Going to the Chapel of the Stars

A popular GI slogan during World War II was “I want a girl just like a girl that married Harry James.”

Here’s looking at you!

That girl was Betty Grable.  Everyone was crazy for her.  Ten million copies of her dressed in a one-piece, backless swimsuit, smiling coyly over her shoulder, were distributed, and the poster was plastered on billboards and barrack walls everywhere.

When the couple met, she was the number one actress at the box office. He was the leader of the country’s hottest band and universally regarded as the greatest trumpet player in the world.  After extricating herself from her relationship with actor George Raft (a public  fist fight he lost to James took care of that) and he got a quickie Mexican divorce from his first wife, they made plans to marry quietly at the Little Church of the West on the grounds of the Frontier Hotel, giving rise to the myth that they were the first celebrity couple to wed there.

But it wasn’t so.

The ardent fans and eager photographers who crowded the grounds so put off the soon-to-be newlyweds that they retreated to their hotel.  A Baptist minister performed the ceremony in their room in the early hours of July 5, 1943.  Despite James’ penchant for drinking, gambling, and philandering, they were married for twenty-two years.

Still, the Little Church of the West does have a roster of famous names who crossed its threshold to marital bliss, if only for a short period of time, giving it the nickname “Chapel of the Stars.”  Here are some of them.

Zsa Zsa Gabor married British actor George Sanders in 1949.  While he was purportedly the love of her life, they divorced in 1954.  By the way, Gabor also married her sixth and seventh husbands in Las Vegas.  As we all know, those marriages didn’t work out either.

Back at you!

Judy Garland took Mark Herron to be her fourth, but not her last, husband in an impromptu, middle of the night ceremony in 1965.  He left her several months later when he learned that he was responsible for half of her debts.

For one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford showed up casually dressed in 1991.  Their marriage ended in 1995 due to personality differences.  He was a Buddhist, and she wasn’t.

And there’s Angelina Jolie and Billie Bob Thornton who wed in 2000.  They took up wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks, purchased joint grave plots, and shared a love of tattoos.  Just over two years after they had gotten together, Billy Bob took off on tour to promote his rock album and Angelina stayed home with baby.

For a Vegas wedding among the stars that didn’t come off exactly as planned, Betty and Harry didn’t do so badly after all.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


To hear Harry James play “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” click here:


Wedding Bell Blues: The Power of the Pen

Is reading believing? Photo by: brody4

One advantage celebrities have over everyone else is name recognition.  In divorce situations, this means they can tell and sell their story from their point of view, reaping revenge with a capital “R.”

Eddie Fisher didn’t have too many kind words for his ex in his autobiography Been There, Done That, depicting Debbie Reynolds as a self-centered, totally driven, insecure, untruthful phony and “the antithesis of sex.”

She complained so much that Eddie “would leave the house praying for a miracle – that by the time I got home she would have disappeared.”

Fisher didn’t spare her mother either, describing her as “the human equivalent of chalk scratching on a blackboard.”

Reynolds, in turn, in Debbie: My Life, portrayed Fisher as an uncaring, moody, son-of-a-gun who, if he wasn’t playing cards with the guys, wanted to be left alone, except when it came to Elizabeth Taylor.  As far as their troubled marriage, “Things would get better,” she wrote.  “He’d go out on the road for a week or ten days and come back in a friendlier frame of mind.  And when we went out with others, he could be very nice.”

Over thirty years later another Hollywood golden couple were the talk of the town with their good looks, their successful careers, and their perfect marriage, but when Burt Reynolds sued Loni Anderson for divorce, it was obvious it wasn’t so perfect after all.   Anderson took the high ground, keeping her mouth shut until she had written her account of events.  Reynolds couldn’t wait, heading straight to the National Enquirer to recount his tale of woe before he, too, settled down to pen his memoirs.

In 2008, a year after Whitney Houston divorced Bobby Brown, his autobiography, Bobby Brown: The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing But, hit the bookstores.

“I never used cocaine until I met Whitney Houston,” Brown declared, putting her habit squarely on her doorstep.  He believed his marriage was doomed from the beginning, not because he slept around, but for the reason that he and Whitney had different agendas: she wanted to be transformed, to have an urban, gritty edge; he wanted to be loved and have children.  He further blamed the media for making him out to be “like Ike Turner, when that wasn’t my character.”

Houston reserved comment.

Although Houston never put pen to paper, she got her turn in a two-part interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show the following year. Concerning the end of her marriage, she stated, “I wasn’t going to be in an unholy matrimony.  I wasn’t going to be living with a man who decided that he didn’t want to live the same way I did or thought about marriage or me the same way.  Being loyal.  Being dedicated. Being true.  Being faithful.  All those things.”

Now whom do you believe?

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


You know why divorces are so expensive? Because they’re worth it.

— Willie Nelson


I am a marvelous housekeeper.  Every time I leave a man I keep his house.

— Zsa Zsa Gabor


Wedding Bells Blues: “R” is for Revenge

Elizabeth Taylor had a long list of reasons how her first husband, Nicky Hilton, done her wrong, and she knew how to get even.

On their wedding day.

At eighteen years old, already a star beginning to taking on adult roles, Taylor thought she knew what she wanted.  And she wanted Nicky, 24, the son of Conrad Hilton of Hilton hotels, although he was an alcoholic playboy with a terrible temper.

Both of them were indulged and pampered, although not necessarily by each other.

Their wedding on May 6, 1950 was stage-managed perfection by her studio, MGM.

The first night of their honeymoon Nicky parked himself at the bar of the Carmel Country Club in northern California drinking.  He was there again the next night picking up other women.  But the third night the marriage was consummated.

On the next phase of their honeymoon the newlyweds took the Queen Mary to Europe.  Again, Nicky spent his time mixing and mingling in the lounge and the casino leaving Elizabeth to take care of herself.    One night after losing $100,000 at the tables, he returned to their suite and lashed out at her, verbally and physically.   The pattern of abuse began.

On December 1, 1950, the couple officially separated.  Soon after, she visited New York City and stayed at the Plaza Hotel, part of the Hilton franchise.   Upon checking out, the clerk presented her with a bill for $2,500 and announced she was “no longer considered a member of the hotel family.”

Not any more mature than her soon-to-be ex, she invited her friends Montgomery Clift and Roddy McDowall to her suite to share a pitcher of martinis while she packed.  Getting carried away and presumably drunk, they ransacked the room, causing substantial damage.  Then she made off with the hotel’s monogrammed towels, for which she received another bill.

At her divorce hearing, Elizabeth pleaded mental cruelty.  She didn’t ask for alimony, but she kept everything Hilton had ever given her, including stock and jewelry.  Throw in the wedding gifts her stack totaled more than $500,000.

In turn, Nicky asked for an annulment, so that he could remarry in the Catholic Church.  She refused.  And with that simple gesture, she got her revenge.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


A Love Triangle: She Said. She Said. She Said.

Photo by: marcberryreid

When Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds, it was the biggest scandal since… well, it was one of the biggest scandals since the movie industry had moved to the West Coast.  It involved larger than life personalities of the fifties, a time when marriage was forever and children came first.

When the couple met in 1954, Fisher was a teen idol, rivaling Frank Sinatra in popularity.  Even his army stint in Korea didn’t dim his visibility.

Reynolds had made eleven movies, including Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.  She danced, too.  Modern Screen put her at the top of their list of appealing young female stars, besting such lovelies as Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, and Marilyn Monroe.

As a couple, gossip columnist Louella Parsons called them “America’s Sweethearts.”  Their engagement sold papers.  Their wedding made headlines. The movie they made together, Bundle of Joy, bombed, but the births of Carrie and then Todd were a symbol of their everlasting love.  Their separation was met with astonishment, all the more so because Eddie had taken up with Elizabeth Taylor, the widow of his best friend, movie producer Mike Todd.

The women couldn’t have been more different from each.  Elizabeth was the bad girl, exotic and sultry, like a wine glass of warmed cognac.  Debbie was the girl-next-door, familiar and friendly, like cold lemonade on a summer’s day.  When the press learned of the triangle, they both played their parts perfectly.

Meeting the media camped on her doorstep sometime after midnight once the news broke, Debbie said, “I’m still in love with my husband.  I’m deeply shocked over what has happened.”

