On a quiet night in November 1954, Florence Kotz awoke to the sound of someone taking an ax to her kitchen door. Kotz — a 39-year-old secretary who lived alone on a quiet, West Hollywood-adjacent street — heard glass shatter and wood splinter as the door gave way, but before she could get up, turn on a light or do anything except scream for help, her inner sanctum was breached.
“I was terrified,” Kotz said later. “The place was full of men. They were making a lot of noise and lights flashed on. I saw one of them holding something up toward me, and I thought it was a weapon.”
It wasn’t a weapon. It was a camera. And in the glare of the powerful spotlights, the intruders realized they had made a spectacular blunder. The woman in the bed was not the sexy blond actress they had hoped to catch naked and in the throes of passion with a paramour — it was just Florence in her curlers.
“We’ve got the wrong place!” one of them shouted. And then, in a barely suppressed panic, the raiders beat a hasty retreat.
“They broke a lot of glasses in the kitchen getting out of there,” Florence recalled.
The LAPD investigated the incident as an attempted burglary, what we would call today a home-invasion robbery. But because the room was dark, except when she’d been blinded by the spotlights on the cameras, Florence Kotz was unable to identify the suspects. There were no other leads, and no arrests were made. The whole matter seemed to have been forgotten.
Nearly a year passed. Then, in September 1955, Florence Kotz was in for another shock. An account of the raid appeared in the lurid, best-selling gossip magazine, Confidential. The cover featured Marilyn Monroe in a pose that registered as both sexy and surprised. The teaser line promised to reveal the “real reason” Marilyn had divorced baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. It was in that story that the world was introduced to the “Wrong Door Raid” — a scandal that involved three of the most famous people on the planet: Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra.
In the weeks and months after Confidential published its version of the incident, events that led up to the raid that November night began to come to light. Nine days before the raid, on Oct. 27, 1954, Marilyn Monroe’s divorce from Joe DiMaggio had become final. The ex-Yankees slugger was taking it hard. There were rumors that, rather than face the fact that she had left him because he was abusive to her, he had convinced himself she had left him for someone else.
The alleged abuse was at least in part a manifestation of Joe’s insane jealousy. He was jealous of Marilyn’s career — he wanted her to give it up and settle down with him. He was jealous of the attention she received from other men, which is an odd and problematic attitude for a man married to an international sex goddess.
By most accounts, things came to a head during production of the “Seven Year Itch.” In fact, it may have been the filming of the iconic moment when Marilyn’s skirt flies up as she steps on a subway grate that finally drove DiMaggio over the edge. Joe was on hand for the shot, which was filmed on location at 586 Lexington Avenue, as was a crowd of 5,000 or so onlookers. The cat calls and leering attention Marilyn attracted as the shoot went on, requiring take after take, until well after midnight, sent Joe into a rage.
Later, in their hotel room, the couple argued. Apparently — allegedly — DiMaggio’s jealousy got the better of him and he became physically abusive.
When filming was complete, Marilyn returned to Beverly Hills. In early October, her attorney called a press conference on the lawn of the rented home she had shared with Joe at 508 Palm Dr. As the attorney informed the gaggle about the impending divorce, Marilyn, dressed in black, stood beside him looking even more stunningly — luminously — beautiful than usual. But when asked to comment herself, she could barely speak. The divorce was granted a few weeks later.
The end of his marriage did not put a damper on DiMaggio’s jealousy. He was convinced Marilyn was seeing someone else, and on a recommendation from Sinatra, he hired Barney Ruditsky, a renown Hollywood private eye, to track Marilyn’s every move.
A decade earlier, Ruditsky had played minor roles in a pair of concurrent crime scandals on the Sunset Strip. In the late 1940s, he owned Sherry’s nightclub, the Strip hotspot that was the scene of the shotgun attack on Mickey Cohen in July 1949 that shocked the nation.
