Murder in West Hollywood

TheMontereyVillage apartment complex on NorthSweetzerAvenue in West Hollywood is a beautiful upscale affair—peaceful and quiet, nestled among the trees. The building and grounds are immaculate and affluent looking. But 50 years ago, a pretty, young starlet was murdered in Unit 1227 1/2. Her name was KarynKupcinet, and she was strangled there in 1963 on Thanksgiving weekend. Her death could easily be chalked up to “just another Hollywood murder.” But no, this one was different, as a number of famous people were involved.

March 30, 2013 - by


TheMontereyVillage apartment complex on NorthSweetzerAvenue in West Hollywood is a beautiful upscale affair—peaceful and quiet, nestled among the trees. The building and grounds are immaculate and affluent looking. But 50 years ago, a pretty, young starlet was murdered in Unit 1227 1/2. Her name was KarynKupcinet, and she was strangled there in 1963 on Thanksgiving weekend. Her death could easily be chalked up to “just another Hollywood murder.” But no, this one was different, as a number of famous people were involved.

KarynKupcinetwas the daughter of famed Chicago newspaper columnist IrvKupcinet, a man wirh many rich and famous friends. Karyn’s boyfriend was a rising young star named AndrewPrine. He had numerous TV roles and was in the Academy Award-winning film The Miracle Worker playing Helen Keller’s (Patty Duke) brother. Plus, Karyn had a new downstairs neighbor, DavidLange. Lange was the brother of Oscar nominee HopeLange(Peyton Place) and he was dating Natalie Wood, who was one of Hope’s best friends. KarynKupcinet’smurder was never solved.

No one thought KarynKupcinet was particularly talented, but her father’s name had opened doors for her. Jerry Lewis gave her a small part in one of his films, and she had a few small roles on TV. It was during one of these roles that she met Andrew Prine.Kupcinetwas smitten withPrineand wanted a committedrelationship. But Prinewanted his freedom. It was reported after her death that Kupcinet had gone to Mexico the previous July to have an abortion. Karyn was also addicted to diet pills and became increasing obsessed oncePrinestarted dating other women. She sent him—and herself—threatening letters with cut-out words from magazines and newspapers. To understand her obsession with Prine, I suggest you google “AndrewPrinenude” and check out photos of the actor in his prime. It does not take 20-20 eyesight to see one of the reasonsKarynwas crazy about Andy.

Poor DavidLangehad a major drinking problem. In fact, his alibi the night of the murder was that he was out drinking with Natalie Wood and Glenn Ford. Gavin Lambert’s great biography of Nat Wood doesacknowledgethat she saw him briefly, but that he was way out of his league. PlusLangehad a reputation of drunkenly entering apartments uninvited. His apartment was directly underneath Karyn’s.

The night she was murdered, KarynKupcinethad dinner with actor Mark Goddard of Lost in Space and his wife at theirColdwaterCanyon home. The couple later told police that Karyn was acting strangely and seemed to be on drugs. She returned home to NorthSweetzerand two male friends joined her to watch TV. She went to bed and both men let themselves out, locking the door behind them. They then joined Andrew Prinefor more “TV watching and talk” until 3 a.m. A few days later, theGoddardsbecame worried and went toKupcinet’sapartment. The door was unlocked and they found the actress nude and dead. The police autopsy states she had been strangled. Both AndrewPrineand DavidLange—who had jokingly told friends he had killer her!—were questioned by the police, and although both menwere considered suspects, neither man was ever charged.

The murder became a forgotten cold case, but IrvKupcinetand his wife went to their graves convinced that AndrewPrinehad killed their daughter. AndKupcinetused his power to try to derailPrine’scareer.

Fifty years later, most people have forgotten KarynKupcinet. Most of the principals have died, including Natalie Wood, DavidLangeand both of Karyn’s parents. AndrewPrineis still very much alive. How his career might have gone had he never met Karyn Kupcinet nor gained the wrath of her father is a moot point. Today theMontereyVillage apartments are easily accessible. There is no security gate—just a “No Trespassing” sign—and on a recent morning while walking a friend’s dog I wandered into the courtyard.It was quiet and peaceful. But looking up at 1227 1/2, I tried to picture it 50 years ago when a pretty, young girl died there.

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