Let’s get this straight, Marilyn Monroe had nothing on Marie McDonald. McDonald may not be as well-known as Monroe, but she had more scandals (and husbands) than most other actresses combined. If you’ve ever read about a Golden Age starlet and thought their life didn’t match their dramatic movies, Marie McDonald is the gal for you.
Strap in for 50 facts about Marie McDonald, Hollywood’s original gone girl.
Marie McDonald Facts
1. She Was Known for Her Buxom Build
After Marie McDonald burst onto the scene in the Abbott and Costello film Pardon My Sarong, Marie McDonald’s curvaceous shape netted her the nickname “The Body Beautiful.” Later, Hollywood shortened that moniker to “the Body.” Knowing McDonald’s dark history, calling her “the Body” becomes all the more sinister.
2. She Fought Against Being Labelled a Sex Object
Marie McDonald relished in the attention, but she did eventually get sick of only being known for her physique. She hoped to achieve recognition for her career and talent. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen. Instead, McDonald gained infamy for a series of utterly outrageous scandals that splashed her name across tabloid headlines.
3. She Gave Liz Taylor a Run for her Money
When people think “Hollywood maneater,” they think of Elizabeth Taylor, but both Taylor and Marie McDonald wed a total of seven times. However, while that grand achievement took Taylor 46 years, McDonald went through her seven marriages in just 25. It’s not a competition, but…
4. Her Family Was Full of Entertainers
Does the showbiz bug get passed down genetically? 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. On top of that, her grandmother worked as a singer for the opera.
5. She Went From Country Girl to City Girl
McDonald’s mother Cora Frye left Broadway for Burgin, Kentucky, where Marie was born. Her father Evertt Frye was a prison warden, but the two didn’t spend a whole lot of time together. Cora and Evertt divorced when Marie was just six years old. When Cora remarried, she returned to her old stomping ground of New York with her husband and Marie in tow.
6. She Was in the First Movie With a Full Nude Scene
In the early 1960s, 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. Marilyn Monroe was supposed to be the first, and even filmed her scene for Something’s Got to Give, but after her tragic death, the studio shelved the flick.
Into that void stepped a production called Promises! Promises!, starring Jayne Mansfield (who’d take care of the nude scene part) and fellow blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren. When Van Doren dropped out of the production, McDonald got her part.
7. 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 McDonald, but when she arrived on set, things took a dark turn. Mansfield and McDonald clashed and had numerous fights—but McDonald had something of an upper hand. She became involved with the film’s producer, Donald F. Taylor, and the two later married.
8. She Had a Famous Mentor
Marie McDonald’s first big break 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 bombshell went by Marie Frye, but he came up with the idea of using her mother’s maiden name, McDonald.
Of course, as good a mentor as Dorsey was, he couldn’t stop his charge from making some brutal mistakes…
9. Her First Marriage Was Kardashian-Level Short
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.
10. She Dumped Her First Husband for Lying
It’s alleged that McDonald 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…
11. She Struggled in Hollywood
After her time with Dorsey, McDonald finally won the film contract she dreamed of—but it wasn’t exactly the meteoric rise to fame that we often hear about. McDonald made $75 per week at Universal and had minor roles in a handful of films, including the Abbot and Costello movie that earned her the nickname “the Body,” but she was eventually dropped by the studio.
12. She Was Involved With Her Agent in More Ways Than One
After getting dropped by Universal, McDonald knew she needed a new way to reach the next level in Hollywood—and she found one. She hired agent Vic Orsatti. He got McDonald a contract with Paramount—for even more than Universal paid her—but that wasn’t the only thing he got her. Orsatti also delivered the real diamond engagement ring that McDonald had been waiting for.
The pair eloped in Reno, Nevada in 1943.
13. She Found Fame as a Pin-Up Girl
When the US was deep in the middle of WWII, Hollywood stars were helping the war effort in any way that they could—and McDonald did her part as only “The Body Beautiful” could. After posing for a magazine called Yank, McDonald became one of the most popular pin-up girls in Hollywood.
14. She Was More Than Just a Pretty Face
Sadly, McDonald’s fame as a pin-up girl didn’t translate into acting opportunities. She didn’t see much more success in the 40s, moving from supporting role to supporting role. She was best known for her body—after all, she had that nickname—but her tragic story was similar to so many other starlets of her day.
More than anything, she wanted to be recognized for her skills.
15. She Couldn’t Stay Away From On-Set Tension
It seems like every time Marie McDonald caught a break, on-set drama ruined everything. It happened on the set of Promises! Promises!, but long before that, it happened when she was cast 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. Maybe their lack of chemistry translated to the screen.
