A Mink Coat, A Joint, The REAL Housewives of Beverly Hills, and Me

February 15, 2011

An article in the new “Vanity Fair Magazine” (March 2011) just took me for a rollicking trip down memory lane with  Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, my parents, and Freddie and Janet de Cordova, who are the focus of the article. Freddie produced The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His wife Janet was my mother’s close friend who also smoked a joint in my parents’ Beverly Hills home and then sent me a photo of herself clad in a mink coat….and nothing else.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The “Vanity Fair” article (wonderfully written by Matt Tyrnauer) starts on page 222 and  is entitled “Once Upon A Time In Beverly Hills”. It focuses primarily on Janet deCordova being one of the flashiest and most brazen of the women of an era from the 1960s through the 1980s who truly were The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Those women, all of whom are mentioned in the article, range from Mary (wife of Jack) Benny, to Audrey (wife of Billy) Wilder, to Nancy (wife of Ronald), to Betsy (wife of Alfred) Bloomingdale, to Janet and my mother. (There’s a photo of them in the article as well.)

I knew the DeCordovas because they were frequent visitors in our home. I was, however, stunned (and utterly amused) to learn in the “Vanity Fair” article that Janet had actually smoked a joint at a party in my parents’ house! As “de rigeur” as that might sound today, back then (late 1960s, early 1970s), that would have been quite a faux pas/ scandal in the Hollywood social set that frequented those parties, including then Governor, soon to be President Ronald Reagan. If the Reagans were at that party (and there is no indication that they were), and my mother had seen Janet smoking a joint, she would have had a litter of kittens on the spot!

Reading the story about Janet’s escapades didn’t totally shock me because Janet so openly flirted with me that it appalled my parents and scared me to death. I was in my early 20s, she was in her late 40s/early 50s. After The Graduate was released in 1967, she started calling me “Benjamin” (the Dustin Hoffman character in the film who was seduced by his mother’s friend, played by Anne Bancroft).

I talked about Janet in Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

” Janet was an attractive, vivacious woman in her forties who so openly flirted with me that, after The Graduate was released, she sent me a photograph of her.

Clad only in a mink coat, she signed it:  ‘To Benjamin…Love, Mrs. Robinson.’

Like the on-screen Benjamin, I was terrified.

Unlike the on-screen Benjamin, nothing ever happened with Janet.”

But that episode did have a major impact on me a short time later when I was in Las Vegas with my “godfather” Frank Sinatra and he literally had to rescue me from a very similar situation.

But that, as they say, is another story.

For now, I heartily recommend Matt Tyrnauer’s wonderful “Vanity Fair” story. Have fun!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gay Hendricks February 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for the tip on the article, Stephen. I read it last night, and read parts of it aloud to Katie. The picture in the article of your mother and her ‘buds’ is an amazing still-frame documentary all its own. Really captures a time.

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Stephen Simon February 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Thanks so much, Doc….yeah, that is certainly a time gone by…..nearly that entire group of people are now gone….that was an amazing time to live through….and connecting with all those people, the great and the near-great and the poseurs as well…..certainly brought back a lot of memories for me…”Once Upon A Time in Beverly Hills” indeed…..p.s. a story I probably never told you…my folks took me to Hawaii once with Debbie Reynolds and Harry Karl, her husband at the time…Harry owned a huge chain of stores called KARL’S SHOES…first night in Hawaii, he knocks on our door and asks my stepfather if he can borrow some shoes!…his explanation was that Debbie forgot to pack any of his shoes…..could have been a good indication right there that the marriage was wobbly!

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