Hal Schaefer, who arranged music for films and served as a vocal coach for the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Mitzi Gaynor, Betty Grable and Judy Garland, used to perform professionally at hotels in the Catskills. He played in big bands led by Harry James and Benny Carter. He was born in Queens and was the son of a housepainter who loved jazz.
But perhaps most impressively of all, Schaefer escaped what might have been death at the hands of Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, and a pack of goons. Soon after Monroe had split from Joltin’ Joe, a private investigator told him that his ex was shacking up at a house in West Hollywood with Schaefer. The Yankee Clipper went over to confront them, but as it turns out, ended up at the wrong address.
There are different accounts of what happened later that night, but what is certain is that a party of men, including DiMaggio and Sinatra, showed up at the address and someone broke down the door of the ostensible love nest, terrifying the woman who lived there, Florence Kotz — sometimes identified as Florence Kotz Ross — who was in bed by herself.
“Mrs. Ross was fast asleep about 11 p.m. when five or six men suddenly battered down the back door to her apartment, tearing it from its hinges and leaving glass strewn on the floor,” The Los Angeles Times reported, adding, “A bright flash of light was shone in her eyes and she was confronted with a number of men, some of whom seemed to be carrying an instrument which at first sight she believed to be an ax.”
Monroe and Schaefer were across the street, heard the commotion, and apparently ran out the back door of the house and fled.
Hal Schaefer, Jazz Pianist and Marilyn Monroe’s Vocal Coach, Dies at 87 [NYT]
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.