The film was a huge loss, and one of MGM’s biggest flops that year—but it got worse.
16. MGM Blamed Her for a Movie’s Failure
When Living in a Big Way failed, MGM searched for a scapegoat. Kelly was one of their biggest stars at the time, with a recent Oscar nomination—so the blame fell solely on McDonald’s shoulders. Disgraced, McDonald endured a further indignity when she had to pay to void her MGM contract. Ouch.
17. Her Romantic History Was Colorful, to Say the Least
McDonald and her second husband Vic Orsatti divorced after a little more than four years of marriage in 1947. A big fan of the rebound, McDonald very quickly became involved with a Cuban millionaire by the name of Jose Noval. After they broke up, she dated the definition of a bad boy: the infamous gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.
18. She Was Terminally Tardy
McDonald and Siegel’s relationship was just the beginning of a turbulent time in her life—but even mobsters have standards. It’s said that Siegel actually broke up with McDonald because she was late so often. Guess tardiness was way worse than assassinations, illegal gambling, and bootlegging in his books.
19. She Moved On Very Quickly
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.
20. Her Career Stalled After Her Dramatic Second Marriage
After years of tumultuous relationships and being known as “the Body,” McDonald was ready to be taken seriously for once. When she got married, she dyed her hair back to her natural brown and looked out for more serious roles, but still floundered. Sadly, her career wasn’t the only part of her life that was falling apart.
21. The Early Years of Her Marriage Were Filled With Heartbreak
At first, it was marital bliss for the young couple—but heartbreak was lurking just around the corner. McDonald and Karl tried desperately to get pregnant, only for McDonald to experience a total of six (!) miscarriages. Still, love finds a way, and they ended up adopting two children together—Denice and Harrison.
22. She Was Beset By Health Problems in Her 20s
The multiple miscarriages weren’t the only health problems suffered by McDonald during this time. She also suffered from ulcers and frequent fainting spells. Karl was said to be so concerned for his young wife’s health that he spent upwards of $1 million on treatments for her—and the craziness didn’t end there.
23. She Wanted to Be a Full-Time Mom
Motherhood gave McDonald a new purpose, and she announced that she was retiring from acting to raise her children. Soon after, she became pregnant again, but tragedy struck again when the baby was stillborn. Marie McDonald just couldn’t catch a break in her career or her personal life—and behind the scenes, she was hiding a dark secret.
24. She Struggled With Addiction
McDonald began using prescription pills, only to become increasingly dependent on them. As time wore on, her substance became was a huge problem—until one day, she couldn’t hide her dark secret anymore. In 1954, police arrested McDonald for driving under the influence. She’d managed to crash into three cars while on sedatives.
25. She Took On-Again, Off-Again to the Next Level
The next few years saw McDonald in a free fall—especially when it came to her marriage to Harry Karl. The pair separated no less than five times. The first of these separations came in November of 1954 and resulted in their first—but not last—divorce. Of course, as we mentioned, it didn’t stick, and they reunited a few months later.
26. She Had a Way With Words
In January of 1955, just after McDonald and Karl reconciled, McDonald 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. And she didn’t mean it metaphorically, McDonald genuinely thought her body was rejecting a relationship with Karl.
27. She Married the Same Man Twice
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. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more drama was around the corner for the couple.
28. Not Even a Baby Could Keep Them Together
McDonald finally found herself with child 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, Karl filed for divorce from McDonald, citing “mental suffering.” That divorce was never completed, and in a true act of “you can’t fire me, I quit” sass, McDonald filed for divorce herself just a month later.
They weren’t quite done yet though, as neither went through with the divorce proceedings. They might have been preoccupied, after all—McDonald gave birth to daughter Tina in September 1956.
29. Her Husband Was Abusive in More Ways Than One
However, there was an even darker side to this time in McDonald’s life. Despite her history of miscarriages and her stillborn child, Karl was alleged to have gotten into a violent physical altercation with McDonald when she was pregnant. It was so bad that her pregnancy was in jeopardy. She was also still abusing sedatives.
As a result, Tina Marie McDonald was born prematurely and had to spend time in an incubator.
30. She Wasted no Time Moving On
After Tina’s birth, McDonald and Karl remained separated—and McDonald 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.
31. She Was Involved in a Bizarre Crime…
Perhaps the biggest scandal attached to McDonald’s name happened in 1957, when it was reported that she’d been abducted. She was eventually found by the side of the road a day later, but when she spoke to police, her story began to unravel—and an even darker tale emerged.
32. She Went Missing in 1957
Late one night in early January, 1957, McDonald’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.
