A Day at the Del Mar Races: Where the Surf Meets the Turf


Elizabeth Taylor loved animals. Visiting her godfather’s estate in the English countryside, she was in heaven, surrounded by dogs, cats, lambs, guinea pigs, tortoises, and chickens.  God forbid, anyone should kill one of those chickens for dinner!  For her fifth birthday, she was surprised with a pony named Betty.

Young and beautiful.

“The first time I got on her back, she threw me into a patch of stinging nettles,” Taylor once recalled, but that didn’t keep her from getting on and riding again.

At twelve years old, Taylor knew she was perfect for the role of Velvet Brown in MGM’s National Velvet, released in 1944.  The title character is a young girl who trains her beloved horse to win the Grand National.  Some of the crew questioned Taylor’s equestrian abilities and one of her trainers felt she lacked confidence when riding, but the audience fell in love with her.

Jumping ahead to 1985, years after she had wed and divorced Richard Burton twice and her marriage, her sixth, to Senator John Warner had ended, Taylor continued to be enamored with horses.  On the arm of her friend and fellow actor George Hamilton, she sometimes attended the races.  Getting further involved, she bought a three-year old colt named Basic Image.

The actress dressed her jockeys in a deep pink with chartreuse diamonds racing silks, the colors she had worn in National Velvet.  On July 26 at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club that jockey was Willie Shoemaker.

Shoemaker wasn’t any ordinary jockey.  Up to that point in his 37-year career, he had won more races (8,482), more stakes races (928), and more purses (almost $102 million) than anyone else.  Only two weeks earlier he had finished second at Hollywood Park on Taylor’s horse.  This time, however, he fell leaving the gate, when Basic Image clipped the heels of another thoroughbred.

The Shoe, suffering a fractured vertebra in his lower back, was out for the rest of the season at Del Mar.  But always a gentleman, he called Taylor to assure her that it wasn’t the horse’s fault.

Philosophically, he noted, “I guess if something like this is going to happen, the best place for it to happen is at Del Mar.”  He continued, “I can’t play golf, but at least I’ve got the beach.”

© 2012 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved



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 — 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


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


Zsa Zsa and the Prince

If Elizabeth Taylor was the last movie star, then Zsa Zsa Gabor was the first to be famous for being famous.  She was all glitz and glamour, and I mean that in the best possible way.

She had a witty sense of humor.  Known for her many relationships, she was often asked, “How many husbands have you had?”  Without a blink, she replied, “You mean other than my own?”

In fact, Zsa Zsa nine times, if you count her union with Felipe de Alba.  It was subsequently annulled because her divorce from husband number seven, Michael O’Hara, had not yet been finalized

She is now married to  Frederic Prinz Von Anhalt. They tied the knot in 1986, making it her longest lasting relationship.  And he came with a title, even if it wasn’t one to which he was born.

Zsa Zsa Gabor by Classic Film Scans

Zsa Zsa is twenty-six years older than her spouse.  Does that make her a cougar? I think she’d rather like the title and all that it implies.

At 94-years old, Ms. Gabor is in very poor health.  She’s been partially paralyzed since a car accident in 2002, and she suffered a stroke in 2005.

Almost a year ago she broke several bones falling out of bed and required surgery to replace her hip.

In January of this year, she had her right leg amputated above the knee to stop the spread of gangrene.

Since then she took ill with pneumonia, suffered complications from a feeding tube into her stomach, coughing up blood, and slipped into and out of a coma.

Throughout her trials and tribulations the Prince, has been by her side, sort of.  He’s always been distracted by various extracurricular activities.

As an example, in 2007, he threw his hat in the ring along with Larry Birkhead and Howard K. Smith, claiming to have fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter.  Paternity tests showed otherwise.

That same year police found him naked in his Rolls Royce Phantom.  He maintained several women had mugged him.  Presumably, the family jewels were left intact.

Last year, Von Anhalt filed papers to run for governor of California, pledging to legalize marijuana and prostitution, taxing all vices.  He said then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, warts and all, had inspired him.  He should have found a better role model.

