When Claudette Colbert heard the gossip about her love life, she was aghast.

“She screamed!” the actress’ friend, novelist Lenora Hornblow, recalled. “She said, ‘I thought everyone knew I liked men!’”

In the 1930s, Claudette’s knowing black jet-black eyes, easy laugh and great legs made her a superstar of the Golden Age. At one point, the twice-married actress earned more money in a year than anyone in Hollywood except MGM honcho Louis B. Mayer.

“When I think of Claudette Colbert, I think about champagne bubbles,” Bernard F. Dick, author of Claudette Colbert: She Walked in Beauty, exclusively tells Closer. “She had a natural effervescence.”

Despite her irresistible charm, the actress, who immigrated to the U.S. from France as a child, spent years trying to escape the grasp of her mother.

“Claudette looked like and acted like an independent woman, but she was very much under her mother’s control,” says Dick.

Her possessive mother, Jeanne, destroyed Claudette’s first marriage to another young actor, Norman Foster.

“I was so terrified of my mothers disapproval, I kept the marriage a secret,” confessed Claudette.

For seven years, she continued to sleep under her mother’s roof while Norman lived elsewhere – scuttling the union and setting tongues wagging.

“Once word got out they had separate residences, people jumped to all kinds of strange conclusions,” says Dick.

Claudette wed Joel Pressman, a physician, shortly after her divorce was finalized and finally summoned the courage to move her mother into her own house.

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“She kept her mother very expensively, with a car and drive,” her friend Helen O’Hagan said.

The second marriage was more successful, but Claudette mourned their inability to have a child.

Career demands frequently kept Claudette and Joel apart, which made the actress, who was afraid of being alone, lean on friends.

“All those years living with her mother made her incapable of solitude,” French playwright Pierre Barillet said.

Her years-long relationship with Verna Hull, a painter, attracted rumors – especially when Verna purchased the house next door to Claudette and Joel’s in Barbados.

“They liked to paint together,” says Dick. “But Verna had an obsession with Claudette, and eventually Joel couldn’t take it any longer.”

The friendship ended when the couple built a wall between their properties.

Her friendship with Helen, a PR executive for Saks Fifth Avenue, provided a better companionship – especially after Joel’s death in 1968. There were rumors about the nature of their relationship, but Helen laughed them off.

“There was a 27-year age difference between us. So, I was like her daughter,” said Helen, who quit her job to help the actress manage her life after a 1993 stroke.

“Claudette lived a very good life,” says Dick. “She referred to the rumors she was a lesbian as the ‘stigma.’”

Fortunately, she never let it stop her from living life on her own terms.