33. Her Kidnappers Seemed Off
The note told Tuboni not to call the police—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 then McDonald started making phone calls herself—including one to a gossip columnist.
Something was fishy.
34. She Called Three Different People While Being Held
McDonald 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 attacked her—and it only got worse from there.
35. She Was Set Free—But Nothing Added Up
McDonald said that after the attack, her abductors blindfolded her and drove her around while they talked about fleeing to Mexico. However, 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?
36. Someone Hurt Her—But Who?
After a truck driver found McDonald 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 police started to interview her, and McDonald’s twisted tale soon began to unravel.
37. Her Story Didn’t Add Up
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 McDonald to another home, they made her take sedatives. However, as the police continued to interview her, key details would change.
Upon inspecting McDonald’s home, police retrieved a newspaper that had been used to make the note to McDonald’s mother—but that wasn’t the only smoking gun.
38. Her Kidnapping Was Strangely Similar to a Famous Book
McDonald was also found to be in possession of a popular novel called The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. 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 McDonald’s account to ignore—and the theatrics only got more twisted from there.
39. The Police Washed Their Hands of the Manner
After refusing to take a lie detector test, McDonald agreed to recreate the circumstances of the kidnapping with the police—she had been an actress, after all. As to the discrepancies in her story, she claimed that she’d been in shock. Ultimately, the police 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.
40. There Was a Real He-Said She-Said Over It All
Of course, McDonald’s soon-to-be ex-husband had to chime in on the matter. Karl told police that McDonald was “not a well woman” and that he doubted her story because the McDonald he knew would’ve put up a fight. 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.
Either way, it seems like Karl was as much of a drama queen as McDonald—but the pair weren’t done with each other just yet.
41. They Couldn’t Stay Away From Each Other
Somehow—even after accusing each other of taking part in a literal crime to the police—McDonald and Karl 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 McDonald’s friends breathed a sigh of relief—at least, until she met her next beau.
42. She Didn’t Have the Best Taste in Men
McDonald 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, McDonald had to be hospitalized after taking too many sedatives—it would be a chilling omen of her dark fate.
43. She Had an Affair With a Famous Married Man
Many know about the infamous Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor love triangle. For those who don’t, they were the Brangelina of the 1960s: Fisher cheated on his wife Reynolds with her friend Taylor and later went on to marry her. But that’s not even the most scandalous part of the love triangle…
It’s actually more of a love square: It’s alleged that McDonald actually had an affair with Fisher while he was still married to Reynolds, before he left for her Taylor. If you’re a bit lost, imagine how Reynolds felt in all of this!
44. She Was Quick To Marry…Again and Again
Following her dalliance with Capri—spoiler alert, they never got married—McDonald 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.
45. Accusations Flew in Her Sixth Divorce
McDonald married again, this time to a man named Edward Callahan. Just a little over a year into the marriage, Callahan filed for divorce from McDonald, citing “mental cruelty” and 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.
46. She May Have Spent Time in an Asylum
Following her divorce from Callahan, McDonald was alleged to have had a nervous breakdown. After she spent time in—and escaped from (!)—a mental hospital, the starlet was then arrested for faking a prescription. And of course, because this is Marie McDonald we’re talking about, the drama didn’t stop there.
47. …But She Gave Marriage One Last Chance
Remember Promises! Promises!, the racy film which featured Hollywood’s first fully nude scene since the silent era? Well, it was on the set of that movie where McDonald met her sixth and final husband, Donald F. Taylor. They married in 1963, and nearly separated right away due to the violent nature of their relationship.
Their time together would be limited, as a dark fate was waiting just around the corner for McDonald.
48. She Died At Only 42
Behind the scenes, McDonald continued to struggle with her addiction to pills—and in 1965, it finally caught up with her. McDonald’s sixth husband, Donald F. Taylor, found his wife dead 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 died of an accidental or intentional overdose of prescription drugs.
Eventually, a team of experts ruled that her death was accidental. It was cold comfort for her grieving family—but the story didn’t end there.
49. The Aftermath of her Death was Shocking
The aftermath of McDonald’s death was absolutely brutal for those she left behind. Taylor died by suicide three months later, and McDonald’s father suffered from the same fate a little over a year after her passing. Meanwhile, McDonald’s three children with Karl were immediately taken in by his then-wife, none other than Debbie Reynolds (the tiny Hollywood dating pool strikes again).
50. Her Family Was Taken Care of by Another Celebrity
Sadly, following Karl and Reynolds’ divorce, she left the children with their father, who hadn’t been terribly interested in raising them in the first place. However, Reynolds didn’t totally leave them in the cold, of course. America’s sweetheart lived up to her name by financially supporting all three of McDonald’s children until her death in December 2016.