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[Deathwatch] Liz Renay, model / actress / felon / stripper, 80



Liz Renay, 80; model turned actress gained notoriety for dating L.A.
mobster
By Dennis McLellan

January 28, 2007

As a fledgling actress fresh from New York, small-time nightclub
performer Liz Renay felt she was on her way in Hollywood after director
Cecil B. De Mille spotted her in the Paramount commissary.

"He said I was the most exciting face he had seen in 20 years," Renay
said in a 1999 interview with the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey. "He
was going to star me in a big extravaganza called 'Esther,' from the
book of Esther in the Bible. Agents were clamoring to sign me?. This
was my big hope. I was going to be a big star for Paramount." 

FOR THE RECORD:
Renay obituary: The obituary in Sunday's California section of actress
and stripper Liz Renay said she was indicted on five counts of perjury
during a federal grand jury investigation in 1959 and began serving 27
months at Terminal Island federal prison in 1961. The article failed to
say that she had received a three-year suspended sentence and was
imprisoned after violating the terms of her probation. ?

The De Mille picture never panned out. The next time the legendary
director saw the statuesque, red-haired Renay, she was being hustled
out of the dining room of the Plaza Hotel in New York by federal agents
for questioning in a grand jury investigation into the finances of her
boyfriend, Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen.

Such was the life of Renay, who died of cardiopulmonary arrest and
gastric bleeding in a Las Vegas hospital Jan. 22 at 80.

Hers was a life that included stints as a high-fashion model, nightclub
performer and writer ? and, more famously, a mobster's girlfriend,
convicted felon and stripper.

The voluptuous Renay made headlines in 1974 when she was arrested for
indecent exposure after streaking down Hollywood Boulevard as a
publicity stunt for her "This Is Burlesque" show at the nearby Ivar
Theater. The jury acquitted her.

"Lewd ? that's the one thing she wasn't," said one juror who asked for
an autographed picture of Renay, in the nude, for his 15-year-old son.

Renay also gained something of a cult following after playing the role
of sexpot Muffy St. Jacques in director John Waters' 1977 crime comedy
"Desperate Living."

But she received her greatest notoriety in the late 1950s and early
'60s, a time when she was known in the media as "the underworld's new
darling" and "a friend of East and West Coast racketeers."

Columnist Walter Winchell, noticing the gold flecks in her hazel-green
eyes, dubbed her "the girl with the polka-dot eyes."

Renay, who met Cohen through a mutual mob friend in New York after
arriving in Hollywood in 1957, testified more than a dozen times before
grand juries in Los Angeles and New York.

She enjoyed the notoriety ? at least at first.

In 1959, she was indicted on five counts of perjury. And in 1961 she
began serving 27 months at Terminal Island federal prison in Los
Angeles.

"I have paid a dear price for the mistake I made, and I hope the public
will be forgiving," she told reporters who met her at the prison gate
when she was released. "I wanted to protect Mickey. I felt I owed him
that. I couldn't deliberately hurt someone who had been nice to me."

At the time, Cohen was serving a 15-year sentence for income tax
evasion.

"It sure knocked the hell out of my career when I went to Terminal
Island," Renay told the Phoenix New Times in 1998. "I would have been a
big star had I not gone to prison."

Fantasies of fame were something she always held dear.

She was born Pearl Elizabeth Dobbins in the small town of Chandler,
Ariz., in 1926. The family of seven was so poor, she later recalled,
that when she visited a friend's home for the first time she thought
their bathtub was a boat.

As chronicled in a 1972 story in The Times, her father was a heavy
drinker and her mother was deeply religious. As she grew up, her
grandmother, a onetime beauty contest winner, encouraged her dreams of
becoming famous.

Beginning at 13, she ran away from home repeatedly. With a figure that
was, according to the account in The Times, already "formidable," she
became an underage cocktail waitress.

At 15 during World War II, she had a two-week marriage with a soldier
that produced a daughter. Five of her seven marriages ended in divorce,
and she was widowed twice.

When a Hollywood movie company came to Phoenix in 1950 and advertised
for hundreds of extras for a lynch-mob scene, Renay signed up.

The striking young woman caught the attention of a Life magazine
photographer and writer. Instead of focusing on the film's stars ?
Frank Lovejoy and Adele Jergens ? they did a five-page photo essay on
"the young movie hopeful" titled "Pearl's Big Moment."

Renay later moved to New York, where she became a high-fashion model
and appeared on the cover of Esquire magazine. She later sang and
danced in a small nightclub.

After her 1963 release from prison, where she taught an oil painting
class and wrote, directed and choreographed a show called "Terminal
Island Follies," she appeared in several low-budget films, including
"The Thrill Killers" and "Lady Godiva Rides."

When a Times reporter caught up with her in 1972, she was working in a
Sunset Boulevard strip joint.

She didn't need to work. She was married to her sixth husband,
millionaire entrepreneur Tom Freeman, who did not want her to take the
strip joint job. But who was he to argue? "She's an exhibitionist," he
told The Times. At the time, Renay had recently published her
best-selling autobiography, "My Face for the World to See."

During the 1970s, she toured in a mother-daughter strip act with her
daughter Brenda, who died in 1982. Among her survivors are a son, John
McLain.

Renay, whose last film role was in "Mark of the Astro-Zombies" in 2002,
wrote cookbooks and a 1982 self-improvement book, "Staying Young."
Renay, who boasted of affairs with some top stars, also wrote a second
memoir that was published in 1992, "My First 2,000 Men."

"It wasn't really anywhere near 2,000 men," she admitted in the 1998
Phoenix New Times interview, in which she said her publisher had
encouraged her to exaggerate the number from what she figured was
"probably more like 600."

"I led a wild life, but 2,000?" she said with a laugh, "C'mon, that's
too many, even for me!"

Many thanks to Deathwatch Central for posting this obituary