Daily Mirror showbiz legend Donald Zec, who interviewed and befriended the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, has died at the age of 102.
Zec joined the Mirror on a three-day trial in 1938 and has been reported as saying “no one had the courage to tell me how embarrassingly bad I was, so I stayed for 40 years”.
He started as a reporter, before moving to the crime beat and interviewing the Acid Bath Murderer John Haigh as police waited to arrest him.
Zec recalled Haigh pouring tea and murmuring “Shall I be mother?” He also said: “I had tea with him knowing the police had evidence he not only killed people, but drank their blood.”
He then spent time as a royal correspondent before moving into his most well-known role, showbiz correspondent who befriended stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood but kept a critical eye.
He felt closest to Marilyn Monroe and claimed that when she once declined a meal saying she had to watch her figure, he told her: “You eat, Marilyn, I’ll watch your figure.” She once called Zec for emotional support at 3.30am, and he phoned to console her when she had a miscarriage.
In addition, Humphrey Bogart insisted Zec joined him on a weekend yacht trip with Lauren Bacall and a roster of other celebrities.
But while he saw Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s relationship up close, describing himself as “by turn war reporter, voyeur, ringside commentator and marriage guidance counsellor”, the actress once turned to him and sneered: “You know, you are a little shit.”
Similarly, Frank Sinatra once told him “I thought you were my friend, but as of this morning, you blew it” after he was “insufficiently gushing” in print, as the Mail put it.
Zec wrote an early profile of The Beatles, with the Fab Four viewing him as an “indulgent uncle” according to the Guardian.
Six years later he interviewed John Lennon and his new wife Yoko Ono on their honeymoon “bed-in for peace” in Amsterdam but upset them by describing them as “two chromium-plated nuts”, according to the Times.
Other celebrities pictured below with Zec include Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Ken Dodd, John Cleese, Cliff Richard, Albert Finney, Lana Turner, and Muhammad Ali.
Kirk Douglas, aware of Zec’s sometimes acerbic (as the Mail put it) style, once asked him to “put the knife in gently”. The journalist saved this quote for the title of his autobiography, published in 2003.
Zec, who was awarded an OBE in 1970, left the Mirror in 1978 after suffering a heart attack and went on to write biographies of the likes of the Queen Mother and Barbra Streisand.
His 100th birthday party was organised by James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, according to the Guardian, and he made not one but two speeches.
Zec is said to have remained lucid until the end of his life, albeit fragile. He died on 6 September and is survived by his son, Paul.
Journalist Matthew Engel, who co-wrote Zec’s obituary for the Guardian, told Press Gazette: “If you look back in the archive you can see he was an outstanding popular journalist: always sharp, always readable, never bland but never cruel. Hackademics could still use his pieces to show students how it should be done.
“He was a gifted artist and musician too. And a staunch friend: kind, self-deprecating and still fun even in very old age.”
Picture: Zola/Mirrorpix/Getty Images