Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Dick Powell and June Allyson: An imperfect "perfect" marriage (Photoplay interview)

It all started on a Saturday afternoon in the early 1940s when my friend Betty and I went to a Baltimore theater to see The Singing Marine, starring Dick Powell. His good looks and romantic songs were more than I could resist! Before the end of the movie, I was head over heels in love. I even saw the movie again at the theatre. Soon I found myself buying movie magazines and cutting out photos of Dick Powell, filling page after page in my scrapbook. In the midst of this craze, Betty and I were invited to the home of a friend, Doris, for a picnic and swim. Her Uncle Leo from California was there for a visit, and I was surprised to learn that he was the producer of the Hopalong Cassidy serials. “Do you know Dick Powell?” I blurted out. “Sure,” Leo said. “Can you get me an autographed photo?” “Of course,” Leo assured. “And if you’re ever in Hollywood, Jane, give me a call and I’ll arrange a lunch date with Dick.” I nearly swooned at the thought. A couple of years later, while attending the University of Maryland, I was lucky enough to be chosen as our sorority’s delegate to a convention in Pasadena. Taking advantage of the situation, I decided to stay the summer. I got a job at a department store at Hollywood and Vine and eventually moved in with the mother of one of my friends, a wonderful woman named Harriet. I told Harriet about Leo, and she encouraged me to call him. When I did, Leo asked if I still wanted that lunch date with Dick Powell! “Wow!” I exclaimed. “Terrific!” Harriet was thrilled, but I was scared to death! And of all places, we were going to the Brown Derby, where the movie stars hung out. On the big day, Leo drove up in a snazzy Cadillac. As he opened the rear door for me, I could see the other man in the front seat, Dick Powell. It was a wonderful evening!

I had two wedding anniversaries to my credit when I met June Allyson Powell, and she was still a starry-eyed bride. But we clicked from the moment of that first meeting, for we had one extremely important thing in common. June wanted a baby more than anything in the world, and so did I. Now, of course, we have even a stronger bond in common—our daughters. There is nothing more beautiful to see in our town these days than the glow which surrounds Junie and Dick whenever they are in the presence of their little Pamela. Years ago, when I read that June and Dick were married, I couldn’t wait to meet her. George and I had known Dick for some time, and we were very fond of him. And I had seen June in “Best Foot Forward” and thought that she was charming. Dick was a guest on a radio show one night, a few weeks after their marriage. I was delighted when he asked George and me to have dinner afterward, to meet his new wife. June drove down to the broadcast studio to join us, and she was standing in the wings when Dick and I came offstage. There was an awkward moment when June and I came face to face. We were both done up to the teeth for our big dinner date, each of us in her best dress. There was just one little hitch. It was the same dress! I stared at June and June stared at me while Dick gently proceeded to introduce us. I guess men just don’t notice things like that. June started to giggle and I did, too. Dick looked at us as though he thought we were tetched. And then he caught on. “We’d better get out of here fast,” he said. And we tore for the parking lot, laughing like crazy. The whole evening was like that. Later, June and I marched into the Players Restaurant with our two handsome husbands, but we couldn’t stop laughing.

We drove up the steepest of the Hollywood Hills, we said to look at the view, but really to show what our fine new car could do, and midway, it stalled dead. Dick and George were out in the street, muttering over the motor, sweating and swearing while June and I sat in the back seat trying to look sympathetic. It was a wonderful beginning for what was to become one of my fondest friendships. We’d all had such fun that we invited the Powells to our house the next Sunday night for supper. Both of us were certain, absolutely certain, that we would make absolutely faultless mothers. We had it all worked out. George telephoned Dick Powell to confirm W.W.’s scoop. June came out the next day with a present for the baby. I couldn’t talk about anything else but my big news. Until I saw that June’s crinkly blue eyes were filled with tears. Then I tried to change the subject. I think June started begging Dick that very day to agree to adopting a baby. I think Dick may have demurred at first. June was still young. But June was not to be put off. 

Very soon, the Dick Powells were on the waiting list of a famous adoption agency in the South. Junie came to all of my showers, in wonderful spirits. She was going to have a baby, too. Richard had promised. And then our Missy was born and I didn’t see June or Richard for awhile. The first time was at a party at their house, when Missy was a few weeks old. June was a perfect hostess, as usual, but I felt there was a certain sadness under her gaiety that night. She sat for a while curled up in a big tufted armchair, Patrick, her poodle, in her lap. And she seemed far away, lost in her secret thoughts. She explained it to me afterwards, when we were alone for a moment. The gossip columnists had been wagging their tongues about her marriage; she and Richard had been quarrelling, they had said. It wasn’t true. “We have our spats, of course,” Junie told me. “All married people do. But we never quarrel, why Richard is the sweetest, the most thoughtful man.” But that wasn’t what was worrying her. She and Dick were secure in their marriage; they needn’t care what the gossips said. Except, and this was what really hurt, June was afraid the rumors would hurt her chances of getting a baby. I know the helpless feeling you have when anyone writes something about you which may jeopardize a relationship or a situation. If only they really understood what damage just a few idle words can do. All I could say to June was that I was sure the agency wouldn’t pay any attention to malicious gossip. Her chances, I said, were as good as ever. Five more long months went by, though, before June’s wish came true. 

The agency called. They had the perfect baby for the Powells. A little girl, just a month old, she had reddish-blonde hair, and crinkly blue eyes, like June’s. She would arrive by plane, with a nurse, in eight days. June was in the middle of the production of “Little Women.” But she and Dick worked frantically nights and on her Sunday off to get the nursery and equipment ready for their new daughter. June was working when the baby’s plane arrived, and it broke her heart that Dick drove out to the airport alone. “We’re so lucky, she’s so perfect, so darling, so utterly dear.” She was too excited to notice that it was Dick who phoned out for extra bottles and supplies, that it was Dick who helped make up the formula and instructed the new nurse. June was almost afraid to touch her little girl, afraid she might break her. After Pamela’s arrival, June’s and I's friendship turned into an endless competition. Missy had three teeth. Pamela’ first one, you could feel it, sharp as any thing, under her gums, was coming through. Pamela had a six months birthday and June pasted a bow in her soft fuzz of hair with Scotch tape. Pamela said Ma-ma and Da-da when she was only ten months old. At eleven months Pamela started to walk! June started planning Pam’s christening party while her daughter was still in her bassinette. She had never had anything half so grand for herself. Her own childhood, I know, was hard, there wasn’t much money in her family, and for two long years she was set in an uncomfortable brace as the result of a back injury. The big moments in her own life had been impressive only in the sense of her own inner happiness. Her marriage ceremony, for instance, was simple and unostentatious. 

June and Richard invited their closest friends to the church christening and to a reception afterward at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Dick, as a surprise, had engaged Don Loper to make Junie’s dress for the christening, an enchanting full-skirted brown taffeta with a yoke and round collar of white lace. A few of us went out to dinner afterward. I watched Dick’s face as he looked at his wife. He was so proud. Everything is perfect, now that there is Pamela. Regis Toomey was godfather and Claudette Colbert godmother. Colbert bought a lace christening gown from Paris but Pammy vomited all over it on the way to the christening. Allyson wanted to go home so the gown could be washed. Powell said that Colbert would understand, but the actress insisted that Colbert never know so they went home. The gown was washed and they hurried to the church, where Pammy pulled Colbert’s string of pearls, which broke all over the place. June told me that buying Dick clothes was difficult. At first he beamed at what she bought him but Allyson never saw him wear any of the fanciful ties or unusual shirts. One day she discovered that he gave them away as gifts and rewards to prop men and butchers and bakers and even the lawn man. 

I asked June: When did you first start going out with Dick? "It was a chance meeting in New York after Dick was separated from his wife," replied June. "I came into Toots Shor's restaurant and Dick was having lunch alone. He invited me to sit down and we had our first long talk. It ended with him saying that he would telephone me when I returned home. Our first official date was at Romanoff's. He seemed so sensible and intelligent after some of the men I had gone around with." MGM was confident that Two Girls and a Sailor would be a hit and sent Allyson and Nancy Walker to New York on a personal appearance tour. Dick Powell said he had seen the film and that June was going to be a star. After the premiere night of Two girls and a Sailor, Allyson said that Powell had phoned her hotel room at midnight asking to meet him in the hotel lobby, suggesting they go out to dinner. When Powell asked her going out with him, she said she refused because she thought he was still married. Powell fetched a newspaper from the hotel’s newsstand and showed her the headline “Joan Blondell and Dick Powell Separate.” Then, Powell took her to Sardi’s to dance.

