|Hollywoodland||Jun 5 2012|
Today we’re back to the mid-century tabloid Exposed, with a cover from this month 1957 featuring Harry Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, Yul Brenner, Sid Caesar and Rita Hayworth. In the middle of the cover, you see a shot of a bruised and worried Marie McDonald. The photo was taken just after she was found on January 4 wandering in the desert near Indio, California. The tale soon spread across Hollywood like wildfire—that she had been abducted at gunpoint from her home the night of January 3 by two swarthy men who demanded her rings, her money, and her body. The last demand had a certain resonance. McDonald had gotten famous using the nickname “The Body.” The possibility that two swarthy men—one black and one Mexican—had defiled it was, in 1957, simply incendiary.
McDonald’s story began to fall apart immediately. She claimed rape, but doctors found no evidence. The note left by kidnappers at her house was made up of words clipped from newspapers found in the fireplace. To the cops, it seemed unlikely that kidnappers would, under the circumstances,take the time to make a note from paper and glue. They also learned that McDonald had made three phone calls during the time she was missing—none to police.
But McDonald was in a battered state, with scrapes, bruises, and two broken crowns. And she stuck to her story—nighttime, bedtime, a noise in her yard, a lean out the window, and a man lurking right there with a sawed-off. The noise had been made by a second man to draw her to the window. McDonald said the men took half an hour to make a note and discuss their plans, then bundled her into a car. About the phone calls, she said she barely managed to sneak to the phone and was disoriented and had no idea who to call. When the kidnappers heard the mounting news coverage about the crime, they decided she was “too hot” to keep and dumped her in the desert, sending her tumbling down a 25-foot embankment. And then there was the matter of the unidentified males who had called people close to McDonald with threats.
By January 5, McDonald’s ex-husband Harry Karl was offering up some juicy quotes to the press. Among them: “Marie is a very sick woman. I believe she left of her own accord.” He had received one of the calls from the kidnappers, but wasn’t buying it for a minute. He said, “She has done some very strange things in the past.” Police soon learned that the kidnap tale resembled the plot of Sylvia Tate's comedic novel The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown, which happened to be among the books McDonald had in her home. There was little doubt now in the minds of authorities that the whole situation was an elaborate hoax, but McDonald was a celebrity and so the police dutifully arrested suspects, continued investigating, and by January 17 sent the whole messy affair to a grand jury.
The day McDonald arrived to give her testimony she said, “I’m not looking forward to this. I don’t see how I can convince 19 men if I can’t convince the police.” She was right. The grand jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence of a crime and the matter was dropped. In retrospect, McDonald was probably lucky not to have been prosecuted herself. Perhaps the fact that she had retained Hollywood super lawyer Jerry Giesler helped her there. In any case, the Marie McDonald kidnapping went into the history books as yet another Hollywood conundrum.
McDonald’s career as a popular performer had been more or less finished for ten years, but she had remained on the fringes of the news thanks to her marriages—seven of them—and her many famous friends.The events of 1957 had put her front and center again, but it was the last time, until she died of an accidental Seconal overdose—or was it suicide?—in 1965. Two months later, her husband Donald F. Taylor, overdosed in the same room, using the same bottle of pills.