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!