It’s like this, see: Glamorous Arlene Dahl of the Technicolor ’50s, star of 28 mostly forgettable movies and now a TV soap character, is sitting alone, beneath a flattering light in the bar of New York’s swank Sherry Netherland Hotel. The model turned actress turned beauty entrepreneur is sipping a white-wine spritzer, waiting to be interviewed, to talk about her marriage to husband No. 6, Marc Rosen, 38, a perfume executive who is 18 years her junior. Enter the reporter, to whom the famed beauty extends a jewel-drenched hand and says, “You’re very special, David. You’re an 11.” Cut! Dahl’s referring to numerology, a subject she’s an expert on (before agreeing to do this story, she had to know the reporter’s astrological sign).
Another subject she’s an authority on is husbands—her most famous being Lex “Tarzan” Barker and Fernando Lamas, both of whom are dead. On marrying her first “younger man,” the 56-year-old mother of Lorenzo Lamas says, offhandedly, “Oh, it’s very au courant.” Indeed, December-May marriages do seem to be in vogue of late. Mary Tyler Moore, Debbie Reynolds and Gunsmoke’s Amanda Blake are all married to younger men.
At first, Dahl and Rosen’s relationship was strictly business. They met in 1975 when Dahl was hawking her line of perfume, for which Rosen (then at Revlon) designed the packaging. When told he was going to meet the actress, Rosen didn’t exactly go into shock. “I missed her movies,” he says, “though I had a general idea who she was. I recalled the beauty mark.” But when she entered the room, “She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” he says. “She just floated.” At the time, each was married to someone else—Dahl to investor Rounsevelle Schaum (father of her son Sonny, 14), and Rosen to a Better Homes and Gardens magazine art director named Rosemary Rehah. When those marriages went bust, Dahl and Rosen became confidants. This Platonic relationship went on for a year and a half, “with lots of kissing on the cheeks,” says Rosen. One night, over dinner, Marc asked Arlene a question: “We spend so much time together, there must be a subconscious reason, don’t you think?” It was then, Rosen says, “romance blossomed.” They immediately booked passage to Paris, where, over the Christmas holidays in 1981, they consummated their union. The marriage occurred last summer aboard a cruise ship on the Mediterranean. Dahl, who’s written 17 books on beauty and astrology, studied the heavens and planned the ceremony for the exact moment when their planets were most in harmony.
The most obvious difference between Dahl and Rosen is the 18 years, but age, to hear Rosen tell it, is relative. “Arlene was very concerned about the age difference,” says Rosen, “but not me, ever. She needs someone younger to keep up with her.” (Dahl and Rosen plan to write a book about the potential pitfalls of an older woman-younger man relationship.) Although Marc is Jewish and Arlene a member of Norman Vincent Peale’s positive-thinking congregation, religion is no problem. “Neither of us is devout,” Dahl says. And lest anyone think Marc is a gigolo, Dahl, who declared bankruptcy in 1980 after her perfume business foundered, knows better: “He’s sure not marrying me for my money. I have not been in that position lately,” she says.
As a vice-president of Elizabeth Arden, Rosen pulls in a handsome six-figure salary. When they’re not staying in their eight-room Manhattan apartment, they may retreat to their Victorian home on the Hudson River called Treetops or a house in Palm Beach. They are comfortable in other ways as well. “We are very extravagant,” says Dahl. Compatible too: “We have a great sex life,” says Marc. “Arlene is very sensual. She loves to touch.” Despite Dahl’s five broken marriages, Marc remains optimistic. “We have already been together longer than most married couples,” he says. “I have had an active past,” says Dahl. “Marc’s getting a great bargain. I am tested and approved.”
An enterprising businesswoman, Dahl got into the beauty game in 1952, writing a thrice-weekly syndicated column, then branching into books and designing sexy sleepwear and exercise clothes. In 1970 she signed with Sears, Roebuck, overseeing the production of body lotions, skin-care kits and vitamins, for which she made close to $750,000 a year. “I was earning major money,” she says. In 1975 she broke with Sears to market her own fragrance, Dahlia. “A year later I was in debt for a million dollars over a perfume that was selling well,” she says. “My husband had left me with a pile of debts, then I found myself with no contract, no title to the fragrance and a business partner who had run off. Everything was gone, including my 14-room apartment.” On Nov. 4, 1980, with Marc at her side, she appeared in bankruptcy court—but in style, of course. “I was overdressed,” she admits. Through this crisis, “the worst in my life,” she says, “I had hope, health and my best friend.” Wiped out financially, Dahl remained emotionally buoyant. “If I were a material woman, I would have had a nervous breakdown,” she says. “But I knew I could make it again.”
