Marie McDonald, daughter of a Ziegfeld girl, began modeling as a teenager. Her aspirations took her to Hollywood where she danced at nightclubs and sang with big bands, including a brief stint with Tommy Dorsey. She was soon signed to a contract with Universal Pictures and got her first credited role in Abbott & Costello’s 1942 comedy Pardon My Sarong. The film tagged her with the nickname “The Body” (for obvious reasons), a name that followed Marie for her entire career. Marie was relegated to mostly low-budget “B” pictures, but she was a very popular pin-up girl during World War II, after her photo appeared in the US Army-published YANK Magazine.
But, things got weird.
Marie was an alleged mistress of gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a claim neither one acknowledged. She was married briefly to Richard Allford in 1940. It was the first of seven marriages for Marie. She married shoe magnate Harry Karl… twice. She and Harry adopted two children before giving birth to a daughter, after several miscarriages. During her second marriage to Harry, she claimed to have been kidnapped by two men who forced her from her home. She was found in her pajamas with a black eye and two missing dental caps. Subsequent investigations cast numerous doubts on her story. It was dismissed as just another in Marie’s on-going efforts at “headline-grabbing”. Harry thought she was nuts and the couple divorced again. Tabloids regularly reported on her romances (including affairs with Eddie Fisher and Michael Wilding, both of whom would eventually marry Elizabeth Taylor), her mysterious auto accidents and even an escape from a psychiatric hospital.
In 1957, Marie returned to music and recorded “The Body Sings” for RCA Records. She followed that with a popular nightclub act. She also made several appearances on Steve Allen’s and Red Skelton‘s variety shows. With renewed interest in her talents, she was cast opposite Jerry Lewis in 1958’s The Geisha Boy. Marie ended her film career in 1963 with a role in the post-Hays Code sex farce Promises! Promises! The film’s draw was multiple nude scenes featuring fellow tabloid darling Jayne Mansfield. Later in ’63, Marie was arrested and convicted of forging prescriptions for Percodan.
In early 1965, Marie launched a cosmetic business that proved unsuccessful. In October 1965, her husband Donald Taylor, the producer of Promises! Promises!, found her dead with an empty Percodan bottle by her side. The overdose was ruled accidental. Marie was 42. Three months later, on New Year’s Day 1966, Donald committed suicide. Marie’s children, from her marriage to Harry Karl, went to live with Harry and his new wife, actress Debbie Reynolds (who was previously married to Eddie Fisher).
Hooray for Hollywood!