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Marie McDonald’s Former House

Oct 16th, 2017 | By | Category: Haunted Hollywood, This and That

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There are strange Hollywood crimes and then there are strange Hollywood crimes.  Today’s locale fits into the latter category.  Last week, my friend Owen, of the When Write Is Wrong blog, emailed me to let me know about a mystifying case concerning an actress that was detailed in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly (issue #1485, dated October 6th, 2017).  In the article, titled “Hollywood’s Original Gone Girl” (you can check out the online version here), author Joe McGovern chronicles the 1957 kidnapping of starlet Marie McDonald, who was better known to movie audiences as “The Body,” the nickname bestowed upon her after her vivacious curves stole the spotlight in 1942’s Pardon My Sarong.  Though the story does not involve death, murder or hauntings, and the whole episode is largely believed to have been a hoax executed by Marie herself, Owen thought it would fit in perfectly with my Haunted Hollywood theme and I wholeheartedly agree.  I was immediately transfixed by his Cliffs Notes version of the scandal and ran right out to buy EW and stalk the house where the kidnapping was said to have occurred.

From start to finish, Marie’s life was the stuff tabloid reporters’ dreams are made of.  Born Cora Marie Frye in 1923 to a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, McDonald spent her childhood in Kentucky before moving to the Big Apple during her teenage years.  She entered the pageant circuit, worked on Broadway, and eventually headed to California where she secured a contact at Universal Pictures.  It wasn’t long before the blonde bombshell found success in movies, appearing alongside such actors as Alan Ladd, Fred MacMurray, Gene Kelly and Cesar Romero (in Lucky Jordan, Standing Room Only, Living in a Big Way, and Once a Thief, respectively), to name a few.  McDonald became much more well-known for her off-camera antics, though, which included a total of six marriages (she twice wedded – and twice divorced – shoe store magnate Harry Karl), an escape from an Australian psychiatric ward, a tryst with mobster Bugsy Siegel, an arrest for forging prescriptions, a DUI hit-and-run that culminated with the actress kicking one police officer and biting another, and, of course, her abduction, by far her most infamous escapade.

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As the story goes, shortly before midnight on January 3rd, 1957, while in the bedroom of the Encino home she shared with her three children, housekeeper, chauffer and large dog (at the time she was estranged from Harry Karl, for the second time, awaiting a divorce), McDonald was startled by a noise outside.  That noise, according to Marie, was caused by two men, one carrying a stick, the other a sawed-off shotgun.  The men entered the residence, a sprawling one-story ranch house that Entertainment Weekly noted as being located at 17031 West Magnolia Boulevard (thanks, EW!), and told the starlet, “We want your rings, your money, and your body.”  After ransacking the pad of valuables, the duo proceeded to spend quite a bit of time cutting mismatched letters out of newspapers to fashion a ransom note.  (They must have gone to the JonBenét Ramsey school of ransom-note creation!)  The abductors then inexplicably put the note in Marie’s mailbox.  (I mean, that would be the first place I’d go looking for a ransom note if I discovered a loved one missing.)  McDonald was subsequently blind-folded and forced into the men’s car.

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After driving for about an hour, the threesome arrived at a small home where Marie was stashed away in a bedroom (one that strangely had a working telephone) and drugged.  The men then made two calls, one to McDonald’s mother, Marie Tuboni (yes, both mother and daughter were named Marie), and one to Harry Karl, informing them of the kidnapping.  Though told not to, Tuboni immediately contacted police, who headed to McDonald’s residence, where the gate and front door were found standing open.  Detectives also discovered the ransom note in the mailbox (how they thought to look there is beyond me, but maybe mailing ransom notes back in the day was common practice), which oddly read “She won’t be hurt to get money.”  A few hours later, back at the kidnappers’ den, Marie awoke and spotted the telephone.  She proceeded to call, not the police, not her mother, but gossip columnist Harrison Carroll.  (As one does when seeking rescue from a kidnapping.)  It did not take long for the story of the actress’ abduction to catch fire with the media from that point.  Marie’s second call was to her boyfriend, actor Michael Wilding, and the third, to her manager, Harold Plant.  (Again, as one does.)  It was at that time that the men discovered Marie had been using the phone (duh!) and roughed her up a bit before blind-folding her once again, leading her outside, and forcing her into their car.  The duo then headed east to Coachella where they tossed McDonald down a dike near the side of the road and took off.