Having divorced five husbands, and having been robbed at gunpoint in a New Jersey hotel suite in 1975, there was little question that Dahl would survive. Her exes, besides Barker, Lamas and Schaum, were oilman Christian Holmes III (No. 3), father of their daughter, Carole, 23, and wine expert Alexis Lichine (No. 4). Her first marriage at age 22 was to Barker, and that lasted a mere seven months. “Lex was the best undressed man I’ve ever known,” she says, “but he was not used to taking no for an answer. He had a terrific temper.” Her longest run, seven years, was to Lamas, with whom she co-starred in Sangaree, in 3-D. “He was very tempestuous,” she reports. “He wanted me to give up my career. I was out for 18 months after I had Lorenzo. Fernando had a bad car accident and was in a depression, so I couldn’t go to film War and Peace. Anita Ekberg got the role and became a big star. I think he did it on purpose.” Dahl lost Lamas to Esther Williams, whom he married in 1969. “He was in her picture, Dangerous When Wet,” says Dahl, adding, “believe me, she is very dangerous when wet.” About Williams’ movie career, Dahl observes, “How long can you tread water?”
Dahl, who’s of Norwegian ancestry, was an only child. Her father was a Ford dealer. She left her Minnesota home at age 15 to pursue a modeling career in Chicago, then headed for New York to become the first Clairol redhead. In 1947 Warner Bros, brought Dahl to Hollywood, where she resisted attempts to have her name changed. “I was going to be Andrea Lord,” relates Dahl in a story that sounds apocryphal yet isn’t, “but before I left New York, I gave it to my roommate. I felt she needed it worse than I did. Her name was Ethel Czap.” Warners also tried to change her looks. “They tried to eradicate my beauty spot, red hair and cream coloring,” she says. These were to become her trademarks. In 1948 she signed with MGM, where she made such Dahl classics as The Bride Goes Wild and Three Little Words and later, for RKO, Slightly Scarlett, with filmland’s other reigning redhead, Rhonda Fleming. Dahl’s first fan letter arrived with no name, a drawing of a pair of lips and a beauty spot, and the address: Hollywood, California. “Hollywood was fabulous,” she says. “One thousand and one nights, and then some. Everything you ever believed glamour was.” In comparison with today’s Hollywood, she says, “people used to go to my movies to watch what I wore, not what I took off.”
While still a starlet, Dahl saw John F. Kennedy off and on for two years. “He was charming, articulate and attractive, she says, “but every time I saw him he looked like an unmade bed. He had no fashion sense until he married Jackie.” What’s worse, reports Dahl, was the fact that “he never, ever, had a sou in his pocket.” One day Dahl claims to have gotten a call from Kennedy’s father, Joseph, who said his son was very serious about her and wondered if Arlene would consider converting to Catholicism. “This scared me,” says Dahl. “I liked John very much, but I wasn’t in love with him and he wasn’t in love with me.” The last time she saw JFK was after an argument, when she drove off in her car, leaving him stranded on Beverly Drive. “I told him he was the stingiest man I’d ever met and I never wanted to see him again,” she says. Despite Kennedy’s reputation as a ladies’ man, Dahl reports: “I was a virgin, and I thought he was too. I mean, there was some heavy kissing and that was about it.”
Compared to Dahl’s exciting, at times sizzling, past, Rosen’s background seems pretty tame. He was born in Paterson, N.J. to a well-to-do family, his father in the scrap-metal business, his mother a model turned housewife. A graduate of Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, Rosen was made head of design at Elizabeth Arden at 28. He won the cosmetic industry’s 1984 Fifi Award for designing the best perfume bottle. Despite their many differences, he and Arlene have a relationship that seems to have been preordained. “I believe in other lives and think Marc and I have known each other before,” Dahl says. Backing his mother up is Lorenzo, whose ex-wife, Victoria, was 12 years his senior. “In the past Mom got involved with men who were always taking,” he says. “It’s easy to love a person who gives as much as Marc.”
Some women simply enter a room; Dahl makes entrances. While the happy bridegroom putters about the antique-filled living room in designer pajamas, Dahl primps upstairs. Then as a lush, instrumental version of Feelings plays on a radio, the great lady descends the grand staircase, wearing a robin’s-egg blue peignoir, which accents her Viking red hair, milky white complexion and beauty mark. Dahl has been playing the character Lucinda in the daytime soap One Life to Live for three years (“Last year I had to give up two Hotels and a Love Boat”), but with her character appearing more sporadically, Arlene has more time to reflect on her glamorous past. “I’ve married the most fantastic men,” Dahl proclaims. “I have no regrets at all. Life is wonderful, even though it trashes you and throws you to the ground. Like the old song goes, ‘Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and [here it comes, the lyric that launched six husbands] start all over again!’ ”