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Hollywood Urban Legends Revealed

Who's Really Dead? Who's Really Gay?
Who Starts These Rumors?

By Buck Wolf

May 31, 2001 — Did Tom Green really crash a Bar Mitzvah dressed as Adolph Hitler? Was Humphrey Bogart the Gerber baby? Are Bert and Ernie gay?

Yes, if you believe popular urban legends. But, no, not if you care about the truth.

"You know you've made it when people start making up fantastic stories about you," says Richard Roeper, author of Hollywood Urban Legends (New Page Books) and co-host of Ebert & Roeper and the Movies.

"The bigger you are, the more outrageous the story," says Roeper. "Denials don't mean anything. The more Cher denies she had a rib removed to look skinnier, the more people think she really did it. And people believe these things — not because they are true — but because they enjoy a good story."

Some rumors have been repeated so often, they're just taken for granted. Just for the record: Humphrey Bogart never modeled as the cute tot on Gerber baby food jars. John Denver was never a sniper in Vietnam. And Mikey from the Life cereal commercials didn't die from swallowing Pop Rocks candy and washing it down with soda.

Joanie Loves What?

Other rumors have the smallest kernal of truth: George Reeves, TV's Superman from the 1950s, did not jump out of a building in a drunken craze. (He did commit suicide.) Mama Cass Elliot didn't choke on a ham sandwich. (There was a ham sandwich on her nightstand when she died of heart failure.) And the Happy Days spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi didn't set ratings records in South Korea because "Chachi" is a Korean word for the male sex organ. (There is a curious word similarity, but the show never aired on a South Korean TV station.)

In the vicious world of rumor mongering, everybody is under the microscope. It's amazing that the Children's Television Workshop had to issue this 1993 press release:

"Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends."