Local Hemet celebrity Rusty Strait dishes about Marilyn Monroe, who had ties to the San Jacinto Valley
■ By Jesse Vivanco / Contributed
For the second time in the past three years, local author, newspaper reporter and celebrity biographer Raymond Strait has chosen my establishment to be interviewed by foreign television. Two years ago I gave permission for a television crew to interview Ray in our bar which, at that time, was known as the TWH Sports Lounge.
Prior interview for the Smithsonian Institution
A half dozen young guys showed up in jeans, looking very much like some of the kids who grew up in the skating rink next door. Ray, who most people know as Rusty, followed and was dressed to the nines like he was on his way to an inaugural ball.
The two styles of dress didn’t make much sense until it was explained to me that it didn’t matter what the guys behind the cameras wore. The important thing was that these folks flew across the pond from London, England, to film Rusty for a series of episodes about celebrities for none other than the Smithsonian Institution.
I had no idea it would take an hour or more to set up the cameras, the mics and background before even one actual scene was shot. The entire experience was an eye-opener. The subject of the shoot was Strait’s connection to Marilyn Monroe. I knew he had worked for sex symbol and movie star Jayne Mansfield, but had no idea he might know anything about Marilyn Monroe.
Once the cameras started rolling and the director yelled, “Action,” Strait began to tell his story about Marilyn’s last day in August 1962. Seems he had written a book with a famous Hollywood private eye named Otash who had tapes of Marilyn as she took her last breath at the hands of some pretty notorious characters.
Otash, according to Strait, had allowed him to listen to several hours of secret recordings of Marilyn in the company of none other than President John F. Kennedy and his brother, the attorney general of the United States.
That was hot stuff to both myself and some of my employees who hung around to see what was happening.
Canadian press interviews Strait about Marilyn Monroe
Now, let’s jump forward to Thursday, July 20, 2017. Same site, new name, Derby’s Bar & Grill, Rusty once again prevailed on me to allow another film crew on the premises to do another interview with him. This time it was Buck Productions out of Toronto, Canada, who made their way to Hemet via Los Angeles International Airport to discuss the same subject: Marilyn Monroe. I’m beginning to wonder just how close Rusty actually was to the famous glamour queen.
However, there was a change of pace, and myself and a couple of friends were further educated about Marilyn Monroe. Seems her biological father, a man named Charles Stanley Gifford, once owned a dairy on Menlo Avenue near the corner of Girard Street, and actually lived around the corner on Girard a couple of doors south.
I’ve lived in Hemet all my life and had never even heard about Marilyn Monroe visiting here, but there was Rusty, spouting information out like a ticker tape machine while the cameras recorded it for posterity. I understand they later made a trip over to the San Jacinto Valley Cemetery to view the resting place of Mr. Gifford and his wife, Mary.
I don’t know how all of this came about, but Strait told of Marilyn coming to Hemet in a limousine a few times, parked across the street from the dairy and watched with binoculars as her father came and went.
Hard to tell who the celebrity was in all of this, but it was a story those of us who heard it will long remember.