1961: The Year of Crisis and Unhappy Endings?

NOTE: This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, in which I share excerpts from my old magazine collection. The purpose of this post is not to gossip about classic stars or assert the magazine’s stories as fact, but to look at how they were portrayed in the media during the height of their fame. Today we’ll be taking another look at Modern Screen’s Hollywood Yearbook for 1962.

Capitalizing on 1961’s dramatic behind-the-scenes tales, Modern Screen‘s Hollywood Yearbook for 1962 featured two sections about the darker side of fame: “Year of Crisis” and “Unhappy Endings.”

Year of Crisis

Elizabeth Taylor

Liz Taylor began preparing for Cleopatra, which would be released in 1963. (Image via wearemoviegeeks.com)

Liz Taylor began preparing for Cleopatra, which would be released in 1963. (Image via wearemoviegeeks.com)

Personal and professional crisis plagued Liz Taylor, who fought pneumonia and went against her doctor’s orders for a “quieter life,” instead preparing to take part in the most lavish production of her career, Cleopatra. She faced it all head-on, persevering through various illnesses and medical procedures to take part in fittings for 60 costumes, and attend various award ceremonies and parties. At one party, the mag reports, Liz faced a brush with death not by illness but by her dress catching fire! (Luckily, the flames were put out by a quick-thinking violinist before they could harm Liz.) With a big budget and big expectations came lots of frenzy and worry. “It was her year, all right,” the feature states, “incredible by anyone’s standards but her own. Can she survive it? According to Liz there is no such question.”

Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte was apparently not as strong-willed as Liz, according to Modern Screen. Her struggles in 1960 and 1961 led her to question whether she’d ever make a movie again, the mag reports. Constantly hounded by fans and photographers, “BB” (as the article calls her) was feeling the pressures of fame in a major way. The magazine predicted that she would retire from the screen very soon. Their dramatic predictions were about a decade off: Bardot’s final film was released in 1973. Since retiring, she has since dedicated herself to causes she is passionate about, including animal rights.

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh

Usually mags like this are all about gossip and hearsay, but Janet Leigh truly faced a personal tragedy: the death of her father. The magazine reports that she had been out of town at the time, attending the annual Red Cross gala in France. When Tony got a hold of her with the news, she immediately flew home to mourn her father and support her grieving mother. Things began to look up when the Curtis family got the opportunity to go to Argentina, where Tony was set to film Taras Bulba. But they only lasted a month before Janet and the kids flew home, worn out from dealing with various illnesses and injuries. (The mag lists “German measles, appendicitis, broken shoulder, singed scalp” as ailments faced by the family in Argentina.) Janet’s portion of the feature ends on a lighter note: “1961 has been one of the most difficult years in Janet’s life. But from it she gained the strength and courage to await a better, happier 1962.”

Lana Turner

Turner’s crisis came in the form of a rebellious daughter. “This was the year Lana finally discovered that all the mother love in the world is sometimes not enough to insure a happy ending for her daughter’s life,” the magazine states. Kind of harsh, especially considering how much Turner and her daughter had been through in recent years. Modern Screen reports that Cheryl got into all kinds of trouble in ’61, from throwing a “wild drinking party” to being sent off to a psychiatric treatment program.

Unhappy Endings

Movita was Brando's second wife. (Image via Classic Hollywood Central)

Movita was Brando’s second wife. Considering the number of photos I was able to find of the two, I doubt she was every truly “in hiding,” but drama sells magazines! (Image via Classic Hollywood Central)

Marlon Brando

“Where are Marlon’s darlin’s?,” the mag asks, referring to Marlon Brando’s alleged “wife and baby in hiding.” Modern Screen asserts that Brando had a baby with a woman named Movita, keeping baby and mother hidden away in Mexico, sending them a portion of his $1 million-per-film earnings. The story seems far-fetched, but Brando and Movita actually were married from 1960 – 1962,and had two children together.

Louis Prima and Keely Smith

Plenty of rumors flew about the apparent on-and-off marriage of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. One day they were buying property together in Vegas, and the next day they were selling all of their shared assets in preparation for a divorce. Keely did file for divorce in 1961, once the couple’s contracts with the Desert Inn in Las Vegas expired and their show ended.

Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer

Though they’d put on a happy face for the press, with Jose even telling a gossip column that he had a “fulfilled family life” and planned to dedicated less time to work, Clooney and Ferrer were one of the relationships to end in divorce in the year of “Unhappy Endings.” Ferrer was, apparently, in denial about the divorce, with Rosemary quoted as saying “Joe doesn’t want to believe our breakup is happening.”

Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers and his wife Colleen found themselves in the midst of a nasty divorce, with Colleen seeking $2,000 per month in support and Jimmie asserting that she should be able to earn her own living by acting and modeling. According to the mag, the two grew apart because Colleen and the baby didn’t travel with Jimmie. He grew distant as he spent time on the road, making periodic but “unsatisfactory” phone calls home.

Dick Clark

The Clarks apparently tried their best to keep the truth about their divorce out of the news, to preserve Dick’s wholesome “boy next door, married to his high school sweetheart” image. Modern Screen assumes that the cause of death for this marriage was the simple fact that Mrs. Clark was tired of spending so much time alone, due to her husband’s busy work schedule. Rumors also spread that Dick was planning to marry either Loretta Martin or Connie Francis when the divorce was finalized. (He married Martin in 1962.)

Dick Clark and his first wife, Barbara Mallery (Image via Oregon Live)

Dick Clark and his first wife, Barbara Mallery (Image via Oregon Live)

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

“Phfft went the strings of their hearts” — the folks in question being Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and his wife Steffi. “It seems the Zimbalists are a case of two people so basically incompatible, so truly unable to get along, that there wasn’t any point in prolonging the agony.” Snap!

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