a friendly witness and resumed his directing career. The others spent years on the Hollywood blacklist.
Robert Mitchum (Booked in 1948)
Charge: Possession of marijuana
Sleepy-eyed star Robert Mitchum certainly had a bad-boy reputation before his drug arrest in 1948, and that may have been why his career recovered without a blip after he served his 60-day sentence. Nobody expected the insolently sexy leading man of all those films noirs to be a model citizen, and besides, there was an aura of postwar cool around pot. A year later, Mitchum’s cohort in joint-passing, starlet Lila Leeds, capitalized on her arrest by starring in the quickie Wild Weed.
Robert Blake (Booked in 2002)
Less than a decade after the O.J. Simpson case, the specter of deadly domestic violence once again reared its head in L.A.’s celebrity-studded environs. Long past his acting heyday as a Little Rascal, Robert Blake, also known as In Cold Blood killer Perry Smith and Baretta, was arrested in connection with the 2001 shooting death of his wife outside a Studio City restaurant. The evidence was shaky, and Blake, like Simpson, was eventually acquitted, though he, too, was found liable in a subsequent civil suit.
Rip Torn (Booked in 2010)
Charges: Burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, carrying a firearm while intoxicated
The young’uns have nothing on the old guys when it comes to mug shots (this means you, Nick Nolte). Actor Rip Torn has had numerous scrapes with the law over the years, but he outdid himself at age 78 when he drunkenly broke into a Connecticut bank in the middle of the night and brandished a gun. Of course, the bank was closed so the brandishing had few witnesses, but who said an actor needed an audience to be a ham?
Reese Witherspoon (Booked in 2013)
Charge: Disorderly conduct
Her cry of “Do you know my name?” might have been uttered by any of the celebrities on this list while being arrested, but you can see and hear hers on YouTube. When the car her husband was driving, reportedly erratically, was pulled over by cops in Atlanta, Reese Witherspoon just could not believe it. She argued vociferously, refused to follow officers’ directives, and attempted to interfere with her husband’s sobriety test. America’s Sweetheart transformed before our eyes into Monster Diva, but she later apologized, claiming one too many glasses of wine as the chief culprit. That’s what they all say.