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The Lost World of Kup

When Irv Kupcinet, the legendary gossip columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, died last year, it marked the end of a remarkable era of glamour and intrigue.

(page 6 of 11)

While Kup and Essee were reveling in the glamour of Chicago’s nightlife, their daughter, Karyn, was prepping for her own career in the limelight. Johnnie Clark, the family cook, says that the girl was “talked into being an actress” by her mother, who never got over her own stymied career as a dancer. Yet no one suggests that Karyn was a reluctant pupil. Before she could even read, the children’s governess, June Yamaguchi, took her to acting lessons and then read the scripts to her, which Karyn would memorize and, Yamaguchi says, “perform for anybody.”

Karen Kelley, a classmate of Karyn’s at Francis Parker, recalls her as “sweet and and bubbly.” Academics were not at the top of her list. “She was into shopping and parties” and her boyfriend. Kelley adds that Karyn wasn’t serious about working at acting but was in love with the life, and, because of her father’s position, confident she would get to the top. “Anybody in Hollywood of any consequence knew Kup,” says Mendelsohn. “Some of his closest friends were heads of studios.”

At 13, with help from a family friend, Karyn became Carol Lynley’s understudy in a Chicago production of Anniversary Waltz. In high school, she appeared in productions at Francis Parker. “She was at ease on the stage,” says Kelley, “but wasn’t a great dramatic talent.”

She was also strikingly insecure, and, compliments of her mother, obsessed with her weight. Karyn was five feet one, “not thin, big boobs, curvaceous,” says Kelley. Already in high school, she had what Kelley calls a “weight problem,” and soon, at Essee’s urging, she started taking diet pills.

After graduating from Parker in 1958, Karyn attended Pine Manor Junior College, then in Wellesley, Massachusetts, but a year later, with plans to conquer Broadway, she moved to New York. She read for her first Broadway part but did not get it. Several years later, in a questionnaire for her PR agent, she described the miserable experience of trying to find work: “Through Dad’s popularity, I was able to meet the top producers, agents and casting directors; through their respect for him they were terribly kind and understanding to me.” But they saw her only as Kup’s daughter and, she complained, could not recognize her talent. She lamented “the image I’d created of myself, out of many ‘phony’ compliments from well-meaning friends and business associates who were actually working for mentions in Kup’s column-the feeling that I wasn’t living up to the image expected of Kup’s daughter and worst of all-the feeling that I was disappointing my parents!”

The pressure on Karyn to stay thin was crushing. Johnnie Clark recalls that when Karyn went to New York, “I guess she ate what she wanted, and when she came back she had gained weight, and her mother just went at her.” Her parents had said repeatedly that Karyn looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor. Karyn seemed to take that as a standard of beauty to which she should aspire. She analyzed endlessly how she looked to others, and she had so much plastic surgery-on her ears, chin, nose-that her natural beauty and expressiveness were lost.

In 1960, she left New York for Hollywood when Jerry Lewis, a close friend of Kup’s, offered her a bit part in The Ladies’ Man. Essee’s mother, Doree, accompanied Karyn to Hollywood, and they lived together in an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard. But after about nine months, Doree, disapproving of her granddaughter’s behavior, returned home and Karyn moved to another apartment. Kup asked Mark Goddard, a young actor, and his wife, Marcia, the daughter of a well-known Hollywood PR man, to look after Karyn. But by then she was abusing diet pills and other prescription drugs.

Karyn had some success professionally-episodes of TV’s “Perry Mason,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “The Donna Reed Show,” for example-but nothing she could count on. In 1962, she won excellent reviews for her last role on stage, as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker at the Laguna Playhouse.
But her insecurities grew. On the questionnaire she completed for her PR agent, she claimed to have gone to Wellesley College, to have taken acting classes at Harvard, to have scored 148 on an IQ test, and to weigh 106.

Late in 1962, she was arrested for shoplifting. The next month, she fell in love with a 26-year-old up-and-coming actor-he was then costarring on a TV series called “The Wide Country"-named Andrew Prine. The romance started strong, and then he pulled back. She wanted an exclusive relationship, marriage even; he wanted to have fun with the many young women who were his for the asking. “He just thought he was the greatest thing that ever happened,” says Kari Kupcinet-Kriser, Jerry’s daughter, who became obsessed with learning about the aunt she had never known. “One minute she thought he was going to marry her; the next minute he didn’t want to see her.” By July 1963, Karyn weighed 134 pounds, and her intake of diet pills also had increased.

She got pregnant, and with the help of the Goddards, had an abortion in Tijuana that July-a “butcher, newspaper on the floor, light bulb hanging,” recalls Mark Goddard, who paid for the abortion, “the worst thing I ever did in my life.” (Prine would not comment for this article.)

Refusing to accept that Prine would never love her, Karyn began to spy on him and his new girlfriend. On July 30th, according to a 1998 article in GQ magazine by James Ellroy, she noted in her diary, “Andy with Anna. Me watched from hedge. Awful. Nightmares.” On October 29th: “Andy acting ugly. Complete indifference. Scene at his house. I’m hysterical.” On November 4th, after hiding in his attic: “Wish I were dead.” On November 20th: “I’m losing reality”; on November 25th: “Ate to oblivion.”

She had started to cut letters and words out of magazines, composing threatening and profane messages and mailing them to Prine and to herself. (Her fingerprints were later discovered under the tape, and the cut-up magazines were found in her apartment.)

Kup and Essee flew to Hollywood at least twice and tried to persuade Karyn to return to Chicago. They urged her to come home for Thanksgiving, but she refused. On November 30, 1963, the Saturday after the holiday, the Goddards stopped by her apartment, worried that they had not heard from her. Mark had a “funny feeling” that something was wrong. They found her nude on her back on the sofa. She had been dead for about three days, and Mark assumed that she had overdosed on pills. She was 22.

That day, the Kupcinets were at an opening of a Sara Lee plant in Deerfield. Russ Stewart, the editor of the Sun-Times, reached Kup by telephone. The news had already broken on television; friends and family had gathered at the Kupcinets’ apartment by the time they returned home. “Mrs. Kupcinet just passed out, in shock,” Johnnie Clark says. “Mr. Kupcinet went in a corner in the dining room and faced the wall and put his hand over his head and he cried like a baby.”

Accompanied by his lawyer and his brother Joe, a football coach at Taft High School, Kup flew to Los Angeles. His friend Sidney Korshak “took care of them,” Louis Spear says. Korshak identified the body.

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