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Early Bad Boys of Hollywood

By Edited Nov 15, 2013 6 8

When one thinks of the “bad boys” of Hollywood, several come to mind depending upon the particular definition or criteria of bad boy and which genre one considers.  Hollywood encompasses more than movie stars; there’s television stars to consider as well as music and sports celebrities.  What makes a celebrity “bad” anyway?  Is it a record of drug use and rehab or arrests for DUI?  Maybe it is a reputation for wild partying or altercations with the paparazzi.  The following early movie icons definitely could be considered at the top of the bad boy list.  

Rory Calhoun as The Texan photo courtesy of ABC TV
ory Calhoun

Okay, younger readers may not remember Rory Calhoun, but he is truly a bad boy having spent several years in state prison before becoming an actor.  Calhoun was born Francis Timothy McCown in Los Angeles, California and spent his early childhood years in Santa Cruz, California.   

When Calhoun was a youngster at age thirteen, he stole a revolver and was sent to the California Youth Authority's Preston School of Industry reformatory at Ione, California from which he escaped.  Subsequently, he robbed several jewelry stores, stole a car and fled across state lines which landed him in the the penitentiary at Springfield, Missouri with a three-year sentence.  Following his completion of that sentence, he was transferred to San Quentin on other charges. He was paroled shortly before his twenty-first birthday.  

When Calhoun became an actor, his agent Henry Wilson kept close tabs on his client, but Calhoun was known for his womanizing and his third wife claimed he had 79 adulterous affairs to which he replied "Heck, she didn't even include half of them.”  Wilson was also the agent for Rock Hudson and in 1955 made a deal with Confidential magazine in which he disclosed Calhoun’s prison stay in exchange for the magazine not running a story about the secret homosexual life of Hudson.  The disclosure solidified Calhoun’s image as a bad boy and did not negatively affect his career.  He went on to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a second star for his work in television. 

James Dean 
James Dean photographer unknown

James Dean is a bad boy icon.  It doesn’t come so much from his personal life as much as it does from the characters he played in movies during his short career.  He is most well-known for supporting his image is his role in Rebel without a Cause in which he deftly played the angst of a teenager.  The movie was a huge hit with teenagers at the time and is a classic to this day. 

In his private life, Dean was known for his love of speed.  He owned fast cars and participated in competitive racing except when prohibited by the studios.  He was driving a Porsche Spyder when he was involved in a violent crash resulting in his death at the tender age of twenty-four.  He had only starred in three major motion films: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. 

Steve McQueen 
Steve McQueen photo courtesy of the SCRCI, a state correctional facility in Anchorage, Alaska

Steve McQueen’s nickname was aptly “the King of Cool.”  Known for his adversarial traits when it came to directors and producers, McQueen none the less was a star who ended up being the highest paid movie star in the world in 1974.  Like James Dean, McQueen was fond of racing and in his early years of acting studies, he partially supported himself by racing motorcycles.  

As with many actors, his early life was a mess.  He did have some good years with his maternal grandparents and his grandmother’s brother; but he suffered abuse at the hands of his step-father and at age nine ran away and hit the streets.  He began running with a street gang and committing petty crimes.   After another stay with his grandmother’s uncle, McQueen left and joined a circus for a short time.  

After his stint with the circus, McQueen went back to his mother and new step-father with the same bad results. McQueen turned back to the street gangs and his step-father convinced his mother to sign a court order stating McQueen was incorrigible and thus remanding him to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino, California. It was tough there, but it ended up maturing McQueen.  He left there when he was sixteen, went from job to job, enlisted in the military and was discharged honorably. Later, he would often visit and donate items to the boys facility.

McQueen was known for his fitness with a daily routine of a two-hour exercise regimen and instruction in martial arts. He was married three times and had affairs with various co-stars.  He was known for his prolific drug use, smoked cigarettes heavily, and was arrested at least once for a DUI.   

McQueen was on a hit list of Charles Manson. He was friends with Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring and was invited to the party where they were all murdered.  Fortunately for McQueen, his date had alternate plans for the evening, thus saving his life. 

Marlon Brando 
Marlon Brando  Photo by Carl Van Vechten

Marlon Brando was widely considered one of the greatest and most influential actors of the 20th century.  Brando earned his reputation as a “bad boy” from his public outbursts and antics.  He had a reputation as being a difficult actor on movie sets.  It wasn’t unusual for him to lash out at the paparazzi and in one incident broke the jaw of photographer Ron Galella. 

Brando said what he thought without holding back and this endeared him to many and angered just as many.   He acknowledged a dalliance in homosexual encounters and was a staunch supporter of civil rights for all peoples.  Many remember his refusal of the 1973 Oscar award for his performance in The Godfather, which was declined by Native American Sacheen Littlefeather who appeared in full Apache attire to represent him at the Academy Awards Show. 

Frank Sinatra  Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, photographer unknown
k Sinatra and “the Rat Pack”

Sinatra was an icon in both the music and the film industry.  Early on controversy surrounded him.  Deemed not suitable for military service during the World War, many claimed Sinatra had paid to avoid military service; however, the FBI found no evidence to support the accusations.   The FBI investigated Sinatra for years and in 1998 released their secret dossier on Sinatra in response to the Freedom of Information Act requests. Sinatra allegedly had ties to organized crime and despite no evidence in the over 2,400 pages of FBI information, many still believe to this day Sinatra was involved with the mafia.  Interestingly, in the released FBI documents a memo is included which Sinatra offers his services as an informant for the FBI.  

Sinatra along with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were considered the lead members of what the press and general public called “the Rat Pack,” which included Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.  The group was originally centered on Humphrey Bogart but after his death referred to this later version who appeared in films and on stage together in the 1960s. Reportedly, none of the members referred to the group as the Rat Pack, instead calling it The Summit or The Clan. The Rat Pack had a reputation for womanizing and heavy drinking.  

Bad Boys of Today 

Many actors of today’s era have the reputation of being bad boys; some for their womanizing and partying; others for their short tempers.  From Alec Baldwin’s assaults on photographers to Christian Bale’s difficult on set behavior, the list is long.  Arrests for DUIs and stories of drug rehab stints are rampant in the world of the celebrities.  Yet, few find their careers ended by their “bad boy behavior.”  Who would make your bad boy list? 



  1. En.widipedia.org (accessed February 15, 2013)
  2. biography.com (accessed February 15, 2013)
  3. marlonbrando.com (accessed February 15, 2013)
  4. stevemcqueen.com (accessed February 15, 2013)
  5. jamesdean.com (accessed February 15, 2013)
  6. sinatra.com (accessed February 15, 2013)



 The copyright of the article Early Bad Boys of Hollywood is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.



Mar 6, 2013 4:04pm
Wow--Fun, interesting and truly thought-proving. 2 BIG thumbs and a rating from me.
Mar 7, 2013 7:25am
I remember these guys and their stories, and I really enjoyed the read. Thumbs Up!
Mar 7, 2013 1:53pm
Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it.
Mar 7, 2013 1:55pm
Sean Penn had a reputation, (deserved). He has mellowed over time and has performed some brilliant roles.
Mar 8, 2013 6:53am
I will go for Steve McQueen. Ok, I like James Dean, Sinatra is also great but McQueen is still the King of Cool! Nice post!
Mar 9, 2013 1:15am
Too hard to pick the best as they were all great in different ways and times slots. Great trip down memory lane
Apr 4, 2013 2:46pm
I am glad I read your article. There is always a pain behind every fame. It does not pay to be a bad boy.
Apr 5, 2013 9:51am
Thanks for reading. Yes, I agree, everyone has pain of some type and famous people are no different.
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