Gianni Russo Claims Affair With Marilyn

Actor Gianni Russo claims to have had an affair with Marilyn in his forthcoming memoir, Hollywood Godfather, as Michael Kaplan reports for the New York Post. Born in 1943, he began his career running errands for mobster Frank Costello. He made his screen debut as Carlo Rizzi, the abusive husband of Connie Corleone (Talia Shire), who is murdered by her brother Michael (Al Pacino) in The Godfather (1972.) Offscreen, Russo has released an album and a wine range, and was once a Las Vegas restaurateur.

Russo’s alleged affair with Marilyn rests on a snapshot taken at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge near Lake Tahoe a week before her death in 1962. He identifies himself as the young man at her left (with singer Buddy Greco at right), which may be true although his face is conveniently hidden from view. Moreover, the photo in itself is no proof of anything more than a brief acquaintance (at best.)

Russo claims that the affair began when he was sixteen and Marilyn thirty-three, which would date it back to 1959. He adds that their affair lasted for four years, but Marilyn died three years later. (I also highly doubt that Marilyn would have dated a teenager, when all her significant relationships were with older men.)

Costello had asked Russo to spy on Marilyn when she began her affair with John F. Kennedy, he contends (in fact, she may not have met the future president until much later.) He also believes that Marilyn was a gangster’s moll for many years, and it was the Mob who moved her to New York during her 1955 dispute with Twentieth Century Fox. This is untrue, as Marilyn arranged the move with photographer Milton Greene.

Gianni Russo in ‘The Godfather’ (1972)

Predictably, Russo also claims to know the truth about how Marilyn died. Mobster Sam Giancana had arranged to film her in flagrante with President Kennedy and his brother Robert during her last visit to Cal-Neva, Russo says. However, there is no conclusive evidence that Giancana was there that weekend, and the Kennedys were both elsewhere. Marilyn was invited by Sinatra himself.

Finally, Russo says that Marilyn was murdered by injection administered by a mob-connected M.D., probably on the orders of Bobby Kennedy. For more information on the Mafia and Marilyn’s death, I can highly recommend Donald McGovern’s Murder Orthodoxies.

Buddy Greco 1926-2017

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Marilyn with Buddy Greco, 1962

Buddy Greco, the jazz pianist and lounge singer, died in Las Vegas last week aged ninety.

Armando Greco was born into a musical family in Philadelphia in August 1926, and began piano lessons at four years old. He turned professional in his teens, and had his first hit single in 1948. He was hired by Benny Goodman, and accompanied a young Marilyn Monroe during an audition for the band (she didn’t get the job.)

In 1951, Greco launched a solo career as a nightclub artist. He also released albums and appeared on television. His 1960 version of ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ sold over a million copies. He regularly performed alongside Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and other Rat Pack luminaries at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

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On the weekend of July 29, 1962, Greco was playing with Sinatra at the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe. One of Sinatra’s guests was Marilyn Monroe. Buddy reminded her of their earlier meeting, and took a series of snapshots featuring himself with Marilyn, Sinatra, and Peter Lawford. These photos are believed to be the last ever taken of Marilyn, who died just a week afterward.

Greco enjoyed his British tours so much that he bought a house at Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, while also maintaining a home in Palm Springs, California. He is survived by his seven children and his fifth wife, Lezlie Anders, whom he married in 1995.

You can read Buddy Greco’s account of the Cal-Neva weekend here.

Don Dondero: Marilyn in Reno

The camera equipment of photographer Don Dondero will be auctioned at the Holabird Western Americana Office, Reno, on April 17, reports Reno Gazette-Journal. The Reno-based photographer chronicled much of Marilyn’s 1960 stay in the city, including her arrival; a press conference with the cast of The Misfits, and a birthday party for John Huston at the Mapes Hotel; a weekend break at the Cal-Neva Lodge; and her return to the city after a week’s rest in hospital.

Marilyn with Arthur Miller and Clark Gable at a press conference for ‘The Misfits’.
With director John Huston on his birthday, August 5.

You can view Dondero’s photos of Marilyn at Getty Images.

“In the second half of the 20th Century, if a photograph from Reno appeared in a national or international publication, it likely came from the camera of the late Don Dondero.

