Read incredible stories of when Mirror man and showbiz guru Donald Zec got really close to the stars during his long and distinguished career
Donald Zec with Marilyn Monroe in 1960 chat (Image: Daily Mirror)ByDonald Zec
- 22:16, 10 Sep 2021
When Hollywood was still in its golden age, there was only one showbiz reporter the stars wanted to talk to – the Daily Mirror’s Donald Zec, who died this week aged 102.
In his own words “war reporter, voyeur, ringside commentator and marriage guidance counsellor”, he was also – as our incredible extracts from his long and distinguished career demonstrate – confessor to the very biggest names in the business.
Here are some of his stories of meeting showbiz legends.
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, Surrey, 1956
She laughed. She clung to my arm. She said she had never been happier.
I said she looked fine, too… with a sideways glance at her dress.
“Fits a bit tight,’ I commented.
“It fits,” she laughed.
She introduced me to her husband. He is a sensitive type with piercing eyes and a ferocious handshake.
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Marilyn Monroe with then-husband Arthur Miller
He calls her “Mrs Miller” and dares you to call her anything else.
And that’s the way Marilyn wants it too.
When Miller speaks, she looks at him, thoughtful, adoringly…
When she speaks, he gazes at her too – but I guess he looks more than he listens.
She was up bright and early preparing for last night’s “London presentation” by Sir Laurence Olivier.
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The crowds outside the Savoy gasped when they saw Monroe.
What did Miller think of Marilyn?
“She is the most unique person I have ever met,” he said.
And Marilyn on Miller?
“All I can say is I’ve never been happier in my life.”
When Donald met Marilyn
“What is it like to be married to such a quiet man?” someone asked Marilyn.
Miller’s eyes narrowed in a cold smile. “I’m not so quiet as all that,” he said. Miller stood up.
Marilyn went over to him, looked up into his eyes. Then she turned her blue eyes on the crowd, parted her pink lips in a low husky “Thank you.”
Gene Kelly, May, 1955
Gene Kelly is probably the world’s greatest modern dancer. I am not the world’s worst, but nearly.
My wife is a great admirer of Mr Kelly and is pretty nimble on the dance floor herself.
So when Gene phoned me the other day and said: “Come over for lunch and bring the wife,” I figured out a bright idea.
We were going to eat in his room; there would be music… so why not dancing too?
“Would you like to lunch – and dance with Gene Kelly?” I asked my wife.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “Would you like to dance with Jane Russell?”
“I have done,” I said.
Dancer Gene Kelly flirted with Donald’s wife
Gene met us in the bar with a big hello and that crooked smile which I’m told makes women feel faint.
I told my wife I liked her hat. “Trust an Englishman to louse up a compliment like that,” Gene roared.
“Mrs Zec,” he said, holding her gloved hand a shade longer than I thought necessary, “that hat is real cute.
“You look lovely – why, you ought to go into movies.”
“Not on your Nelly, Mr Kelly,’ I said sharply.
He gave my wife her hand back and steered her expertly to his private suite while I sort of stumbled, along behind.
Gene moved off to fix the drinks.
“He’s got lovely eyes and a grand smile,” whispered my wife. I looked glum.
“Wasn’t your wife Betsy once a dancer?” my wife asked Gene.
“She was,” he said, “but we decided that one dancer in the family was enough.
“What about your daughter, Kerry ?” I asked him. “She wants to dance,” he said, “ but I’m doing everything I can to discourage her. It’s the most punishing profession in the world.
“You have to train like a prize fighter, strain like an athlete and be absolutely merciless on your muscles.
“I love ballroom dancing though… dancing for relaxation.”
I winked at my wife.
But it’s a terrible risk,” Gene said.
“If I take a woman in my arms on a public dance floor, people think terrible thoughts and gossip like crazy.”
Ava Gardner, January 1954
The on-again, off-again marriage of Frankie and Ava, which has wrangled across the Atlantic from Manhattan to Madrid, is at last approaching a decision.
In precisely two months’ time, “The Body” (Miss Gardner) and “The Voice” (Mr Sinatra) will meet in California
for 24 hours.
In that one day they will either announce a permanent reconciliation – or Ava will sue for divorce.
This is the outcome of Sinatra’s desperate mission to Madrid the other day, when he begged Ava to reconsider her divorce move. And no one can say Frankie didn’t try…
He chartered a special plane (£160) from London. He held up his film and was temporarily suspended.
Ava Garder and Frank Sinatra in a 1952 photo
And behind locked doors he argued and wooed…
But on the phone from Rome last night Ava told me: “We’ve both decided to cool off on our own. In two months we shall meet in Hollywood. There, without wasting further words, the final decision will be made.
