Hollywood columnist James Bacon, who hobnobbed with stars from Frank Sinatra and John Wayne to Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner as well as U.S. presidents, died Saturday in Northridge, Calif., of congestive heart failure. He was 96.

As a columnist for the Associated Press and later the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Bacon covered showbiz from the 1940s to the 1980s. He also worked briefly as a publicist in the mid ’60s. Among his scoops: Bacon was in the bedroom when Lana Turner described the fatal stabbing of Johnny Stompanato by her daughter Cheryl Crane; he debunked a hoax autobiography on Howard Hughes and broke the story of John Wayne’s cancer. He accompanied Taylor’s physician when he went to inform her that her third husband, Mike Todd, had died in a plane crash.

According to Bacon, he also broke the news of Taylor’s affair with Richard Burton during the filming of “Night of the Iguana” to fourth hubby Eddie Fisher, who had refused to grant her a divorce. “I’m still married to Elizabeth,” Fisher told Bacon, to which he replied, “Let me be the first to tell you that Richard Burton is down here having a helluva lot of fun with your wife.”

Bacon kept quiet about a Cocoanut Grove date between the reclusive Hughes and Monroe and, impressed with his discretion, Hughes frequently called him and even participated in an interview for the wire service. “I wouldn’t have written about them anyway,” Bacon later wrote. “The AP didn’t carry stories about ‘twosomes’ and wouldn’t have run it without confirmation from Hughes or Marilyn.”

Having been on the receiving end of many latenight calls from the reclusive Hughes, Bacon was able to declare the voice on the recorded interviews that formed the basis of Clifford Irving’s biography a hoax.

Bacon followed his Pulitzer Prize-winning father into the news biz after studying at Notre Dame and U. of Syracuse. After a stint in the Marines during WWII, he returned to the AP in Chicago, where he made friends with mobsters and their Hollywood friends. His colorful writing style lead him to an assignment covering Hollywood during its golden age.

In his book “Hollywood Is a Four Letter Word,” Bacon wrote of an affair with Monroe, hanging out with Grace Kelly and becoming an “honorary mouse” of the Rat Pack. He wrote two other books, “Made in Hollywood” and a Jackie Gleason biography, “How Sweet It Is.”

He had parts in pics and series, including 1954’s “Black Tuesday,” and all five “Planet of the Apes” pics, playing a simian in all but “Escape From the Planet of the Apes,” in which he played human Gen. Faulkner.

Bacon is survived by his wife of 44 years, Doris; three sons, two daughters; 15 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren and a sister.