James “Jim” Bacon, the last of the colorful chroniclers of Hollywood’s Golden Era, died today of congestive heart failure in his sleep at his Northridge home. He was 96. In his many decades as a Hollywood journalist, columnist and author, Bacon traveled Vietnam battlefields with Bob Hope, sipped Jack Daniels with Frank Sinatra, hung out with John Wayne, and was a confidant of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, according to his official biography. Bacon was a reporter and Hollywood columnist for the Associated Press for 23 years, and a Hollywood columnist for Hearst’s now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner for 18 years. He received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 6, 2007. His last Hollywood column appeared on June 6th in Beverly Hills 213 where he had written for 10 years. He was the author of three best-selling books, two chronicling his Hollywood years, Hollywood Is A Four Letter Town (1976), and Made In Hollywood (1970), and a third writing comedian Jackie Gleason’s autobiography, How Sweet It Is (1985).
I was fortunate to have known Jim Bacon — we’d both spent many years reporting for the AP from around the world in our careers – and I’d occasionally take him out to lunch and just listen quietly while he’d tell me about his many years covering Hollywood. The story I remember best? How the old MGM and MCA publicity machine had conspired with him to cover up a rape committed by then huge star Mario Lanza.
According to his official biography, Bacon broke many major stories of Hollywood’s Golden Era. He was the only reporter in the actress Lana Turner’s bedroom as she detailed the fatal stabbing of her lover Johnny Stompanato by her daughter Cheryl Crane. (A longtime Lana pal, he’d palmed himself off as the coroner to get past the police barricade.) It was Bacon who accompanied Elizabeth Taylor’s physician to her home to break the news that her third husband, impresario Mike Todd, died in a plane crash in New Mexico. Bacon had declined Todd’s invitation to accompany him on the flight and was on the plane’s manifest. Bacon was the only reporter allowed in the house and briefed the reporters outside. A few years later, Bacon traveled to the tiny Mexican fishing village of Puerto Vallarta where Liz was having a very public romance with Richard Burton while he filmed Night of the Iguana there. The actress’ 4th husband, singer Eddie Fisher, refused to give her a divorce. As Bacon later related, he reached Fisher by ship-to-shore phone to ask why he wouldn’t accept the multi-million dollar settlement. Fisher replied, “Because I’m still married to Elizabeth.” To which Bacon replied, “Let me be the first to tell you that Richard Burton is down here having a helluva lot of fun with your wife.” Years later Liz told a television interviewer, “He has always been one of the most forthcoming, honest, true, unbitchy [journalists] …a dear, dear friend.”
As his official obit points out, “Bacon’s wit, his capacity for Dom Perignon champagne and whiskey, as well as the accuracy and world-wide reach of the Associated Press made him a favorite companion of many of Hollywood’s legendary stars. Clint Eastwood, in a 1999 E! True Hollywood Story, said of him: “Jim always made you feel like …he was a pal looking to hang out.” That was why John Wayne confided his battle with cancer to Bacon, who broke the story.
James Bacon grew up in small central Pennsylvania towns and would write that he began his fascination with motion pictures at age 6 at the lone movie house. “The first movie I saw was an Art Accord two-reeler Western directed by a young William Wyler, freshly arrived from Germany,” Bacon once recalled. “About 35 years later, Wyler, by then a top Hollywood director, told me he not only had a shaky knowledge of English back then, but also had no idea what a Western was.” He would later graduate from Syracuse University. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, Bacon rejoined the Associated Press in the Chicago bureau in 1946 and transferred to the Los Angeles bureau in 1948. He first met a teenage Betty Grable in 1933 when she appeared at Notre Dame. She later introduced him to Frank Sinatra.
Some 25 years later, Bacon was filling in the wee small hours with Frank Sinatra at intimate star-studded parties after the singer’s performances in Las Vegas showrooms. In 1958, former actress Grace Kelly, then newly Princess Grace of Monaco, invited Bacon to attend her first Red Cross gala. Sinatra was performing and afterwards Sinatra kept the party going in his suite at the Hotel de Paris while Noel Coward played piano and Somerset Maugham applauded. Read More »