Scandalous Facts About Marie McDonald, The Original Gone Girl

April 13, 2020 | Samantha Henman

Scandalous Facts About Marie McDonald, The Original Gone Girl

Forget Elizabeth Taylor or Frances Farmer. Taylor’s tumultuous marriages and Farmer’s public breakdown can’t quite match the twisted story of Marie McDonald, who not only got wrapped up in scandal…she relished it. She might not be as well-known as her contemporaries—but considering what she did, it’s no wonder that Hollywood tried to erase her. Strap in for these jaw-dropping facts about Marie McDonald, the original gone girl.

1. She Followed In Their Footsteps

The lives of Marie McDonald’s parents foreshadowed their daughter’s ultimate trajectory. Before Marie McDonald was born, her mother was a performer in the Ziegfeld Follies, a series of Broadway theatrical productions popular in the early part of the 20th century. She left New York and headed for Burgin, Kentucky, where she met Everett Frye, a prison warden.

Fittingly, Marie would spend time on stage—and as a prisoner.

Marie McDonald facts Getty Images

2. She Had A Stage Mom

Marie’s father barely had his chance to make a mark on her. After all, her parents divorced when she was six. Not only did her mother quickly move on, she took the family to Yonkers, New York, where Marie grew up. Sure, she came to be known as ambitious—but considering she was raised by a classic stage mom, it’s not surprising.

One thing about Marie McDonald, though—she was never going to stay under anyone’s thumb for too long.

Marie McDonald facts Wikipedia

3. She Was A Dropout

Marie showed great promise in school and even got an offer for a scholarship in Columbia University’s journalism program—but she already knew what she wanted, and a career behind a typewriter wasn’t it. She entered pageants and started modeling before dropping out of high school at 15. Marie was moving fast—in more ways than one.

Jack Kerouac factsWikimedia Commons

4. She Jumped In Feet First

Long before Britney Spears or Kim Kardashian got quick annulments after making a big marital mistake, Marie McDonald had the market cornered. In 1940, she met and fell in love with sportswriter Richard Allord. This short union became just the first in the series of tempestuous relationships throughout her life.

McDonald and Allord were wed for all of three weeks before they sought an annulment—all for a shocking reason.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

5. She Sent Him Packing

Whether it was her career or her personal life, Marie McDonald knew what she wanted—and when she didn’t get it, there was a brutal price to pay. Rumors about Marie alleged that she dumped Allord after she discovered that the diamond on the engagement ring that he gave her was fake. Whether or not that’s an overreaction depends on how you feel about diamonds.

While her first marriage may have been disappointing, Marie had high hopes for her first foray into Hollywood.

Jack Nicholson factsWikimedia Commons

6. Her Mentor Was Famous

Marie McDonald moved to Hollywood, ready for her first big break. It came courtesy of bandleader Tommy Dorsey, who hired her to sing with his big band. He ended up taking McDonald under his wing, and even helped her pick her new stage name. Before his suggestion, the beauty queen went by Marie Frye, but he came up with the idea of using her mother’s maiden name, McDonald.

Of course, that wasn’t the name that she came to be known for…

Marie McDonald FactsWikimedia Commons

7. Her Career Was A Flop

After her time with Dorsey, Marie McDonald finally won the film contract she dreamed of—but she didn’t get the overnight success she imagined. McDonald made $75 per week at Universal and had minor roles in a handful of films. However, she got one thing out of it. Her bodacious curves earned her the nickname “the Body”—but she learned the hard way that wasn’t quite enough to put her on the map.

Marie McDonald factsLiving in a Big Way (1947), MGM

8. She Played To Her Strengths

Marie McDonald thought her talent and looks were enough to make her a star—but she was in for a brutal realization. When a rumored romance with actor Bruce Cabot landed her name in the papers, Marie had no choice but to face the facts. She couldn’t get the movie reviewers to notice her performances—but she could certainly get the gossip columnists to write about her.

That knowledge would shape her career—and, as we’ll see, her darkest moments.

Marie McDonald FactsLiving in a Big Way (1947), MGM

9. She Pivoted

A little attention thanks to a relationship wasn’t enough for Universal Pictures, who unceremoniously dropped her. The rejection didn’t deter Marie, who had a trick up her sleeve. Not only did Marie’s new agent Vic Orsatti get her a contract with Paramount, he also got her a pay raise. He also had something else for her—something she’d had her eye on for years.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

10. She Married Her Agent

Marie McDonald not only moved up from Universal to Paramount, she also moved on from her unsatisfactory romance with Bruce Cabot. After all, Vic Orsatti, her agent, had so much more to offer her. This included a diamond ring—presumably real this time. The pair eloped in Reno, Nevada in 1943…but it wasn’t exactly happily ever after.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

11. She Helped The Troops

Vic Orsatti may have got her foot in the door, but Marie had trouble keeping it there. Paramount passed her off to another studio, where she saw moderate success—but another big break was on its way, and it came from an unlikely place. When WWII broke out, Hollywood stars did their best to help with the effort. Some volunteered, while others performed for the USO. McDonald…took another route.

Marie McDonald FactsLiving in a Big Way(1947),MGM

12. She Became A Pin-Up

Forget acting—Marie McDonald used her, ahem, most notable talents to help the troops out. After posing for a magazine called Yank, Marie became one of the most popular pin-up girls in Hollywood. Marie had certainly made a name for herself as “The Body”, AKA “the Body Beautiful”—but it wasn’t exactly what she wanted.

Marie McDonald factsWikipedia

13. She Hated What She Had To Do

Marie McDonald had learned early on what she’d have to do to achieve success—but that didn’t mean it didn’t disappoint her. Like many actresses of her generation, Marie wanted to be recognized for her acting talent, not for her physical attributes. Time after time, she was disappointed. She resigned herself to the harsh reality—but she also grew impatient with it.

Marie McDonald factsLiving in a Big Way (1947), MGM

14. She Flopped

Marie put her nose to the grindstone and found success in supporting roles, finally netting a nice contract with MGM in 1946. Their plan was to put her opposite Gene Kelly in 1947’s Living in a Big Way. The pair played a couple, but behind the scenes, they did not get along at all—and the consequences were disastrous.

Their lack of chemistry translated to the screen, and the film was one of MGM’s biggest flops that year—but then it got worse.

Marie McDonald factsLiving in a Big Way (1947), MGM

15. It Was Humiliating

When Living in a Big Way failed, MGM searched for a scapegoat. Gene Kelly was one of their biggest stars at the time, with a recent Oscar nomination—so they put the blame solely on Marie’s shoulders. Disgraced, Marie endured a further indignity when she had to pay to void her MGM contract.

And with professional disappointment came personal heartbreak.

Marie McDonald factsLiving in a Big Way (1947), MGM

16. They Called It Quits

Business and pleasure don’t always mix—and they certainly didn’t in the case of Marie McDonald and her husband/manger Vic Orsatti. After just a few years of marriage, the couple realized they had to pick one or the other—and they chose business. They separated in 1946, and while Orsatti continued to rep Marie, she moved on quite quickly.

Marie McDonald FactsGetty Images

17. Her Romantic History Was Colorful

Marie briefly rebounded with a Cuban millionaire named Jose Noval—but it was her next boyfriend who was the real definition of a bad boy. He was none other than notorious mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. But as it turned out, Bugsy was the one who ended up getting way more than he bargained for.

Bugsy Siegel factsGetty Images

18. He Couldn’t Handle Her

Marie and Bugsy’s relationship didn’t stand the test of time—and the reason they broke up was so hilarious, it’s unforgettable. Bugsy may not have been the most law-abiding guy, but even mobsters have standards. As the story goes, he actually broke up with Marie because she was chronically late.

Well, as it turned out, Bugsy probably made the right decision—as it was just the beginning of a very turbulent time in Marie’s life.

Bugsy Siegel factsGetty Images

19. She Jumped In Again

McDonald’s next romantic entanglement ushered in one of the most tumultuous—and frankly, downright bizarre—periods in her life. Even though she’d only been divorced from Orsatti for a few months at the time, she quickly married Harry Karl in September 1947.

Karl was a wealthy businessman, and for the next decade, their relationship was straight out of a soap opera—or a chilling thriller.

Debbie Reynolds factsWikimedia Commons

20. She Tried To Change Her Image

After years of tumultuous relationships and being known as “the Body,” McDonald was ready to be taken seriously for once. And now, with a millionaire husband to support her, she could take some risks. In an effort to avoid getting typecast as a blonde babe, she dyed her hair back to her natural brown—but her career still floundered. And it wasn’t the only part of her life that was falling apart.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

21. She Suffered Devastating Losses

At first, it was marital bliss for the young couple—but heartbreak was lurking just around the corner. Marie and Harry tried desperately to get pregnant, only for Marie to experience a total of six (!) miscarriages. Well, love finds a way, and they ended up adopting two children together—Denice and Harrison.