On the morning of Friday, February 22, 1956, June said they had argued at night and June had threatened Dick with a separation. June had packed her luggage for a trip to Palm Springs, with her secretary and daughter Pamela. Dick stood in her dressing room watching her, and arguing the point of separation. “You can’t go without me,” Dick said. “You can’t live without me and you know it.” June folded a pair of slacks neatly into a suitcase. “I’m tired of being told what I can and cannot do,” she said coolly. “You don’t even know how to get to Palm Springs,” Dick added. She flared up at him. “I’ve been there a million times with you! I’m not an idiot! I don’t want you telling me how to get there—I can find it myself!” He told her regardless, and when June reached South Pasadena, a point not vaguely en route to Palm Springs, she also reached her Waterloo. She stopped the car, went to a public phone and dialed her home telephone number. “All right!” she said. “Where is Palm Springs?” To Dick’s credit, he didn’t say 'I told you so.' He is not that kind of a man. Instead he laughed, and so did June. It is this humor they have in common, the happy faculty for laughing at themselves, that makes their marriage more than worth saving. In the midst of the most serious argument one will say something that strikes the other funny, and the ice is broken as well as the argument itself. When June eventually reached Palm Springs, admittedly via Dick’s explicit directions, she flew to a telephone to advise Dick she had arrived safely. She called him a second time, to say goodnight. 

Of such stuff is marriage made. The next day, Saturday, despite the company of Pamela and her secretary Barbara Salisbury, June was lonely (the unspoken assumption is that she missed Dick), and at noon the threesome left for Los Angeles. In the interim, the Edgar Bergens had unknowingly put themselves in the middle. Edgar had flown to Palm Springs to make certain June was all right, and after he flew back to Los Angeles on Saturday he had phoned Dick and asked him to come for dinner that night. Unaware of this, Frances Bergen, also worrying about June, had telephoned her in Palm Springs and invited her for dinner on Saturday. The upshot was that the ‘separated’ Powells had dinner together that evening with the Bergens. “She ate,” said Dick. “I wasn’t hungry.” “You know the first thing he said?” June asked me. “He walked in and said, ‘Darling, you don't look so good. You look as though you’ve lost five pounds.’ I said ‘I look fine, thank you.’ And then I looked in the mirror and he was right. I looked absolutely awful.” During their two weeks of separation the Bergens as well as other friends spoke to them frankly, pointing out the difficulties each already knew existed. Without exception their friends hoped for a reconciliation, not only for the sake of the children, but for June and Dick themselves. Says June, “But you can’t learn anything from your friends. We must work it out for ourselves.” Almost every night of that following week, Dick had dinner with June, mostly at home. Separately, they made dinner engagements with other people, then broke them at the last minute, irresistibly drawn together. “I suppose we spent some time talking about a new school for Rick. And of course I kept telling June that our separation was ridiculous, that it was serving no purpose,” said Dick. Neither does June recall clearly the conversations of that week. “All I remember is that suddenly we found ourselves behaving as we should have before we separated.” 

If there was occasional laughter, there were also many tears. It was a bad week, so bad that June reacted as she always does to unhappiness, and she became ill. That night she went to her mother’s house for dinner. On Saturday she felt worse, and lonely to boot, because Dick had gone to Palm Springs for the weekend, unaware of her illness. On Sunday she wakened with a fever of 104° and telephoned her personal physician. Dr. Corday put his stethoscope to June’s chest, and shook his head. “You have pneumonia,” he said. “Have someone take you to the hospital right away.” When Dick returned to Hollywood that night he went straight to the house, heard the news from the servants, and dashed off to the hospital. “I had dinner with her at the hospital every night from then on,” lamented Dick. As Dick says, “When you separate from somebody after eleven and a half years, that’s really frightful.” Unexpectedly, they grin at each other. June was in the hospital six days, and the following Saturday Dick drove her home.

"He helped in other ways. “One night,” June remembers, “I came wailing down the stairs and threw myself on the divan to cry my heart out. I was waving a newspaper column that had given me an especially bad dose of publicity. ‘Why me?’ I sobbed.” “Why not you?” asked Richard quietly. “That stopped me cold,” June admits. “He was so right. I had reached the point in my career where an occasional nasty bit of publicity was considered par for the course by most stars. But me—I wanted to be different, to have everyone like me. Now I know that’s impossible.” “No, it isn’t. It’s perfectly natural,” countered her relaxed husband. “When I go through the Powells’ lower gate in the morning,” Barbara Salisbury says, “it’s like driving into another world. Suddenly I’m in the peace and quiet of the country, surrounded by beautiful trees and the greenness that no city care can contrive. Inside, it’s warm, friendly and full of the feeling of family. There was a time when Richard and George Hall, the decorator, got together to decide on any possible changes. Last month, however, it was June who conferred with George on the divans, curtains, drapes—and she very definitely wanted a brass headboard in the master bedroom. After long discussions she took four possible choices to Richard, then they decided together on colors, textures and whatnot. I should add that her sense of humor hasn’t changed a bit. “She is still an out-and-out sentimentalist,” Barbara continues, “and I don’t think that will ever change. 

Sensitive and highly emotional, June is always touched by little things, and often a warm note affects her more than an expensive gift. Tears aren’t necessarily indicative of sadness in June—they can mean anything. Take the day I was working at the desk in her bedroom. June was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her dressing room, listening to a little radio and happily deciding which sweaters to keep. Five minutes later, when I walked in, she was still sitting on the floor—but with great big tears rolling down her face. “Why? Because an old Dick Powell record was being played on the radio. The fact that her husband, the father of her children, had recorded that song before she ever met him filled her with a flood of emotion that was only released by tears. She wiped her eyes, and she said brusquely, ‘Isn’t that silly? Bawling over a crazy record!’ Nevertheless, she immediately went to the phone and called Richard at the studio, just to say hello.” 

And Richard is a kind-hearted man, I really haven't known men with his special degree of discretion in showbusiness. June talks of his husband's skills as director: “Being his wife, I couldn’t help being proud of the way people felt about Richard. He’s wonderful to work with, and the crew idolized him. I don’t think I ever met a nicer, happier group of people. Richard has a mad habit which relieves tension and puts everyone in stitches. We were doing a scene one day when it started to rain. Everyone was ready to bite nails. Suddenly over the director’s mike came the dulcet voice of Richard Powell, singing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’—with the flattest high notes I ever heard. It broke us all up. If the director could joke, so could we. Richard has a wonderful way with people, and the picture we made together was more fun than any I’ve done. And I honestly don’t think I’m prejudiced. Anyone who works with him will tell you the same thing.” Sources: Dee Phillips for Photoplay magazine (November 1956) and Confessions of an ex-fan magazine writer (1981) by Jane Wilkie

Good News (1947) was the best musical from the Roaring Twenties from the premier songwriting team of DeSylva, Brown & Henderson. It ran on Broadway for 557 performances in the 1927-29 season and gave the team a number of song hits identified with them like the title song, Just Imagine, Lucky In Love, and The Best Things In Life Are Free. All of those songs made it as well as one of the great dance numbers of the Roaring Twenties, The Varsity Drag. The musicals of that era had the lightweight nonsensical plots which also were taken from the Broadway shows. Big man on campus, Peter Lawford, has to get a passing grade in French to stay eligible for the football squad. He gets mousy student librarian June Allyson assigned as a tutor and the inevitable happens. After that Lawford has to choose romantically between mercenary coed Patricia Marshall and June Allyson. It's a struggle, but you guess who he winds up with. Good News presents an idealized version of the Roaring Twenties and is the quintessential college musical which flooded Hollywood mostly in the years before World War II. It holds up well as entertainment and the songs are still fabulous. Source:

June Allyson's name is included in The Rat Pack's list of conquests (Rat Pack Confidental by Shawn Levy), presumably by Peter Lawford, who had a huge crush on Allyson. Aside from affording his mother May a society in which she could act the grande dame, Hollywood gave Peter the opportunity to chase every famous skirt in the world: Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Anne Baxter, Judy Garland, June Allyson, Ava Gardner. Most insidiously, May Lawford responded to her son’s growing apart from her by walking into Louis B. Mayer’s office and telling the prudish studio chief that Peter was a homosexual, a charge that Peter was forced to refute by soliciting the explicit testimony of Lana Turner; the canard drove a permanent wedge between him and his mother. Frank Sinatra was carrying a grudge against Peter, too. In late ’53, after she and Frank had split, Ava Gardner had a drink with Peter at an L.A. nightspot.

