Hollywood Highlights: True Stories by Bill Bakaleinikoff ...

It was the late forties, Marilyn Monroe was under contract at Columbia studios for I believe around $75 dollars a week. Garson Kanin (the writer and husband of Ruth Gordon) got her the job over the protests of legendary Hollywood 'mean man' Harry Cohen. Harry ran Columbia Studios like Il Duce ran Italy. Harry based his empire on his ability to trust his twitching ass. If he would like a script, rush, or audition film footage, he claimed that his 'ass' would tingle. Talk about anal retentive. My father, Mischa Bakaleinikoff, would joke  "If some of these high-paid actors and actresses only knew that their career was all due to Harry's itching hemorrhoids".

When Garson introduced Marilyn to Harry his ass went blank. For some reason Harry did not like Marilyn (he did later, in a big way) and Garson had to fight like hell to get her on the lot and under contract. Harry signed the contract but told Garson "Keep that plump never-is-going-to-be-nobody out of my sight!" Garson was one of the few people who could get Harry to do something he didn't want to do. It was Garson who brought Harry the script for "It Happened One Night" in 1933 which later put the then-dingy little outcast Columbia and its vulgar little tyrant on the map to fame and fortune. It Happened One Night received the Academy Award in 1934. (another story).

On the Columbia lot Marilyn kept to herself and studied. When notified that Harry was making the rounds Marilyn would find a place to hide so as not to get a verbal insult from Harry (he lived at the height of his voice), who made W.C. Fields seem nice to children. One of the places Marilyn would hide was my dad's office, or if he was scoring a movie she'd sit in the orchestra pit (Mischa Bakaleinikoff was a musical conductor at Columbia for over 30 years). She used to love to come in and watch my dad score the movies. It gave her a chance to look at other actors and actresses and pick up points of the craft. My dad had scored her first movie at Columbia "Scudda-Hoo Sudda-Hay" in 1948.

Marilyn and Mischa became good friends. One day, my parents were getting ready to go out when the baby sitter cancelled at the last minute. Mischa called Marilyn and she showed up at the door about an hour later. Marilyn Monroe was to become my brother's and my new babysitter. To us, it was just another poor soul who we were going to break in. Our baby sitters didn't last long. We were kinda wild.

We lived in the Hollywood Hills then. I wouldn't call it a house. It was more like a castle (especially when you were young) and technically it was. A Greek shipbuilder (I think that is how the family story went) used to see a house perched on a hill over looking the Mediterranean as a small, and very poor child. He always thought to himself that when he grew up he would have a grand house like that. He later came to America and made his fortune. He went back to Europe, found the house, and bought the plans for it (1690... it was old). He came back in the late 'teens and built the house in the Hollywood Hills.

The house had turrets, winding stairs, a forty-five foot living room with a cathedral-like ceiling and balcony leading to another room on the second floor. The fourteen-room house was draped in Moorish architecture. It was cool. Baby sitters hated it. It was a scary setting late at night for a typical sixteen year old. The only bait my parents had was that we had a television, one of the first in Hollywood.  My brother and I didn't help the situation. The balcony was water balloon heaven, along with ghost whispers and other rotten things kids did at our age. Many baby sitters left in tears. Except for one.

"Get the door Billy, that must be the new baby sitter... she works at the studio with your dad... "

Part two

I answered the door with our dog Haltura (hal-too-ra) in tow.   Standing there was Marilyn dressed like a bobby-soxer with her hair hidden under a scarf.  She really didn’t look any different than most of the other poor souls who came to watch over us little monsters.  Marilyn smiled and asked if I was Billy and was that Haltura (the well-known family dog, a Welsh Corgi). 