He also played a supporting role in the corruption scandal that centered on A-list Hollywood madam Brenda Allen, who ratted out a protection racket that included top brass at the LAPD after she was arrested in 1948. Ruditsky had allowed the cops to use his office on the Strip as their base of their wiretapping operation on Brenda’s house. As a result of evidence uncovered in the wiretaps, LAPD Chief Clemence B. Horrall and several of his top lieutenants, including one who was Brenda Allen’s lover and business partner, lost their jobs and were tried on bribery and other charges. (Everybody walked, of course, except Brenda Allen, who spent a year or so in jail.)
At the time of the Wrong Door Raid, Marilyn Monroe was living on the Strip at the Brandon Hall Apartments, behind the Sunset Tower, at 8338 DeLongpre Ave. In the early evening on Nov. 5, she drove to see her actor friend Sheila Stewart, who lived eight blocks south, in one of the three apartments in the building at 8120 Waring Ave. Marilyn parked her white Cadillac convertible at the curb and went inside.
Joe DiMaggio was hanging out with Sinatra at Villa Capri, an Italian restaurant in Hollywood, that night when a call came in from Barney Ruditsky. One of Ruditsky’s associates, a 21-year-old rookie private eye named Phil Irwin, had spotted Marilyn’s Caddy parked on Waring. This was all DiMaggio needed to know. He knew Shelia Stewart lived in the building, and according to Henry E. Scott, author of a book about Confidential Magazine, “Shocking True Story,” DiMaggio believed Stewart had been allowing Marilyn to tryst with Hal Schaefer, who was the vocal coach for both Marilyn and Shelia Stewart.
Convinced they’d caught her in flagrante, DiMaggio ordered Ruditsky to meet him at the place on Waring to stage the raid in order to get compromising photographs of Marilyn with Schaefer. Why DiMaggio thought it would be useful to catch his ex-wife in bed with another man is a mystery. It certainly could have damaged Marilyn’s career, which had taken a hit a year earlier when Hugh Hefner published a nude photograph of her taken many years earlier as the inaugural centerfold in Playboy. Still, photographs exposing Marilyn’s affair with Hal Schaefer now would not be proof, per se, that she left Joe for someone else, and it certainly would have done nothing to repair their marriage. Quite to the contrary.
Within the hour, DiMaggio and Sinatra had assembled a small crowd at the corner of Waring and Kilkea Drive, an otherwise quiet intersection in a solid middle-class section. There will be conflicting stories about who was on the corner that night. Villa Capri’s maitre d’, Billy Karen, was there, but his boss, Villa Capri’s owner, Pasquale “Patsy” D’Amore would deny having gone along for the ride. Sinatra’s friend John Seminola and manager Henry Sanicola may have also been on hand. The private eyes, Ruditsky and Irwin were definitely there, as were, oddly enough, their wives.
In any case, thus assembled, the raiding party found itself faced with a quandary. The two-story building at the corner of Waring and Kilkea Ave. housed three apartments. Two units, 8120 and 8122, fronted Waring. The third unit, 754 Kilkea Dr., faced the side.
The odds were one-in-three. Waddaya gonna do?
No one involved in the shenanigans on Waring Ave. that November night could have predicted the firestorm this escapade would cause — that three years later DiMaggio and Sinatra would face unrelenting public humiliation and civil and possibly even criminal jeopardy because of it, that teams of investigators would be deployed, not to look into the particulars of the raid itself, but, ostensibly at least, to track down who sold the story to Confidential, that there would be multiple hearings and even a libel trial, or especially that the end result of it all would do to Confidential what Hollywood stars and their studios had tried to do from the first minute it hit the stands: bring the scandal sheet’s wildly successful run to an end.