Liz, said, “ I don’t feel that I’ve taken Eddie away from Debbie – because they weren’t getting along anyway.”

Debbie said, “Liz must have been misinformed about relations between Eddie and me.  We have never been happier than we have been in the last year.  I would even say ecstatically happy.”

To which Liz said, “I don’t go around breaking up marriages.  Besides, you couldn’t break up a happy marriage.”

After instructing her attorney to go ahead with a divorce, Debbie commented, “It seems unbelievable to say that you can live happily with a man and not know he doesn’t love you.  But that – as God is my witness – is the truth.”

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: that’s hardly the way we think of Hollywood.  Nor is it the end of the story.

When both women had remarried, Debbie to Harry Karl, a shoe tycoon, and Elizabeth to Richard Burton, no description needed, they made up and became friends.  Upon Taylor’s death, Reynolds said, “No one else could equal Elizabeth’s beauty and sexuality… She was a symbol of stardom.  Her legacy will last.”

As far as Eddie, let’s just say he’s a better actor than we remember him, if we remember him at all.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


Not quite sure what Eddie Fisher sounds like?  Here he sings “I’m Always Hearing Wedding Bells”:


Wedding Bell Blues — Another in a Series

All show business.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries have nothing on Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine.  Who?  Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine!   They were among our shiniest stars with humongous egos to match, and that was their problem.

Merman, the grand dame of Broadway musicals, was known for her big, brassy voice.  In the late forties she performed as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun for almost three years, and she owned the song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”  She later starred in the Irving Berlin movie by the same name along with Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, and, get this, Marilyn Monroe who had a small role as a hatcheck girl.

In the fifties Merman played the domineering stage mother in Gypsy.  Belting out, “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” nothing got this woman down, professionally or personally, although the movie role went to Rosalind Russell.

Borgnine was a dramatic actor with a good sense of humor.  He won Best Actor Oscar for Marty in 1955 and the adoration of audiences with his portrayal of Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale in the 1962 to 1966 sitcom McHale’s Navy.  When he met Ethel at a party, he was a little miffed that she didn’t recognize him from the movie, but took some satisfaction that she knew he was “that funny guy” from television.

A Navy man to the core.

It didn’t take long for the couple to become an item.  Ethel moved to the West Coast to build up her movie career following It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, a hit comedy.  They married in a beautiful ceremony at Ernie’s Beverly Hills home in 1964.  Lovebirds flew overhead.

These were no spring chickens, and they had both been around the world, so to speak.  Ernie, 47 years old, was Ethel’s fourth husband; Ethel, 56 years old, was his third wife.  The marriage barely lasted longer than their honeymoon to Hawaii, Japan and Hong Kong.  Apparently they were both seasick, but only Merman had medicine.  And she wouldn’t share.

By the time they returned home the newlyweds weren’t talking, at least to each other.  Ethel complained to anyone who would listen that Ernie hogged the spotlight.  As far as he was concerned, nothing was further than the truth, and after being continuously harangued and harassed, he left, never to return.  After thirty-two days of marriage Ethel filed for divorce.

Some thirty years later Borgnine came across Merman’s memoirs in a bookstore. Upon noting that the chapter titled “Ernest Borgnine” was left blank, he commented, “At least she didn’t say anything bad about me.”

I told you he had a good sense of humor.

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


Wedding Bell Blues — The First of a Series

Wedding Bell Bliss. Photo by: *Lou*

“I always used to think that marriages were a simple affair.  Boy meets girl.  Falls  in love.  They get married.  Have babies.  Eventually the babies grow up and meet other babies. They fall in love.  Get married.  Have babies. And so on and on and on.  Looked at that way, it’s not only simple, it’s downright monotonous.  But I was wrong. I figured without the wedding.”

So says Spencer Tracy as Stanley T. Banks in Father of the Bride in 1950.

Throughout the movie Banks tries to keep the wedding plans for his daughter, played by Elizabeth Taylor in her first adult role, from spinning out of control.  Good luck!

Every expense is mind-blowing.  Four-hundred dollars for a wedding cake?  Eighty-five dollars for an orchestra?  “You mean we pay for the church?” “What are people going to say when I’m in the gutter because I tried to put on a wedding like a Roman emperor?” he asks his wife.

