Friday, September 16, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Wooing the press

Inga Arvad, at age seventeen, when she competed in the Miss Europe contest — a decade before her romance with John F. Kennedy.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Maureen Dowd's "Derangement" ... The Mystery of Inga Arvad.

“WOOING THE press is an exercise akin to picnicking with a tiger. You might enjoy the meal, but the tiger always eats last.”

So says Maureen Dowd, who has been to, and thrown, many a picnic!      
Click to order "The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics."
I SEE that one of my favorite opinion makers is back as hale and hearty as anyone can be in the current political wars. I do mean Maureen Dowd of The New York Times. This Pulitzer Prize winner has a new book out.

It is titled “The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics." There is an obligatory cover cartoon of Hilary kicking Donald Trump downstairs on the book cover. (Readers of Ms. Dowd know that she is equally fervent in the act of “kicking Hilary.”)

How well I recall when first hearing of Maureen Dowd. She must have only escaped from being a teenager when the Times began switching its gentlemanly hierarchy (editor Clifton Daniel, the, Pulitzer-winning historian Harrison Salisbury and entertainments Arthur Gelb, plus the rising star Charlotte Curtis to the more tempestuous reign of the fiery Abe Rosenthal).

At the time, I often hung out with the Eugene O’Neill biographers (Barbara and Arthur Gelb). I recall vividly how Mr. Gelb would exclaim to me over and over, “You’ve just got to meet Maureen Dowd.” At the time, I recall thinking that much whispered about columnist Dowd probably didn’t need to know a New York gossip columnist.
Barbara with her late husband Arthur.
So, though I was influenced greatly in my tabloid syndicated career by knowing these New York Times’ souls, I did have a rare opportunity to get close to some of the elevated Times names.

This is my explanation of how I came to appreciate Maureen Dowd, a woman who has confounded her critics — both liberal and conservative — over the years.

Please buy Maureen’s book and give yourself a treat! It will definitely raise your blood pressure. 
Click to order "Inga: Kennedy’s Great Love, Hitler’s Perfect Beauty, and J. Edgar Hoover’s Prime Suspect."
ONCE one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, Inga Arvad, paramour of President John F. Kennedy during the early days of World War II, is the subject of a revealing and startling new book by Scott Farris (former Bureau Chief for UPI) coming out in October titled Inga: Kennedy’s Great Love, Hitler’s Perfect Beauty, and J. Edgar Hoover’s Prime Suspect

This is a somewhat forgotten tale — a great read in this stressful election season. 

Inga, a one-time Miss Denmark, actress, and foreign correspondent in Nazi Germany who became a favorite of Adolf Hitler, won Kennedy’s heart when she was a Washington columnist.  Her time in Germany led J. Edgar Hoover to suspected her of being a Nazi spy.  Walter Winchell exposed Inga’s and Kennedy’s affair, which nearly got JFK kicked out of the Navy. 

Later, Inga moved to Hollywood and took over Sheilah Graham’s syndicated gossip column while Graham mourned the death of her lover, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Graham’s column had 20 million loyal readers, placing them on par with the notorious Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. As I know so well, these women had clout! A good word from Sheilah/Inga helped Elizabeth Taylor land the lead in "National Velvet" and made her a star. (Although most Hollywood historians credit Hedda Hopper and Elizabeth’s ambitious mother as the impetus to little Liz’s childhood career.)
Inga Arvad.
Hollywood’s leading men were mad for Inga; Vincent Price called her “one of the most beautiful women in the world,” while Joseph Cotten simply referred to her as “the girl I love.” But Inga didn’t date movie stars.  Post-Kennedy, she preferred handsome young Army surgeon William Cahan, who was company doctor for the unit that made the movie "Winged Victory," the war film that started the careers of Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb

Inga Arvad wth one of her "leading men."
Taking a short break from her column, Inga wrote the first extensive newspaper story on JFK’s heroism following the sinking of the PT-109.  Kennedy still loved her, but JFK’s family insisted — more than reasonably — that he could not marry a twice-divorced woman suspected of being a Nazi!  (Shades of the exiled life of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor!)

Inga’s Hollywood adventures also included a stint as a screenwriter at MGM and doing publicity for David O. Selznick’s controversial "Duel in the Sun," a tale of rape and racism that Selznick hoped would be the "Gone With the Wind" of westerns.  (Selznick cast his wife, Jennifer Jones, of “Song of Bernadette” fame as the dusky, sluttish Pearl Chavez, and noble  Gregory Peck as the libidinous Lewt McCanles.)

Inga was part of a bizarre publicity stunt where she was one of four extraordinarily beautiful women that Life dubbed “The Four Urges” – Anita Colby, Laura Wells, and Florence Pritchett were the others — tasked with wining and dining film critics newspaper editors around the country. The ploy worked. Along with savaged reviews and condemnation of the film by the Legion of Decency, "Duel in the Sun" was the second-highest grossing film of 1946.  
Inga with Erling Schroeder in a publicity portrait for Valby. Photo by E. O. Hoppé.
After a frantic engagement to Winston Churchill’s right-hand man, British MP Robert Boothby that ended after a week when her supposed Nazi affiliations again made the papers, she met and married Tim McCoy, once voted one of the ten greatest Western motion picture stars of all time. (Inga was perhaps still under the spell of her “Duel in the Sun” publicity chores.)  McCoy was a star when John Wayne and Ward Bond were still extras. McCoy was a rarity in the business — a real cowboy from Wyoming who had known Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson in real life. 
Inga the sharpshooter.
McCoy won an Emmy for his children’s show on the Old West, but he nearly lost his shirt trying to start a drive-in rodeo in Nogales, Arizona.  After that venture folded after exactly one performance, McCoy went on the road, performing in circuses, while Inga raised the couple’s two sons until her untimely death from cancer in 1973. 

And this, my friends, is only the Hollywood portion of her notorious, fascinating, and unpredictable life!  

Scott Farris’ juicy book arrives on October 16th from Globe Pequot Press/Lyons Press.

And, yes, it would make a fabulous movie.

Contact Liz here.