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Swimming with the Stars
By Edmund Newton   - 04/10/2008

Broward New Times

Tailpipe missed those palmy scotch-on-the-rocks days when Fort Lauderdale was a civilized little haven for celebrities like Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Bob Hope, and Jackie Gleason. Celebrity golf tournaments at the Coral Ridge Country Club, big-name television broadcasts, tennis tournaments of the stars at the now-defunct Le Club International, impromptu performances by famous recording artists, or just exclusive little tête-à-têtes with high-profile personalities on the Fort Lauderdale beach — those were heady days, all right.

Public relations and advertising exec Jack Drury, who has represented — and befriended — a lot of those television and movie biggies, decided last year it was time for a book about all of that. "I was in Barnes & Noble one day and saw all these books by Arcadia Publishing," says Drury, 77, an imposing, gregarious man who was once a member of the Seton Hall championship basketball team in New Jersey. "City histories. Lots of pictures. I said, 'That's my kind of publisher.'"

Drury's photo-packed Fort Lauderdale: Playground of the Stars was released this week by Arcadia. Focused mostly on the 1960s and '70s, when Drury was starting up his own firm, it offers a glimpse of an era when the city was a lot quieter and a lot more celebrity-friendly — at least, when it wasn't in the midst of Spring Break.

Mostly, stars came to town to escape the sizzle of their professional lives, Drury says. Cary Grant and his young bride Dyan Cannon wanted a quiet afternoon of waterskiing. Carson and McMahon needed a place to get away from it all to work on new material. Celebrated members of the New York Yankees like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who trained at Lockhart Stadium (now Fort Lauderdale Stadium), just wanted places to eat and drink and meet the ladies. Drury was there as a genial can-do guy, ready to help out and, in time, to hang out.

But Drury didn't know what he was getting into when cinema sex pistol Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Hargitay came to town in February 1962. Mansfield was prime paparazzi bait in those days, and a scrum of photographers followed wherever she went. One of Drury's clients, Gill Hotels, invited Mansfield to stay at its Jolly Roger Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach. There were photo and autograph sessions there and at other Gill hotels; then the couple, along with Drury, took a side excursion to the Bahamas.

In Nassau, Drury and the Hargitays, after another round of publicity photos (this time on water skis), decided to escape to a small island. A sudden storm blew in, their boat broke loose and smashed on a reef, and the threesome were stranded on an uninhabited piece of sand.

Tailpipe can imagine the media storm that blew in when word got out that one of Hollywood's hottest mamas was lost at sea. Drury's book has reproductions of front-page headlines ("Push Air-Sea Search for Jayne Mansfield," was the wood on Chicago's American). Then, there were the rescue stories — a lot of them suspicious that the whole episode might have been just a publicity stunt.

Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe, was so frustrated by reporters' questions, Drury says, that he offered to fly members of the press, with nothing but bathing suits, to an undeveloped Bahamian strip during a stormy February night.

So what was really going on out there that night? Drury is still a little touchy on the subject. His night with an international sex symbol (along with her husband) was pretty much a disaster, he says.

"It was dark, We were just sitting on the island with no clothes except bathing suits. Jayne was covered with hives. Mickey cut his leg on a rock." Did they huddle? "Exactly. We took turns being in the middle. Believe me, there was no thought about being with one of the great sex stars of the world. We were freezing our asses off."

There, at last, is the scoop the world's been waiting for.





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