Louise King: The Girl Who Followed Marilyn

In the photo above, Marilyn hugs Tom Ewell – with whom she had recently filmed The Seven Year Itch – as Louise King, who had just taken the same role at the Fulton Theatre on West 26th Street in Manhattan, looks on. “I love it,” she laughingly told the Sarasota Observer in 2011, “because Tom’s looking at me” (and not Marilyn).

The photo was probably taken in February 1955, soon after Marilyn moved to New York. The Broadway production of The Seven Year Itch had opened in 1952, with Ewell starring as Richard Sherman and Vanessa Brown as ‘The Girl.’ Louise King had stepped into the role in January 1955, and while a new cast took over in March, she would soon go on tour with Ewell. The big-screen adaptation opened in June.

Louise was born in Wabash, Indiana in 1932. Her father, Andrew Courdier, was a diplomat who became a special assistant to two secretaries general of the United Nations. She gave up an interior design course in New York to try modelling, and then acting. At eighteen she married actor John Michael King – her neighbour on Long Island – but they drifted apart when she went on the road in Mister Roberts, playing a part originally written for Eva Marie Saint.

A year later Louise was offered the role of understudy in The Seven Year Itch, but refused – and was given the part outright. ‘My name was in lights on my second job,’ she recalled. ‘That just about never happens.’ In 1956, she met her second husband – the English racing driver Peter Collins – while on tour in Miami. They were introduced by fellow driver Stirling Moss. ‘We met on a Monday at Coconut Grove Playhouse, while I was doing the The Seven Year Itch,’ she remembered. ‘On Wednesday, he asked me to marry him.’

Louise was one of several young women – including movie starlet Linda Christian – who became media favourites on the racing circuit. Sadly, she had been married for only eighteen months when Collins died, aged 26, after crashing his car at the Nürburgring in Germany. Describing him as ‘the great love of my life,’ Louise reflected, ‘It was the most wonderful year-and-a-half.’

Louise with husband Peter Collins, 1958

She returned to the stage at the invitation of Peter Ustinov, touring as Juliet in his Romanoff and Juliet. In 1959, she joined the panel of the British TV quiz show What’s My Line? She also played occasional dramatic roles (as Louise Collins), including a 1963 episode of The Saint. Back in the US, she became a co-anchor of The Today Show. ‘It was my most interesting job,’ she said. ‘Whatever they did yesterday, they’d come in today and talk about it. It was a constant influx of interesting people and interesting happenings.’

In later years, Louise worked in real estate in Connecticut, and lived in Sarasota, Florida with her third husband, the Canadian screenwriter and film producer Gordon Burwash. After his death in 1980, she was active in her church and volunteered at a local history museum in Sarasota, while making regular trips to New York to catch up on the theatre. In 2017 she reminisced about her youthful adventures in a British-made documentary film, Ferrari: the Race to Immortality.

Louise King died on August 19, 2021, aged 88, The Guardian reports.