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Marilyn Monroe secrets were safe — at least for a while

Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio's Wrong-Door Raid would be great fodder for paparazzi today, but because it happened in the '50s, it remained a secret for years.

June 05, 2011|By Steve Harvey, Los Angeles Times
  • A smiling Frank Sinatra waits to testify about the Wrong-Door Raid.
A smiling Frank Sinatra waits to testify about the Wrong-Door Raid. (Associated Press )

One version of the story holds that Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra were having dinner at the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood on a November evening in 1954 when they got the tip: A private investigator phoned to say the ballplayer's estranged wife, Marilyn Monroe, was inside a nearby apartment building, possibly with a lover.

Without bothering to pay the bill, DiMaggio stormed out of the eatery, followed by Sinatra and various associates, as well as Billy Karen, the restaurant maitre d'.

Someone volunteered to pay the bill later, but the maitre d' responded that the bill was no problem, he just wanted "in on this thing," author J. Randy Taraborrelli wrote in "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe."

A few minutes later, the group kicked in an apartment door on Waring Avenue. They found not Monroe but a lone resident, Florence Kotz, who was in her bed, screaming in terror, witnesses later related.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Wrong-Door Raid, as it came to be known, was how easily it was covered up.

Half a century ago, paparazzi didn't stake out celebrity haunts like the Villa Capri, nor were there videographers like the ones who chase famous folks on the current television show "TMZ." So there was no initial alert that anything was up.

Later, police were called to the apartment building but, as was their job back then when big celebrities were involved in some sort of mischief, they just took a report and calmed everybody down.

No charges were filed.

Kotz didn't rush out and file a lawsuit.

And the scandal-wary Times published no story on the affair for more than two years.

The incident didn't come to light until Confidential magazine published an article, "The Real Reason for Marilyn Monroe's Divorce from Joe DiMaggio," after someone sold the publication details of the contretemps.

This caught the eye of a state Senate committee that was looking into whether private detectives and others were leaking juicy gossip to scandal magazines while engaged in unethical practices.

Sinatra was served with a subpoena on Feb. 16, 1957, after being awakened in the bedroom of his Palm Springs home at 4 a.m. by what he described as three men and "a loud, intoxicated woman," The Times reported.

The Los Angeles Police Department, which served the subpoena, said two officers were involved and no women, intoxicated or otherwise.

Why the LAPD was involved was unclear; then-Chief William Parker later said the department often helped out government committees in such cases.

When it came to the main figures in the raid, some of the testimony before the committee was contradictory.

Sinatra testified that he drove DiMaggio to the scene but said he stayed in his car, parked around the corner, while the others went inside.

Private eye Barney Ruditsky, who admitted to knocking down Kotz's door, also said Sinatra did not participate. DiMaggio agreed.

The ballplayer, who did not appear in person — he said he had business in Florida — related in a written statement that he didn't go inside the room either. He merely peeked in the door, he wrote.

But private eye Philip Irwin had DiMaggio and Sinatra playing bigger roles. "I was the first one in [Kotz's room] because I had the camera," Irwin said. "I saw a bed in the dark. I took a picture of it. Everyone had come in. Sinatra turned on the light and then someone yelled 'It's the wrong apartment!' There was a scramble for the door."

Landlady Virginia Blasgen recalled that shortly before all the commotion started, she saw two men, "a tall one and a short one.... The tall one was mad and walking up and down. The little one was jumping up and down and looking at me, smiling."

She added, "They seemed so familiar and so well dressed. They looked out of place in the neighborhood."

"That's not very good advertising for your property," commented one state senator, drawing laughter.

Asked if she recognized the two men, Blasgen said, "Umm-hmm. Frank Sinatra was the smaller man and Joe DiMaggio was the taller one."

Almost forgotten in all the excitement was Monroe. Just where was she? Upstairs, according to another tenant, Sheila Renour.

"Marilyn had come up to my place for dinner," Renour testified. "She was sitting in the living room and I was washing dishes when it all happened."

Years later, however, music coach Hal Schaefer told author Taraborrelli that Monroe was with him that night in the apartment.

And private eye Ruditsky later told author Roger Kahn ("Joe and Marilyn") that he knew Monroe was with a man and, afraid of how DiMaggio might react, "figured out a little ruse."

Ruditsky went into the apartment building first and purposely kicked down the wrong door. No one involved in the incident was ever prosecuted.

Kotz, the raid victim, eventually did sue her tormentors for $200,000. She settled for $7,500, The Times said.

History doesn't record whether the dinner bill at the Villa Capri was ever paid.

steveharvey9@gmail.com

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