My mother, Yvonne, was in her "getting - the - make - up - on - and - selecting - the - final - dress" mode as she appeared from the long hall that led into the foyer. The foyer was a rather large round room that provided a starting off place to the rest of the castle-like home. To the left of the nine-foot Moorish-looking front door was a corresponding Moorish arch that introduced the five large and wide stairs that led down into the living room. To the left of the arch was a smaller one that was the entrance to the winding staircase housed in the main turret.  It was a dark staircase that would conjure up images of the Tower of London.  It led to the third-floor balcony, with its hand-carved railing, that over looked the cavernous living room below and up to the giant wood rafters above.  The third floor also had a large sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and outdoor balcony.  On the ground floor to the left of the stairway was the largest of the three arches. There were six very wide and low stairs that led up into a second foyer that featured the main hall (the castle’s main artery). The hallway connected the bedrooms, bathrooms, bar room, downstairs staircase, and the dinning room, which had a giant arch leading into the living room. (The dining room was under the sitting room).

It is important that I gave you some sort of layout of the house because the house was (is) such a player in this story. In the daytime the house was brilliant, no, vibrant.   Beautiful art works, furniture gathered from around the world--Russia, Mongolia, China, India… places where my father Mischa lived before he came to America.  The sun lighting up stained glass windows in the turrets, the giant window in the living room overlooking the Hollywood Hills; you could just sit and look around and pretend you were living very nicely anywhere in the world.  But at night, think of every horror movie you saw as a kid.  Boris Karloff’s shadow was everywhere. Many a baby sitter wet their pants with fear as the house turned evil after dark. My brother and I became fear mongers par excellence.

“Hi Marilyn”  my mother yelled out as she appeared in the large archway...  ”Billy will show you how to work the television set… Mischa is in the shower and we are running late… we have to be at the Stoloffs at seven… Tony and Billy already had dinner but if you are hungry there is tons of stuff in the ice box so help yourself… if you want a drink Billy will show you where the bar room is… thank you for coming… ” My mother went back to her make-up room.  Marilyn followed me into the living room. Tucked away and almost buried in the largest of the castle’s rooms was our prized possession (mine and Tony’s), the 10” RCA television set. It sat on top of a small marble table next to a large fireplace that you could almost walk into. Built-in book shelves guarded both sides of the fireplace and couches and chairs and tables gave the room a fancy hotel lobby look. I went right to the television set and turned it on. I looked to see our new sitter’s face… we had one of the first televisions in Hollywood.  The television set was also a principal player in my older brother’s and my chamber of horrors.

There were only two or three channels then and most didn’t come on until after five.  Old movies (Charlie Chan, Eastside Kids, mostly B movies of the 1930s and 40s) cartoons, and comedy shorts (Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chase, Tom Mix, Three Stooges etc) ruled the day and they never failed to grab the babysitter’s complete attention.  My brother, Tony, appeared through the dining room arch by jumping over all three large wide stairs.  “Hi Marilyn… I’m Tony… you want to see a Charlie Chan movie?”… Sure Marilyn replied… Man you guys are lucky to have a television set… what school do you go to?   “Cherimoya” we chimed in unison.  And then she asked the dreaded question… What is your bed time? Smart baby sitters ask before the parents leave; this way, it makes it harder for you to lie to them. We didn’t answer.  My brother was a fast thinker. ”What school do you go to Marilyn?” You see, when you are under nine years old anybody over thirteen is the same age and they all go to school. Marilyn smiled and said she didn’t go to school but that she worked with our dad. Charlie Chan was coming to the rescue in ten minutes. It was now dark outside.

Mischa and Yvonne came into the living room via the foyer.  “We may be real late Marilyn, so if you get tired you can stay in the guest room, it’s the fourth door down the hall… Tony and Billy can stay up for the end of Charlie Chan (Nuts!... the dreaded bedtime curse) and then it's off to bed… Good night boys and thanks so much Marilyn… bye”. The front door shut and the familiar Charlie Chan intro music started. Marilyn was fascinated, not by Charlie Chan, but just the fact that she was watching television. Ten minutes into the movie #1 son was already in trouble with Pop and the murder had taken place.  Marilyn was into it.  It was time to terrorize the sitter -- ten minutes at our age then would be like two hours today. Tony excused himself to the bathroom… as planned Marilyn barely noticed; the seductive RCA was doing its job. Tony and I had already placed the tools of our trade in their proper places. Tony went for terror tactic #1… he quietly climbed the spiral staircase and lay on the balcony over looking the living room… and then in his best ghost voice… ”ooooooooooooooooooooooh..., ooooooooooooooh…, OOOOOOOOOOOOH”  At first Marilyn didn’t flinch… ”000000000000000000000000000000H” …She gently smiled but her eyes never left Chan’s pleading son. She wasn’t scared like the thirteen-year old sitters. Ok, time for the rain game.