When Louella Parsons reported the little tête-à-tête, Frank went bonkers, calling Peter at two in the morning and shouting at him, “Do you want your legs broken, you fucking asshole? Well, you’re going to get them broken if I ever hear you’re out with Ava again. I’ll kill you.” Sammy Davis Jr.: “There was switching partners and group sex. When living got too depressing, hanging out with a group like that got your mind off it, for that moment at least it fogged your brain and you didn’t feel so bad. Sex wasn’t the point, though. You didn’t want to be alone. Two or three people would get into bed with you and you’d fall asleep. You had physical companionship, that’s what you needed, a quiet, friendly body lying next to you, and you’d sleep.” Milton Ebbins: “Sammy had found this beautiful little model, a white girl. He fell in love with her, and they were living together while they were filming Salt and Pepper. Peter stole her away. Sammy came to me and said, ‘That fucker, I’ll never talk to him again.’ I asked Peter, ‘What did you do?’ And Peter replied nonchalantly, ‘I stole his girl.’” Joe Naar recalls one night that Peter drank heavily and boasted of having hooked up with June Allyson. Maybe Sinatra was jealous? Lawford wondered, which a skeptical Sinatra denied. Dean Martin had received some cordial telegram from Allyson and he also had hinted a fling with her, surmising that Dick Powell was a dullard. Sinatra just said to Martin to shut up. It's very likely Sinatra admired Powell's singing prowess as a crooner, and was fed up with Lawford's snobbery and Martin's brashness. —Rat Pack Confidential (1998) by Shawn Levy

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Center Door Fancy

Warner Bros. had premiered Ruby Keeler’s film GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 on June 6, 1933, in which she co-starred with Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Warren William, Ned Sparks, Ginger Rogers — and, once again, Dick Powell, the young crooner whose career was skyrocketing along with Ruby’s. The public loved them together; Ruby’s gentle femininity was a perfect match for Dick’s boyish wholesomeness. They enjoyed a marvelous working relationship, and maybe even a personal one. It's a mystery until this day if they had some kind of affair off-screen. “We always worked well together. He was a very fine young man — he was a very fine older man,” Ruby said. “He never, ever changed. I saw him just three months before he died. He knew that he was very ill, but yet he thought that everything was going to be alright.” 

Ruby returned to Warner Bros. for what was to be her biggest film yet — FOOTLIGHT PARADE. Again her co-star was Dick Powell and several of the same supporting players; Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, plus Hugh Herbert, Ruth Donnelly, and the delightfully different addition of James Cagney in his screen singing and dancing debut. All of Ruby’s co-stars loved working with her. Warner Bros. story head Jacob Wilk summed up her appeal by calling her the second Janet Gaynor. She was always a bit in awe of Busby Berkeley. The score once again featured fine songs by the songwriting team of Harry Warren and Al Dubin. Ruby later commented, “The most difficult thing for me, though, were those songs. I’d have to react to everything Dick sang, and, of course, the song would have eighty choruses…there would be the long shot, close-ups, the long, long shots — until I got so that my mouth was twitching from smiling and all I could do was stare. My mouth would get crooked!” Ruby, however, tried to avoid singing whenever possible. “That was because I can’t sing.” she explained with characteristic modesty. “I mean, I haven’t any voice. Dick had a wonderful voice and they’d always give me the middle part, with the smallest range. Those poor songwriters! ‘Don’t you worry, Ruby,’ they’d say. ‘It sounds all right. It really does!” 

Many hailed FOOTLIGHT PARADE as the finest of the three Keeler/Powell/Berkeley extravaganzas. It seemed that, to the world, Ruby could do no wrong. She was certainly no longer known as Ruby Keeler Jolson. She had become a star in her own right. Warner Bros. announced plans to co-star her and Powell in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1934. Ruby would make her radio debut on The Fleischman NBC Radio Program at the RKO Broadcast Studio in December. After a brief introduction by Al Jolson, she went into a solo number followed by a dramatic sketch called “The First Kiss” accompanied by Dick Powell. Ruby’s performance received an excellent reception from the studio audience. Ruby and Dick Powell began lensing GOLD DIGGERS OF 1934, the title of which had been changed to DAMES. The cast also included Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert, and, as Ruby’s mother, the inimitable Zasu Pitts. The film contained one of Ruby’s finest screen numbers — “I Only Have Eyes For You”– in which the audiences were treated to an endless array of Keelers of all sizes. 

Plans were made to pair Ruby and Dick Powell in more films. In 1968, Ruby reflected, “For several years, I was destined to be Dick Powell’s screen partner, and, I guess in those sad Depression days, Dick and I did bring a bit of sunshine into people’s hearts.” Their next film together was FLIRTATION WALK. It was their first musical that was not a backstage story. Powell played a young cadet at West Point and Ruby was the daughter of the commanding officer. March of 1936 saw the release of Ruby’s last film with Dick Powell. COLLEEN starred Ruby in the title role as a dress designer-store manager who falls in love with wealthy Dick. The musical numbers, among the finest Ruby has ever done, were co-staged by Bobby Connolly. “I was like a scared rabbit in 42nd Street — Dick Powell was too,” Ruby admitted. “I knew I wasn’t a serious actress, but I figured all I had to do was say lines like “What? Who? Where?” She’d continually ask people how the rushes looked, but her fears were in vain. Her performances were perfect, combining the exact blend of innocence and mock-savvy. 

A skilled actress with immense appeal and a warm, comfortable sexuality, Joan Blondell was a welcome addition to the proceedings and would reappear in thee other films with Ruby — FOOTLIGHT PARADE, DAMES, and COLLEEN. She and Ruby became good friends and she would eventually marry Dick Powell. As Polly Parker, Ruby is again the tender, wholesome young ingenue who is the object of wealthy young Brad Roberts’ affections — also known as Dick Powell. Ruby and Dick shared more screen time together than they had in 42ND STREET and the public had taken the team to their hearts. Ruby claimed that working with Powell was “wonderful — oh, he was a very fine man. Dick was a lovely man… we were just happy and enjoyed working together. He was always a gentleman.” Her scenes with Dick Powell take on new depths and shading in Footlight Parade. Upon hearing a demonstration of Dick Powell’s songwriting skills, Ned Sparks is so impressed that he barks, “Cancel my contract with Warren and Dubin!” FOOTLIGHT PARADE is the perfect screen musical — it moves at a breathless pace with crackling, witty dialogue, is chock full of brilliant songs, glittering musical fantasies and splendid performances. It is the zenith of the Keeler-Powell-Berkeley pictures. 

The publicity department at Warner Bros. was the first to admit that the enormous success and popularity of the team of Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler was entirely accidental and unforeseen. They had simply been cast in what the studio felt were supporting roles in 42ND STREET — Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels and George Brent were the stars — but by early 1934 they were receiving more fan mail than any other romantic duo in films and consistently being chosen the readers’ favorites in fan magazine polls. Their trio of films in 1933 surrounded them with a great deal of attractive packaging. There were the gargantuan Berkeley musical interludes, large supporting casts, alternate love interests, and intricate storylines with more subplots than most murder mysteries. Marguerite Tazelaar of the New York Herald Tribune opined of Ruby in Shipmates Forever (1935) that “Miss Keeler seems to enjoy being June — her tap numbers animate the scenes considerably.” Ruby would move on to RKO studios. 

Another interesting fact of READY, WILLING AND ABLE (1937) is that Ruby’s leading man in the picture met with an early, tragic death. Rose Alexander (1907-1937) arrived at Warner Bros. In 1934 he had already appeared with great effectiveness in supporting roles with Dick and Ruby in FLIRTATION WALK and SHIPMATES FOREVER. As Ruby pointed out to Rex Reed, Sue Smith (No, No, Nanette) was played by actresses who were in various ways connected with herself — June Allyson, who would be Dick Powell’s wife, and Evelyn Keyes, who played Ruby in THE JOLSON STORY. Ruby's special connection with Dick Powell occasioned many episodes of jealousy from her jilted husband, Al Johnson. Keeler and Jolson had adopted a son, but later divorced in 1940. In 1941, Ruby Keeler married John Homer Lowe, a businessman, and left show business the same year. Keeler and Lowe had four children. Lowe died in 1969. Keeler was a Catholic Irish-American. She was also a Republican who supported Dwight Eisenhower's campaign during the 1952 presidential election. Ruby Keeler died on February 28, 1993 (aged 83) in Rancho Mirage, California. —Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Career of Ruby Keeler (2019) by Ed Harbur

Dick Powell is one of the most underrated film stars of the golden age of Hollywood. He was at one time (late 1930s, first 1940s) listed as one of the top ten favorite actors in Hollywood and he transcended several genres. His work in musicals cemented his fame literally. He entered his hand and footprints into the cement outside Sid Grauman's Chinese Theater with Joan Blondell in 1937. After a period of relative decline, Dick reinvented himself as a tough guy in film noir, and his performances are still impressive today. In his heyday, from the early thirties to the early sixties, he was a very big name indeed, and with good reason. Like few other figures in show business, Powell had an uncanny knack of reinventing himself: first, as a big band crooner, then a musical star, next a serious actor, then a director and finally, a successful producer in the infant medium of television. But there’s more to Dick Powell than his resume. He was, in my view, one of the most likable players on the big screen. 