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Slightly worse for wear, Marie managed to climb 25 feet back up to the road and flag down a passing motorist.  It was 11:15 p.m. on January 4th, a little under 24 hours since she’d been taken.  The starlet was quite a sight, bruised and bloodied, missing two teeth, and wearing a bathrobe and slippers.  She was shuttled to the hospital where she doled out the chaotic tale to police.  Though she was adamant in her tellings, the plethora of strange circumstances had detectives, reporters, and fans alike wondering if the whole thing was nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to revive Marie’s lackluster career.  The many discrepancies discovered by law enforcement did nothing to help her case.  One LAPD officer, Edward Walker, found the ransom note especially puzzling, saying, “It is far-fetched to believe that any kidnappers would take that much time and trouble to make up a note in the home.”  (John and Patsy Ramsey apparently didn’t get that memo.)  Most damaging of all, though, was the copy of The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown found at her residence.  The 1956 novel (later turned into a movie starring Jane Russell), about the abduction of a pajama-clad movie star, bore striking similarities to Marie’s tale.  McDonald was definitely the Sherri Papini of yesteryear.  And then things got really strange.

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On January 9th, five days after she was rescued, LAPD officers staged an elaborate reenactment of Marie’s kidnapping on location at her home, an event described by McGovern in EW as “one of the most spectacular charades in California law enforcement history.”  Dozens of reporters were on-hand to witness the spectacle, during which McDonald was front and center- and in full costume (natch!).  One reporter, James Bacon, later penned an article in which he said the exploit “had everything any Cecil B. DeMille epic ever had – except camels.  There were four scenes requiring six takes; a bedroom shot and an outdoor location; a producer and director (both policemen)!”  A photograph of the bizarre affair is pictured below.  Owen included the image in his email to me along with the exciting news that the white brick gate posts pictured in it are miraculously still standing, more than 60 years after the fact!

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Sadly, aside from said gate posts and the exterior fencing surrounding the property, not much of the 5-bedroom, 5-bath, 4,419-square-foot home is visible from the road.  You can check out some images of the 1948 dwelling here, though.  The pad, which last sold in 2014 for just over $2 million, also boasts a 3-car garage, a chef’s kitchen, a library, maids’ quarters, a whopping 4 fireplaces, parquet wood flooring, an indoor spa, a pool, a pool house, and a 0.93-acre lot.

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Marie’s sordid tale doesn’t end there, though.  The actress’ kidnappers were never found and a grand jury eventually determined there was not enough evidence to file John Doe indictments against them.  Then, a little over a year after her rescue, McDonald contacted police to let them know that she had tracked down and met with her abductors.  In exchange for $5,000, the men told her who was the mastermind behind the crime – her estranged husband, Harry Karl.  Harry agreed to a polygraph, though, which he passed, and police cleared him of any involvement.  The two finalized their divorce shortly thereafter and most who followed the case went back to believing the whole thing was a poorly-executed hoax.  Marie’s career never recovered and on October 21st, 1965, husband number six, Donald Taylor, found her slumped over her dressing table at their home at 5337 Jed Smith Road in Hidden Hills.  The actress was dead from a drug overdose at the age of 42.  She went to her grave vehemently denying her kidnapping had been faked.  Fifty people showed up to her funeral, where, according to my friend Scott Michaels, of the Find a Death website, three of Marie’s divorce attorneys served as pallbearers.  There are still more oddities to come, though.  Just nine weeks later, Taylor was also found dead.  He had swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills and passed away a few feet from the spot where he had discovered his wife’s body.  And in one final remarkable twist, after McDonald’s passing, her three children were taken in by their father, Harry, to be raised alongside Carrie Fisher and her brother, Todd.  Harry, of course, was married to none other than movie star Debbie Reynolds at the time.  Only in Hollywood!

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Los Angeles magazine and Discover Los Angeles.

Big THANK YOU to Owen, from the When Write Is Wrong blog, for telling me about this location!  Smile

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: Marie McDonald’s former home is located at 17031 West Magnolia Boulevard in Encino.

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5 comments

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  1. MM says:

    Just when you think you’ve heard all the crazy Hollywood stories…there’s always more 😉

    Thanks! I drive by this house all the time…in fact, every Halloween the current owners of the house re-enact the abduction as a nod to the history of the property to the delight & amusement of their neighbors & local law enforcement 👻🎃

    • Owen says:

      The current owners re-enact the abduction? Love it! Thanks for sharing, MM.

      Lindsay, I told you about the EW article because I figured it’d be up your alley but also because I knew you’d add your magic touch to the story in one of your fabulous Haunted Hollywood posts. The read was worthwhile for this line (about Marie calling her gossip columnist) alone:

      As one does when seeking rescue from a kidnapping.

      🙂

    • Lindsay says:

      Do they seriously re-enact the abduction each Halloween? If so, that is just about the coolest thing ever!


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