Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today

Khalid Elhassan - January 8, 2018

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Rudolph Valentino. Revista Vanity Fair

Hollywood Superstar Was a Male Prostitute

Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926), also known as “The Latin Lover”, was a Hollywood superstar and heartthrob of the silent film era, and a 1920s symbol of masculine sexuality. He shot to fame with captivating performances in silent film blockbusters such as The Sheik, and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. His sudden death at age 31 resulted in mass hysteria among his female fans, and solidified his iconic status.

However, before becoming a star, Rudolph Valentino had probably been a male prostitute. Before rising to fame, Valentino had worked as a dancer in what were known as “taxi dance clubs”. Such clubs were basically escorted services, where clients would come in, examine the club’s stable of dancers, and pay to dance with whichever one caught their eye.

Clients who got good vibes and liked their dance partner would negotiate a price with him or her, then pay the club an “exit fee” to leave with the dancer. Some taxi dance clubs were legitimate and innocent, but most were just straight-up escort services. In Valentino’s case, he was once arrested in a brothel before becoming famous, so it is unlikely that his taxi dance club was the innocent kind.

To put it in perspective, imagine if it was discovered that Brad Pitt had been a gigolo or male prostitute who’d worked for an escort service. The paparazzi stampede would probably have caused an earthquake. The ensuing media and social media firestorm would probably have broken the internet, as the insatiable demand for salacious details produced a never-ending stream of stories.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Mark 14 torpedo. Pacific War Online Encyclopedia

Incompetent US Navy Procurement Officials Get American Sailors Killed

The Mark 14 Torpedo was American submarines’ standard torpedo when the US joined World War II in 1941. Designed in 1931, it differed from earlier torpedoes which detonated on impact with a target’s hull. Instead, the Mark 14 incorporated an innovative magnetic detonator that was supposed to set off the torpedo’s explosive charge directly beneath the enemy ship’s keel, thus breaking its back.

It meant that just one Mark 14 Torpedo would theoretically suffice to sink any targeted ship, regardless of its size. That was a vast improvement over earlier torpedoes, which usually required multiple torpedo hits to hole an enemy’s hull in various spots to sink it. However, secrecy and frugality led the US Navy to live test only two Mark 14 torpedoes – and one of them failed. Despite a 50% test failure rate, the US Navy went ahead and approved the weapon. The Mark 14 was put into mass production, and issued to the US submarine fleet as its standard weapon in 1938.

It was only after the war broke out that the torpedo’s flaws became apparent. Within the first month of hostilities submarine commanders correctly reported that the Mark 14 had a problem maintaining accurate depth to pass within the correct distance beneath an enemy ship’s keel before detonating. Detonation was another problem in of itself, as the magnetic detonator often detonated prematurely, or failed to detonate at all. Even the backup detonator – the contact detonator which was supposed to set off the explosive when the torpedo struck a target’s hull – usually failed. Even when a Mark 14 struck an enemy’s hull at a perfect angle, with a loud clang that was clearly audible in the firing submarine. Worst of all, the Mark 14 had a tendency to boomerang: it could miss its target, then continue running in a wide circle, to come back and strike the firing submarine.

The US Navy ignored a detailed report detailing those flaws, as well as reports from numerous submarine commanders complaining about the Mark 14. In one incident, a submarine commander fired a dozen torpedoes at a large Japanese whaler, but only managed to cripple it. Then, with the enemy ship dead in the water, he maneuvered his submarine and carefully positioned it so that his torpedoes would have a perfect angle of impact, before firing off nine more Mark 14s. All nine struck, but not a single one detonated.

Despite a flood of such reports, it took the US Navy two years to even acknowledge the possibility that a problem might exist. Then, grudgingly, it conducted tests to find out what, if anything, was wrong. The tests verified what American submariners had been complaining about for the past two years. Corrective measures and remedial steps to address Mark 14’s many problems were finally begun – two years later than should have been the case. One could only imagine the congressional hearings if something like that happened today.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13-year-old cousin and wife. The Daily Mail

Jerry Lee Lewis Marries His 13-Year-Old Cousin

American singer-songwriter, pianist, and musician Jerry Lee Lewis (born 1935) was one of the early pioneers of rock and roll and rockabilly. The latter was a blend of country, or “hillbilly music” as it was called then, and rhythm and blues, which led to “classic” rock and roll. Born and raised in Louisiana, he began recording in Memphis in 1956, and the following year he shot to global fame with his hit There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. He followed it soon after with his signature song, the insta-classic Great Balls of Fire, which made it to Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songs.