Still, familial bliss seemed to escape Marie.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

22. He Tried Everything To Fix Her

The multiple miscarriages weren’t the only health problems suffered by Marie during this time. She also suffered from ulcers and frequent fainting spells. Her husband was so concerned for his young wife’s health that he spent upward of $1 million on treatments for her—and the drama didn’t end there.

Marie McDonald factsLiving in a Big Way (1947), MGM

23. She Lost A Child

Harry was utterly devoted to Marie, and she was utterly devoted to their children. Her career was floundering anyway, so she decided to announce her retirement around 1952. Soon, she found herself pregnant again. Through the next few months, Marie and Harry waited with bated breath for their baby to come, only to be met with a cruel and brutal tragedy.

Their child was stillborn at six months—and this spelled even more trouble for Marie.

Marie McDonald Facts Flickr,RockyandNelson

24. She Was Struggling

Throughout the early years of her marriage, Marie had been hiding a dark secret. She was struggling with an addiction to painkillers—and her issue came to light in a shocking way. On June 21, 1954, officers detained Marie and charged her with driving while under the influence of sedatives. She’d crashed into three parked cars.

It was time to face the music.

Debbie Reynolds factsWikimedia Commons

25. She Divorced Him

With no other choice, Marie pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of hit-and-run, but luckily for her, she got off with a fine of just $50. But her problems weren’t over yet. The next few years saw Marie in a free fall, especially when it came to her marriage to Harry Karl. In November of 1954, the pair divorced—but Marie wasn’t quite done with Harry yet.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

26. She Thought He Was The Problem

Marie and Harry reconciled, but soon afterward, Marie made a shocking and utterly heartless statement about their relationship. She told the papers that she was separating from Karl again after discovering that she was “allergic” to him—but that’s not the most bizarre part.

She didn't mean it metaphorically. Marie genuinely thought her body was rejecting a relationship with Karl.

Marie McDonald factsWikimedia Commons

27. They Tried Again

Regardless of McDonald’s flair for the dramatic, the pair continued on with their tempestuous union and remarried in June of 1955—less than a year after their initial divorce. They went on to separate no less than five times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more drama was around the corner for the couple.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

28. They Kept Breaking Up

Marie finally found herself pregnant again in the spring of 1956. This should have been a time of great joy for the couple, but they didn’t let something like a pregnancy distract them from their breaking up and making up. First, Harry filed for divorce from Marie, citing “mental suffering”. That divorce was never completed, and in a true act of “you can’t fire me, I quit” sass, Marie filed for divorce herself just a month later. But they weren’t quite done yet.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

29. They Finally Had Another Child

This time, neither went through with the divorce proceedings. It’s possible that they were distracted, after all—Marie gave birth to their first biological child, daughter Tina, in September 1956. However, while they appeared blissful, something dark was swimming underneath the surface.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

30. Their Relationship Negatively Affected Their Child

Breakups and makeups and finally, a new baby. Sadly, there was an even darker side to this time in Marie’s life. Despite her history of miscarriages and her stillborn child, Harry was alleged to have gotten into a violent physical altercation with Marie when she was pregnant. It was so bad that her pregnancy was in jeopardy. She was also still using sedatives.

As a result, Tina Marie McDonald was born prematurely, and had to spend time in an incubator.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

31. She Moved On Quickly

After Tina's birth, Marie and Harry Karl remained separated—and Marie wasn’t exactly wallowing during that time. She quickly began dating debonair Michael Wilding, who'd just gotten divorced from a maneater who'd make even McDonald proud: Elizabeth Taylor. Hollywood: big city, small dating pool.

Marie McDonald FactsWikimedia Commons

32. She Racked ‘Em Up

When people think “Hollywood maneater,” they think of Elizabeth Taylor, but both she and Marie wed a total of seven times. However, while that grand achievement took Liz 46 years, Marie went through her seven marriages in just 25.

And while Marie definitely put her husbands through the ringer—it was Harry Karl who was there during the incident that came to tarnish Marie McDonald’s name forever.

