Marilyn Beck, prominent Hollywood columnist who led the way for a hard news approach to celebrity journalism, died Saturday of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease after a three-year battle with lung cancer. She was 85.
A straight-shooter who was known for asking celebrities the hard questions, she wrote a five-day-a-week column that, at the height of her fame, was running in some 500 papers, domestic and international.
Beck often touched on subjects that celebrities were hesitant to talk about otherwise, such as when she asked Sylvester Stallone about leaving his wife. She also played the investigative role at times, digging into the drug culture in Aspen, Colorado, after the shooting of skier Spider Sabich by singer Claudine Longet.
Beck was also noted for scoring several memorable interviews. She was the first to interview Elvis Presley after he left the military, and had candid conversations with Dick Van Dyke (who chose her to go public with his alcoholism with), Lucille Ball and Michael Landon. She was the favorite interviewer of many, including Welsh actor Richard Burton, and had a long-running fued with Robert Blake.
Outside of print, Beck often appeared on television, with her “Marilyn Beck’s Hollywood Outtakes” specials on NBC, stints on “PM Magazine” and E!’s “Gossip Show.” She also appeared on L.A. radio station KFI on several occasions.
The journalist also authored books, including 1972’s “Marilyn Beck’s Hollywood” and 1988’s “Only Make Believe.”
Beck started her career on the entertainment beat with a local column and fan magazine writing and editing. She wrote her first column for Bell McClure syndicate in 1967. She was named successor to Sheilah Graham by the North American Newspaper Alliance in 1970.
As her influence grew in the ’70s, she found herself being featured prominently in the New York Daily News. There, she worked alongside Stacy Jenel Smith, who would later become her writing partner.
Of the numerous awards she won throughout her career are honors from the Los Angeles City Council, the Southern California Motion Picture Council and the ICG Publicists Guild of America.
Beck was born in Chicago, raised in Los Angeles and studied journalism at USC. She is survived by her second husband, Arthur Levine, and several children and grandchildren.