Powell had a down-to-earth, easy charm that made him particularly relatable. Sometimes I would see an indifferent film with him just to watch Dick Powell, and for me that applies to very few performers. After leaving Little Rock College, Powell joined a series of bands as vocalist. He was based in Indianapolis, then Pittsburgh, where he drew praise as a highly entertaining master of ceremonies at several prominent theaters. By this time, he was also recording for the Vocalion label. When Warner Brothers ended up buying that label, the young, magnetic singer was soon on their radar. They were sufficiently impressed to offer him a short-term contract in 1932. The following year, after appearing in four pictures, he was cast opposite newcomer Ruby Keeler in the immortal backstage musical, “42nd Street” (1933). The wild success of this film rescued the movie musical from an early grave, and persuaded rival studio Radio Pictures to greenlight “Flying Down to Rio” (1933), the film that introduced the world to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Powell and Keeler would be paired in six more films over the following three years, including “Gold Diggers of 1933,” “Footlight Parade” (1933), and “Dames” (1934).

One of Powell’s co-stars on “Gold Diggers” and later Warner musicals was the blond comedienne Joan Blondell. The two clicked on set, and a romance blossomed. Though he was also seeing Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst’s mistress at the time, he knew she would never leave Hearst, so he and Blondell finally married in 1936. They’d have a daughter together, Ellen, and he’d also adopt her son Norman from a prior marriage. Powell himself had previously wed model Mildred Maund years before but that union hadn’t lasted. As the decade progressed, Powell was gratified by his success, personally and professionally, but at the same time, increasingly restless. He felt typecast by the studio. He wanted to prove that he could do something different. As he put it at the time: “I'm not a kid anymore but I'm still playing boy scouts.” Finally, he decided to leave Warner Brothers for Paramount in 1940.

Though he had to appear in a few musicals at the outset, Paramount did cast him in some non-singing roles, including “Christmas in July” (1940), a solid if not outstanding Preston Sturges picture. As he approached forty, he realized he’d aged out of romantic leads. Powell then heard about “Double Indemnity,” Billy’s Wilder’s upcoming thriller about an insurance man who plots with a client’s wife to bump off her husband and collect on his policy. He lobbied hard for the part of Walter Neff, but lost out to Fred MacMurray, an actor also known for good guy roles who was willing to play against type. 

Then he got his chance. Edward Dmytryk was adapting “Farewell, My Lovely”, Raymond Chandler’s detective novel, to the screen and saw something unexpected in Powell. He’d have to be lent out to RKO, whose bosses were understandably skeptical about the director’s casting choice. But Dmytryk persisted and prevailed. Dick Powell would become the first actor to play private eye Philip Marlowe on-screen. The film, released as “Murder, My Sweet,” was a hit and gave Powell’s film career the new direction he craved just as the new sub-genre of film noir was coming into its own. Two years later, Humphrey Bogart would reprise the role in Howard Hawks’s “The Big Sleep.” Over the ensuing decades, Robert Mitchum, James Garner, and Elliott Gould would all take turns playing Marlowe.

At this point, Powell’s marriage to Joan Blondell was crumbling, as she fell for impresario Mike Todd and he fell for a younger actress named June Allyson. Powell and Allyson tied the knot in 1945. They would adopt one child, have one of their own, and also make a few films together. Over the next few years, Powell starred in some solid, classic noirs including “Cornered” (1945, again with Dmytryk helming), “Pitfall” (1948), and “Cry Danger” (1951). His last great role came in Vincente Minnelli’s biting ensemble drama about the pitfalls of Hollywood, “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952). Now Powell wanted to branch out beyond acting. Television was exploding, with the networks hungry for programming. In 1952, he teamed with fellow stars Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and David Niven to form Four Star Television, which would produce shows and series. The company became wildly successful, largely under Powell’s leadership. But what I and his other fans remember is Dick Powell the actor. You liked him as the romantic crooner, young and carefree; or as the cynical tough guy, beaten down but always popping back up for one more round. You liked him either way. Source: 

Center Door Fancy (1973) is a semi-autobiographical novel by actress Joan Blondell covering her life from her childhod with her Vaudeville family until her third divorce from Mike Todd. Except the heroine of Center Door Fancy is not named Joan Blondell but "Nora Marten." The name of every other major "character" in Blondell's life has been changed, too (with walk-ons like James Cagney, Clark Gable and Ruby Keeler retaining their monikers). Blondell doesn't shy away from anything: her attempted rape by a policeman, her multiple abortions during her first marriage, and her third husband's volatile nature are all here. "Johnny Marten," writer and star of "The Boy Is Gone," is her ambitious vaudevillian father Ed Blondell (writer and star of "The Lost Boy"); "Cecilia Quinn" is her demanding mother, Katie Cain. Then there are Blondell's three husbands: the distant and impenetrable David Nolan (Oscar-winning cinematographer George Barnes), the caring but insecure Jim Wilson (actor and crooner Dick Powell, also her costar in ten films), and the unstable and ambitious Jeff Flynn (Oscar-winning producer Mike Todd). The years are not specifically stated most of the time. The novel ends around 1950, right after Nora's divorce from Jeff, with her "trying to revive a career" that would continue with movies and regular TV appearances until her death in 1979. Why did Blondell choose to write her autobiography as fiction? Probably to avoid a lawsuit with June Allyson—all three of her husbands had passed away by 1972. 

Jim Wilson’s booming voice halted my jumbled thoughts: “Hallo! there! Where’s the beauty of the family? Where’s the baby doll?” “Here, Jim, frosting martini glasses,” I called in answer. What a cornball, I thought to myself. “Ah—there she is! One of the big box-office ten—in person! Where’s a grizzly bear huggaroo for none other than Jim Wilson!” His “grizzly bear huggaroo” knocked an earring off. We were both on our hands and knees searching for it as Jim whispered, “Listen, sweetie, May Gould’s along—mind? David said you’d have plenty for dinner, so we picked her up.” I frankly didn’t care much about either of them. My one evening as a guest at May’s home was barren: no cocktails, no butter, weak coffee, lumpy ice cream, and every lamp in the house had strips of cellophane covering the shade, though she had lived there for over ten years. As for Jim Wilson, well, he is a fabulously popular crooner. Next to Bing Crosby he was tops in the nation. Jim beamed. “I might just take your advice. After all, a gal with her—er—qualifications—well, my first wife drank a lot.” “I didn’t know you’d been married before!” “Neither does the press department. Remember America’s most desirable bachelor?” He playfully grazed my chin with his clenched fist. “What was she like?” “A beauty—dark, and from my home town. She was seventeen when I took the leap. She was from a wrong-side-of-the-tracks family, but they were okay. I had an important reputation to live up to, so I sent her to one of those cure places—and a pretty penny that was!”

With the car radio blasting, Jim pulled his Lincoln convertible to a fast stop in the driveway and ducked through the rain. As I opened the front door, his arms were outstretched, and he was singing: “You must have been a beautiful baby, ’cause baby look at you now!” But my crying was uncontrolled. Confounded, Jim awkwardly attempted to put his arms around my shoulders. I pulled away and ran into the bathroom. He tried to make himself heard through the closed door. “Nora, baby doll, you’re just tired—come on now, don’t cry, dear.” I emerged with a damp towel over my face and head. “I feel like a big damn fool,” I stuttered, pulling the towel off. Jim took my hand and gently drew me to the bar in the den. “You’re going to have a drink, gorgeous.” “I don’t want one.” “Well, I do, damn it, I can’t stand to see you cry like that.” He sat me on a stool and went behind the bar. “Ah—here!” he exclaimed. “Blackberry brandy—it’ll tie up your tears; it should, it ties up everything else!” He poured a pony of the brandy, and for himself a double rye. “Here’s to that world-famous new baby,” he toasted. Then my eyes met his. “Jim,” I said quietly, “I can’t get into the hospital to have my baby. We haven’t the cash—and David won’t face it. You have to pay in advance, and because I have a ‘name’ the cost of everything is tripled—more. Jim, we are broke.” Early the next morning, delivered by hand, a letter arrived on the mail: "Dear Kids Happy Hospital. On me. Love and kisses, Jim." Enclosed was his personal check for a thousand dollars. 

The strains of Jim’s voice over the radio brought my thoughts back to him. Once in a while I teased him about Hollywood’s worst-kept secret: Jim Wilson and Teresa Hall; she, the world-famous mistress of the world-famous publisher. “I’m a nervous wreck over her attention. Christ, who needs it,” Jim said. “She’s even stalling the picture we’re doing so she can see me every day.” “The whole studio is on to that,” I told him. “It’s not a laughing matter, Nora. The goddamn old bag’s girl might get me de-nutted! If I’m not admiring enough to keep her contented, she will damn well tell Him I’ve been rude or make up any goddamn lie—and I’ll be stuck with the fury of Him for that! This mess could easily ruin my career!” “Well, anyway, she’s still lovely to look at,” I consoled him. “Sure, Nora, she’s sultry and beautiful, but the way she inhales the booze...” Jim crossed over Coldwater Canyon and turned on Sunset toward the coast. I like the way he drives, I thought—very sure of himself. Jim parked the car on a ledge overlooking the waves. We watched the phosphorescent blue and white lights as the water sloshed onto the sand. “David was no good for you from my way of thinking—no security there,” Jim said. “You hungry?” he asked. “Starved,” I answered. “Well, then,” he decided enthusiastically, “let’s get some hot dogs!” “Drive to the Seal place, Jim, get hot dogs and beer, and let’s come right back here to eat ’em.” Twenty minutes later we had returned with our midnight picnic, and as we ate Jim lectured me about my attitude toward my family concerning money. 

