By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Royce Reed, ultimately, proves to be an enigma wrapped in a Chanel inside a mink. How is one to evaluate her nonstop recitation of designers, labels and restaurants -- many of which, as she would say, are long gone? Cursory fact checking reveals that her family name, Rosenstein, does appear in Lancaster genealogical histories, but unless one is committed to a research project on a par with the Warren Commission's, an interviewer must take most of her claims at face value. And why not? Even if Royce's "elegant" yet sketchy biography is exaggerated or completely dreamed up, it is breathed to life by a person who passionately believes in it.
"I've been in merchandising 45 years, retailing and wholesale," she says. "I started out training to be an opera star but got sidetracked." That is probably as straightforward a summary of her life as she will grant.
That life, according to Royce, was a gold-spoon existence: Sutton Place, a teenage job at Bonwit Teller, Fifth Avenue and interviews "by all the studios" -- which, she says, did not interest her. When her family moved to Los Angeles, Royce said goodbye to Old World gentility and entered a womanhood of husbands and homes in Beverly Hills and Hancock Park, and a career conducted along an archipelago of Miracle Mile stores: J.J. Haggerty, Bullocks, Brock and Co., Mullen and Bluett, where she was a buyer for women's accessories -- cosmetics, perfume, hosiery, gifts. She recalls an early encounter with her new city, during an interview with the founder of a fashion industry publication: "He was a horrible man who tried to take my clothes off in his office. I was wearing this gorgeous Christian Dior and learned at the age of 19 never to make a 4:45 appointment." Eventually, with the second of her three husbands, Leo Marks, Royce owned an apparel line bearing his name that they sold on the road locally and throughout the South.
And there was that freebooting, cartwheeling nightlife. "I used to have all these fa-a-a-bulous drinking companions," she says. "We drank Bombay gin with cognac chasers -- our driving laws weren't that strict. We went to the Cocoanut Grove when it was elegant -- when Freddy Martin was there and we wore our $10,000 dresses. We had the Chez Voltaire and the Beverly Rodeo, on Rodeo Drive, two blocks north of the Beverly Regent. It was wild but elegant, and known as Hooker's Row. All the men from New York went there, women came and went -- who cared? I was appalled, but Marilyn says I could have made a fortune there!"
ROYCE'S WORLD IMPLODED WHEN HER MOTHER DIED IN Santa Ana in 1983; by then she had parted from her third husband and retired from the rag trade. "I've had elegant friends and husbands, but when she died I was devastated," she says. "I'm an only, fairy-princess child, and we were so close. I would never face the fact that one day she would pass away."
It was shortly after her mother's death that she sang the aria in Bullocks' ladies' lounge that would bring Marilyn to her. This was a fortuitous occasion, for money got tight while Royce was living at the Chancellor, and Marilyn stepped in with an offer to Royce to move in with her at the Mark Wilshire. From then on the two began "palling around," as Marilyn says, spending time at fashion shows, the racetrack and, of course, nightspots.
"We'd only go to the places I was used to," Royce says. "Bel Air, the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is now filled with screaming, yelling people."
Marilyn: "We were going to a lot of happy hours . . ."
Royce: "Honey, I'm used to elegance, I'm not used to downtown -- oh my dear."
Marilyn: "We like to go dinner dancing, but you need a male companion for that."
Royce: "There's been no dinner dancing in Beverly Hills or Bel Air -- it's 30 years gone."
Marilyn: "We used to go to L'Escoffier in the Beverly Hilton."
Royce: "Oh, I went there four nights a week for 30 years, it was the only elegant room we had in Beverly Hills! I got a gorgeous South American man a job there as orchestra leader when he was about to commit suicide because he couldn't get work. It's gone now."
Marilyn: "They have put in the Coconut Club on Friday and Saturday nights, where you have to pay $20."
Royce: "Oh, it's a garbage hole, please."
The two women made a flashy, lively pair as they roamed from watering hole to watering hole, often hitting the town on double dates.
"I dated as much as I could," Marilyn says. "I wish I could say I dated someone in particular, but I didn't. I dated some lawyers, a lot of businessmen -- nice men, but no celebrities, no one of note. You'd meet them in, you know, cocktail lounges. But one of the most difficult things about dating, when you're out with a gentleman for the evening, is the fact that he drinks too much."
Royce: "Oh, you're not used to rich, rich men . . ."
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city