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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Lawford’

Actress Elizabeth Taylor had stunning beauty. She was such a gorgeous little girl that, when people would see her for the first time, they would gasp in astonishment, staring at her sapphire eyes wreathed in thick black lashes and the shiny black hair framing her porcelain face.  “What a pretty child !” they would exclaim, prompting the well-rehearsed Elizabeth to curtsey and smile.

Elizabeth Taylor in “Lassie Come Home,” 1943.

But Elizabeth was not always gorgeous, said her mother, Sara Taylor, a former stage actress. She considered Elizabeth to be quite an ugly baby when born in London on February 27, 1932.

Sara Taylor cradles her newborn daughter, the future movie queen Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

At first glance at her newborn, Sara was repulsed:

“As the precious bundle was placed in my arms, my heart stood still. There inside the cashmere shawl was the funniest-looking baby I had ever seen. Her hair was long and black. Her ears were covered with thick black fuzz, and inlaid into the sides of her head….”(1)

Baby Elizabeth’s arms, shoulders, and back were covered with a thick downy pelt called lanugo, not uncommon in newborns.

“The infant looked like a little monkey,” remembered Viennese art dealer and family friend Ernest Lowy. (2)

Compounding the problem, Elizabeth’s eyes were screwed tightly shut. For ten days, the doctor tried to pry them open unsuccessfully, finding only the whites visible. Then one day, Baby Elizabeth suddenly snapped open her eyes and gazed up at her new mother. Sara found herself gazing down into two pools of deep violet fringed by thick black lashes – double rows of lashes! Then the baby smiled. Sara considered this a special greeting from her daughter and told the nurse so. The nurse chuckled, reminding Mrs. Taylor that infants can’t express emotion:

“That was no smile,” the nurse indicated, “only a little gas.” (3)

Elizabeth Taylor in profile, ca. 1934

The dark fuzz fell off and a swan emerged.

Elizabeth Taylor didn’t begin to walk until she was 16 months old. She is shown here with one of the many dogs for which she cared during her lifetime. ca.1934-35

 

As a young girl, Elizabeth Taylor had a big head on a little body. “What a podge!” she remarked, upon seeing a young photo of herself. 1934.

 

Peter Lawford and Elizabeth Taylor in this publicity shot for "Julia Misbehaves" (1948). In this unretouched 1950 publicity photo, one can see La Liz's arms were covered in a dark and velvety down, in keeping with her being a beautiful brunette.

Peter Lawford and Elizabeth Taylor in this publicity shot for “Julia Misbehaves” (1948). In this unretouched 1950 publicity photo, one can see La Liz’s arms were covered in a dark and velvety down, in keeping with her being a beautiful brunette.

 

(1) Ladies’ Home Journal,  March- April 1954.

(2) Heymann, C. David. Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1995, 2011.

(3)  Walker, Alexander. Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor. New York: Grove Press, 1990, 1997.

Readers: For more on Elizabeth Taylor on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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L-R: Actor Robert Wagner, his wife Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981) and host Frank Sinatra (in eyepatch) pose together during a surprise 21st birthday party held for Wood at Romanoff's, Hollywood, California, July 20, 1959. (Photo by Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

It was New Year’s Eve, 1958, and Peter and Pat Kennedy Lawford were celebrating at a private party at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, a popular spot with Hollywood stars. The Lawfords sat at the most prestigious table in the room with Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, and Robert Wagner. Pat was dazzled by Sinatra’s charm and basked in his attention. Sinatra was thrilled to be in the presence of the sister of the fast-rising Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Host Frank Sinatra (L) wears an eyepatch, laughing with actor Peter Lawford and his wife Patricia Kennedy (1924 - 2006) during a surprise 21st birthday party held for actor Natalie Wood at Romanoff's, Hollywood, California, July 20, 1959. (Photo by Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

Pat had only known Sinatra since August, when she met him at a dinner party at the home of Gary and Rocky Cooper. Since then, Sinatra had swept the Lawfords up into his orbit.

“Sinatra suddenly stood at the center of Pat’s and Peter’s lives.” [1]

Sinatra had become such a fixture in Pat’s world that, by the time she gave  birth on November 4, she decided to give new baby Victoria the middle name of Francis, in honor of her newest and dearest friend, Francis Albert Sinatra. 