When he died in 2003 at age 83, the lifelong Nevadan was eulogized by then Gov. Kenny Guinn, who said, ‘Thanks to Don Dondero, future generations of Nevadans will have a glimpse of our state’s history.’

Born in Ely and raised in Carson City, Don Dondero took his first ‘celebrity’ photo at age 12 when he snapped a shot of President Herbert Hoover outside the state capital.

He graduated from Carson High School in 1937 and enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, becoming a pilot and flying bombers. In 1944, his plane was shot down over the Philippines as he bombed a Japanese merchant ship in Manila Bay. Dondero parachuted safely into the bay and was hidden in the jungle by Filipino guerrillas for 40 days until he could be rescued. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking the enemy vessel.

After the war, Dondero returned to Carson City and married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Franks. He worked for the state of Nevada for several years before moving his growing family to Reno to open his own photography business.

Affable, talented, intelligent and dependable – he never missed a deadline – Dondero became Reno’s go-to photographer from the 1950s into the 1990s. His work appeared in publications around the globe. As longtime newspaperman Warren Lerude said, ‘Dondero owned the Reno dateline.’

Reno was the divorce capital of the world at the time and photos of celebrities in town to get ‘the cure’ were in high demand. In addition, the Mapes, Riverside and other downtown hotels were bringing in top-name entertainment. He photographed celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra and political leaders including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

‘He promoted Reno more through his photos than any one individual,’ said Harry Spencer, a former Mapes publicist and longtime friend of Dondero.”

Marilyn chats with Frank Sinatra after a concert at the Cal-Neva Lodge, August 13. (Arthur Miller at left)
Marilyn is welcomed back to Reno by producer Frank Taylor after a hospital stay. Photo by Don Dondero, August 20.

Cal-Neva Lodge to Reopen in 2015

Marilyn at the Cal-Neva Lodge, 1960 (Photo by Elliott Erwitt)

The Cal-Neva Lodge, the Lake Tahoe resort once owned by Frank Sinatra and visited by Marilyn and other stars, will reopen in 2015 after a two-year break, reports Tahoe Daily Tribune.

“Crews currently are renovating the 10-story, 191-key resort that straddles the California-Nevada state line, featuring a full interior and exterior property overhaul that will create a ‘modern and luxurious destination that will be unlike any other in the region,’ according to a Friday statement from resort controlling partner Criswell-Radovan.

The Cal Neva will offer a refurbished non-smoking casino with table games and slot machines. Further, the resort’s theater — The Showroom, originally imagined and built by Sinatra and known for years as the Frank Sinatra Ballroom — ‘will be carefully restored and upgraded to once again serve as Tahoe’s preeminent entertainment venue, which will also host local community events and recitals.’

Built in 1926, the Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino was owned by Sinatra from 1960-63, and frequented by the likes of the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Kennedy family, among others.

Company co-owner Robert Radovan previously said a Dec. 12, 2014, reopening was originally eyed to coincide with what would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday.

However, various financing and construction issues delayed the reopening.”

Makeover for Cal-Neva Lodge

The Cal-Neva Lodge in 1997

Plans are afoot to renovate the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe – where Marilyn partied with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies in the early 1960s – reports the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“‘There will be an elegant, clean, post-modern feel to it after we’re done,’ [developer Robert Radovan] said. ‘You don’t want to lose the history of the Frank Sinatra era and eras before it. But you have to … bring it back to where it’s a modernized version of what it was in the heyday.”

Owners hope to reopen the Cal Neva on Dec. 12, 2014, which would have been Sinatra’s 99th birthday. He died in 1999.”

Rumour Revival: Death at Lake Tahoe

As the countdown rolls on to the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn’s death, the rumour mill has been revived. This item, posted at CBS San Francisco, builds on last year’s story that Marilyn’s hairdresser, George Masters, told his nephew (on tape) that she died at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe.

The photo above shows Marilyn a week before she died, at Cal-Neva with Sinatra and singer Buddy Greco. However, I don’t believe that she returned to Lake Tahoe on the day of her death. All other accounts place her at home in Los Angeles.