When Zeppo Marx's first wife Marion Bimberg and Rudolph Valentino's last lover Marion Wilson both chose the stage name Marion Benda in the early 1920s, it generated confusion that has continued to this day. Both were performers on the Broadway stage concurrently, Zeppo's girl as an actress and Valentino's as a Ziegfeld Follies dancer billed as the most beautiful redhead in the world. After the Follies showgirl caught Valentino's eye and was with him on the night he fell fatally ill, she shot to fame and eventually became known as a Valentino Lady in Black. Meanwhile, Zeppo's Marion became Barbara Stanwyck's best friend and they founded a horse ranch in the San Fernando Valley. In addition to exploring all four marriages of the two Marion Bendas, this dual biography touches on Zeppo's strange role with the Marx Brothers and the intriguing Lady in Black phenomenon. Limited edition, oversize trade paperback original, 184 p., well illustrated.I researched my way into this subject after I approved a comment on an old post of mine about the book "Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank," by Barbara Sinatra, which I bought — I'm not lying! — solely because I wanted to read what she had to say about her marriage not to Frank Sinatra but to Zeppo Marx. I quoted this little anecdote about Barbara and Zeppo at the funeral for Chico Marx:
Crammed into the living room with scores of mourners, I noticed a strange woman staring at me. Zeppo noticed too and asked someone who she was. It was his first wife, Marion, a former Ziegfield girl he’d divorced seven years earlier, five years before he’d married me. A week later, I was playing tennis with Dinah Shore at the Racquet Club when I spotted Marion watching me in the same eerie way. I asked Dinah to introduce us. Marion was a little strange, but I think she just wanted to check me out. I felt sorry for her. She’d raised their adopted sons alone, and Zeppo showed little or no interest in them or her, it seemed. What really bothered me though was that he hadn’t even recognized the woman he’d been married to for twenty-seven years.This morning, I see a comment from Gregory Roth. (Inside joke: "Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while.") Roth writes:
One problem with that excerpt regarding Chico's funeral is that Zeppo's ex-wife died 10 years before Chico.I'm fastidious about the archive. I'll correct even a small typo if I see it in the archive. So I spring into action:
Thank you for commenting on a post that is 5 years old. I looked up the dates myself, and I can see that you are right. I went back to the "Lady Blue Eyes" text to see a larger context and make sure I hadn't misunderstood whose funeral it was, but it is definitely presented as Chico Marx's funeral, which was in 1961.I come back almost immediately to say:
And Marion Benda killed herself in 1951.
Well, so... maybe that's why Zeppo didn't recognize her. It wasn't her!And then:
But surely he knew she was dead...
Maybe it was a ghost.And:
She was watching in an "eerie way."
Maybe Zeppo was playing a prank on her and she just never had enough curiosity to find out the truth of what happened to his first wife....Finally:
Okay. I have discovered the answer.The Marion Benda that didn't marry Zeppo and who died in 1951 — she committed suicide — was incredibly beautiful:
There were 2 Marion Bendas!
The one that died in 1951 was not the one that married Zeppo.
Zeppo's Marion Benda is fine too...
... but not celestially fine like Valentino's Marion Benda: