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.

Louise Chantal Revisits Marilyn at Cal-Neva

The New York-based singer and model, Louise Chantal, has released a video for her latest track, ‘CalNeva’, inspired by the mythology of Marilyn, John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge, reports Galore magazine. ‘CalNeva’ exudes a laidback R&B groove, though its factual basis is rather dubious (Marilyn and JFK never visited the casino together), perpetuating the unfortunate stereotype of MM as lovelorn victim.

“CalNeva was inspired by Marilyn Monroe and the alleged affair between Monroe and John F. Kennedy. From around 1960 to 1963, Frank Sinatra owned Cal Neva Resort & Casino. Before writing this song, I read about how Sinatra loved to entertain his friends; both of which were Monroe and The Kennedy Family. I was fascinated by that dynamic so I just kept reading more stories about their relationship. Somehow in the midst of reading I created a fantasy in my head and connected that to the emotion that I really wanted to convey through this song. CalNeva is a love letter written by a broken hearted woman, and anyone that has experienced betrayal and disappointment can relate to this story.”

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.

George Masters on Marilyn’s Death

Marilyn en route to Mexico, February 1962. George Masters at right

Tapes recorded in 1998 by Jeff Platts, nephew of George Masters, suggest that the celebrity stylist was with Marilyn the night before she died:

“About a month before he passed away, he sat down and recorded some discussions with Platts. Recently, Platts shared a portion of the tapes with me, specifically one that dealt with Monroe’s last night.

In a frail but controlled voice, here’s what Masters remembered about the last night he saw Monroe alive.

‘The night before she died, the last time I saw her, was in Lake Tahoe at the Cal-Neva Lodge. She was there with Sam Giancana, who was the head of the Mafia.'”

Masters was one of Hollywood’s top hairdressers, and he styled Marilyn’s hair for her ‘Last Sitting’ with Bert Stern in June 1962. He can also be seen with Marilyn in photos taken at a Miami airport earlier that year, en route to Mexico.

Though she admired his skills as a stylist, Marilyn never seemed to confide in Masters as much as some of her other aides, eg make-up man Whitey Snyder or masseur Ralph Roberts. According to Platts, Masters did not remember Monroe fondly:

“George and Marilyn had a love-hate relationship. He described her as the coldest person he’d ever known. He said she’d never really loved anyone but herself. She would do whatever was necessary to keep all the attention focused on her. Her public image was a complete fabrication. George stayed with Marilyn because she was his biggest client (financially as well as level of celebrity).”

These claims appear in an article by Chris Epting for AOL. Epting is also the author of Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here: More Locations of America’s Pop Culture Landmarks.

Over at The Examiner, Elisa Jordan offers her opinion on these latest allegations:

“Let’s start here: Pat Newcomb (Monroe’s publicist) said she slept over at Marilyn’s house that night, but doesn’t address whether or not Marilyn was there—only that Marilyn woke up about noon.

Actually, although Newcomb has spoken very little, at least publicly, about her relationship with Marilyn, she has stated that she and Marilyn went out to dinner at a local restaurant that Friday night. Some people maintain that the women were with Peter Lawford. And even other stories report that Bobby Kennedy was there. I tend to believe it was a low-key evening at a restaurant with Marilyn and Pat, but I wasn’t there. The important thing to remember is that in all versions of the story, Marilyn and Pat were out together on the night of August 3. How could Marilyn have been in Lake Tahoe?

And let’s address Lake Tahoe. Epting does ask some important questions. Were there other people on the plane, for instance? It’s unclear. I would like to take that a step further. What about the pilots? Were there flight attendants? Airport employees?

Masters claims he drove Marilyn home from LAX, but who picked her up in Lake Tahoe? Wasn’t there a driver? Where is he? What about the employees at the Cal-Neva? Cooks? Waitresses? Maids? Bellhops? No one saw Marilyn Monroe, the world’s most famous movie star, at the lodge that night? No other guests saw her? These types of people were able to place her at the Cal-Neva a week earlier. Why not on August 3, too?”

Jordan also adds some thoughts on Master’s credibility:

“If Epting’s reporting is correct—and I believe that it is—then Masters died broken and drug addicted. And if George Masters and Marilyn Monroe had a ‘love-hate’ relationship as reported in Epting’s article, was Masters merely trying to get the last word over Marilyn? Did he merely want to involve himself in one of the most famous mysteries of the 20th century?

Sound like a credible witness to you? Not to me, but I admit that I’m cynical about stories people tell about Marilyn Monroe—especially stories concerning her death. At this point there are so many that it’s nearly impossible to keep them straight.

Now George Masters has added himself to that list. Is it any wonder why people are so fascinated with Marilyn Monroe’s death? The victim is an American icon. The suspects and coconspirators are also celebrities, including a beloved President of the United States. It is a story that instantly makes you famous if you claim to be involved in it. And everyone, it seems, wants to be involved.”

My personal view on these tapes is that though interesting, I am highly sceptical of Masters’ claims. I find it hard to believe that Marilyn really did visit Lake Tahoe the night before she died, because there are no other witnesses. I think she probably spent the evening with Pat Newcomb, and perhaps stayed at home because Pat was unwell that weekend.

Pat Newcomb is still alive and in her eighties. She has never spoken publicly about Marilyn’s death and I doubt she ever will. The truth, I suspect, is more mundane – and even more sad – than the conspiracy theories espoused by Masters et al.

I think Newcomb is the only person still living who knows the truth about Marilyn’s final days. Even if she did tell all, the rumours would carry on regardless. So while her silence may be frustrating to those of us who would like to see the record set straight for once and for all, I can understand her reluctance, and even respect it.

Buddy Greco on the ‘Last Weekend’

Marilyn with Buddy Greco and Frank Sinatra at the Cal-Neva Lodge, July 1962

Singer Buddy Greco has spoken to the UK’s Daily Mail about meeting Marilyn Monroe at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge on Lake Tahoe, just a week before her death.

This so-called ‘last weekend’ (actually, Marilyn died on the following weekend) remains one of the most controversial aspects of Marilyn’s days, and Greco’s memories are bittersweet:

“Buddy Greco recalls of her demeanour later that weekend: ‘She was fragile, very fragile  –  well, she’d gone.’ Many blamed the Kennedys.

Of course, she could still shine when she wanted to. But by now her gloss was too often just a thin veneer.

Despite her depression, she initially appeared in good shape when she arrived at Cal-Neva, after flying there on Sinatra’s private plane.

‘When she arrived that Saturday, you’d never believe that she had a care in the world,’ recalls Buddy Greco. ‘I was sitting with Frank [Sinatra], Peter Lawford and a bunch of other people, outside Frank’s bungalow, when a limousine pulls up and this gorgeous woman in dark glasses steps out,’ he says.

‘She’s dressed all in green  –  everything green: coat, skirt and scarf. Before I realised who it was, I thought: “My God, what a beautiful woman. No taste in clothes, but what a beautiful woman!”

‘I knew that she’d been to my concerts and shows. She was a regular at the Crescendo club in Hollywood where I often played.

‘We’d said hello a few times, but were never properly introduced. When Frank introduced us, I said: “You won’t remember me, but I was the piano player when you auditioned for the Benny Goodman band in 1948.”

‘She got emotional at that and hugged me. She had such warmth  –  and I was moved. Somebody took some wonderful shots of that moment, of us hugging.’

But by the end of the first evening, a darker Monroe was beginning to emerge. Greco had finished his first performance in the hotel’s lounge and had joined Sinatra and the other guests at Sinatra’s regular table.

‘It was a wonderful time, a magical weekend. It is so hard to describe now but it was maybe the best time of my life.

‘Then suddenly the room went silent and very still. It was surreal. As if somebody had turned the sound off. I looked at Frank. I could immediately tell he was furious. His eyes were like blue ice cubes.

‘He was looking at the doorway where Marilyn was stood, swaying ever so slightly.’

‘She was still in the same green outfit she’d worn all day,’ says Greco. ‘But the woman I’d met that afternoon – smart , funny, intelligent, fragile – had gone.

‘Now she looked drunk and, well, defiant. She was clearly angry and I think I heard her say: “Who the f*** are they all staring at?”‘

Sinatra  –  who was obviously irritated by her erratic behaviour  –  acted fast.

‘It was clear Sinatra was worried. She was in a state where she could have said anything,’ says Greco.

This would have been a major concern for many of those around the table. Monroe, after all, knew an awful lot of secrets  –  and, in her condition, might have been prepared to share them.

‘Sinatra motioned to his bodyguard  –  Coochie  –  to get her out of there. Coochie, a big guy, escorted her out. Actually, he picked her up and carried her out. It wasn’t the star we were used to seeing.’

The incident upset Buddy Greco. He had felt such warmth and vulnerability in her only a few hours earlier and could not understand how she had changed so terribly and suddenly.

‘She was on my mind,’ he says. ‘I was worried about her. I went outside to find out whether she was okay. I knew that she had taken accidental overdoses in the past.

‘I found her by the pool. There was nobody around. It was late and the pool was deserted.

‘Maybe it was the moon but she had a ghostly pallor. It still didn’t occur to me that she might be a woman not long for this world.

‘She was distressed, out of it, but that was all. Maybe her friends were used to seeing her like that but it worried me. Anyway, we talked.

‘I walked her back to her bungalow in the complex reserved for the guests of Frank and Giancana where we all stayed.

‘I thought that the next morning I could put her with Pat Lawford [the Kennedys’ sister], who was her companion, and make sure she got back to L.A. safely.

‘But the next day when I called, she had already left. That was the last time I saw her.’ So does he think that Sinatra had finally lost patience with Monroe and by abandoning her had left her to her fate?

‘That’s a possible scenario,’ Greco answered thoughtfully. ‘After she had created that problem, he certainly wanted her out of there. He could be quite firm with her.'”

The article is very speculative, but nonetheless, Greco’s memories are fascinating, as veteran showbiz columnist Liz Smith has noted:

“IT WAS 48 years ago today that Marilyn Monroe died. On the evening of Saturday, August 4, 1962, or the wee hours of Sunday, the fifth. (Talking to her therapist earlier in the day, she exclaimed, “Here I am. I am supposed to be the most glamorous woman in the world, and I don’t have a date on Saturday night!”)

Sinatra, by every account, was totally undone, devastated when word came of Marilyn’s death. (Sinatra’s valet, George Jacobs, believes Sinatra would have married Monroe, if for no other reason than to ‘save her.’) In any case Frank certainly never spoke of what really happened at the Cal Neva Lodge.”