5 Major Hollywood Mysteries

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images

Hollywood is not all glitz, glamour, and cinema. A lot of things happen behind closed doors—so much so that what is considered the "truth" is not always as it seems. Here, we take a look at five major Hollywood mysteries.

1. ELIZABETH SHORT: TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

On the morning of January 15, 1947, the body of Elizabeth Short—an aspiring young actress, who was born on July 29, 1924—was found in Los Angeles in one of the country's most famous (and ghastly) murders. Short had suffered a number of disturbing injuries: in addition to being cut in half at the waist, her face had been sliced from ear to ear, she had been completely drained of blood, and marks on her wrists indicated that she had been bound and possibly tortured before her mutilated body was dumped in a vacant lot. The press, who nicknamed Short "The Black Dahlia," had a field day, sensationalizing every detail of the brutal crime.

While police followed every lead they could to find Short's killer—interrogating her ex-boyfriends and any known male associates—they came up with no solid evidence. Then, in a brash move, Short's killer began antagonizing the police and even mailing the contents of her purse to local newspapers. Despite the killer's boldness, police could not track the culprit down, and the case remains one of Los Angeles' oldest cold cases.

2. GEORGE REEVES: MAN OF STEEL NO MORE 

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In the course of his 20-year acting career, George Reeves managed to rack up more than 80 film and television credits, most notably as the titular star of Adventures of Superman from 1952 to 1958. Life took a downward turn for Reeves following the end of the series: The acting jobs were not pouring in as he thought they would, and his marriage fell apart after it was discovered that he was having an affair with Toni Mannix, wife of MGM executive Eddie Mannix. Reeves fell into financial disarray and became deeply depressed.

On the night of June 16, 1959, Reeves died of a gunshot wound to the head. Though the police determined his death to be a suicide, Reeves' mother, Helen Besselo, was adamant that no matter how depressed her son might have been, he never would have killed himself. She retained the services of a private investigator to look into the matter. "Nearly everyone in Hollywood has always been led to believe that George Reeves’ death was a suicide," said Milo Speriglio, who helped investigate Reeves' death. "Not everyone believed it then, nor do they believe it now. I am one of those who does not."

Besselo had plenty of reason to believe that there may have been some foul play, as there were some strange occurrences surrounding Reeves' death. For starters, when Reeves allegedly killed himself, his fiancée and three guests were just downstairs. Even though they heard the gunshot, the foursome waited a considerable amount of time before calling the police. Also shell casings were found in various areas of the room where Reeves died, and his body was bruised. Though the official cause of death remains a suicide, rumors have long persisted that Eddie Mannix, the husband of Reeves' former lover, was in fact responsible for his demise.

3. MARILYN MONROE: A GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY? 

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To this day, the death of Marilyn Monroe remains shrouded in mystery. Her death was ruled a probable suicide after she overdosed on sleeping pills in August 5, 1962—but that was only the beginning of the story. In the more than 50 years since her passing, several theories and conspiracies have emerged regarding the Hollywood bombshell's death, among them:

  • She was assassinated by mafia boss Sam Giancana for threatening to expose information about his illegal operations.
  • She was killed at the behest of John and Robert Kennedy after threatening to go public about her affairs with both brothers.
  • She was given a deadly dose of medication by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson (with whom she also had an affair).
  • She was murdered by the CIA, as she was used in several government operations to seduce world leaders, including Nikita Khrushchev.

According to police reports, some items had been taken from Monroe's home upon her death, including her personal diary, which allegedly could have contained key evidence against some very powerful people. In addition, in 2012, it was discovered that neither the FBI (which had tracked the actress' movements during her life) nor the National Archives had any of the files from Monroe's case.

In his 1983 memoir, Coroner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi—the man who performed Monroe's autopsy—wrote that the true details of Monroe's death will never likely be known. "On the basis of my own involvement in the case, beginning with the autopsy, I would call Monroe's suicide 'very probable,'" he wrote. "But I also believe that until the complete FBI files are made public and the notes and interviews of the suicide panel released, controversy will continue to swirl around her death."

4. PIER PAOLO PASOLINI: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE 

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The world cinema industry was in shock when noted Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who courted controversy with films like Accattone and Salò, was murdered in 1975. Pasolini, who was 53 years old at the time, was brutally beaten and run over by his own vehicle. His 17-year-old-killer, Giuseppe Pelosi, admitted to killing Pasolini, and leaving his dead body near a soccer field. The admission of guilt seemed to wrap up the case pretty quickly ... until the forensic report became public. According to the forensic examination, “Pasolini was the victim of an attack carried out by more than one person.” This is when Pasolini's family started to believe there were bigger villains at play than just Pelosi.

Italy in the 1970s was a highly tense nation, and it was not uncommon for outspoken leftists like Pasolini to suddenly disappear, or end up dead. Pasolini's family believes that the director—who often spoke negatively of those in religious and political power—was assassinated in a politically charged killing. There are so many conspiracies and possibilities that in 2010, Pasolini's case was reopened.

5. THE WIZARD OF OZ: A MUNCHKIN IN LOVE

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Is it a bird? A prop? A Munchkin? For years, fans of The Wizard of Oz have been fascinated by a squint-or-you'll-miss-it object hanging from a tree that stands along the Yellow Brick Road. The story goes that one of the actors hired to play a Munchkin had fallen in love with one of his fellow actors, but his feelings were not reciprocated. The actor was apparently so stricken with sadness that he decided to hang himself on the film's set. If you look at the photo above, from the Tin Woodsman sequence, you'll see the shadowy figure straight ahead in the trees.

Though Snopes.com has determined the story to be "false" and pointed to several other explanations for the mysterious object—from a rented crane from the Los Angeles Zoo to a crew member who simply got caught in the shot and was never edited out—the Munchkin tale is one legend that won't die.

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The 20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now

Chef David Chang stars in Netflix's Ugly Delicious.
Chef David Chang stars in Netflix's Ugly Delicious.
Gabriele Stabile/Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. Tiger King (2020)

The seedy underbelly of the exotic animal trade is juxtaposed against some of the most outrageous non-fictional characters you're ever likely to encounter in this series that just keeps escalating. Follow Joe Exotic as he juggles polyamory, tigers, and a bitter feud with animal activist Carole Baskin.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. The Confession Tapes (2019)

A spare room. One or two detectives. A weary suspect. That's the set-up for this series that lets archival footage of police interrogations tell its own arresting stories.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Our Planet (2019)

Be amazed at the sensational vistas and eclectic wildlife with this beautifully-photographed trek through some of nature's most astounding sights—and the environmental perils that affect them. David Attenborough narrates.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. The Devil Next Door (2019)

In 1980s Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was living a quiet life as a grandfather and auto worker. Suddenly, he was being extradited to Israel over accusations he was once notorious Nazi concentration camp monster Ivan the Terrible. As Demjanjuk mounts a defense, the trial captivates a country—but was he really the monster? This riveting series will have you guessing until the very end.

Where to watch it: Netflix

5. Ugly Delicious (2018-)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)

This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Evil Genius (2018)

At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck detonated as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight. The bizarre incident was just the beginning of Evil Genius, which documents the peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. Wild Wild Country (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Flint Town (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. The Innocent Man (2018)

After two brutal murders in 1980s Oklahoma, four men are convicted of the crimes. All of them maintain their innocence, causing observers to question whether they were guilty or themselves victims of police coercion. This drama is based on John Grisham's 2006 book of the same name; Grisham executive produces.

Where to watch it: Netflix

11. The Staircase (2004-2018)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife, Kathleen, had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was The StaircaseJean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. And Netflix's addition of new episodes in 2018 led to a resurgence in interest in this mind-boggling case (with armchair detectives even positing that an owl was the real killer).

Where to watch it: Netflix

12. The Toys That Made Us (2017-)

Who knew the origin of classic toy lines could be so dramatic? This series puts the spotlight on the creative friction that led to some of the most iconic playthings of the 20th century, from Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. Wormwood (2017)

Documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

14. Five Came Back (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. Last Chance U (2016-)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. Later seasons switch focus to a team out of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. Making a Murderer (2015-)

One of the major true crime phenomenons of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling. Three years after the docuseries became a surprise hit for Netflix, it returned for a second season in 2018.

Where to watch it: Netflix

17. Chef's Table (2015-)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. There's no shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. The Jinx (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. The first was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO Now

19. Vice (2013-)

The series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens. The first six seasons are available on HBO, with a seventh airing on Showtime in 2020.

Where to watch it: HBO Go

20. The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime