Those who knew my parents, know that it is my father that was prone to gross exaggeration. My mother on the other hand was known more for her philosophy than her ability to concoct unbelievable stories.
I am always using the Internet to piece together and verify the details of some of my mother’s stories about her life before she became a nurse and eventually my father’s first wife. My mother literally grew up within the shadows of Burbank’s movie studios. She was cursed with extreme beauty at an early age. Under those circumstances and in that environment, it is not difficult to believe her stories. She was never a careless name-dropper. If the names Robert Wagner, Bob Eubanks, Merv Griffin, or even Frank Sinatra came up in her stories it was always to illustrate a point she wanted to make very clear.
My mother’s post-pubescent beauty was so disarming to Hollywood men of debatable stature that she suspected and feared her body was the only thing about her of any worth.
To illustrate this, my grandmother would tell me a story about a night she and my mother were taken to dinner at Musso & Franks by “some rich Arab.” Upon sitting down at their table, the “Arab” (emphasise on the A) opened a satchel filled with large gemstone rings, and said to my grandmother, “Take any of these for yourself if you will let me marry your daughter.” Needless to say, my (then not so quaintly) racist grandmother was not impressed by this dark man’s offer, and to hear her tell, the two ladies excused themselves from the table and left.
My mother loved to tell people her first boyfriend was an original Mouseketeer on the early television series “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Some gawky fellow named Jimmy Hawkins. Though I cannot confirm young Mr Hawkins’ appearance on the Mickey Mouse Club, the remaining details of my mother’s recounting do appear to add up.
What I have yet to unearth is precisely how my mother went from dating Jimmy Hawkins to being courted by a then very young and handsome Robert Wagner. Theirs was not a love affair, and my mother’s stories about this era start to get darker around this time.
My mother’s story I wish I knew more details of surrounds the stormy night she, Merv Griffin, Bob Eubanks, and likely Sinatra, took a private plane to Reno. When she told the story, she always mentioned how scared either Griffin or Sinatra were to fly in bad weather and how the pilot was ordered to land the plane so all parties could vomit. Once the weather cleared up they proceeded to Reno, where they stayed at the Cal-Neva Hotel. To me, the craziest part of this particular story is that this was the very weekend Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMagio, and likely Bobby Kennedy as well, were at the Cal-Neva. One week later Marilyn Monroe would be found dead in bed with Nembutal suppositories shoved up her photogenic ass.
I must point out that when recalling this weekend, my mother focused more upon the details of the bad weather and the tiny make-shift bathroom at whichever airport they landed en-route to Reno than the celebrities she was growing increasingly tired of.
In fact, the only story I recall my mother being impressed was when she and my aunt Loretta met the Beatles at the Cinnamon Cinder on Ventura Blvd during a press conference Bob Eubanks and my mother’s then husband had organized to promote “these pasty skinned boys with bad haircuts” from England. Oh, but that is a family story for another day, deserving of an entire page.
Almost tangential, yet connected to these stories is how Eva Gardner visited my mother in a dream to inform her of Frank’s death the night before the news was officially released to the press.