Myth Trivia: Ty Cobb, James Dean, Natalie Wood celebrity secrets

Celebrity trivia is interesting when stars are alive. It's more intriguing when names like James Dean, Natalie Wood, Ty Cobb and Sal Mineo meet tragic ends.

Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner in 1973 autographed photo. (Image via Wikipedia entry on Natalie Wood)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 18, 2016 – Trivia about well known people is so intriguing to the general public that it’s one of the reasons gossip columnists always have something to write about. Here are three  celebrity tidbits from the past that make up our trivia tales today.

1 – The myth of Ty Cobb: History does not treat Ty Cobb well. Despite being the first person ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, most accounts of Cobb’s career are anything but complimentary.

Nicknamed “The Georgia Peach,” Cobb was said to be a vile racist son of a bitch, which has been extensively detailed in print, film and baseball documentaries

The source of much of the negative publicity arose in 1961, shortly after Cobb died. A writer named Al Stump published an article claiming that Cobb had steamed the stamps off return envelopes from children who wrote him asking for autographs, that he would pistol-whip any black person he saw on a sidewalk and that he would visibly sharpen his spikes in the dugout so opposing teams could see him.

Much of that, however, is apparently more fiction than fact.

First some background. Nobody played the game of baseball with more ferocity than Ty Cobb. He joined baseball in an era when “small ball” was the way the game was played.

“Small ball,” for the uninitiated, relies primarily on bunts, stolen bases and hit and run plays to win a game rather than counting on those base-clearing home runs that rule the baseball diamond today. Cobb was so intense a small ball player that he even stole second, third and home on consecutive pitches in one game.

Among many things most people do not know is that Ty Cobb was an avid reader of history. He was also the most popular visiting player in Chicago.

Collections of letters in museums refute the story that Cobb never answered requests for autographs. In fact, some of his replies were as long as five pages.

True, Cobb was a brawler. It is also true that he got into a couple of fights with black men, but neither incident was racially motivated. Furthermore, he fought with more white men than blacks during his lifetime, which was a period when bar room fisticuffs were far more common than they are today.

Opposing players claimed that Cobb was always aggressive on the bases, but that he never slid into a bag with the intention to injure someone.

Thanks largely to word of mouth and printed accounts of his history, however, the negative legend of Ty Cobb grew without visual evidence to prove otherwise.

Though he is not ready for sainthood, Ty Cobb’s image as a dirty ball player and a horrible human being is largely fiction.

2 – Three young rebels with tragic endings: The three stars of the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause” all suffered untimely deaths. The best known rebel of his day, James Dean, became a cult icon for his role as Jim Stark in that film for his portrayal of teenage disillusionment.

Oddly enough, Dean, who loved racing, was killed in an automobile accident on his way to a race in 1955. He was 24 years old.

Dean’s last film, “Giant,” was released in 1956 after his death; he had completed shooting all his scenes the previous year.

Twenty-one years later, Sal Mineo was stabbed to death in an alley behind his apartment. Mineo was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in “Rebel Without a Cause” for his notable portrayal of John “Plato” Crawford.

The killer, Lionel Ray Williams, stabbed Mineo just once, but the blow was fatal. Williams, who had been convicted of multiple robberies, later stated he had no idea who his victim was.

Our final ill-fated rebel, Natalie Wood, mysteriously drowned in 1981. The 43-year-old actress was discovered on a beach next to an inflatable dinghy about a mile from a boat near Santa Catalina Island in California.

Wood’s husband, Robert Wagner, who had both married and later re-married the actress, admitted that he and Wood had argued the night before, and though her body had bruises, Wagner was never convicted of foul play. One of Wood’s “Brainstorm” film co-stars, Christopher Walken, was also part of the weekend sailing party and had apparently been involved in the argument with Wagner that may have led to her mysterious death.

3 – More Natalie Wood trivia: The multi-talented actress starred in two musicals, “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” But it was her performance in “Splendor in the Grass” (1961) that earned her a Best Actress nomination.

Wood did a bathtub scene in “Splendor in the Grass” for which she had consented to appear nude. The nudity was cut from the film’s release, but had it remained, Natalie Wood would have been the first mainstream American actress to do a nude scene in a major film.

Still, there was a form of nudity in the picture. When Wood was 9 years old, she broke her arm while shooting a picture, leaving her left wrist with a small protrusion. Being self-conscious, the actress always appeared with a bracelet or covering over her wrist to disguise the injury.

The only scene in which she did not cover her wrist was in the bath scene in “Splendor in the Grass.” Director Elia Kazan convinced her that her character would not wear a bracelet while taking a bath, so she took it off.

Giving the film editor’s cut of Natalie Wood’s nude scene, the first official nude scene honors in a legitimate film went Jayne Mansfield in the long forgotten movie “Promises, Promises” (1963).

Ironically, Mansfield later died in a 1967 Mississippi car crash at the age of 34.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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