Friday, September 20, 2013
Marion Benda -- The Lady in Black
Benda (real name Marion Elizabeth Watson) was a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl who appeared in the revues No Foolin' (1926), Rio Rita (1927), and Rosalie. She is best known, however, as one of the "ladies in black," the women who made annual pilgrimages to mourn at the grave site of silent film star Rudolph Valentino. Benda was said to have been at a party with the "Sheik" the night he fell ill on August 14, 1926. Although she intimated that she was secretly married to the screen sensation, Valentino's family vehemently denied the claim. Twice married to rich and influential men (Baron Rupprecht von Boecklin and Dr. Blake H. Watson), the statuesque redhead amassed a small fortune by divorcing them. Since 1945, however, Benda had lived in relative poverty, and was a familiar sight in Los Angeles area hospitals where she was routinely taken after numerous overdoses of sleeping pills. A week before her death, the 45-year-old ex-showgirl was found in her Hollywood apartment in a state of hysteria after swallowing a number of pills. On November 30, 1951, Benda finally succeeded in taking her life with sleeping pills. The empty bottle was found at her side. In an act of charity, police listed her death as "possibly accidental."