By 1957, Jerry had already gone through two marriages, including a technically bigamous one to his second wife, 23 days before the divorce from his first wife had been finalized. He divorced his second wife to wed for a third time, after falling head over heels in love with Myra Gale Brown. She was his cousin – once removed, but still – and 13 years old. She actually still believed in Santa Claus when Jerry Lee Lewis married her.

In Louisiana back then, marrying a 13-year-old girl, or marrying one’s cousin, was not exactly commonplace, but neither was it too unusual. Where Jerry grew up, it simply was not that big of a deal, so he did not think his new wife’s age, or her blood relation to him, would prove scandalous. To the extent he was worried about potential scandal, it had more to with the timing of the wedding. Just as he’d done with his second marriage, Lewis’ third marriage had been performed before the divorce from his second wife had been finalized.

In short, Lewis did not realize that marrying his 13-year-old cousin might offend a lot of people. Folk from his label warned him against taking his child bride with him on his first European tour, but Lewis ignored them and took Myra with him to England. Huge mistake. Upon his arrival in May of 1958, Lewis introduced Myra to British reporters as his wife – although he did fib a bit, and claim that she was 15. That was still shockingly young, and when Myra was asked, she did not help by remarking that 15 was not too young to marry where she came from, where: “You can marry at 10, if you can find a husband“.

It was not long before the press on both sides of the Atlantic discovered Myra’s true age. The backlash was fierce and immediate. The British press, in particular, went after Jerry Lee Lewis hard, labeling him a “baby snatcher” and “cradle robber”, urging a boycott of his concerts, and calling for his deportation as a pervert and child molester. Tour dates were canceled, and Jerry and his child bride fled back to the US.

Things back home were not better. The scandal was waiting for Jerry when his plane landed in New York, and the US press was no gentler than the British had been. Jerry Lee Lewis had experienced a meteoric rise, and at the peak of his career, he was a legitimate rival to Elvis Pressley. Now, seemingly overnight, that promising career was snuffed out, and his personal appearance fees took a nosedive from the then princely sum of $10,000 a night, to $250. His career had a bit of a revival a decade later, when he reinvented himself as a country singer, performing for audiences less offended by child brides who also happened to be blood relatives. But his days as a rock and roll star were over and done with for good.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Surrender of Fort Detroit. ThoughtCo

Hapless American General Gets Tricked Into Surrendering His Command and Thousands of His Men

Early in the War of 1812, British general Isaac Brock marched on Fort Detroit with a force of 1330 men, comprised of 330 Redcoats, 400 Canadian militia, and 600 Native Americans. They were supported by 3 lights guns, 5 heavy guns, 2 mortars, and 2 warships. His target, Fort Detroit, was garrisoned by an American force nearly twice as big, comprised of 600 US Army regulars and nearly 2000 militia. They were sheltered within the protective walls of a fortress bristling with over 36 cannons, commanded by an American Revolutionary War veteran and hero, General William Hull.

Brock learned from captured messages that American morale in the Fort was low. The garrison was short of supplies, and the Americans were terrified of Brock’s Native American allies. Emboldened by that information, Brock decided to immediately attack. Playing upon his enemy’s fear of Indians, he arranged for a misleading letter to fall into American hands. It greatly exaggerated the number of his native allies from an actual 600 to a fanciful 5000.

Brock also tricked the Americans into believing that he had more British regulars than was the case, by dressing up his Canadian militia in castoff British regimental uniforms. Outside Detroit, he had the same troops march in a loop within eyesight of the garrison, duck out of sight, then return to march anew as if they were fresh reinforcements. He also ordered his troops to light 5 times as many fires at night, in order to further convey an illusion of greater strength.

Brock sent a message demanding surrender, and informing Hull that he did not want to massacre the defenders, but that he would have little control over his Indian allies once fighting started. General Hull’s already low confidence collapsed at the prospect of facing a strong British army, accompanied by 5000 Natives, and he decided resistance was futile.

Unwilling to sacrifice his men against hopeless odds, and fearing for the safety of the women in children inside the Fort, including his own daughter and grandchild, Hull raised a white flag and asked Brock for three days to negotiate the terms of surrender. Brock gave him only three hours before he would attack. Hull caved in and surrendered his entire command of nearly 2500 men, three dozen cannons, 300 rifles, 2500 muskets, and the only American warship in the Upper Lakes. The British cost was 2 men wounded.

The surrender of Fort Detroit was a military disaster for the US, derailing as it did plans to invade and seize Canada early in the war before the British had time to rush in reinforcements. It reinvigorated the Canadians, who had been pessimistic about their chances of defending Canada. It also fired up Native Americans in the Northwest Territory to go on the warpath against US outposts and settlers.

