Beck, who struggled with lung cancer for three years, died Saturday of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said her longtime writing partner, Stacy Jenel Smith.
At its peak, Beck’s column was featured in some 500 newspapers with a total circulation of 38 million. She also was a familiar presence on television’s syndicated “PM Magazine” and E! Entertainment’s “The Gossip Show.”
As an interviewer, Beck was genial but brash. In a TV appearance, she asked her longtime friend Barbara Walters, then in her 50s, whether she’d had cosmetic surgery. (The answer was no.) She also tried to pin down Bob Hope on the size of his fortune and discovered it was more than $100 million but less than $500 million. (Time magazine got the half-billion-dollar estimate from “some kid backstage,” Hope fumed.)
Beck, who studied journalism at USC, cast herself as a reporter rather than a gossip columnist.
“News is more important to me than my own personality being reflected,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. “I feel I compete with wire services. . That means you need a staff of four, you get gray hair early and you give up social lunches.”
In 1963, Beck was on location in Puerto Vallarta for “The Night of the Iguana” - and the tempestuous romance between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The two, married to others at the time, “have discovered paradise - and they freely admit it,” Beck wrote.
In the 1970s, she bore witness to a Hollywood veering way left from the Brown Derby. There was, for instance, “Hank Fonda’s bewhiskered, blue jean clad, long-haired son” declaring that “the world is doomed . it’s in a lead-lined coffin,” she wrote after a 1971 sit-down with Peter Fonda.
Beck “went through several Hollywoods,” said Smith, her writing partner, who will continue to write under the “Beck/Smith Hollywood” banner for Creators Syndicate.
In addition to her journalism, Beck wrote a 1988 novel, “Only Make Believe.”
It opens with a woman rushing into a Las Vegas wedding chapel yelling, “You can’t marry! You’re brother and sister!” A Times reviewer said her work would appeal to “thousands of fans in the Advanced Panting school of literature appreciation.”
Born Dec. 27, 1928, in Chicago, Marilyn Mohr was raised in Los Angeles and attended USC in the 1940s. She started her career with freelance articles for fan magazines.
Beck’s survivors include her husband, Arthur Levine; daughter Andee Beck Althoff; son Mark; stepchildren Patty and Michael Levine; four grandchildren; and brother Mitchell Mohr. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.
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