Legendary Hollywood gossip columnist James Bacon died Saturday in his Northridge home of congestive heart failure. He was 96.
A onetime AP reporter, Bacon wrote a syndicated column based at the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where he worked for 18 years. Known as a great friend to the stars, known to pal around with everyone from John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum to Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe, with whom he admitted to a brief affair.
He often found himself drank with the subjects of his stories. His good friend, publicist Stan Rosenfield, said reporters and columnists from competing newspapers were often ordered never to leave an event until Bacon did. "They had to stay at the party until he left. He would hang out, and get the story at 2 a.m.," Rosenfield told the Hollywood Reporter.
In 1964, he broke the news of Wayne’s cancer. He was the only reporter permitted into Elizabeth Taylor's home after her husband, producer Mike Todd, was killed in a plane crash. And he posed as a coroner to get past a police barricade to interview Lana Turner after her boyfriend Johnny Stompanato was stabbed by her daughter, Cheryl Crane.
Bacon was born in Buffalo, New York, on May 12, 1914; his father, Thomas Bacon, was a journalist working for William Randolph Hearst. He joined the AP in 1942, and worked there for 23 years, stopping only for a stint in the Navy during World War II. The AP moved him to Los Angeles in 1948, from Chicago. He left the AP in 1966, working as a publicist and writing for the Hollywood Reporter. In 1968, he joined the Herald Examiner, covering entertainment at a time when Hollywood gossip was ruled by Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. He was fired in 1985 after a regime change at the paper. "They said it was for budgetary reasons, but that's a crock," Bacon told the Times.
He appeared in numerous films, including all five films in the “Planet of the Apes” series—playing an ape in all but “Escape From the Planet of the Apes,” and wrote three books: “Hollywood Is a Four Letter Town,” “Made in Hollywood” and a biography of Jackie Gleason, “How Sweet It Is.”
Most recently, he wrote a weekly column about Hollywood's golden years for the glossy magazine Beverly Hills 213, where his last piece appeared in June.
He is survived by his wife Doris, who he married in 1976, a sister, Patricial Wilt, and five children, three from his marriage with Doris, two from a first marriage.
Funeral services will be private.