Eight great Hollywood Urban Legends

Jimmy Dean on his Harley Davidson

James Dean & Elvis

A New Zealander found himself a summer job on a rural American farm, deep in the countryside. Whilst working there he noticed a rusting Harley Davidson motorbike in one of the barns and the farm owner agreed to sell it to him for $5000. Harley Davidson’s are very popular, but rare in New Zealand, so at the end of his summer shift the lad took the bike home and renovated it carefully.

Soon his new bike became the toast of the town and the lad was recognised wherever he went, but wanting to fund a round the world trip he decided to sell it. He was amazed when his  first prospective buyer offered him $30,000 on the spot and then the second immediately upped that to $50,000. The lad realised he had no idea how much the bike was worth and telephoned the New Zealand importers of Harley Davidson.

When he gave them the serial number over the phone and they sent an expert around straightway who offered him $200,000. Becoming suspicious he telephoned their Head Office in America who flew over one of their representatives who checked the bike and then offered a cool five million US Dollars. Delighted he accepted the offer and as the paper work was concluded a cheque was handed to him.

He then asked the representative what all the fuss was about and the representative took off the bike’s petrol cap and showed him the inscription which read, ‘To Jimmy Dean, love Elvis.’  The Harley Davidson had been a gift from The King to his favourite actor and had been Dean’s favourite possession. Experts had been looking for it for thirty years.

Eddie Murphy

An attractive young lady was on a business trip to Las Vegas. Finding herself alone on her final evening she decided to go and try her luck in the hotel casino but had already been warned by colleagues that if she got lucky, and had a big win, not to return to her room alone, instead to call security who would escort her.

As luck would have it the young lady did indeed have a big win, but then was immediately worried at having such a large amount of cash in her hand.  She decided to go back to her room and place it in the safe and so she telephoned the security office.

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Unfortunately the guards told her they would not be available for about half an hour and asked her to wait in the reception area. Instead, feeling vulnerable, she decided to take the first lift available and get to her room as quickly as possible. She was relieved to find the first one empty and got in but, just as the doors were closing, a black hand forced in and pushed them back open.

In walked two large black men wearing hats and dark glasses. One of them growled ‘hit the floor’ so she did, and cowered in the corner. The two men collapsed with laughter and one of them helped her up explaining he meant the button to his floor. Still shaking, the lady explained what she had been told, and about her win, so the two men offered to escort her to her room.

She politely refused but they insisted, almost frog marching her along the corridor. She was, by now, terrified of being robbed, or even murdered but, instead, they gently opened the door, escorted safely her inside and then left.

The following morning, at the reception desk, the lady discovered her room bill had already been paid but the clerk refused to tell her by whom. As she returned home she found twenty-one bouquets of flowers being delivered to her and again, the florist refused to tell her by whom.

Obviously puzzled, and still a little dazed, she picked up a card attached to one of the bouquets, which read; ‘Thank you for the funniest thing that has ever happened to us,’ signed Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall.

It is a classic, and wonderful if only it were true.

Charlie Chaplin

Star of the silent movie Charlie Chaplin was recognisable throughout the world for his baggy trousers, comedy walk and hilarious antics. Unsurprisingly Chaplin look-alike competitions were a regular feature at shows and fairs throughout America (rising young star Bob Hope was once a winner himself) and locals had a great time imitating the tramp.

Legend has it that Chaplin himself entered one such show in a San Francisco theatre for a bet, telling friends he was ‘tempted to give lessons in the Chaplin walk’ not only out of pity for the other contestants, but also with a ‘desire to see it done properly.’

Certain he would win Chaplin performed outrageously on stage expecting his celebrity to be unmasked at any moment. Instead, however, the great man failed to even make the final stages and the story goes that his brother Syd was the eventual winner.

Nat King Cole

A black lady was driving along a main freeway in America with her two small children when she ran out of petrol. Stranded at the side of a busy road she was rescued by a passing motorist who then drove the young family to the nearest petrol station, collected some fuel, drove them back to the car and made sure it started before waving them on their way.

he following week and brand new Mercedes Benz was delivered to the Good Samaritan as a gift with a note of thanks signed by Nat King Cole. The stranded family had been his wife and children. You see kids, good deeds are sometimes well rewarded.

Paul Newman

In a London park a lady was queuing for an ice cream on a hot summer’s day when she recognised her favourite actor Paul Newman standing in the queue next to her. The film legend smiled and said hello but the lady was so star struck she could only mumble her reply. Newman then buys his ice cream stands looking across the park.

The lady does the same and as she walks past Newman she realises she has her purse in her hand but no ice cream. Thinking she had left it at the hatch she turned back but Newman gently held her arm and said ‘It is in your handbag, right where you put it.’

Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson has been a film star since 1958. By the time he was thirty-seven years old, in 1975, he had starred in over 30 films, some as famous as China Town, Tommy and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He had become established as one of the world’s leading actors.

But one rumour, or legend, kept circulating until the great man heard it for himself and tried to find out if it was true. The story was that the woman Nicholson had grown up believing was his elder sister, was in fact his mother.

In 1975 a reporter from Time Magazine phoned Nicholson to check the facts of a story that had surfaced about a man claiming to be his father who was alive and well and living in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. He stated the woman Nicholson called ‘sis’ was his mother and the lady he called ‘Ma’ was in fact his maternal grandmother.

As both had died many years before Jack could only ask his other sister, Lorraine, only to find out she was his aunt after all. The legend had been true.  Jack had been born on 22nd April 1937 as the illegitimate son of the seventeen year old June Nicholson.

Her mother, Ethel May immediately claimed Jack was her own and they women took the secret to their graves. Nobody was ever told and Nicholson himself only found out a decade after his mother, whom he had called ‘sis’ had died. His reaction was one of total shock.

When asked by a reporter working for the Glasgow Herald Nicholson said ‘It was in 1975 and long after June had died. I was making ‘The Fortune’ for Mike Nichols and somebody called me on the phone to tell me. Ultimately I got the official version from June’s sister, Lorraine. I was stunned.’

Walt Disney’s Deep Freeze

All of this reminds me of one of the most famous Urban Legends of all time. Walt Disney has had his body frozen and lies under the Pirates of the Caribbean exhibition in Disneyland, waiting for a cure for the lung cancer that killed him on December 15th 1966.

This idea has been discussed worldwide for forty years with feature items and books supporting all manner of theories, one of which is that Disney was preoccupied with his own death and arranged to have himself frozen in a cryonic chamber filled with liquid nitrogen in order wait until medical research had caught up with his illness. It said he expected to be reanimated himself one day.

urban-mythsBut research has proved Disney was cremated two days after his demise and his death certificate, signed by embalmer Dean Fluss, confirms his remains are interred at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Urban Legend fans insist his hasty burial and private ceremony point towards the famous animator’s family covering up the real story of cryonic preservation but, if that was their clandestine intention, Disney insiders could easily have dispelled such belief by holding a public burial with an empty casket, throwing theorists off the scent completely.

There are few, if any, investigators these days that still believe Disney is held in a state of preservation and his family have also gone on record to dispel such a theory by stating many years later that Uncle Walt simply did not want a public funeral. They also added that when he died he was unaware his illness was terminal, suggesting no alternative plans would have been made anyway.

What is known, however, is that according to The American Cryonics Society around one thousand members have made cryopreservation arrangements and it is thought over one-hundred people worldwide are currently in cryonic suspension. The great animator, it would appear, is not one of them.

Three Men and a Ghost

According to some observers there is a scene, during the popular film Three Men and a Baby starring Tom Selleck, where the ghost of a young boy, who was killed in the house where filming was taking place, appears in the background. There are similar appearances throughout the film and at one point there appears to be a rifle pointing at the head of the ghost.

But the facts do not lend any credibility to the legend. For a start, the film was made in a Hollywood studio not, as often reported, a haunted house. Also, the ghostly shape is, in fact, the shadow of a cardboard cut out of Selleck’s co-star Ted Danson that had been left on set by a stagehand.

The promotional cut out can be seen in full view in another scene during the film. The story that the parents of the dead boy later sued the film’s producers to compensate their distress is also untrue and there are no ghostly goings on in Three Men and a Baby, apart from some of the performances, which could have been made invisible to the naked eye.

The blockbuster film The Wizard of Oz also features a shadowy figure said to be that of a man who hung himself from the branch of a tree, and who went unnoticed by the film crew, swinging in the background during one of the scenes. The truth, however, is less interesting.

The ‘hanging figure’ is simply a crewmember who found himself caught in the camera shot and who quickly runs off the set. The editor decided it was insignificant to the point of not wasting time and money to re film the scene, causing an enduring Urban Legend at a stroke.

Another enduring Urban Legend is that of the actress who plays the deceitful secretary in the James Bond classic, Goldfinger, actually dies after the scene during which she is seen lying dead on the bed with her naked body painted in gold. It is one of the most famous Bond film scenes and the general belief at the time was that the human body also breathes through the skin and blocking all of the pores could cause death.

As it happens the film’s makers did have doctors standing by just in case anything should happen to the actress, Shirley Eaton, but she remained healthy and made several more films before quietly retiring from the film industry.

Extracts from Urban Legends by Albert Jack


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