The Lawfords not only saw Frank at least twice during the week, but, on many weekends – at Frank’s insistence – they made the 120-mile drive from their Santa Monica home to his Palm Springs estate. The Lawfords always kept the same bedroom at Sinatra’s Rancho Mirage compound. Frank made the Lawfords so at ease that they left some of their casual clothing in the bedroom closet.

Back at Romanoff’s, the new year was blowing in chilly and Pat was wearing a low-cut gown. As the night worn on, she and Natalie grew weary. But Sinatra didn’t want the night to end. He suggested they move the party to his place – two-and-half hours away at Rancho Mirage! Pat gasped at the dread thought. It was only a fifteen minute drive from Romanoff’s to her home!

Peter Lawford recalls the evening:

T

Teen idol Frank Sinatra, caricature by Al Hirschfeld

When [Sinatra] went to the gents’ room, the girls said that it was too chilly to go that night. They preferred driving in the morning, but then we said, ‘Who’s going to tell him?’ Knowing his temper, Pat out and out refused to say anything, and Natalie didn’t even want to be in the same room when he was told. Finally, R.J. [Robert Wagner] insisted that I be the one to do it, so when Frank got back to the table, I explained as gracefully as I could that we’d prefer joining him in the morning.

Well, he went absolutely nuts. ‘If that’s the way you want it, fine,’ he said, slamming his drink on the floor and storming out of the restaurant.

I rang him up the next morning and his valet…answered and whispered hello. He said that Frank was still asleep because he hadn’t gotten to bed until five a.m. Then he said, ‘Oh, Mr. Lawford. What happened last night? I better tell you that he’s pissed. Really pissed off. He went to your closet and took out all the clothes that you and your wife keep here and ripped them into shreds and then threw them into the swimming pool.’ That gives you an idea of Frank’s temper….” (2)

Evidently, Frank first tried to make a bonfire of the Lawford’s clothes.  But the fire wouldn’t get going, so, frustrated,  he tossed everything in the pool. (1)

Peter was distraught at the loss of his favorite aged blue jeans. Pat consoled him. “We’ll age another pair. Just make sure you don’t take them down to Frank’s.” (1)

 

(1) Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1994.

(2) Kelley, Kitty. His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

Readers, for more on Frank Sinatra on Lisa’s History Room, check out: “Sinatra: From Donkey to Elephant”

Readers, for more on Natalie Wood on Lisa’s History room, click here

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President John F. Kennedy and singer Frank Sinatra at the 1961 Inaugural Gala

Singer and film star Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) grew up poor and lower class in Hoboken, New Jersey. Once he made it big in showbiz (thanks to help from his Mafia cronies), he obsessed about fitting in with the upper class. He wormed his way into politics, using his Hollywood star power to campaign and fundraise for Democratic heavyweights such as Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. In attaching himself to men of honor, Sinatra hoped to achieve the respectability he craved.

Sinatra had cultivated a relationship with President Kennedy through movie star Peter Lawford, who was married to the president’s sister, Pat.

Pat Kennedy Lawford and British actor Peter Lawford

In March 1962, the president was scheduled to fly to Southern California. Peter Lawford asked Sinatra to be the president’s host at his Palm Springs estate. Sinatra was thrilled. He went straight to work. At his own expense, Sinatra installed a helicopter pad, cottages for the Secret Service, and even a flagpole for the presidential flag.

But the president’s brother Bobby Kennedy wasn’t having it. He was the Attorney General of the United States at the time. When he heard about his brother Jack’s proposed stay at Sinatra’s, he went ballistic. Bobby was making the “most single-minded attack on organized crime in American history” and could not abide Jack associating with someone with mob connections. (1) Peter was the one chosen to tell Sinatra that the president would not be staying with him.

Sinatra did not take the news well. He had a notoriously explosive temper:

“Sinatra vented his spleen by destroying the concrete landing pad with a sledgehammer. He applied a different kind of sledgehammer to his friendship with Peter and Pat [Lawford], banning them from his company….Jack ended up staying at the home of Bing Crosby. Marilyn Monroe flew down to be with the president, spending the night in his bedroom….”

Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe ca. 1961-62

(l. to r.) Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, ca. 1961-62

…and Frank Sinatra became a Republican.

(1) Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Fawcett Books, 1994.

For more on Sinatra, check out “Sinatra: Pants on Fire!”

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American Royalty: President John and Jackie Kennedy stroll the White House grounds.

American Royalty: President John and Jackie Kennedy stroll the White House grounds.

It was a star-studded event. It was Saturday, May 19, 1962, and the young, dashing, and popular U.S. President John F. Kennedy was turning 45. The Democratic Party held a huge fundraiser at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The birthday salute was televised before a national audience and 15,000 people had paid for seats to catch the show live at the Garden. The cream of American show business turned out to pay homage to Kennedy – Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Jack Benny, Henry Fonda, Harry Belafonte. Greek opera diva Maria Callas was also there. Actor Peter Lawford, the president’s brother-in-law, served as master-of-ceremonies. But the pièce de résistance – the showstopper – was the performer who sang the finale – sexpot and film star Marilyn Monroe.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy riding horses with her children at their Middleburg, Virginia, retreat "Glen Ora." Jackie grew up surrounded by horses and was an accomplished equestrian. President John Kennedy did not share her passion for horse shows and riding. He was allergic to horse fur. November 19, 1962.

First Lady Jackie Kennedy riding horses with her children at their Middleburg, Virginia, retreat "Glen Ora." Jackie grew up surrounded by horses and was an accomplished equestrian. President John Kennedy did not share her passion for horse shows and riding. He was allergic to horse hair. November 19, 1962.

It seemed that everyone was there – except the honoree’s wife – Jackie Kennedy. The president attended the ceremony without the First Lady at his side. When Jackie had learned that Marilyn was to be performing at the benefit, she decided she was not about to attend. She instead became a last-minute participant in the Loudoun Hunt Horse Show at Glen Ora, her weekend home.  Jackie knew that her husband and Marilyn Monroe were lovers – and Jackie was not about to have her nose rubbed into it in front of a national audience.

Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) was wild for Jack Kennedy. She accepted the invitation to appear in New York in violation of her contract with Twentieth-Century Fox – and their relationship was already at its breaking point. Production on her latest film, “Something’s Got to Give,” had been on start/stop for months due to Marilyn’s chronic tardiness and absence.  Marilyn was in a narcotics and booze nosedive and living on impulse. She was in hot pursuit of Jack Kennedy and nothing would get in her way. She was scheduled to sing “Happy Birthday” to the president.

Marilyn Monroe in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" (1963)

Marilyn Monroe in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" (1953)

“A manic energy propelled her….” wrote Barbara Leaming in Marilyn Monroe:

“All weekend, the white-carpeted, unfurnished rooms at Fifth Helena echoed with Marilyn’s whispery voice. She lay in the tub singing “Happy Birthday.” She sat on the living room floor, endlessly tape recording and listening to herself….” (1)

Then, ignoring the studio’s stern warning, Marilyn flew from Hollywood to New York with Peter Lawford, singing on the airplane. She continued to practice once in her New York apartment. Those who listened said her interpretation grew sexier, more and more outrageous. Friend Paula Strasberg warned that it verged on self-parody.

Finally, the night of the performance arrived. Backstage, Marilyn got into her costume – a flesh-toned slip of a dress by Jean-Louis sewn with 2500 rhinestones. The gown was so snug Marilyn had to be sewn into it. Paralyzed with stage fright, Marilyn kept ignoring her cue to appear on stage. She hung back, drowning her fears in alcohol, before Milt Ebbins shoved her onto the stage.

“She walked like a geisha….” (1)

“The figure was famous and, for one breathless moment, the 15,000 people in Madison Square Garden thought they were going to see all of it. Onto the stage sashayed Marilyn Monroe, attired in a great bundle of white mink. Arriving at the lectern, she turned and swept the furs from her shoulders. A slight gasp rose from the audience before it was realized that she was really wearing a skintight flesh-toned gown.” (2)

Marilyn Monroe at the microphone singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," at President John F. Kennedy's birthday bash, May 19, 1962.

Marilyn Monroe at the microphone singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," at President John F. Kennedy's birthday bash, May 19, 1962.

When she came down in that flesh-colored dress, without any underwear on…” said Hugh Sidey of Time, “you could just smell lust. I mean, Kennedy went limp or something. We all were just stunned to see this woman.”

“What an ass…what an ass,” whispered Kennedy.

“Happy…Birthday…to you,” Marilyn began to sing [whisper]. (3)

Her rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mister President” – was soft, seductive, and pathetic. The 35-year-old Marilyn was high as a kite (and wearing a wig that was slipping). Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen called it nothing less than:

 “…making love to the President in the direct view of forty million Americans.”

President John F. Kennedy speaks to the audience at Madison Square Garden at his 45th birthday bash, May 19, 1962.

President John F. Kennedy speaks to the audience at Madison Square Garden at his 45th birthday bash, May 19, 1962.

At the end of the performance, a noticeably-embarrassed President Kennedy took to the stage and announced disingenuously:

“I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet wholesome way.”  (2)

At an after-party, a photographer caught President Kennedy and brother Robert Kennedy hovering over Marilyn in the library, still wearing the see-through dress Marilyn called “skin and beads.”  

Bobby Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and President John Kennedy gather following Monroe's iconic performance of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," at Madison Square Garden, May 19, 1962. Marilyn is still wearing the gown she wore in the performance which she referred to as "skin and beads."

Bobby Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and President John Kennedy gather following Monroe's iconic performance of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," at Madison Square Garden, May 19, 1962. Marilyn is still wearing the gown she wore in the performance which she referred to as "skin and beads." The auction house Christie's later sold this dress for $1.2 million, the most money ever paid for a dress.

Kennedy’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, was at the party and saw Marilyn’s “skin and beads” dress. He later wrote to Mary Lasker:

“I didn’t see the beads!”

Greek opera diva Maria Callas laughs it up with Marilyn Monroe at President Kennedy's 45th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden, May  19, 1962. Marilyn Monroe was President Kennedy's lover. Maria Callas was the off-and-on lover of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy's 2nd husband.

Greek opera diva Maria Callas (1923-1977) laughs it up with blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe at President Kennedy's 45th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden, May 19, 1962. First Lady Jackie Kennedy did not attend the celebration. Marilyn Monroe was President Kennedy's lover when Jackie was Mrs. Kennedy. Maria Callas was the clandestine lover of Aristotle Onassis when Jackie was Mrs. Onassis.

Jackie Kennedy watched Marilyn’s performance on TV the next day. She was livid. The rumors about Jack and Marilyn were flying. Jackie called up sister-in-law Ethel Kennedy and complained that she just knew Bobby had staged the prank. Jackie ordered Jack to stop seeing Marilyn. (4) Jack also sent word to the press that there was nothing to the rumors of an extramarital affair between him and Marilyn Monroe, which, we know, was a lie.

President Kennedy broke off the relationship with Marilyn. Her performance at Madison Square Garden became her last public appearance. Marilyn became profoundly affected by the break-up with the President and her loss of  other men, including ex-husband Arthur Miller, who had recently remarried.

As a result, the summer following the Madison Square Garden show,  Marilyn dove deeper and deeper into a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol, storm and stress, and depressed isolation. Out of necessity, the production of her film, “Something’s Got to Give” came to a halt, because the star was a “no-show” on the set.

 The movie was never finished. On August 5, Marilyn Monroe – born Norma Jeane Baker – was found dead in her home from a drug overdose – an apparent suicide – and the world was shocked.

Goodbye, Norma Jean

Goodbye, Norma Jeane

(1) Leaming, Barbara. Marilyn Monroe. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.

(2) Smith, Sally Bedell.Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House. New York: Random House, Inc., 2004. (excerpted from a Time magazine article)

(3) Klein, Edward. All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.

(4) Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Jackie Ethel Joan. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 2000.

*Readers: I’ve written many posts on Jackie O and the Kennedys. Please look in the right sidebar – Categories – People – the Kennedys. Enjoy!

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