I married a star
Hollywood called it an ideal match. Yet, if I had used the spoonful of brains God gave me, I would never have done what I pitied so many others for doing — for I have learned the true and — perhaps shocking — reason why stars don’t stay married.
I went into it with my eyes wide open, though I’ve often tried to find solace — and an alibi — in the thought that it wasn’t a star I married at all, but just a beautiful, sweet, bewildered wisp of a girl. More than once I’ve almost wept in self-pity at the memory of how she looked the day the idea of marrying her hit me. And how noble and unselfish I felt.
Huddled in the far corner of the testing set, the look of a scared rabbit in her big eyes, she seemed utterly lost as she watched the director, cameraman and hairdresser battle over her hairline and eyebrows.
“She needs somebody to protect her against these wolves,” I told myself. If I had paused to use the spoonful of brains God gave me, or to lend an ear to the cargo of experience Hollywood had dropped in my lap, I’d have peeked three years into the future and seen those “wolves” scampering to keep out of her way.
But, instead of looking ahead, as I had done when other meek supplicants to stardom stood before me, I thought, “The poor kid’s all alone here. She needs a friend.”
So I married the girl.
“A swell match”
Hollywood declared it a swell match. She was twenty and a promising youngster. I was twenty-seven and the junior partner of a sweet agency. As an artists’ agent with good connections, I could really do things for Anne.
Even then, the thought of her staying home like a regular wife never occurred to anyone. And I didn’t suggest it, because Anne (that’s as good as any other name that’s not her own) was so eager to accomplish something herself, so, as she pointed out, people wouldn’t think I had an empty-head for a wife. That’s a weak excuse, but I would have grabbed anything that made me think a career wasn’t first in her heart. And I think Anne made herself believe it, too, she was so sweet and anxious to please.
After Anne’s first picture, any producer or director in Hollywood would have offered two to one that she was headed for stardom. “Star”‘ was written all over her work, while I still had a chance to run.
I knew my Hollywood odds: three to one she would be a star, and ten to one, as a star, any marriage she made would go on the rocks. I knew that the odds of ten to one that a woman movie star can’t stay married are conservative.
But I figured that somehow things would be different with us, so I married her, in spite of my friends’ advice and warnings. And the same thing happened to me that happens to nine out of ten men who marry movie stars, or other celebrities.
Not that living with a luscious lady hasn’t a charm all its own. Even my cynical men friends admitted that they envied me my first six months — not forgetting to tell me it a great life, if I knew when to let go.
I resented their lip-smacking attitude toward Anne. It was damned poor taste to let me see just what a choice morsel they regarded her. Whenever they spoke of her charm, her beauty or her naturalness, they managed to convey the impression that it was a shame I would soon have to kiss it all good-bye.
So Anne and I planned a campaign to confound them. We loved each other, and we just couldn’t believe we would ever feel differently. But if the time came when we did, we would carry on like real troupers. Anne was deadly earnest about this. Marriage had been good to us, and had brought her peace and security and a chance to work without worry. We would always respect and treasure it.
Even now, after two years, sometimes I wake from a dream of the starry mist of her eyes, the full, red lips, and the glint of her hair.
I’ll just admit that I’m still in love with my Anne of those days, and that I’ve more than once futilely damned pictures for destroying her. Every vestige of her is gone. The gorgeous, glamorous star that has wiggled into her skin is less she than her image on the screen. That beautiful fake stirs no warmth or longing in me.
They say divorce is born of misunderstanding. But not in Hollywood. Here understanding, beautiful, intelligent, civilized understanding is the embryo of separation, friendly parting, or what have you. In our village, ‘twixt the mountains and the sea, to know is not to love.
When the clouds began to appear
The first clouds appeared on the horizon of our second year, when Anne would come home at night completely exhausted, with nerves frayed by studio irritations.
They joined the studio cameramen in popping away at Anne with flashlight bulbs.
Anne was stammering with happiness, and I’ll admit I expanded with pride. That was the beginning of it.
Every day for a week they tested Anne for hairdress and make-up. Now that she was important, her personality must be emphasized and glorified. They must find out how she was most effective before the camera. To fit a star’s estate, there must be a suitable wardrobe — and a suitable wardrobe meant much time with studio designers, and much more time with the fitters.