He smoothed my hair and hummed a few bars of “By a Waterfall.” Then he said, “Nora?” “Ummm?” “I had a talk with Jamie while I was waiting for you. I said to him, ‘I wish to God I had a son like you, Jamie.’ He just grinned and whacked me in the nose a couple of times. ‘Cut it out, Jamie!’ I said. ‘I’m not kidding. Let’s figure it out. I’ll marry your mom—it’s as simple as that.’” His eyes were moist as he smiled. “Jamie gave me a bear hug.” His head was leaning on mine now, and he tightened his arm around my shoulder. “How about that?” he asked softly. “Good idea, Nora?” My throat constricted, and tears flooded my heart as I cried. Looking at Jim’s handsome face, I smiled and answered huskily, “Good idea, Jim.” I told Sally why I was so nervous. “I’ll give it to you quick, Sally. About a week ago, I was about to go to bed when the phone rang. I answered it, and the voice said, ‘If you marry Jim Wilson, your son will be kidnapped, and you will never see him again.’” My hands were shaking as I lit a cigarette. “When I could think sanely at all, it came to me that I knew that voice—I knew the impediment in that woman’s speech.” “Teresa Hall,” Sally said, shocked. “Yes, our beloved Teresa. No mistaking that voice, and she sounded slurred and drunk. I got Jim to the house within twenty minutes, and we talked until it was daylight. I wanted to call the damn wedding off, but Sally, Jim’s going to be just great for Jamie—and we will always have security, because he’s an intelligent businessman.” After showering and perfuming I was seated at the dressing table in my lacy lingerie looking into the mirror at Sally brushing my hair. “Sally, I can’t go through with it. I don’t love Jim, really love, and he’s too nice to hurt.” “Did you ever tell him you loved him?” Sally asked, still brushing my hair. “No, never. When he asked me if I did, and my answer stuck in my throat, he said, ‘Nora, I love you enough for both of us, you’re a helluva good actress, and boy, you’re beautiful! What more could a guy ask for?’ Will I love him in time, Sally? Does that happen?” “I can give you wisecracks, pal—no answers.” Our eyes met in the mirror, and I jumped up and grabbed my friend, half-laughing, half-crying. “Bring on the wedding drag—I’m getting married!” 

That would not be the last time I heard of Teresa. My father Johnny went off on a hunting trip—his first—with some ex-vaudeville cronies. But he returned home four days earlier than expected. And he walked in on my mother and a man, both asleep. Johnny woke him up and beat the man to a pulp. Then my mother tried to take her life with fumes from the car in the garage. Johnny pulled her out and fought to keep her alive until help came. Kern Brothers working with the D.A.’s office managed to squelch the whole story. Mom recovered, and Johnny moved to the Regent Hotel. Jim asked my mother to give up her home and move in with us. Our new house was very large, and there was a suite of four lovely rooms for Jamie and the governess. Cecilia was to take the governess’ place. Cecilia sold their house, and I sent my sister to New York, where she studied art, played summer stock, radio, then Broadway. She had blossomed into a beautiful girl and had streams of beaux to share New York’s excitement with. We exchanged letters and phone calls, and I was happy that she was free to gobble up all the youthful joy that life had to offer—before she bumped into adulthood. Then came another development for me. My name was no longer to be mentioned in print, in publicity or advertising, in any of the gigantic chain of Hearst newspapers. I walked back and forth in our sitting room. “Jim, my God, do you know what that means? How many newspapers across the U.S.A. my name’s off—out of? What did Teresa tell Him about me? We know it was Teresa. What, Jim—what?” Jim poured himself a double rye and belted it down. “I’m sick, Nora, but what can we do—we’re at the mercy of power, tremendous power. Sure it was Teresa—her gal pals warned me I’d better not marry you.” “They did?” I was shocked. “I laughed it off,” Jim said. “But you’re not out of the papers, Jim.” “That would be too obvious, Nora. Teresa’s too smart for that.” I sat on the couch. “Goddamn son-of-a-bitching bastard—just when your career is really zooming!” Jim’s voice was tense and low. I jumped up and whacked my palms together. I sighed: “Cut it out, honey. Let’s zoom into dinner.” Jim fixed me another drink.

Jim is just what I thought he was when David introduced us—corn-bally, unsure of himself at times. On top of that, he is surprisingly prudish. He will make love only in the dark, furtively. Jim, you’re a dead fish. The only joy you seem to feel is when you get money! I’ve got a new guy, and you would die of envy if you knew how we feel. . . Get in bed with me, Jim, just get in without taking a shower and combing your hair and brushing your teeth and putting perfume on your privates. . . you cold-assed Don Juan. Jim was shaking me as I opened my eyes and wildly grabbed his arms to pull him toward me. He stood stiffly as he said, “You’re making a racket—what’s up?” “I want a divorce, now, quick,” I said, and closed my eyes. “Sally says Jim makes the rounds every night—Mocambo, Chasen’s, Ciro’s, Romanoff’s—a loner with a long face and a busted heart for the newspapers. He declaims to the nearest ears that I’ve destroyed his life, his home—and how would they feel if a New York producer gave their wife a mink coat that costs a fortune? Mom. It doesn’t matter about the little crumb who’s after him. I heard their voices on the detectives’ recording, and she’s so corny—pleading with him to marry her, guide her career. It’s like a cheesy B-picture. Doesn’t he know about his Amy? Everybody else does. Her reputation is in the public domain. She’s a tramp dressed like a little kid. She was a call girl in New York—exhibitions her specialty. Flynn, and even a New York doctor, told me they knew some of the guys she ‘entertained.’ She’s using Jim—can’t he see? It would be a giant step for her to get the Star Husband of the Year. You know something crazy? I can’t get myself to mention her to Jim. He thinks I don’t know about her. And he doesn’t mention Jeff. We’re both silent.”

Jim was furious: “Jesus, what are you talking about? I’m the best husband you’ll ever get!” I interrupted him. “Jim, listen—” “Do you want warmth? You’ve had everything you've wanted, haven’t you? Take a look in that garage; it’s wartime, remember? Anybody else got fifty pounds of coffee? Another thing, plenty of people are talking about you and Flynn, that bum, but it’s not true, because I, Jim Wilson, did not marry a bum! You hear that?” he yelled. “I, Jim Wilson, did not marry a bum!” He slammed the door shut and was gone. I was sitting up in bed, my lawyer standing by the window. He had been talking to me for over an hour about the division of property and finances. By law, everything we had should be divided, and the lawyer was urging me to use the proof I had against Amy O’Brien to get what was coming to me. I told him I couldn't prove anything. “I’ll sign it, whatever it is—let’s get it over with. I can’t stand the sight of him around the house any longer.” Jim moved to a rented house in Beverly Hills, and my family made a concentrated effort to get me on my feet again, but it was Jeff who forced the change. Many times a day he talked to me from New York. 

My former voice coach, Faye, told me one evening about Amy O'Brien: “Take my word. This one’s no fan, she’s got an overall plan.” I protested: “Jim’s too wise not to see through that. He’s always had fans drooling over him.” Faye spoke rapidly: “She’s after your old man, but I mean after. She’s beaded down, and she’s gonna leave no stone unturned. I’ve watched her operate. I’ve listened to her phone work, her set work, her commissary work, the whole megillah. This dear little starlet is a nose-to-the-grindstone hustler. She broke his former boyfriend's heart. She's a creepy kook. Now she’s started to work on Jim. She’s got a small role in his picture (Meet the People), but she’s on-the-spot every minute. I tell you, she’s a dangerous, determined tomato.” I remembered the first time I met Amy O'Brien. I had accompanied Jim to see a Broadway musical (Best Foot Forward) and like a shy little girl, Amy had descended from a staircase, and slowly, pigeon-toed, she walked to Jim and stood looking up at him, her hands clasped under her chin as though in prayer. “Jim Wilson, with all my heart I worship you, and I sleep with your letters under my pillow, and your pictures are everywhere I look in my little, lonely room.” Then she turned to me. “Forgive me,” she whispered. “Help yourself,” I answered, and the company laughed. Still gazing at Jim, her neck stretched upward, her eyes squinted and shining, she continued: “Always remember my name. Amy O’Brien, Amy O’Brien. Oh, please, please don’t forget me.” —Center Door Fancy (1973) by Joan Blondell

Friday, June 02, 2023

Happy 97th Anniversary, Marilyn Monroe!