Tom Wolfe once called Confidential “the most scandalous scandal magazine in the history of the world.” Launched in 1952, it came along at the precise moment that the Hollywood studio system was beginning to unravel. For more than 30 years, the studios had kept tight control over the way the press portrayed their contract players. After all, it was the stars who attracted audiences to theatres, which generated profits for the studios through ticket sales. Similarly, the Hollywood press played along because stories about the stars drove circulation. As a result of this cozy relationship, studio publicity offices traded reporters access to the stars for the right to censor items that might put their actors in a bad light. Confidential changed all that, seemingly overnight.
In Neal Gabler’s article on the meteoric rise and fall of Confidential in the April 2003 issue of Vanity Fair, he wrote that with its “tantalizing subtitle (“Tells the Facts and Names the Names”), Confidential specialized in Hollywood peccadilloes — in promiscuity, in bad behavior, in miscegenation (at a time when that was considered taboo), and, perhaps above all, in outing homosexual stars decades before there was even such a term as ‘outing.'”
According to Gabler, what made Confidential a threat to the studios was its success. “Circulation during its heyday, in the mid-1950s, hit 4.6 million, which was greater than that of Time. Its publisher was profiled in Time, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal, and on The Tonight Show [with Jack Paar] he even stared down columnist Max Lerner, who said, ‘You leave no dignity, no shred of privacy, in the life of a person.'”
The studios saw their investments in the stars — their profit centers — threatened by the salacious revelations. As dominant players in the California economy, the studio owners called on the government for help. In 1957, the call was answered. Three separate investigations were launched into Confidential and the hordes of imitators its success had spawned. As a way around making it appear the government was attempting to censor the “peep hole” magazines, lawmakers focused on the role played by private detectives, who were licensed by the state, in rooting out and feeding stories to the scandal press.
Because two of the men involved in the Wrong Door Raid were private detectives — Barney Ruditsky and Phil Irwin — the scandal figured prominently in hearings that began simultaneously in late February 1957. A state senate committee — the Special State Senate Interim Committee on Collections Agencies, Private Investigators and Adjusters, chaired by Republican Sen. Fred Kraft of San Diego, and known informally as the Kraft Committee — held hearings for a couple of days in Los Angeles, staring on Feb. 27. That same day, a Los Angeles County grand jury was convened to look into the matter.
California Attorney General Pat Brown — the future governor and father of the state’s current governor, Jerry Brown — led the third investigation, which culminated in August 1957 in a dramatic, criminal libel conspiracy trial against Confidential’s West Coast representatives.
In early 1957, at four in the morning, two uniformed LAPD officers burst into Frank Sinatra’s house uninvited, woke up the famous crooner and served him with a subpoena ordering him to appear before the Los Angeles County grand jury investigating the Wrong Door Raid. Sinatra was furious. Through his attorney, and apparently completely without irony, he accused famed LAPD Chief William Parker, on whose personal instructions the officers had acted, of violating his civil rights.
The case was no longer categorized as a burglary, but was being investigated instead as a conspiracy to commit malicious mischief. (Presumably breaking and entering charges were also applicable.) However, the key players changed their stories a few times, and by the time the facts came out, Sinatra and others were threatened with perjury charges as well.
At first, Barney Ruditsky flatly denied his agency was involved in the raid. When that fell apart, Sinatra testified under oath that, yes, he’d been on the scene but neither he nor DiMaggio had entered Kotz’ apartment after the door had been bashed open. Ruditsky and DiMaggio backed Sinatra up on this, however neither of them testified under oath. Ruditsky was recovering from a heart attack. DiMaggio left town, claiming he had urgent business back east.
(Marilyn Monroe was invited to attend a hearing by the Kraft Committee. She was married to playwright Arthur Miller then and working in London — on “The Prince and the Showgirl” — around that time, and did not respond.)
But not everyone involved chose to cover for Sinatra. When it was his turn to testify, Phil Irwin, who was no longer working for Ruditsky, chose to tell the truth as he knew it, and his truth directly contradicted Sinatra’s testimony.
