I have been going through some old family photographs. Most of the photos were originally my grandmother’s. I received them after my sister died a few years ago. [Though what become of her new straw hat that should have come to me?] When I can identify people in the photographs I scan them into the computer.
I came across a picture of one of my uncles in his WWII Army uniform. Like many young men of his generation, including his older brother, my uncle enlisted after Pearl Harbor. Many families have pictures like this; with the same pose. I believe they were taken after the completion of basic training so this picture would date from 1942.
When I removed the picture from its frame to scan it, I found, underneath, a picture of Peter Lawford. In the past, frames were sold with pictures of movie stars in them. [The same was true with wallets. My grandmother gave me a wallet with Troy Donohue’s picture in it for Christmas one year. That may have been prescience.] It was common to simply slide the picture to be framed in on top of the one that came with the frame; in this case, Peter Lawford. In the lower left is Mr. Lawford’s ‘signature’ and the caption “in M.G.M Pictures. Printed in USA”. [Is it interesting that there is punctuation dividing M.G.M. but not USA? Maybe not.]
Imagine my surprise when my best friend Wikipedia informed me that Peter Lawford’s birthday was September 7; just last week. Well I know enough to answer when Dame Serendipity comes-a-knocking with an idea for a blog post so….
Happy Belated Birthday: Peter Lawford
Mr. Lawford’s beginnings foreshadowed some of the elements of his life to come. Born Peter Sydney Ernest Aylen on September 7, 1923, at the time of his birth Lawford’s parents were married to other people. They soon divorced their respective spouses and married.
Never a major star, he nonetheless appeared in more than 50 films including; Mrs. Miniver, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Easter Parade, Little Women, Royal Wedding, Exodus, Ocean’s 11, Advise and Consent, Dead Ringer, Harlow, and The Oscar. He was the first man to kiss Elizabeth Taylor on-screen and is reported to have been the last person Marilyn Monroe spoke to before her death. He was originally cast in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in the role of Edwin Flagg. After filming began he left the set and never returned. Filming resumed with Victor Buono in the role.
Married 4 times, Lawford’s first wife was Patricia Kennedy; sister of the future president. They married in 1954 and had 4 children but the marriage ended in divorce in 1966. His second wife was the daughter of comedian Dan Rowan. They married in 1971. She was 21, he 48. They separated after 2 years and divorced in 1975. His third and fourth wives were in their mid 20’s at the time of their marriages; he in his mid-late 50’s. The marriages lasted less than a year in each case.
Lawford’s career suffered because of his relationship with his famous in-laws. It was rumored that his father-in-law, Joe Kennedy, disliked him. The Kennedy patriarch irreparably damaged Lawford’s relationship with Frank Sinatra by using him as the messenger when notifying Sinatra that the Kennedy family wished to distance themselves due to Sinatra’s reputed connections to organized crime. As a member of ‘The Rat Pack” Lawford was part of Sinatra’s inner circle. The relationship had been rocky in the past because of a rumored liaison between Lawford and Ava Gardner; the one-time Mrs., Sinatra. Sinatra, who had dubbed him “Brother in Lawford” because of his connection to President Kennedy, blamed Lawford for the Kennedy slight. This insult resulted in Sinatra effectively blacklisting Lawford in Hollywood for the rest of his life. Sinatra’s feelings were so strong that, years later, hearing that Lawford and his wife were in the audience for one of his concerts, Sinatra refused to perform until they were removed.
Throughout his life Lawford was often connected to rumor and scandal. Alleged to have had relationships with many high-profile women, he was also frequently rumored to have been gay; or at least bi-sexual. In a diary entry, Marilyn Monroe wrote about her fear of Lawford; “… he might harm me, poison me, etc. why—strange look in his eyes—strange behavior…. I felt very uneasy at different times with him—the real reason I was afraid of him—is because I believe him to be homosexual……. Peter wants to be a woman—and would like to be me—I think”
It was widely reported that he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. In the last years of his life he appeared often on game shows and made guest appearances on television.
Lawford died in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1984 of liver and kidney disease culminating in cardiac arrest.