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Brando, McQueen, Mitchum, Burton: Hollywood Bad Boys Of The '60s

Icons | October 4, 2018

Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

We've always been interested in celebrity antics and manly recklessness, but in the 1960s it seemed that bad behavior rose to an art form. The exploits of Hollywood's bad boys -- Brando, Burton, Mitchum, McQueen, Beatty and others -- inspired awe and envy. They were just actors, after all, but their on-screen personae tended to be inspiringly masculine, and we were eager to believe that the flesh-and-blood men were too. Steve McQueen's obsession with speed, Marlon Brando's brawling, Warren Beatty's womanizing -- these larger-than-life exploits were what we wanted in our idols. Hollywood bad boys of the '60s made entertaining movies and led even more entertaining private lives.

Robert Mitchum

The star of Cape Fear and Night of the Hunter, among numerous other films, Robert Mitchum took on characters that were rowdy, edgy, and antiheroes. Mitchum himself was no stranger to life on the wild side. The former semi-pro boxer was busted for drugs on more than one occasion and even served a sentence of 43 days on a prison farm. The run-in with the law only helped to reinforce Mitchum’s bad boy status. Oh, did we mention that he also served on a chain gang back when he was a teenager? He escaped the chain gang and hitched a ride on rail cars until he eventually made it to California. 

Peter Fonda

Although he hails from a famous family, Peter Fonda cemented his bad boy status by becoming a symbol of the 1960s counter-culture movement. Fonda was lucky to even make it to adulthood. On his eleventh birthday, Fonda accidentally shot himself in the abdomen and spent months in the hospital recovering from his injury. Much later, he became friends with the Beatles. One night, Fonda was taking LSD with Beatles’ members George Harrison and John Lennon when he recounted the story of his gunshot wound. Fonda noted, “I know what it’s like to be dead.” The line stuck with Lennon and he included it in the Beatles’ song, “She Said She Said.” In 1966, he participated in the Sunset Strip Riot and was arrested. As a member of the counter-culture, Fonda wore his hair long and rejected the conventions of the day. Ironically, his resistance to the societal norms made him all the more popular, particularly after his starring role in Easy Rider

Marlon Brando

Although he was always brash and bold, the public first learned of Marlon Brando’s bad boy reputation when word leaked out about his behavior on the set of the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty. Brando was prone to tantrums and outbursts and was said to be the reason why the film was over budget and why a new director was brought in midway through filming. Known for being a hot-head, Brando broke the jaw of a paparazzo reporter in the early 1970s. Brando’s love affairs were the stuff of Hollywood gossip. He had a string of romances that produced eleven children. He even admitted to several homosexual affairs and was even romantically linked to Jack Nicholson, a claim Brando did not confirm or deny. 

Keith Richards

The founding member of the legendary rock group the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards -- who is not an actor, we admit, but is an icon all the same -- became immersed in the drug culture of the 1960s which led to journalist Nick Kent calling him, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Richards was a heavy drug user and junkie. He was busted several times for drug possession and other offenses, but his fans believed his drug use helped to make him a better musician and performer. Richards faced criminal drug charges on five different occasions in the sixties and seventies and was even sent to prison, as was bandmate Mick Jagger, in 1967. The two were released the following day. The media coverage of the case only helped to propel the Rolling Stones into the spotlight, even more, showing that the public loves a bad boy musician as much as a bad boy actor. 

Steve McQueen

To say Steve McQueen was a bad-ass is an understatement. The Great Escape actor was a racecar driver, motorcycle rider, pilot, ex-Marine, ex-lumberjack and a graduate of a reform school for delinquent boys. He even worked in a brothel and a circus, before moving to Hollywood. On many of his films, such as The Magnificent Seven and The Towering Inferno, McQueen earned a reputation for being defiant and combative with directors, but he was such as box office draw that producers were forced to look past his aggressiveness. The star of Bullitt was also caught up in the sixties counter-culture, McQueen was a daily marijuana user and was heavy into cocaine in the late sixties and early seventies. He was arrested for drunk driving in early 1972, but that run-in with the law just added to his bad boy image. 

Warren Beatty

Best known for his award-winning films, Splendor in the Grass, Bonnie and Clyde and Shampoo, Warren Beatty’s off-screen antics earned him the reputation for being one of Hollywood’s biggest womanizers. Beatty was romantically linked to many of the biggest female celebrities of the sixties and seventies, including Joan Collins, Cher, Diane Keaton, Madonna, and many more. In fact, rumors have been swirling for years that Beatty had slept with more 12,000 women, a figure that Beatty says is exaggerated. Still, the actor earned a bad boy reputation for his “love ‘em and leave ‘em” view of women and his cocky, self-absorb attitude, as is documented in Carly Simon’s classic hit song, “You’re So Vain”. 

Richard Burton

The Welsh-born actor who was classically trained as a Shakespearean actor, Richard Burton was constantly in the news for his on-again, off-again romance with Elizabeth Taylor, but Burton also penned some wicked letters that got him permanently banned from the BBC. Two of the letters he wrote and sent to newspapers were openly critical of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and even questioned his sanity. The BBC was so incensed over Burton’s words that the actor was permanently banned from all BBC productions. In addition, Burton was a long-time alcoholic. In fact, in one drunken evening with his older brother, Ifor, Burton witnessed his brother fall and break his neck. The accident left Ifor paralyzed and Burton, out of guilt, drank even more. In addition to his numerous romances with Hollywood leading ladies, Burton acknowledged that he “tried homosexuality”. Elizabeth Taylor even hinted that he had had an affair with Lawrence Olivier and had tried to seduce Eddie Fisher. 

Tags: Cary Grant | Hollywood | Keith Richards | Marlon Brando | Movies In The 1960s | Peter Fonda | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | Robert Mitchum | The 1960s | TV In The 1960s

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.