Late fall he was hospitalized for swallowing a bee while sunbathing in the backyard.  Soon after he was back in the hospital after accidentally gluing one of his eyelids shut.  He had picked up a bottle of nail glue, mistaking it for eye drops.

A few months ago Von Anhalt announced he and his wife were trying to become parents using an egg donor, artificial insemination, and a surrogate.  It was something he said she had hoped for ever since they got married – a quarter of a century ago.

He put her Bel Air mansion on the market for $28 million, intending to move his bride to a condominium, something else he said she always wanted to do.  A few months later he reduced the asking price to $15 million.

To cover her medical expenses he has made known his plans to auction off her treasured fur coat collection and her fancy designer dresses.

Justly concerned, Francesca Hilton, Zsa Zsa’s daughter, only four years younger than her stepfather, now 68, is preparing to take him to court to protect her mother’s dignity and keep him from trashing her estate.  But that doesn’t seem to concern him.  He’s a prince with no charm, a cub that never grew up.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


You Go, Girls — Part Two

“I’m certainly not the first person to be in a relationship with a younger man,” Demi Moore said in response to the press coverage of her relationship with Ashton Kutcher, fifteen years her junior. “But somehow I was plucked out as a bit of a poster girl.”

She’s right about that!  Among certain Tinseltown types these May to December relationships go way back.

Is anyone familiar with the passionate affair between femme fatale Marlene Dietrich and actor Yul Brynner?  She met him back stage at the original production of The King and I in 1951.  He was a thirty-year-old hairless hunk, and she wanted him.  Despite his being married and her being nineteen years his senior, she had him.  Their obsessive relationship lasted four years before he tired of her possessive jealousy.

And what about Cher?  She’s almost as famous for dating younger guys as she is for being a gay icon.  For a brief time she went out with Tom Cruise, sixteen years her junior, and Richie Sambora, thirteen years younger than her, among others.  Just a few years ago at 62, she was dating a 38-year old biker dude named Tim Medvetz.  His claim to fame, besides hooking up with Cher, was to climb Mount Everest after recuperating from a bad motorcycle accident.

The most legendary of Cher’s live-in love interests was Ron Camilletti.  When they met  on her birthday in 1986, she was turning forty and presumably felt like giving herself a present.  He was a 22-year old bagel baker.  They were together for three years.

In 1991 Elizabeth Taylor, 59, took Larry Fortensky, a 39-year old construction worker, to be her eighth and last husband in a reported two million dollar wedding ceremony at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.  She playfully called him “Larry the Lion” because of his blonde shag.  When he tired of being called “Mr. Elizabeth Taylor,” they divorced after four years.  They remained friends until her death.

And Madonna has always had her “toy boys”.  In fact, wasn’t the expression coined with her in mind? (Well, it should have been!) Carlos Leon, her personal trainer and the father of her daughter Lourdes, was eight years younger than she, and her husband Guy Ritchie, with whom she had a son and adopted two more children, was ten years younger.  We’ll give her credit: these were serious relationships, and the age differences can even be categorized within normal boundaries.

But then it went over-the-top.  A month after getting her divorce from Ritchie, Madonna met Jesus Luz, a Brazilian underwear model, on a fashion shoot. He was 22; his mother was 37, and Madge was 51.  It was apparent the young man was brought up well.  In interviews he refused to talk about his girlfriend.  After a year, he called it quits, citing their lack of common interests. Within months Madonna was dating a 24-year old French break dancer.

Being fit and thin aren’t necessarily requirements for being in the club, but these characteristics inspire a certain level of confidence, even among the well-known and popular.  After losing weight while appearing on this season’s “Dancing with the Stars,” Kirstie Alley, 60, was ready for romance.  She found it, too, with 21-year old rapper Shanice Boyd.  Unfortunately, Boyd was a Momma’s boy, literally, still living at home.

A good sense of humor helps, too.


© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved