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Roman Polanski and David Letterman’s recent troubles call to mind past showbiz indiscretions

from www.latimes.com – Before there was Roman Polanski, there was Errol Flynn. Before David Letterman, Charlie Chaplin.

Celebrity sex scandals have been around for as long as there have been celebrities — yes, even before TMZ and Perez Hilton — so the recent arrest of Polanski relating to his having sex with a 13-year-old girl and Letterman’s confession of having sex with female members of his staff are just the latest in a long and sometimes sordid history.

“This is nothing new for the media and the public to become obsessed with this and report this in juicy, lurid, titillating detail,” says film historian and critic Stephen Farber, who notes that there is “this very moralistic side to this country that sort of plays on that. Some of these events are not big events in other countries, whereas here they are sources of wagging tongues.”

Some stars have seen their careers crash down upon them, but others have endured the headlines and have put their lives back in order.

Farber says some celebrities, such as Woody Allen and Ingrid Bergman, survived sex scandals because of “longevity. Some people go on a longer time,” says Farber. “Memories are short.”

Here’s a look at sex scandals that rocked Hollywood:

Roscoe Arbuckle

The rotund silent-film comedian and director, nicknamed Fatty, was one of the biggest stars of the era. In 1921, he was accused of raping and killing a young actress named Virginia Rappe after a wild Labor Day party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

His trial was turned into a three-ring media circus, fueled by the Hearst papers’ sensationalized stories. Hollywood executives told his friends and colleagues not to speak up for him. His first two court dates were mistrials. But it took only six minutes for the third jury to find him not guilty. They even wrote an apology to Arbuckle: “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice had been done to him.”

His career never recovered. He directed some films under the name William Goodrich. Arbuckle finally made an acting comeback in 1932, doing a series of two-reel comedies for Warner Bros. He died in 1933 at the age of 46.

Charlie Chaplin

The Little Tramp found himself at the center of a highly publicized paternity suit in 1943, brought about by a fledging actress named Joan Barry. The two had become lovers in 1941, shortly after he signed her to a $75-a-week salary for a film he was considering. But by 1942, the affair and the contract were history. But Barry wouldn’t take no for an answer and began harassing him.

After she gave birth to a baby girl in 1943, she filed a paternity suit against him. Though the blood tests proved that Chaplin wasn’t the father, her attorney somehow swayed the court to make the tests inadmissible. Chaplin was ordered to support the little girl. And in 1944, federal officials brought Mann Act charges against him regarding his relationship with Barry. He was acquitted, but his public image was severely damaged. Barry was institutionalized in 1953 after she was found walking the streets barefoot, carrying baby sandals and a ring and muttering, “This is magic.”

Errol Flynn

The handsome actor was always known for his flamboyant lifestyle — as a teenager he was expelled from several schools (at one, he had an affair with a school laundress).

And in Hollywood, the star of such swashbucklers as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was known for his womanizing and vast consumption of alcohol. In 1942, two underage girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, accused Flynn of statutory rape. A sensationalized trial took place in January and February 1943. He was acquitted of all charges.

His next film, “Gentleman Jim,” was a hit. But his hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him. He died of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 1959, with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Beverly Aadland, by his bedside.

Rex Harrison

“Sexy Rexy,” who later would win a Tony and an Oscar for his performances on stage and screen as Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” came to Hollywood with his second wife, Lilli Palmer, in the 1940s after appearing in several films in his native England.

Signed to a contract at Fox, he starred in such hits as “Anna and the King” and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” In 1947, he began to have an affair with actress Carole Landis. Harrison, however, wouldn’t divorce Palmer to marry her. Supposedly despondent over this fact, Landis, who had attempted suicide previously, ended up taking a fatal overdose of pills at her Pacific Palisades home in 1948 after spending the night there with Harrison.

The scandal ended his contract at Fox and temporarily halted his film career. He and Palmer divorced in 1957. He would marry four more times.

Ingrid Bergman

The Swedish actress was one of the top female stars in Hollywood, receiving an Oscar for 1944’s “Gaslight.” She was married to a dentist and had a daughter named Pia. But then she became persona non grata when she went to Italy in 1949 to make the film “Stromboli” for director Roberto Rossellini. They fell in love and she became pregnant with his son Roberto in 1950. Bergman was even denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Edwin C. Johnson, a Democratic senator from Colorado who described her as a “horrible example of womanhood and a powerful influence for evil.”

Bergman left for Italy. Her husband divorced her, and Bergman married Rossellini. Two years later, they had twins, Isabella and Ingrid. The two made movies but separated and divorced by 1957. But her private life was still anything but private. At one point, Ed Sullivan polled the audience of his TV show to see if she should be a guest. Though the audience voted in her favor, Sullivan didn’t invite her. She won the 1956 lead actress Oscar for “Anastasia” but didn’t attend the ceremony. She didn’t make her first post-scandal appearance in Hollywood until the 1958 Oscar ceremony.

Rob Lowe

One of the Brat Pack heartthrobs of the 1980s found himself involved in a sex scandal over a videotape made in 1988 of him having sex with two girls, one of whom was just 16. The tape was filmed in Atlanta during the Democratic National Convention. Also on the tape were sequences of Lowe and a friend having sex with a model named Jennifer in a hotel room in Paris.

Lowe entered a rehab clinic for alcohol and sex addiction and later made fun of his problems on “Saturday Night Live.” Married for 18 years and the father of two sons, Lowe rebounded from the scandal, starring on the NBC series “The West Wing.” He’s now on ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters.”

Woody Allen

The Oscar-winning auteur not only made several films together with his longtime girlfriend Mia Farrow, including “Broadway Danny Rose,” they also had three children — two adopted. But their unwedded bliss ended in 1992 when Farrow came across naked photos of her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn in Allen’s apartment. A long custody battle for the three children ensued, with Farrow saying that Allen had molested their 7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan. The judge concluded that the sex abuse charges were inconclusive but stated that his conduct with Soon-Yi was “grossly inappropriate,” especially since Soon-Yi could be considered his stepdaughter. Allen says that he never had a paternal relationship with her.

Farrow won custody of all three children. Though some believe Allen’s conduct permanently hurt his reputation, he and Soon-Yi married in 1997 and have two adopted children.

Hugh Grant

The British actor exuded charm, wit and sophistication. Then, just prior to the release of his first American film, 1995’s “Nine Months,” he was arrested by L.A. vice officers near Sunset Boulevard for misdemeanor lewd conduct in a public place with Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown. Pleading no contest to the charges, he was fined and placed on two years’ summary probation and ordered to complete an AIDS education program.

Grant’s grief ended up being a boon for Jay Leno and “The Tonight Show,” which had been consistently losing in the ratings to David Letterman. Grant honored his commitment to appear on the show, where he earned marks for not making any excuses for his behavior, even after Leno famously asked him, “What were you thinking?” Grant’s reply: “I think you know in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did bad things. And there you have it.”

Charlie Sheen

He plays a womanizing bachelor on the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” And he also played one in real life.

Though now settled down and married to his third wife — he’s also the father of five — Sheen not only battled drug problems in the 1990s, he also battled sexual demons.

In 1995, a woman sued him, stating that he had struck her in the head several times when she refused to have sex with him. Later it was revealed during the trial of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss that Sheen had shelled out some $50,000 for ordering her call girls more than two dozen times.

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