But Joan Bennett as the mother of the bride understands. “A wedding. A church wedding. Well it’s, it’s what every girl dreams of.  A bridal dress, the orange blossoms, the music. It’s something lovely to remember all the rest of her life,” she explains. “And something for us to remember, too.

So, too, were Taylor’s nuptials to Nicky Hilton, son of Conrad Hilton of Hilton hotels.  It took place in May, one month before the movie was released.

In preparation for her wedding day money was certainly no object.  Elizabeth and her mother traveled to Chicago for her sterling silver flatware, Limoges china, Swedish crystal, and Italian lace-trimmed sheets.  And then they went on to New York to put together her trousseau.  All bills were sent to her future husband.

On the big day her studio, MGM, did its part, making sure everything was perfect, her gown, her hair, her make up.  And it was.

The excitement on the streets was palpable. Crowds lined the route to the Church of The Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.  When Elizabeth, then only eighteen years old, stepped out of the limousine, ten thousand onlookers cheered.

Invitations had gone out to the who’s who of Hollywood.  Mickey Rooney, who had been one of her leading men, was there with his third wife.  After the formal Roman Catholic ceremony seven hundred guests attended the reception at the Bel Air Country Club.

The groom, who had practically swept his bride off her feet in planting a wet one, was actually less than enthusiastic about the event.  The marriage wasn’t consummated for three days.

The couple officially separated in December after seven months, and she received her divorce decree at the end of January, 1951.

If only Elizabeth had listened to the warning signs.  Good friends had told her that Hilton was a gambler, a drinker, and a womanizer.  Then again, she was just getting started.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


In Hollywood, an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting fifty percent of the publicity.

— Lauren Bacall


Who’s Counting?

It’s difficult to pin down statistics on celebrity divorce.

While 43% of marriages among the general population come to an end, it’s estimated that 75% among the well-known and well-heeled do so.  The source of this statistic is unknown, but it certainly seems accurate.  Just peruse the National Enquirer while waiting in the grocery line.

Celebrity marriages don’t seem to last as long either.   And then the movie stars, rock stars, and other Hollywood types try it again.

“I do. I do. I do.” Photo by: brtsergio

This isn’t a recent phenomenon.  We’re all familiar with the conjugal histories of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mickey Rooney.  They started young and kept going and going and going – Energizer bunnies, all of them.

Gabor first married in 1937 in her native Hungary when she was twenty years old.  Her husband was a Turkish ambassador.  She left him four years later to immigrate to the United States where her stage background gave her entree to Hollywood.  She’s been married to her eighth or ninth husband, depending on how you count, since 1986.

Elizabeth Taylor also wed eight times beginning in 1950 at the tender age of eighteen.  Her first husband, Nicky Hilton, was a playboy with a mean temper and a drinking problem, and she left him less than nine months later.

But, boy, was Hilton good-looking with lots of sex appeal!  Zsa Zsa had an affair with him while she was married to his father, Conrad Hilton, founder of Hilton hotels.  It lasted through her divorce, into her marriage to actor George Sanders, and beyond Nicky’s betrothal to Taylor.

Zsa Zsa also had an affair with Richard Burton in his pre-Elizabethan days while he was married to Sybil Williams.  She certainly got around, as did Burton.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, once stated, “I’ve only slept with men I’ve been married to.  How many women can make that claim?”  Certainly not Zsa Zsa, although they were the best of friends.

Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner, the first of his eight wives, couldn’t keep it going much more than a year.  In 1942 he was only twenty-one years old; she was nineteen and on her way to stardom.

Ava next married jazz musician Artie Show.  She was the fourth of his eight wives, and their union was short.  Frank Sinatra, whom Zsa Zsa also slept with although she didn’t like him much, was the love of her life and her third and last husband, but they were both too tempestuous to make it last.

Mickey, however, has now been happily married to the same woman since 1978.   His secret?  “Don’t marry anybody you love… Marry somebody you like,” he advises. “Love is sex, love is drunkenness, but it never lasts.  But when you marry your best friend, love grows.”

At one time Mickey also suggested, “Always get married in the morning. That way if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the whole day.”

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved