James Bacon was an AP reporter from Chicago when he arrived in Hollywood in 1948, a time when Los Angeles had six daily newspapers and rival Hollywood gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons reigned supreme.
After covering Hollywood for the AP, Bacon worked briefly as a publicist in the mid-1960s before returning to the entertainment beat as a columnist at the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner from 1968 to 1986.
Drinking was a common theme during Bacon's Hollywood heyday, as chronicled in many of the stories he recounted in his two spicy and entertaining books published in the 1970s, "Hollywood Is a Four Letter Town" and "Made in Hollywood."
Bacon sipped champagne with Sophia Loren at her suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, regularly frequented a Sunset Boulevard bar with Robert Mitchum and often drank vodka with Joan Crawford at her home in Brentwood.
"Joan," he wrote in "Made in Hollywood," "is the only person, male or female, I know who can sip straight vodka and tell you what proof it is."
Those were the days when gaining access to the hottest stars in Hollywood was relatively simple and Bacon quickly established close relationships with many of the stars he covered, which paid off in exclusive stories.
In 1958, he said, he was the only reporter permitted into Elizabeth Taylor's home after she heard the news that her husband, producer Mike Todd, had died in a plane crash in New Mexico.
"I begged him not to go — to wait one more day," a grieving Taylor told Bacon. "I don't think he wanted to go. He came upstairs six times to kiss me goodbye before he left the house."
In 1964, John Wayne revealed to Bacon that his recent hospital stay was for removal of "cancer of the lung — and I've licked it." (Wayne died of cancer in 1979.)
Bacon knew Marilyn Monroe, whom he first met in 1949, even better than he knew Hughes. He said that Monroe gave him a firsthand account of her relationship with John F. Kennedy as early as the 1960 presidential campaign.
"She was very open about her affair with JFK," Bacon told the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune in 1998. "In fact, I think Marilyn was in love with JFK."
Asked why he didn't write about the affair at the time, Bacon said that in those days, "before Watergate, reporters just didn't go into that sort of thing.… There was no pact. It was just a matter of judgment on the part of the reporters."
In late 1985, after 17 years as the Herald-Examiner's star columnist, Bacon was fired and told to clear out by the end of the year.
"They said it was for budgetary reasons, but that's a crock," Bacon told The Times in a story headlined: "End of an Era: Jim Bacon Gets Trimmed."
Bacon, who blamed "new management" for his dismissal, had his biography of longtime friend Jackie Gleason, "How Sweet It Is: The Jackie Gleason Story," in bookstores at the time and was involved with other projects.
"A writer's never unemployed if he's got a pencil and paper," he said.
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