“Almost all of Mr. Sinatra’s statements were false,” Irwin said. The only people who stayed in the car that night, according to Irwin, were his wife and Mrs. Ruditsky.
Irwin’s version was supported by the Waring Ave. building’s landlady, Mrs. Virginia E. Blagsen, who lived upstairs in the Kilkea Dr. apartment. She told the grand jury she was “reasonably certain” she recognized Frank Sinatra among the men beating a retreat out of Kotz’ apartment that night.
Sheila Stewart testified that she saw the men running away. “I didn’t know any of them because I was looking down on them, but I would have recognized that little pipsqueak Sinatra.”
But salacious details aside, the real question was who fed the story to Confidential. According to Phil Irwin, DiMaggio had refused to pay the Ruditsky agency its $800 fee — which seems justifiable considering how badly they had botched the job. Even so, the bill was eventually paid by Sinatra.
“There were only four people alive who knew all about the details of the raid that appeared in Confidential,” Irwin testified, according to the Los Angeles Times in February 1957. “That was me, Ruditsky, Sinatra and DiMaggio. I didn’t tell and Sinatra and DiMaggio wouldn’t. That leaves Ruditsky.”
Or maybe not. In “Shocking True Story,” Henry Scott says Confidential’s tipster was Irwin.
Perhaps because it had played itself out, the Wrong Door Raid figured less prominently in the state of California’s libel trial against Confidential, which got underway in Los Angeles that August. The magazine’s defense team issued over 100 subpoenas, one for every big star who’d been featured in the magazine. Only a few of the stars — presumably the ones who really were innocent of what they had been accused of in the magazine — showed up, notably Maureen O’Hara, Dorothy Dandridge and Tab Hunter.
Not surprisingly, the trial was a media circus — another term not yet invented — and there were more than a few dramatic moments. Marjorie Mead, known as “Miss Dee,” head of Confidential’s West Coast operations and hands-down the most feared and hated person in Hollywood, fainted at the defense table after the producer Paul Gregory (“Night of the Hunter”) accused her of trying to extort money from him in return for killing a story about his friend, the actor Charles Laughton. The story was never published, so its contents remain a mystery, however both Gregory and Laughton were gay.
The jury deliberated for 14 days — a record even then in California. Even so, the jurors were split and couldn’t agree on a verdict. Publicly, Confidential celebrated the hung jury as a victory but behind the scenes its publisher cut a deal with Attorney General Brown. The state agreed not to retry the case. In return, Confidential essentially surrendered — it agreed to stop reporting the intimate secrets of Hollywood stars.
Advertising sales for the new, neutered Confidential sputtered. It hung around for a few years, a shadow of its former self. Later, it was sold and later still went out of business. Its spirit survives today, of course, though muted, in the National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids and online at TMZ, D-Listed and Perez Hilton.
Florence Kotz got married after the incident, becoming Florence Ross. She later sued Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and the rest of the raiding party for $200,000 — about $1.4 million today. She eventually settled for $7,500, or about $53,000 today.
Marilyn Monroe did not live in the DeLongpre Ave. apartment very long. Remarkably, when she moved out, it was the fourth time she changed addresses in a year — three of her homes during that time were along the Strip — and she would move two more times before the year ended:
To his credit, Joe DiMaggio sought counseling to help him deal with his jealousy and abusiveness. Joe and Marilyn eventually reconciled and some accounts say they made plans to remarry — on Aug. 8, 1962. As the big day approached, the sources say, Marilyn was fitted for her wedding gown and was said to be very happy. Tragically, her death from a drug overdose three days before the wedding — which the Los Angeles County Coroner ruled a suicide — would become one of the biggest celebrity scandals of the 1960s. Because of her connections with the Kennedys and unresolved questions about events that night, conspiracy theories grew around the cause of her death that endure to this day.
Joe DiMaggio never remarried. For the rest of his life, he had roses placed on her grave in Westwood every week. He died on March 8, 1999.