An American invasion of Canada was attempted later on, but by then the British and loyal Canadians were better prepared and more confident, and beat back the invasion. As to general Hull, after his release from British captivity, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be shot. However, his life was spared out of consideration for his heroism decades earlier during the American War of Independence.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Fatty Arbuckle. Diesel Punk

Hollywood Superstar Accused of Raping Aspiring Actress to Death

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, better known as Fatty Arbuckle (1887 – 1933), was a comedian, director, screenwriter, and early superstar actor during the silent film era. A heavy man, weighing about 300 pounds, he incorporated his heft into his comedy, moving gracefully, tumbling, throwing pies, and being an all-around lovable and jolly fat guy. In addition to acting, Arbuckle was a Hollywood mover and shaker. He mentored Charlie Chaplain, with whom he formed a close personal friendship, and discovered and launched the careers of future stars such as Buster Keaton and Bob Hope.

Then scandal struck, and destroyed Fatty Arbuckle’s career and reputation. It began with a wild party at a San Francisco hotel, where Arbuckle and friends rented adjacent luxury suites in September of 1921. Several women were invited, and at some point during the revelry, an aspiring actress, Virginia Rappe, was found seriously ill in one of the suites. The hotel’s doctor examined her, concluded she was just super drunk, and gave her morphine to calm her.

Two days later, Rappe was rushed to a hospital, and there, a friend claimed that Fatty Arbuckle had raped her at the party. The next day, Rappe died of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Medical examinations found no evidence of rape. Newspapers had a field day, however, printing increasingly salacious stories. Some alleged that Fatty Arbuckle had killed Virginia Rappe with his weight while raping her. Other stories claimed that Arbuckle had penetrated Rappe with a piece of ice. That eventually grew into accusations that he had ruptured her insides by raping her with a bottle of Coca-Cola or champagne.

Police investigators went with the theory that the heavy impact of the overweight Arbuckle’s atop Virginia Rappe during sex caused her bladder to rupture. Arbuckle denied any wrongdoing but was arrested and charged with essentially having raped Virginia Rappe to death. It was a major media event – the OJ Simpson criminal scandal of the day.

Arbuckle was regarded by those who knew him as good-natured and shy with women – “the most chaste man in pictures“, as some put it. Charlie Chaplain, for example, “knew Roscoe as a genial and easy-going man, who would not harm a fly“. However, newspapers went with a far different image, depicting him as a gross pervert, who routinely used his massive bulk to overpower and rape innocent girls.

The prosecution’s case fizzled, however, when it emerged that San Francisco’s District Attorney, an ambitious man with plans to run for California governor, had pressured witnesses into lying. The defense also obtained a letter from the state’s star witness, Virginia Rappe’s friend who had had first leveled accusations of rape, admitting that she had planned to extort money from Arbuckle.

In the trial, the state produced little credible evidence, and medical experts demonstrated that Rappe’s bladder had been ruptured by an internal inflammation, not by an outside force. The jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal, and a mistrial was declared. A second trial again ended in a 10-2 deadlock in favor of a not guilty verdict. A third trial was launched, and at its conclusion, the jury took just six minutes to return a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Arbuckle was thus exonerated, but his reputation and standing never recovered, and his career was effectively destroyed.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Albert Dekker. Listal

Hollywood Star Killed in BDSM Episode Gone Wrong

If you thought the death from autoerotic asphyxiation of David Carradine, of Kung Fu fame, was weird, it was pretty tame compared to the death of another famous actor, Albert Dekker (1905 – 1968). Decker was one of America’s greatest character actors, with a career that spanned 40 years in the theater and on the silver screen. During those decades, he accumulated a filmography of over 110 credits. He won accolades for notable performances in films such as East of Eden, The Killers, Dr. Cyclops, Kiss Me Deadly, as well as in his final acting role in The Wild Bunch.

He also won acclaim for having the moral courage during the hysteria of the Red Scare early in the Cold War, to stand up to and denounce the demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He was one of the few actors brave enough to do so, and it got him blacklisted in Hollywood. His career was derailed for years, during which he could find no work before the anticommunist hysteria finally subsided and he returned to acting.

In 1968, Dekker completed his final role in The Wild Bunch, left the set, and fell off the map. Friends and family grew worried after days passed without anybody hearing from him. After failing to show up for a date with his fiancee, fashion model Geraldine Saunders, she tried calling, but got no response. So she went to his apartment and pinned a note on a door already covered by other notes from friends and acquaintances. When she returned later that evening and found things still the same, she convinced the building manager to let her in the apartment. Inside the apartment, they found the bathroom door chained from the inside, and had to break it open. There, they discovered a dead Dekker, hanging from a leather belt.

The scene was so bizarre and grotesque, that Geraldine collapsed, and the building manager needed minutes to overcome the shock and gather his wits to call the police. Dekker was naked in the bathtub, with a ball gag in his mouth, a scarf covering his eyes, and his hands cuffed behind his back. In addition to the belt around his neck, there was another belt around his waist, tied to a rope binding his ankles. That rope, in turn, was looped around his wrist and clasped in his hand.

Sun rays were drawn around his nipples in lipstick, which was also used to draw a vagina on his stomach. A hypodermic needle was sticking out of each arm, and his right butt cheek had two needle punctures, above which the word “whip” was written in lipstick. His body was covered in other words written in lipstick, including “slave”, “cocksucker”, and “make me suck”.

His death was initially ruled a suicide, but after S&M toys and porn were found in his apartment, it was changed to accidental autoerotic asphyxiation while masturbating. Despite the coroner’s ruling, foul play was suspected and the death was and remains suspicious. For one, his fiancee knew that he had been keeping $70,000 cash in the apartment to buy a new house. The money, as well as expensive cameras and filming equipment, was never found. It also seemed incredible that Dekker could have tied himself in the manner in which he was discovered, all on his own. Whether he acted alone, or had a partner who panicked and fled after a kinky sex game went terribly wrong, or he was murdered, is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Ticket to the hanging of Jonathan Wilde. Wikimedia

England’s Greatest Crime Fighter Was Also Its Greatest Criminal Kingpin

Jonathan Wilde (1682 – 1725) was an 18th century English master criminal. He reigned over an underground kingdom of thieves and highwaymen, ran a far-flung extortion racket, and was Britain’s biggest fence for stolen goods. After pretending to have finally seen the light and reformed his evil ways, the authorities turned to Wilde, gave him the title “Thief Taker“, and set him loose on the criminals running amok and terrorizing London.

Wilde took to his new job and title with a passion. He organized highly effective teams of thief catchers, who fell upon the criminals with a will, breaking up gangs and sending criminals to the gallows by the dozen. During his thief-catching career, at least 120 people were executed based on Wilde’s testimony and on information he provided to the authorities.

He also set up a side business as a private detective, recovering stolen goods for a fee. What he failed to inform his clients was that it was his own thieves who had stolen their goods in the first place. “Recovery” simply came down to Wilde sifting through his warehouses of stolen property. Far from having gone legit, Wilde had hoodwinked everybody, and the Thief Catcher became an even bigger criminal kingpin, ridding himself of competitors by delivering them to the authorities.

The term “double-cross” owes its origins to Wilde. He had a ledger in which the names of partners who ran afoul of him, and whom he was setting up for delivery to the authorities and the gallows, were marked with two Xs. He was finally brought down when a criminal double-crossed by Wilde accused him of fencing stolen goods. An investigation confirmed the accusation, and Wilde was arrested. At that point, many of his underlings turned crown evidence and testified against him. It was not long before his scheme of simultaneously being England’s greatest crime fighter, as well as England’s greatest criminal, came out. He was swiftly tried, convicted, and hanged at Tyburn, where he had sent so many others to their deaths.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Edward VII’s specially designed heavy duty love chair. Twitter

King Edward VII’s Sexcapades

Today’s British tabloids would have had a field day with Albert Edward (1841 – 1910), who went on to reign as King Edward VII of the United Kingdom from 1901 until his death. He was no great shakes as a king, being a mediocrity both as a man and as a monarch. However, as a libertine, Edward VII shone, standing in stark contrast to his notoriously priggish mother, Queen Victoria, who lent her name to an uptight and prudish age.

Growing up, the then-Prince Albert, or “Bertie”, was a disappointment to his prim and proper parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. It started with Bertie’s first sex scandal, at age 16, with a prostitute. The queen was not amused. On the way back home from chastising Bertie for his wayward ways, his father caught pneumonia, which did him in. For the remaining four decades of her life, Queen Victoria blamed Bertie for killing her beloved husband and did all she could to keep him from succeeding her to the British throne.

She failed to get him removed from the line of succession, but often remarked that her longevity and long reign were due to her determination to outlive Bertie and prevent him from ever becoming king. She did her best, but after a 64-year reign, Victoria finally died in 1901, and after a long wait that he thought would never end, Bertie became king at age 60.

During the decades-long wait for becoming king, Bertie became notorious for his relentless quest to gratify his sexual appetites. It did not matter whether it was with cheap hookers or top-notch French aristocratic ladies and courtesans. From discrete liaisons to publicized affairs with famous actresses to wife-swapping orgies, Bertie was insatiable and down for it all.

He was a big fan of Paris’ elite brothels, especially its most exclusive whorehouse, La Chabanais. There, he had his own room, decorated with his coat of arms and furnished to his specific tastes. Those tastes included a specially designed chair, named siege d’amour, which he had installed in his whorehouse room. By the 1890s, Bertie had become an obese, middle-aged, and out-of-shape man. So he had the heavy-duty love chair custom made to enable him to have sex without crushing his partners, and also to position them just right for royal access, with minimal exertion and contortions on his part.

Top 10 Historic Scandals That Would Cause a Firestorm Today
Captain Kidd dangling from a gibbet. History Today

Manhattan Socialite and Philanthropist Hanged For Piracy

The Scotsman William Kidd (circa 1645 – 1701) was one of New York City’s leading citizens and socialites, who became personal friends with at least three governors of the colony of New York. Among his philanthropic civic activities, Kidd had played a leading role in building New York City’s now historic Trinity Church. There was thus little in his background to indicate that he would end up swinging from the gallows, executed as the notorious pirate, Captain Kidd.

Kidd’s first sea command was as a privateer, commissioned in 1689 by the governor of Nevis to fight the French. He was granted what were known as “letters of marque”, authorizing him to prey on French vessels for the duration of hostilities between Britain and France. Later, he was issued additional letters of marque by the governors of New York and the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In 1695, Kidd’s mission was expanded. He was presented with a letter of marque signed by King William III, giving him a roving commission to attack pirates in the Indian Ocean. The voyage started inauspiciously: sailing out of London in a newly equipped ship, the 34 gun and 150 men crew Adventure Galley, Kidd offended a Royal Navy captain by failing to salute his warship. The captain retaliated by stopping the Adventure Galley, and seized half of its crew to press them into the Royal Navy.

Crossing the Atlantic short-handed, Kidd made it to New York, where he replenished his crew with whatever out-of-work seafarers he could find. Most of them were hardened criminals and former pirates. Sailing into the Indian Ocean, a third of Kidd’s crew died of cholera by the time they reached the Comoros Islands. To top it off, he was unable to find any of the pirates he had been sent to hunt down.

The enterprise seemed a failure, and the crew, getting antsy, urged him to attack some passing vessels in order to make the voyage worth their time. When Kidd declined, his men threatened mutiny. Under pressure, he gave in, and reluctantly started attacking ships not covered by his privateering letters. By 1698, he had abandoned reluctance and any pretense of privateering, and turned full pirate. That year, he sealed his fate when he attacked a British East India Company ship. The powerful company exerted its influence in London, and Kidd was declared a pirate and outlaw.

Unbeknownst to him, by the time he returned to the American Colonies, Kidd’s public image had been transformed into that of an infamous pirate. During his absence, attitudes towards piracy had changed from the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, which had been the norm when he began his voyage. Now, crackdown was in the air, and the authorities were eager to make an example of somebody.

Kidd was thus very unlucky to return when he did. He was arrested as soon as he arrived in Boston, and he was sent in chains across the Atlantic for prosecution in London. There, word of his previous connections with government elites caused a scandal, and the powerful supporters whom he had expected to defend him abandoned him in droves. He was swiftly tried and convicted, and on May 23, 1701, he was hanged. His corpse was then left to rot in a cage on the Thames for all to see.

 

Sources For Further Reading:

Sun Sentinel – Jfk, Rfk And Marilyn Monroe: Power, Politics and Paramours?

Business Insider – The FBI Warned Bobby Kennedy A Book Was Coming Out Revealing His Affair with Marilyn Monroe And Blaming Him for Her Death

Alarabiya News – Bobby Kennedy Ordered Murder of Marilyn Monroe

People – All About Marilyn Monroe’s Alleged Affairs with JFK and Brother Bobby

Vanity Fair – Unlucky Star: The Brief, Bombastic Life of Rudolph Valentino

The Guardian – What Gossip Over Rudolph Valentino’s Sex Life Says About The Silents

Defense Media Network – The Mark 14 Torpedo Scandal

Medium – Ballad of the 13-Year-Old Bride

The Vintage News – Roscoe Arbuckle – The Story Of The Man Who Mentored Charlie Chaplin And Discovered Artists Such As Buster Keaton And Bob Hope

ABC News – Carradine’s Death Likely Sex Accident

History Extra – Queen Victoria and Prince Albert: What Was Their Relationship Like?

BBC News – Queen Victoria: The Real Story of Her ‘Domestic Bliss’

Australia News – King Edward VII’s Bizarre Sex Chair Has Confused Everyone

The Scotsman – The Brutal End Of Greenock’s Treasure Island Pirate

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