The squirt gun was fully loaded and Tony had the perfect rain squeeze finger action.  A few light taps with the index finger sent rain drops down from the giant rafters. Marilyn still didn’t take her eyes away after several drops were clearly falling on her scarf and shoulders. The OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHs got louder and the rain increased.  Marilyn wasn’t smiling, and she wasn’t scared… hmmmm.   It was my turn.  “Marilyn… I have to go to the bathroom too”.  I went through the foyer arch and headed to the main hall where I turned right and tiptoed into the dining room. I was the light man.  I carefully started to turn on and off the dining room light (this used to scare the heck out of them) as Tony increased the ghost sound and rain. I couldn’t see Marilyn from where I was in the dining room.  After about two minutes I crawled toward the arch while under the dinning table for a look at our prey. She was gone. She was not in her chair. She wasn’t calling our names either. I didn’t like the looks of this.  I quickly crept around back to the hall and then went up the staircase to join Tony. All of a sudden the living room lights went out… then all of the lights went out except for the glow of the television set. Tony and I had never been in the house when it was dark and to make matters worse we were always scared to go into the sitting room because one of the maids said it was haunted.  And now here we were on the balcony in the dark. And then we heard it… OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH…

Down the stairs we flew, both of us screaming at the top of our lungs… Tony got to the bottom first and hit the foyer light switch and yelled… ”MARILYN … MARILYN” … Nothing. I was quickly at Tony’s side… our next plan was to go to the dining room and turn on that light… the living room was too scary when it was dark and the switches were mostly on lamps and hard to find. We made a dash for it. The light went on… and there was Marilyn holding a seltzer bottle with a big smile on her face… ”So, you want to play huh?”… She let loose with a blast… SHE LET LOOSE WITH A TORRENT!... Our fear quickly left as we went for our squirt guns… the battle was on. We came running back with our weapons but Marilyn had gone again.  It was turning into a hide-and-go-seek game. Tony ventured back into the living room and made it to the two big lamp lights. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t in the kitchen or the dining room either… guns in hand we slowly headed down the hall. All of a sudden the bathroom door burst open and like a commando from a John Wayne movie Marilyn jumped out into the hallway and let us have it.  Our squirt guns were no match… we ran towards our bedroom with Marilyn in hot pursuit… Tony reached his bed and grabbed for a pillow… "PILLOW FIGHT!..." Marilyn  put down the empty seltzer bottle and headed for the guest room for her pillow… The pillows were flying for what seemed like hours. Our arms finally got tired and we were still soaking wet. Marilyn had won. 

OK Tony and Billy go get your pajamas on and brush your teeth and then we’ll have a root beer float. Tony and I  got dry, changed into our pajamas, and then came out into the living room in time to see the closing credits for Charlie Chan.  Sitting on the coffee table were thee large root beer floats with cherries on them. Marilyn came down the hall with two big blankets and sat down on the couch. She was a great squirt gun and pillow fighter and we knew we had met our match; we were prepared to finish our floats and go to bed on time with out a fight. The couple who used to host the movies announced that the next movie was going to be a western.  Marilyn looked over at us as she handed us the blankets… ”Want to stay up for the movie?” We all curled up, Haltura jumped up to join us, and we got buried in the western. Marilyn ceased to be a babysitter; she was one of us. She was a star even before she made her first movie.   

Bill Bakaleinikoff