“I’ve been too unhappy for words. But now I’m going to pitch into my film and let the future take care of itself.”
Ava is filming The Barefoot Contessa, learning Spanish, rehearsing a flamenco dance. She has four leading men – Humphrey Bogart, Marius Goring, Edmund O’Brien, and Rossano Brazzi. “More men than I’ve ever had in one movie,” she laughs, “but I think I can handle that quartet.”
Meanwhile, “The Voice” sings solo in Hollywood, wondering which way the stormy wind will blow…
Elvis Presley, with US Army, Germany, March 1960
I am phoning this despatch direct from the “front” where the last act of “Operation Presley” took place today – with everything bar a 21-gun salute.
White-gloved Military Police with truncheons, revolvers and whistles guarded the entrance to the hall where Presley’s “swan-song” was sung.
He flies home to America – and civvy-street – tomorrow, after 17 months in the Army.
A table with five microphones was set up in the centre of the hall.
Finally, Elvis Presley wearing a sheepish grin and a hand-tailored uniform with three gold stripes, ambled to the table and sat down.
With Elvis in 1960
His left leg began nervously bouncing up and down like a jazz drummer’s.Clearly Mr 53310761 can’t wait to get back to that “beat”.
I asked him: “Has service in the Army changed your ideas about that often criticised style of yours – wiggle and all?”
“Ah guess not,” drawled Presley. “Ah just can’t help the way Ah sing.”
I next asked: “You haven’t marched the wiggle out of your system, then? “
“No sir,” said Presley.
QUESTION: “When are you thinking of getting married? “
Presley (blushing): “Ah’ll have to wait till the bug bites.”
[NOTE: His much-publicised friendship with pretty Priscilla Beaulieu, a 16-year-old Texan girl living in Wiesbaden, West Germany, is not really a “bug-bite” – just an itch.]
“Will you find it difficult adjusting yourself from £20 a week to £300,000 a year again?” I asked.
“No, sir – not too difficult,” said this amiable, friendly millionaire.
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, on the SS Liberte, Plymouth, 1951
Thunder-faced Humphrey Bogart, 51, and his green-eyed fourth wife, Lauren Bacall, 26, arrived off here today en route for Paris.
And “The Leer” and “The Look” wish it to be known that they are very happy indeed.
“Successful marriage,” said the serious Mr Bogart, “is the infinite capacity for taking pains.
“I guess I didn’t take quite enough pains over the other three,” he shrugged.
But his languid-larynxed wife flashed him a significant smile.
“What you mean, de-ah, is you have at last discovered we are not the weaker sex, de-ah!”
Bacall and Bogie – couple at 1951 party
Bogart’s brown eyes wrinkled up and he grinned boyishly.
“What a regular gal she is,” he chuckled. “I reckon this partnership is really gonna stick.”
With a plaid cape thrown over her tweed suit, the blonde, 5ft 7in Lauren talked about her he-man husband.
“The movies show the tough Bogart,” she said.
“But I’m married to the tender one. He’s straight, honest and loving,”
she said, dreamily.
“And his doleful cocker spaniel eyes bring out the wife in me!”
Bogart said: “We have never been separated for longer than the three hours it takes Lauren to have a beauty treatment.
“We think that’s just right – that is why I bought her the whistle,” he added with a low chuckle.
This dangled, from a gold bracelet on her wrist.
“The idea is that I blow it when he strays,” said Lauren in her slow,
“I have not had to use it yet,” she added, smiling.
Grace Kelly, April, 1956
On the eve of her departure for Monte Carlo – and marriage – film star Grace Kelly told me today that she hopes for an “ideal family” of three children.
Grace was flushed, excited and happy as she supervised the packing of her £3,000 lace wedding gown.
She and her husband-to-be, Prince Rainier of Monaco, have been airmailing each other little “lover’s gifts” ever since he left for France only three weeks ago.
“He’s such a wonderful person,” Grace told me.
“I can hardly wait for the moment when we meet again.
“The voyage across the Atlantic will be the longest eight days of my life.”
Donald meets Grace Kelly in 1955
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It is pretty clear that Grace will not hurry back into pictures – if ever.
“I am leaving it for the Prince to decide,” she told me.
And the Prince is adamant.
He has told his friends: “Grace cannot possibly be a film star AND Princess of Monaco.”
Her studio MGM are not commenting – just hoping.
Meanwhile, Grace is studying French so that she can converse more easily with the Prince’s friends and family.
“You’d like the Prince,” she told me, “I LOVE HIM.”
Comment MORE ON Ava GardnerLaurence OlivierArthur MillerJane RussellMarilyn MonroeElvis PresleyHumphrey BogartLauren BacallPrincess Grace of Monaco
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