1. Alma Rubens
Rubens' biggest role came in 1916's The Half Breed, in which she starred, at age 19, opposite Douglas Fairbanks. But she never quite made it to stardom, settling for mostly side characters while drug addiction sidetracked her career. Over the last few years of her life, Rubens was in and out of mental institutions, the worst of it coming in February 1929, when she attempted to stab a physician who was treating her. That incident followed complaints from neighbors who claimed that Rubens threw a series of "wild parties" at her apartment. Neighbors also said that Rubens was caught repeatedly looking into their apartments with the aid of a flashlight. She attempted a comeback once she got clean in 1930, but soon afterward she was arrested on a narcotics charge. Rubens said she was framed, and doctors confirmed she was no longer taking drugs. Not long after her release, though, she died from pneumonia at age 33.
2. Mary Nolan
This Ziegfeld girl was better known by her stage name, Imogene "Bubbles" Wilson. She was fired after word spread of her affair with comedian Frank Tinney, and moved to Germany, where she appeared in several films under the name "Imogene Robertson." She returned to the U.S. in 1927, but drug addiction cost her her career. Nolan denied that she was taking drugs, but others close to her said that she was using every two to three hours. Nurses said they saw punctures in her arms. In 1937, she was jailed for her failure to pay an outstanding bill to a department store for $400. She was sent to Bellevue for psychiatric testing. Later that year, she overdosed on sedatives. Another comeback attempt didn't pan out, and she faded from public view. By 1948, she was hospitalized for malnutrition, and passed away at the age of 42 from an overdose of Seconal.
3. Belle Livingstone
She was one of the most famous speakeasy owners in New York City, and when her club was raided in 1930, Livingstone spent a month in jail. She was 55 at the time. The former stage actress denied any wrongdoing, telling police she was just an author and that the bar patrons brought their own liquor. The following year, she was arrested for stealing five dresses. Livingstone claimed that it was all a "publicity stunt" choreographed by the dressmaker. The charges never stuck. Eventually, Livingstone found her way out of the Big Apple and into East Hampton, Long Island, where she opened the Hampton Country Club. The club did well for a couple of years, until gangsters moved in, set up a gambling operation on site, and stole the club's furniture. Not longer after, Prohibition ended and Livingstone's business dried up.
4. Frances Farmer
At age 23, Farmer starred in 1936's Come and Get It, but her bad girl reputation soon got in her way. By 1942, she was going through a divorce, and was addicted to amphetamines and alcohol. That year, she was also pulled over by a police officer for having her headlights on bright in a wartime dim zone. After she had a verbal encounter with the officer, she was arrested and asked to pay a $500 fine. Farmer was later charged with assaulting her hairdresser, and was arrested. At the police station, she listed her occupation as "cocksucker." At trial, she was deemed mentally ill. She underwent shock treatments, was given hydrotherapy baths, and received a trans-orbital lobotomy at a mental institution. Once freed, Farmer attempted a comeback in the '50s with the TV show Frances Farmer Presents. It didn't last. Over the ensuing years, Farmer developed a dependency on alcohol and suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns. She died in 1970 at age 56.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The American middle class is no longer safe from poverty — and that might be a good thing
- Mike Huckabee's head-scratching advice to Christian voters
- How Scotland's independence movement lost the vote and still won everything
- 10 things you need to know today: September 19, 2014
- 6 super-helpful iOS8 tricks you probably don't know about
- The Obama administration's nonstop incoherence on ISIS
Subscribe to the Week