She was never one to pull punches, especially when it came to asking celebrities anything – everything – whether it was quizzing Sylvester Stallone about leaving his wife, pushing Bob Hope to talk about his money, or digging for information about the jet set drug culture in Aspen, Colorado after the 1976 shooting of skier Spider Sabich by singer Claudine Longet. She also cut a memorable figure of her own with enormous energy and a mischievous sense of humor. This was a woman who owned a pair of shoes that could be converted into roller skates and wore them backstage at the Academy Awards on a dare. She dearly loved the Hollywood beat, but at the same time, after decades of dealing with studios, publicists and stars, she once joked that she was going to become a rancher, “because if there’s one thing I know, it’s bullshit.”
Marilyn wrote her first column for Bell McClure syndicate in 1967, having already established herself on the entertainment beat with a local column and fan magazine writing and editing. In 1970, she was namedsuccessor to Sheilah Graham by the North American Newspaper Alliance. Beck became a favorite interviewer of show business notables the likes of Richard Burton — who shared stories of his life with Elizabeth Taylor when their affair was the scandal du juor in 1963 and all three of them were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Elvis Presley gave Marilyn his first interview after mustering out of the military. Dick Van Dyke, who chose Marilyn when he a decided to go public with his alcoholism, Lucille Ball, who disclosed to her nearly-debilitating health issues, and Michael Landon, who revealed his battles with pill dependence, are three examples of stars who placed their trust in her. She had long-running feuds with prickly, arrogant actors such as Robert Blake — and favorite interview subjects such as George Burns, who co-hosted one of her “Hollywood Outtakes” specials.
She saw through the psychedelic clouds of the time and wrote incisively, sometimes derisively, about the radically-changing film and TV scene of the 1960’s — the “Switched On Hollywood” as she was originally going to title her Marilyn Beck’s Hollywood tome of 1972 — “Easy Rider,” “Laugh-In” and the loss of flower power innocence that came with the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Although Beck had studied journalism at USC, the Chicago-born, Los Angeles-bred writer truly began her journalism journey after her son Mark and daughter Andee were both in grade school. As a housewife and mother with a newspaperman husband (the late Roger Beck), early on she would describe her fan magazine stories and celebrity news efforts as her “outlet” — as if they were simply something to supplement the family income and amuse herself between housework and shopping. It had to have become apparent fairly quickly that her capabilities and ambitions were too big to fit within such confines.
Through the ’70s her influence grew, and the end of the decade saw her prominently featured in the New York Daily News, with two reporters in their early twenties working alongside of her — daughter Andee and Stacy Jenel Smith, who was later to become her writing partner. After her divorce, Beck moved to a hillside home in Beverly Hills that she remodeled to include offices. There, amidst the furious clacking of typewriters, she and her staff (several different reporters after Andee took up her own career as a TV critic in Oregon) worked on an intense daily drive to pack each of her columns with A-list interviews and exclusive news items about the goings-on of the show business world. The house on El Roble was frequented by stars and TV crews.
With a visionary streak, Beck was determined to find a place on the internet when other journalists were ignoring it. By the late 1980s she was answering entertainment-related reader questions for Prodigy online. By 1990 she and Smith were popular contributors to CompuServe. Beck thought up the idea, never before attempted, of taking reader queries live, and then posing them to winners in the press room of the Academy Awards. This was accomplished as a co-venture with Michael Bolanos’ Entertainment Drive.
Also in the ’90s, Beck and Smith were staples of E! Entertainment’s “The Gossip Show,” did regular streamed video reports on the internet’s AENTV, and frequently appeared on other programs dealing with entertainment news. The 2000s saw Marilyn spending more time globe-trotting with her second husband (since 1980), retired mediator Arthur Levine, who shared her zest for adventure — and less time chasing stories. Having been at the forefront of reporting during the Roman Polanski scandal and court case of the 1970s, Beck appeared in James Marsh’s 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.”
Beck won numerous awards throughout her career, including honors from the Los Angeles City Council, the Southern California Motion Picture Council and the ICG Publicists Guild of America. She was listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who of American Women and Who’s Who in Entertainment. But her family always came first – and she was known to quote Lucille Ball, with whom she agreed that “If your children do well, they’re your greatest achievement. If they don’t do well, none of your other achievements matter.”
She is survived by Levine, daughter Andee Beck Althoff (who became a corporate paralegal before the newspaper business imploded) and son-in-law Jim Althoff; son Mark (a leading California attorney) and daughter-in-law Bonnie Saland; brother Mitchell Mohr; step-children Patty and Michael Levine; granddaughter Jeorgea Beck (Aaron Kirby) and grandsons Zeke Beck (Laura) and Harry Althoff (Jenn Thomas) and Daniel Althoff.