Power couples FactsGetty Images

33. She Went Missing

It’s a story that still perplexes Hollywood historians to this day. Marie McDonald had already seen plenty of scandal, but in 1957, it was reported that she’d been abducted. The authorities eventually found her by the side of the road a day later—but when she spoke to investigators, her story began to unravel—and an even darker tale emerged.

Marie McDonald factsThe Geisha Boy (1958), Paramount Pictures

34. They Claimed Responsibility

It all began late one night in early January, 1957. That was when Marie’s mother Marie Tuboni received a phone call that made her blood run cold. The man on the other end claimed that he’d kidnapped her daughter. Tuboni immediately drove to her daughter’s home, only to find her gone.

The mailbox contained a chilling note from McDonald's abductors, claiming that they’d be in contact. It was terrifying—and it was about to get worse.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

35. She Reached Out

The note at Marie’s house told Tuboni not to call the authorities—and soon after, McDonald’s on-again-off-again partner Harry Karl received a similar message. According to Tuboni and Karl, the callers sounded particularly nervous. Understandable, I suppose, for someone keeping a starlet in captivity—but something else was off.

McDonald started making phone calls herself—including one to a gossip columnist. Things were not adding up.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

36. She Made A Series Of Calls

Marie not only called columnist Harrison Carroll, she also reached her then-boyfriend Michael Wilding and her agent Harold Plant. She told all three men that two men had entered her home demanding money, and that they’d sedated her with a mysterious substance. They took her to another home, where she’d been able to make the secret calls.

As she said, when they discovered her talking to Carroll, they’d gotten violent with her—and it only got worse from there.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

37. They Gave Up

Marie said that after the attack, her abductors blindfolded her and drove her around while they talked about fleeing to Mexico. However, her luck was about to change. When a report came over the radio about her kidnapping, they stopped on the side of the road and set her free. Her nightmare was over—or was it?

Jean Spangler factsWikimedia Commons

38. She Was In Rough Shape

After a truck driver found Marie wandering by the side of the road, he contacted the authorities. The starlet had injuries consistent with the attack she’d described, and two of her teeth were cracked, but she was fine otherwise. The investigators started to interview her, and Marie’s twisted tale soon began to unravel.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

39. Her Story Didn’t Add Up

Marie McDonald said the men had come to her door and threatened to shoot into her children’s rooms. She said that she let them in, and before they took her, they let her pack a bag and discussed how much ransom money they’d demand for her return. After they took Marie to another home, they made her take sedatives. However, as the authorities continued to interview her, key details would change.

Upon inspecting her home, officers retrieved a newspaper that had been used to make the note to Marie’s mother—but that wasn’t the only bizarre piece of evidence.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

40. It Was Strangely Similar

While looking at Marie’s home, authorities found a copy of a popular novel called The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. Considering her story, its contents were shocking. The plot of the book is—get this—about a starlet who is abducted by two men. The story’s details were far too similar to Marie’s account to ignore, and the theatrics only got more twisted from there.

Marie McDonald factsPromises..... Promises! (1963), VCI Home Video

41. She Couldn’t Get Her Story Straight

The authorities asked Marie to take a polygraph test—but she refused. Instead, she came up with a bizarre idea to get them to believe her. Marie agreed to recreate the circumstances of the kidnapping—she had been an actress, after all. As to the discrepancies in her story, she claimed that she’d been in shock. Ultimately, the authorities were left baffled and unable to investigate much further. A grand jury looked into the matter but ultimately declined to charge anyone. To this day, the "abduction" is one of Hollywood's strangest mysteries.

Marie McDonald facts Wikimedia Commons

42. They Pointed The Finger At Each Other

The authorities weren’t the only one who doubted Marie’s story. Her husband Harry Karl told officers that Marie was “not a well woman” and that he didn’t believe her story because the Marie he knew would’ve put up a fight. Marie’s response was deranged.

Unable to leave well enough alone, McDonald shot back that Karl had to have been part of her kidnapping. He denied it, and she later recanted. Their relationship was seriously twisted—but it wasn’t quite done yet.