“I knew and acted with Marilyn Monroe,” Niagara co-star and actor Joseph Cotten later wrote. “I am proud of having had that privilege. May she rest in peace.” “She did an awful lot to boost things up for movies, when everything was at a low state,” remarked actress Betty Grable, co-star of How to Marry a Millionaire. “There’ll never be anyone like her for looks, for attitude, for all of it.” “Nobody discovered her,” Twentieth Century-Fox Studios’ head Darryl F. Zanuck professed, “she earned her own way to stardom… I disagreed and fought with her on many occasions, but in spite of her temperament she never let the public down.” Evidence surfaced in the early 1990s demonstrating Fox was negotiating with Monroe’s attorney to rehire her during the summer of 1962 due in part to Robert F. Kennedy using his influence to get her reinstated by 20th CenturyFox Film studios.

What did Hyman Engelberg report in 1982? On September 27, 1982, Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office investigators Al Tomich and Robert Seiler interviewed Hyman and Miriam Engelberg at Engelberg’s office at 465 N. Roxbury Drive, Suite 1003, Beverly Hills. Engelberg identified himself as Monroe’s physician at time of her death and for approximately the last five years of her life. He directed his wife to retrieve Monroe’s medical file for specific information, but she was unable to locate it. Engelberg stated the file may have been released to the coroner’s office following Monroe’s death. According to Engelberg, he coordinated her treatment and medication with her psychiatrist, Dr. Greenson, who was considered the primary doctor in charge of her treatment. While working on Something’s Got to Give, Monroe suffered from a sinus infection, and Engelberg treated her with liver vitamin injections. He recalled visiting her residence on the evening of August 3, 1962, and administering such an injection, using a small needle on her arm. Engelberg also reported having prescribed Nembutal to Monroe as a sleep aid, regulated at one pill per day. On August 5, 1962, Engelberg was living alone in the West Los Angeles area and received a phone call at approximately 2:30 or 3:00 AM. He was awakened by call, but could not recall the caller’s identity, only that the caller informed him that Monroe had died. Engelberg stated he arrived at her residence about fifteen minutes after ending the call. Engelberg recounts entering Monroe’s residence and entering the master bedroom where he found Greenson. Engelberg observed Monroe “sprawled” on the bed. Monroe’s internist recounts his examination of the body for signs of life by using a stethoscope for heart rate and checking the eye pupils for a reaction to light. He determined she was dead. “Dr. Greenson knew anyway,” Engelberg says in the recording, “but I had to go through the motions.” In the recording of the excerpt of Engelblerg’s interview, the investigator states, “There was apparently quite a volume of pills that were discovered upon her death.” “Yes,” Engelberg affirms. “Do you recall looking at a list of those pills and were they all prescribed by you?” “Only one had been prescribed by me,” Engelberg responds. “I had prescribed Nembutal to help her sleep, but as I recall to the best of my ability, I was surprised to see at the side of her bed a large number of other sleeping pills which looked like Seconal, which she had apparently purchased on a recent trip to Mexico. It is my understanding that in Mexico you could go into any pharmacy and buy any tranquilizers or sleeping pills you wanted.” “Chloral hydrate specifically?” asks the investigator. “I didn’t notice that specifically,” Engelberg responds. “I know that the coroner told me after that they had found evidence of barbiturates and chloral hydrate. I knew nothing about any chloral hydrate. I never used chloral hydrate.” “So, you wrote her prescription for Nembutal only,” the investigator clarifies. “That was it,” Engelberg asserts. “The only prescription I wrote.” This is simply not true. The Los Angeles Coroner’s Report of Chemical Analysis report dated August 6, 1962, listed four vials of medications prescribed by Engelberg in addition to Nembutal (confirmed by prescriptions that subsequently were photographed or went to auction): • Librium 5 mg, 50 units prescribed on June 7, 1962. • Librium 10 mg, 100 units prescribed on July 10, 1962. • Chloral hydrate, 0.5 mg, 50 units prescribed on July 25, 1962, and refilled July 31, 1962. • Nembutal 1.5 gr., 25 units prescribed on August 3, 1962. • Phenergan 25 mg, 25 units prescribed on August 3, 1962. According to the investigator’s summary report of Engelberg’s interview, the physician “further stated he never prescribed chloral hydrate for his patients.” We now know that Engelberg lied about prescribing chloral hydrate to Monroe. The vial of this medication may have been found on her night table, as it was photographed by Barry Feinstein and published in LIFE and Paris-Match in 1962. Engelberg’s name, Monroe’s name, the date, and the name of the medication are visible on the label in the photograph. Additionally, on June 7, 1962, Engelberg prescribed Monroe one hundred units of chloral hydrate. Evidence of this came to light when the prescription was auctioned by Julien’s in Los Angeles on May 7, 2011.

An interview with Hyman Engelberg appears in the documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess, which aired on A&E network’s Biography television series on September 29, 1996. On camera, he reported his theory surrounding Monroe’s death, based upon his belief that Monroe called Peter Lawford in a cry for help. However, according to Lawford’s interviews by investigators in 1975 and 1982, Monroe had not initiated a call to Lawford, he called her. Engelberg explained his theory about Monroe’s symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and possible situational triggers in the documentary: "I believe she was in a manic phase and then something happened to suddenly depress her, and she grabbed pills there— she had plenty of pills at the bedside. I think she was suddenly depressed and in that sense it was intentional. Then, I think, she thought better of it when she felt herself going under because she called Peter Lawford. So, while it was intentional, at that time, I do believe that she changed her mind." Engelberg also discussed Monroe’s battle with Bipolar Disorder, which he referred to as manic depression, in the documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, released in 2001. “I had never given her Seconal,” Engelberg vehemently asserted in The Mortal Goddess. However, a prescription auctioned by Julien’s of Los Angeles on October 21, 2011, proves otherwise. Dated July 10, 1962, the prescription revealed Engelberg prescribed Monroe twenty-five units of Seconal, “one for sleep,” along with fifty units of Valmid, “one for sleep,” twenty-five units of Tuinal, “one for sleep,” and one hundred units of Librium, “as directed.” This totals two hundred pills. Again, Engelberg lied about the medications and quantities of medication he prescribed to Monroe in her final months. In the documentary’s interview, Engelberg denied prescribing Monroe chloral hydrate just as he had denied to Los Angeles District Attorney’s investigators prescribing her Seconal. “I never gave her chloral hydrate,” he asserted, “and I don’t think any doctor in the United States gave it to her.” Of course, we know this is simply not true. 

Following her divorce from Arthur Miller, Pat Newcomb supported Monroe through a major depressive episode resulting in two consecutive psychiatric hospitalizations in New York in early 1961. The publicist also assisted Joe DiMaggio in coordinating Monroe’s discharge from Payne Whitney Clinic in February, transfer to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital’s Neurological Institute, and discharge from the latter hospital in March. Newcomb maintained an apartment in Los Angeles on South Canon Drive when Monroe returned to the West Coast in the late summer of 1961 to resume her film career. Newcomb also accompanied Monroe to Mexico in February 1962 on a shopping spree for authentic furnishings, décor, and art for her recently purchased Spanish Colonial hacienda. Following Monroe’s termination from 20th Century-Fox Studios, Newcomb assisted her in emotionally rebounding and orchestrated a media blitz to salvage her career. Loyal, stable, and grounded, Newcomb spent Friday night, August 3, 1962, at Monroe’s hacienda. The publicist lounged by her host’s swimming pool beside a medicinal desert-air lamp. The lamp provided relief from bronchitis, asthma, and head colds. According to Newcomb and accounts provided by Eunice Murray and Dr. Greenson, Monroe was irritable on Saturday. Newcomb had slept soundly the previous night, and Monroe’s sleep had been disturbed. Newcomb went on record to state she believed Monroe’s irritability had not been related to the difference in their sleep patterns. In 1969, Newcomb co-founded Pickwick Public Relations with other prominent female agents including Lois Weber Smith (Monroe’s former publicist), Pat Kingsley, and Gerry Johnson. At the time, the motion picture studio system was ending, and studios no longer provided public relations services.

Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office investigator Al Tomich interviewed Patricia Newcomb at her residence on Hidden Valley Road in Beverly Hills on September 7, 1982. Newcomb described Monroe as a “very secretive and suspicious person.” In response to investigator’s questions, Newcomb stated Monroe did not relate to her any romantic relationships with John F. Kennedy or Robert F. Kennedy. Newcomb recounted spending the night at Monroe’s residence on Friday, August 3, 1962, at Monroe’s suggestion because Monroe had a heat lamp to alleviate the publicist’s symptoms of bronchitis. Newcomb recalled accompanying Monroe to a restaurant in Santa Monica or Brentwood. She described Monroe’s mood that night as “very up” and observed her “laughing.” They returned to Monroe’s residence after dinner where Newcomb spent the night. Newcomb surmised Monroe’s anger was clearly not really triggered by the difference in their sleep pattern. On Saturday, August 4, Newcomb utilized Monroe’s heat lamp and also observed Dr. Greenson’s arrival at Monroe’s residence in the late afternoon. When Greenson later exited Monroe’s bedroom, he told Newcomb it would be better if she left. She followed his directive and departed. Newcomb described Eunice Murray as “very strange.” Newcomb also reported no knowledge of Murray being a psychiatric nurse. According to Newcomb, Monroe’s closest confidante was Ralph Roberts. Newcomb told investigators that she believed Monroe’s death was accidental. Newcomb was aware that Dr. Hyman Engelberg was supposed to advise Dr. Ralph Greenson of when Monroe requested medication. Newcomb had heard from an unknown source that Monroe’s last prescription from Engelberg was not reported to Greenson because Engelberg was experiencing “other problems and forgot.” [Engelberg separated from his wife Esther on May 5, 1962, and the couple’s divorce was finalized June 11, 1964.] Monroe and Newcomb were four years apart and became close personal friends outside of their professional affiliation. As a result of this emotional connection, Newcomb was personally protective of Monroe. She took personal offense to the media’s crass exploitation of Monroe’s death after which she immediately left her position at Arthur P. Jacobs Company. Newcomb remained loyal to Monroe by refusing to publish a memoir about her knowledge about Monroe’s life despite multiple lucrative offers. Columnist Dorothy Manners reported in the 1960s that Newcomb refused a sizeable sum to sell her memories of Monroe to the press. The former publicist has been widely criticized for not publicly responding to every inane rumor about Monroe’s life broadcast in the media over the last sixty years. 

Critics fail to consider Pat Newcomb as a member of Monroe’s chosen family who experienced a deep personal loss and labored to achieve healing and closure. Newcomb responded to my calls by defending herself for the first time after three decades of rumors: "The Kennedys never gave me a dime, never offered me anything, and never made a job available to me. On the afternoon of the day Marilyn died, I had been with her, but her psychiatrist advised me to go home, because he wanted to talk with her. I did go home and was awakened at 4 in the morning by the lawyer Mickey Rudin. He told me Marilyn was dead—an overdose. I rushed to Marilyn’s house. The press was there, and I did become overwrought and yell at them, calling them “vultures.” Patricia Newcomb said of Monroe. “But of course, she was under the care of a psychiatrist, and never should have been given as many Nembutal pills as she was given by Dr. Engelberg. Engelberg was supposed to let Greenson know if he gave her such a prescription but that week, he was having trouble with his wife and he forgot about it. It is hard to understand negligence such as that. If there is any doctor to blame, it’s Engelberg.” The author upholds Patricia Newcomb’s privacy and reveals only that she has acknowledged to him her devotion for Monroe and her knowledge of Monroe’s deep emotional pain. 

According to Ralph Roberts, Dr. Greenson appeared heavily influential in Monroe’s life; she seriously considered his recommendation to sever several relationships and placed herself entirely in his hands. Once Greenson secured Eunice Murray as Monroe’s selected companion in the autumn of 1961, he maneuvered Roberts’ distance from Monroe. One November afternoon as Roberts sat in his car parked at the curb outside Greenson’s residence, waiting to drive Monroe home from a session, she climbed into the car sobbing. “Dr. Greenson thinks you should go back to New York,” she wept. “He has chosen someone else to be a companion for me. He said that two Ralphs in my life are one too many…” Trusting Greenson’s judgment, neither Monroe nor Roberts protested. Roberts later described Murray as intimidating, manipulative, and divisive of Monroe and her friends. Roberts and Monroe conspired to maintain their close association by scheduling massage appointments after nine o’clock in the evening, after Murray had gone home. Roberts typically entered the home without ringing the doorbell. On one awkward occasion, Roberts and Greenson accidently confronted each other, and the doctor grimaced with disapproval. Roberts also stated Monroe did not keep a diary in her last year. He described her as sometimes disoriented and disorganized. Roberts denied observing Monroe consuming alcohol except for champagne and never observed her intoxicated. He reported that during Monroe’s last months of life, she took chloral hydrate for sleep. Peter Lawford went on record three times to report his last telephone conversation with Marilyn Monroe in what may have been her last moments of consciousness. This connection has led many to assume Lawford and Monroe were longtime close friends. This simply is inaccurate. 

An attractive and desirable playboy in his youth, Lawford had been romantically linked to Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, and Ava Gardner. According to publicist Rupert Allan, Monroe never truly liked or trusted Lawford but shared a friendly association with his wife. Patricia Kennedy Lawford was allegedly smitten with Monroe’s warm personality and celebrity, and like most of Monroe’s friends, wanted to protect and take care of her. Patricia Lawford was vibrant, lighthearted, and acerbic. She especially enjoyed making Monroe laugh. Eunice Murray, Monroe’s housekeeper/companion in the last nine months of her life, overheard Monroe’s telephone conversations with Patricia Lawford and perceived the President’s sister as Monroe’s best friend. “Marilyn had a quiet voice and she would smile at me and head out to walk on the sand with my mom,” Christopher Lawford wrote in Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption. “My mother told me Marilyn was like her ‘little sister.’ It surprised her that Marilyn was so open with her. My mom didn’t come from an environment where emotions and feelings were openly shared. Marilyn Monroe trusted my mother’s love for her.” Christopher recalled Monroe teaching him to dance the Twist in his living room when he was still a toddler. Peter Lawford reported he had phoned Monroe but she was tired and wasn’t going to be able to come to dinner. From her slurred voice, Lawford recognized that she was nearly asleep from pills… Monroe’s voice trailed off, and the phone apparently dropped from her hand. Lawford wanted to go to Monroe’s home but was dissuaded by agent Milton Ebbins. Rupert Allan never believed Monroe would have called Lawford in an emergency. Allan said that Monroe despised Lawford, and her only connection to him was the close relationship she had with Patricia Kennedy Lawford. Allan asserted Monroe would more likely have turned to Patricia if in crisis. Furthermore, Monroe wouldn’t have tried to reach Patricia at the beach since she was aware her friend was visiting Hyannis Port. In all likelihood, Marilyn’s last contact with a human being was the voice of an operator informing her that Mr. Ralph Roberts was out for the evening. At 7:00 or 8:00 PM, Lawford called Monroe again to ascertain the reason she had not yet arrived. Lawford described her as sounding “very despondent,” and her voice was “slurred.” When Monroe’s voice became inaudible, Lawford yelled into the telephone to “revive” her, describing it as a “verbal slap in the face.” Monroe told him she was very tired and would not be coming to his residence. Lawford told investigators that Monroe said, “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to Jack, and say goodbye to yourself because you’re a nice guy.” When the phone went dead, Lawford assumed Monroe ended the call. He tried redialing several times, but her phone line was busy each time. Lawford described having had a “gut” feeling something was wrong and said: “I still blame myself for not going to her home that night.” 

Lawford reported first meeting Monroe in 1951 and described her as shy and introverted. He told investigators Monroe experienced episodes of depression during which she withdrew and isolated from others. Lawford was unable to estimate the frequency of these depressive episodes. In her last years, Lawford observed Monroe taking pills but was unaware of the medications prescribed to her. He speculated that she took a sleeping medication named Placidyl. Lawford also stated Monroe drank champagne but was “not a drunk.” According to Lawford, his former wife, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, met Monroe in 1958, and both women became “close friends.” Patricia attempted to help Monroe reduce her intake of pills and suggested Monroe use Dramamine as an alternative to more dangerous drugs. The President and Monroe never engaged in a romantic relationship, Lawford asserted. Also, Lawford told investigators Monroe and Robert Kennedy were not engaged in a romantic relationship either. When Lawford called Monroe at 7:00 PM, her phone was busy for thirty minutes. He called the operator who told him Monroe’s phone was off the hook. Lawford then called Milton Ebbins, his agent, and expressed his concern about her. Lawford instructed Ebbins to contact Monroe’s attorney, Milton Rudin, and psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, to check on her well-being. Lawford consistently reported in interviews documented in 1962 and 1975 that he had initiated the last telephone call to Monroe. “We all knew Marilyn took too many pills and was drinking heavily,” Ebbins recalled. “I suggested we could call Milton Rudin, Marilyn’s attorney, and her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, and ask them to go to her house. I talked to Milton about Peter’s apprehension.” As corroborated by Eunice Murray’ statement to the police, Milton Rudin called Monroe’s house. Ebbins recalled Rudin called him at 7:30 to say he had spoken to Murray “who said she had looked in on Marilyn.” According to Ebbins, “Murray told Milton, ‘She does this every night. She takes the pills, calls somebody and falls asleep. She’s fine.’” Lawford’s telephone calls to Ebbins continued into the night. “Peter called me twice more when he was getting a little drunk,” Ebbins recalled, “expressing his fear that Marilyn was very ill. Peter called me once after midnight and he was bombed.” One can imagine Rudin advising both Dr. Greenson and Dr. Engelberg as the psychiatrist and the internist discussed the medications discovered in Monroe’s home, some of which were contraindicated, and some prescribed by Engelberg without Greenson’s knowledge. The following is a transcription of a recording of Milton Ebbins’ interview with biographer Anthony Summers archived at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills: "Peter Lawford invited her to dinner that Saturday night. He asked me to come out. I stayed home watching TV. Then he called me and told me that Marilyn was not going to come because she was tired. She wanted to have a sandwich and go to bed. And then he said he got a phone call from her. It was quite a strange phone call. She had obviously taken some medication to sleep which she did whenever she went to bed. It was about 8 o’clock at night and she talked, kind of rambled along, she told Peter how marvelous everybody and the Kennedys were, and she loved his wife Pat. And all of a sudden, the phone went dead. So, Peter called back, and he said he got a busy signal. So, he called the operator, and she said the phone was out of order. I know Jack Kennedy and Robert weren’t going to kill her. That's absurd. They were very fond of Marilyn Monroe."

