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Carving Out a Career as a Hollywood Ex-Wife

August 23, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

Dani Swanson Crayne Greco Janssen Needham may well be the ultimate Hollywood ex -wife.

She's presently divorcing her fourth husband, wondering who'll be No. 5 and taking back the name of No. 3 in the meantime. It's all rather confusing. Even Janssen admits that being in between husbands is a first for her.

"I'm embarking on a new career," the one-time starlet says. " Single ."

A well-known Beverly Hills hostess who used to throw one of the "A" list Oscar night parties until Irving and Mary Lazar eclipsed them all with their annual bash at Spago, Janssen is best known for her outrageous one-liners, and her string of ex-husbands.

"I remember one time someone asked me to have lunch at a wonderful new place in the Valley," Janssen recalls. "And I said, 'Sorry, my Rolls hits Mulholland and turns around automatically.' "

Won't Divulge Age

Ask her age and her eyes narrow dangerously. "Forget it. You're asking a woman who lies about her dog 's age." But add up the dates in her life and she turns out to be 47.

A woman who drives a racing green 1979 Rolls-Royce Corniche (gift from husband No. 3), bought an apricot toy poodle because it "matched my furniture," is groomed immaculately from her cellophaned hair to her pedicured toes, lunches at Bistro Garden and dines at Spago most days, maintains 9-to-5, Monday-through-Saturday shopping hours, and tracks the profit margins of her investments, Janssen is so like the typical Jackie Collins character that it can't be purely coincidental.

"I was sitting at lunch with Jackie's editor recently and I said something and she said, 'Oh, how funny, Dani. You got that out of Jackie's book.' And I said, 'Excuse me, but Jackie got it from me and then put it in the book.' "

Collins, a good friend, is the first to admit that Janssen is "very quotable."

Janssen's life story, or at least her version of it, starts out in Minnesota where she was born Darlyne Danielle Swanson. The family left there when she was 5. She was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley when, at age 16, she married Donalde Crayne, "a wild Frenchman with no English," had a daughter by him and then they divorced. That was also the year Universal shortened her first name to Dani and put the husky-voiced teen-ager with no acting experience on contract. "When I sent out Christmas cards that year," Janssen recalls, "no one knew who the heck they were from."

When she didn't achieve stardom, she became the sort of woman who made it a career to assist the talent of others. Husband No. 2 was singer Buddy Greco, whom she met at a club in Chicago when she was 20. "I looked at him performing at the piano and knew I was going to marry him." The marriage ended after 10 years.

Almost immediately, she moved in with film and TV actor David Janssen, with whom she had been a friend and verbal sparring partner for ages. They lived together for five years, were married for five more, and even survived a serious extramarital affair on his part, she says.

They thought they'd stay together forever, she adds, but then the hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-living veteran of Hollywood died unexpectedly on Feb. 13, 1980.

Lit a Cigarette

"I didn't drink. I didn't dope. I didn't smoke," she says. "But when I lost David, I said, 'Oh, well, what the hell,' and I lit up a cigarette."

After mourning for 10 months, she married director Hal Needham ("Smokey and the Bandit," "Cannonball Run I and II"). The couple separated last October.

Staying married to a celebrity isn't easy, Janssen notes. She has developed her own set of rules to live with them by:

The star always gets top billing. Forget visiting him on the set. ("If you married a doctor, would you watch him cut people open?") Allow him time to hang out with his male friends. ("He married you for better or worse--but never for lunch.") Give him the freedom to have flirtations with other women. ("I didn't know there was a monogamous man alive until I met Hal.") If a serious extramarital relationship develops, however, take the offensive. Either get him back or go see a good divorce lawyer.

Janssen hasn't held a job in decades and probably never will again. "As my astrologer just told me, marriage has been in my work house. So that's been my career.

"I'm a good wife," she adds. "That's what I do well."

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