Marie McDonald factsThe Geisha Boy (1958), Paramount Pictures

43. They Gave It Another Try

Somehow—even after accusing each other of taking part in a literal crime—Marie and Harry got back together again. Imagine being friends with these people? They made it through most of 1957 before separating. Their second divorce was final in April 1958, after five years of drama. We can only imagine Marie’s friends and family breathed a sigh of relief—at least, until she met her next beau.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

44. She Was Spiraling

Marie soon fell for casino owner George Capri. There was just one problem. He was married at the time—but he’d promised to marry her once his divorce was final. Their relationship was short-lived, but not without its own drama. While staying in Las Vegas, Marie had to be hospitalized after taking too many sedatives—it would be a chilling omen of her dark fate.

Bugsy Siegel factsWikimedia Commons

45. She Kept Going

Following her dalliance with Capri—spoiler alert, they never got married—Marie had a short-lived marriage with a man named Louis Bass. How short lived? Ten months. When McDonald filed for divorce from Bass, she cited “mental cruelty”…but oh, how quickly those tables would turn.

Marie’s next husband, Edward Callahan, made the same claim in his divorce filing—but he didn’t stop there.

Marie McDonald factsGuest in the House (1944),United Artists

46. He Turned The Tables On Her

Callahan also accused Marie of fraud. For her part, she accused him of cheating on her and borrowing money to pay for the wedding and honeymoon. That’s marriage six, husband five—and for those who are keeping score, that means there’s just one left.

Marie McDonald factsIt

47. She Had A Breakdown

Following her divorce from Callahan, Marie was alleged to have had a nervous breakdown. After she spent time in—and escaped from (!)—a mental hospital, the starlet was then detained for faking a prescription. And of course, because this is Marie McDonald we're talking about, the drama didn’t stop there.

Marie McDonald factsPromises..... Promises! (1963), VCI Home Video

48. She Tried A Comeback

Marie’s “kidnapping” had derailed her career, but by the 1960s she was primed to make a comeback. With the loosening of restrictions around nudity in film, there was suddenly a race to release a movie featuring a fully nude scene with a major star. One of the contenders was a production called Promises! Promises!, starring Jayne Mansfield (who’d take care of the scene in question). Marie got a part in the film—but it didn’t go according to plan.

Marie McDonald factsPromises..... Promises! (1963), VCI Home Video

49. She Got Into Trouble On Set

Promises! Promises! was never going to be Oscar bait, but the racy flick was guaranteed to get plenty of attention. It was a huge opportunity for Marie, but when she arrived on set, things took a dark turn. Jayne and Marie clashed and had numerous fights—but Marie had something of an upper hand.

She became involved with the film’s producer, Donald F Taylor, and the two later married—but it was no happily ever after.

Jayne Mansfield factsPromises..... Promises! (1963), VCI Home Video

50. Her Final Marriage Was A Mess

Marie’s marriage to Taylor was among her shortest. They married in 1963 and nearly separated right away due to the violent nature of their relationship. But that wasn’t the only reason it was so brief. Their time together was limited because a dark fate was waiting just around the corner for Marie.

Marie McDonald FactsPromises..... Promises! (1963), VCI Home Video

51. She Was Just 42

Behind the scenes, Marie continued to struggle with her addiction to pills—and in 1965, it finally caught up with her. Marie's sixth husband, Donald F Taylor, found his wife's lifeless body in their home in October of that year. She was just 42 years old. An extensive investigation ensued, and it was suspected that she’d either taken an accidental or intentional overdose of prescription meds.

Eventually, a team of experts ruled that her overdose was accidental. It was cold comfort for her grieving family—but the story didn’t end there.

Marie McDonald factsGetty Images

52. The Aftermath Was Shocking

The aftermath of Marie's passing was absolutely brutal for those she left behind. Her husband took his life three months later, and Marie's father suffered from the same fate a little over a year after her passing. But when it came to Marie’s children, an unexpected figure stepped in.

When Marie passed, Harry Karl’s then-wife, Debbie Reynolds, sprang into action and took them in—but there was a strange twist.

Debbie Reynolds factsGetty Images

53. She Stood Up For Her Former Rival

Years earlier, a rumor had spread that Eddie Fisher had cheated on Debbie Reynolds with Marie McDonald. Of course, Debbie got some form of revenge by marrying Marie’s ex, Harry Karl. Sadly, after Debbie and Harry split, she left the children with their father, who hadn’t been terribly interested in raising them in the first place.

However, Debbie didn’t totally leave them in the cold, of course. America's sweetheart lived up to her name by financially supporting all three of Marie's children until her passing in December 2016.

Debbie Reynolds factsGetty Images

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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