Monroe reportedly received telephone calls congratulating her on the interview with Richard Meryman on the topic of fame, published in the August 3rd issue of LIFE magazine currently on newsstands. Meryman was clearly touched by the charismatic child-woman he discovered at her home on Fifth Helena Drive. He recorded memories in an article titled “A Last Long Talk with a Lonely Girl” published in LIFE shortly after Monroe’s death and in an HBO documentary Marilyn: The Last Interview (1992). Meryman perceived “the house was saturated in paranoia,” with an eerie “me-against-the-world” quality. Aside from finding Monroe to be surprisingly unsexy, he was astounded by her excellent taste in decorating. Meryman especially admired a Chinese horse carved from wood from San Francisco’s China Town. When he had difficulty setting up his tape recorder, Monroe offered help and the use of the recorder given to her by poet Norman Rosten. At midnight during the interview, Monroe suggested grilling steaks. They searched the refrigerator for food but found it nearly empty. In Dr. Robert Litman’s first interview with Dr. Greenson on the day prior to Monroe’s funeral, Geenson summarized his history of treating her. Monroe’s psychiatrist reported first providing services to her in late 1959, during the filming of Let's Make Love (1960) directed by George Cukor. 

The psychiatrist told Litman that Monroe exhibited “extremely weak psychological structures” and further described her as “extremely impulsive, she felt unimportant and derived self-confidence from her beauty.” Apparently, Monroe shared with Greenson her perception of the most important aspect of her life being her acting profession. Litman went on to document Greenson’s description of Monroe having “neurotic complaints” and “extreme sensitivity to rejection.” In Litman’s second interview with Greenson, one-week later, on August 14, Greenson “made it clear she was not a drug addict.” Engelberg, who was in charge of the prescription of medication while Dr. Greenson handled the psychotherapy, began to cautiously try out Nembutal again to help Miss Monroe sleep.” Interestingly, in the four-page letter, Litman wrote of a third doctor involved in Monroe’s care: “Unknown to Greenson, however, Miss Monroe obtained sleeping pills from two doctors. Furthermore, the two doctors did not know that she was getting pills from the other one. She received a prescription for 25 Nembutal tablets from Dr. Siegel (filled August 3, 1962 and found empty in her bedroom), and 50 chloral hydrate capsules refilled July 31 from Dr. Engelberg. Litman also confirmed that when he interviewed Engelberg in 1962, Engelberg stated he may have prescribed Nembutal to Monroe. Finally, Litman also reported having interviewed Dr. Siegel in 1962, who stated he prescribed more Nembutal. However, only the prescription number on the Nembutal vial’s label #20858 was recorded on the toxicology report. Another prescription number corresponds with prescription #20857, visible on the surviving prescription for Phenergan dated August 3, 1962, and signed by Engelberg. This appears to prove that Engelberg wrote at least these two prescriptions for Monroe on the same day. If Dr. Lou Seigel had also prescribed Nembutal to Monroe around the same time, the vial of this supply of the medication was not documented by the authorities. 

Stanley J. Coen’s article, “Narcissistic Temptations to Cross Boundaries and How to Manage Them” (published in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Associate) referenced Dr. Greenson’s apparent countertransference in the life of his arguably most impressive and tempting patient. Without passing judgment on Greenson, Coen identified the warning signs of the amount of time the doctor devoted to Monroe at the expense of other patients and his family, his involvement in her career, and his talking about her with others. In his article, published in 2007, Coen explored the rarely studied danger of an analyst’s narcissistic neediness; steering treatment away from the patient’s needs and toward the analyst’s own needs, seemingly describing Dr. Greenson and Monroe’s dynamic. An analyst may find a patient “impressive” by her celebrity, power, wealth, attractiveness, sexiness, and youth. He may inflate one or more of these features into making the impressive patient and himself somehow special and wanted to share the patient’s world. The analyst may also attempt to manage his own feelings of both envy of and separateness from his impressive patient by overly identifying with her. Coen pinpointed Dr. Ralph Greenson died on November 24, 1979, three years before the Los Angeles District Attorney’s threshold probe into the death of his most famous patient. However, he went on record to discuss his perceptions in two interviews with Dr. Robert E. Litman on August 7 and 14, 1962, and in correspondence with Dr. Marianne Kris dated August 20, 1962. Eleven years after Monroe’s death, in response to Norman Mailer’s explosive mainstream allegation of her murder, Greenson also consented to an in-depth interview with biographer Maurice Zolotow. 

The interview was published in articles titled Marilyn Monroe’s Psychiatrist: Trying to Untarnish Her Memory, and Mailer’s Book Upsets Leading Psychiatrist. Greenson’s letter to Dr. Marianne Kris, dated August 20, 1962, referenced his reported unawareness of Monroe’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, having recently prescribed a barbiturate to their mutual patient. “On Friday night she had told the internist that I had said it was all right for her to take some Nembutal,” Greenson wrote, “and he had given it to her without checking with me, because he had been upset for his own personal reasons.” Greenson implied that Monroe had successfully manipulated her internist into prescribing medication through deception that Greenson had approved it. Regardless, Engelberg failed to inform the psychiatrist. Greenson’s letter to Dr. Marianne Kris contained additional details of his last or near last interaction with Monroe. “I was aware that she was annoyed with me,” he wrote. “She often became annoyed when I did not absolutely agree with her. She was angry with me. I told her we would talk more, that she should call me on Sunday morning.” Monroe may have indirectly informed Greenson of her access to Nembutal and provided an opportunity for him to further question her. This is likely the main crux of the case and a pivotal moment in the constellation of events that ultimately led to her death. Based on Greenson’s letter to Dr. Kris, he overlooked questioning Monroe about Nembutal in that moment and failed to reconcile her supply and access to dangerous medication. Since Greenson went on record stating he believed Engelberg had discontinued prescribing barbiturates to Monroe, it was incumbent upon him to pause after Monroe’s mention of Nembutal and further assess the situation. Greenson also admitted in the letter to Dr. Kris that he was “being led by countertransference feelings.” 

“She was a borderline schizophrenic. If I behaved in a way which hurt her,” Greenson wrote of Monroe in his letter to Dr. Kris, “she acted as though it was the end of the world and could not rest until peace had been re-established, but peace could mean reconciliation and death.” The last statement is cryptic; what is the meaning of “reconciliation and death”? Maurice Zolotow’s 1973 article also quoted the Greenson’s inference about Monroe’s intent in ingesting the overdose: "I will always believe it was an accidental suicide because her hand was on receiver, her finger still in the dial. I am convinced she was trying to phone me. If only she had reached me! Many times, she called me at 2, 3, 4 a.m.—countless times. She was trying to call me as she had so many times before. I can assure you that, contrary to Norman Mailer’s speculations, Marilyn did not have any important emotional involvement with Robert Kennedy or any other man at this time. Marilyn Monroe died of an accidental overdose of barbiturates. She was a good human being. She was a lost and very lonely woman who had never gotten over being a waif. It is a tragedy that her artistic achievement as an actress, and all the wealth and fame it brought her, did not give her peace. She had a good future ahead of her. She was making progress. If only she had completed that call to me." By 1973, Dr. Greenson had no hesitancy in telling Maurice Zolotow, “I can assure you that, contrary to Norman Mailer’s speculations, Marilyn did not have any important emotional relationship with Robert Kennedy or any other man at this time.” 

Borderline Personality Disorder was a diagnosis first accepted by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980 and first appearing in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Third edition. “It was just devastating,” Joan Greenson told Christopher Turner of The Telegraph in 2010 regarding the impact of Monroe’s death on her father. “I don’t think my father ever got over it… He had never had a patient die before that he was taking care of other than from a natural death.” We can only imagine Greenson’s emotional reaction of knowing Monroe had asked him if he had seen her vial of Nembutal and acknowledging his failure to act. Did Greenson and Engelberg realize Monroe had obtained medication from a third physician, Dr. Lou Seigel? We can only imagine Engelberg’s reaction to the consequences of his oversight in informing Greenson of his recent prescription of Nembutal or Greenson possibly confronting Engelberg on his collusion with Monroe and resulting in her death. ―Icon: What Killed Marilyn Monroe, Volume One (2023) by Gary Vitacco-Robles