Her full-breasted slenderness brought a squeal of joy from the girl who posed the limitless style photographs that were regularly released to fan magazines, newspapers and picture syndicates. Besides all this, were her studio conferences, her “studies,” and her culture tutoring — plus portrait sittings, interviews and her regular picture work.
Formerly, Anne dragged in about seven, dog-tired, but in time for dinner. Then we could at least have the evening together, in peace. But after that night at the Victor Hugo, if Anne arrived home by seven o’clock, we figured she was getting a half day off. Soon the only time she took a bite in the house was on her way to bed, or out the front door. Except, of course, when interviewers came to lunch or dinner. And that was something to look forward to. A quiet day at home with the interviewers was like nothing else in the world.
These “eyes and ears of the public” may be catnip to a career, but they’re certainly sand in a husband’s spinach. We seldom had an opportunity to do anything together, as our plans were almost invariably sidetracked by demands on Anne for unexpected retakes, unexpected rehearsals, unexpected costume fittings, unexpected tests.
Always it was unexpected, and each time we were assured it would not happen again. But we soon realized Anne was actually subject to call from six in the morning until twelve at night.
Not simply the studio’s demands
However, it was not the studio’s unreasonable demands on her time that finally separated us. If anything, that supplied the common enemy that united us. We felt abused, and turned our annoyance and grievance against the department heads and executives who seemed to be conspiring to make us strangers to each other. Sometimes I suspected those studio watchdogs regarded a husband as an undesirable complication and a hazard — and wanted him out of the picture.
I have since learned that studio executives know Hollywood, and how a career functions, too well to worry about such things. They just sit back and let nature take its course. Which it did — on Anne.
During the first three months of stardom, Anne was in a state of perpetual exhaustion, except when under pressure from the studio. On those occasions she rallied, somehow, and carried on. But her work sapped every ounce of her strength, leaving her neither the energy nor the inclination to devote any time to her home or husband.
Her hours at home, when not devoted to voice culture, reading script, posing for pictures, studying lines, giving interviews or doing the physical exercises prescribed for her, were spent in sun baths. And sun baths never were vitamins for romance. Stretched full-length on a mattress beside the pool, her hair piled high on top of her head, her skin covered with oil and her eyes hidden behind dark glasses, she generally fell asleep in the sun. Which was no picture to inspire a husband.
With each succeeding picture, Anne gained confidence, until she was ready to enter the inevitable battle between star and the various departments that exact toll from her: i.e., publicity, hairdressing, wardrobe, exploitation and production.
One by one she cut down the extra duties they had imposed upon her, and day by day she became a little more sure of herself, a little more determined and a little more irritable.
I couldn’t fail to notice the steady change in her. A narrowing of her eyes drove from them their look of wonderment, a tightening of her lips wiped away their charming quiver, a squaring of her jaw erased its soft line, and a growing aggressiveness crowded the hesitancy from her manner.
All the while I knew I was helpless to prevent this calculating stranger from moving in on me, and trampling underfoot every silly, sentimental thought Anne and I had ever cherished.
The price of fame
It made me sick at heart — but I couldn’t blame Anne. It was just the price of fame, the thing that a career does to a woman. She was in Hollywood’s wringer of success, and it was squeezing the heart and soul out of her.
I knew exactly what to expect, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. I recognized every symptom of her disease, as I had seen it gnawing on the bonds of other couples. I could almost chart its progress.
At first, Anne had been too exhausted to indulge in the bits of romance that keep the bloom on a marriage. Then, she became too irritable. Finally, she grew too busy. She simply had too many important things to do to play Juliet to my Romeo. Once she told me so, by suggesting that since I was supposed to be in business, I might use up some of my surplus energy at that, and give her a chance to get her work done.
Anne never could understand that, while other interests and activities can supplant all desire for romance in a woman, they cannot in a man. His work, no matter how hard or exacting it may be, cannot kill his normal instincts. But, concentration on work that uses up her energy can anesthetize a woman’s natural feminine reactions. Any man married to a motion-picture star, or famous career-woman will swear to that.
Give a woman a career and a chance to spread her feathers, and a man is an ingredient not necessary to her cake of happiness — though she likes to use him as a sort of extra flavor or trimming. Tasty, but superfluous.
That’s why the chances are better than ten to one that a woman movie star can’t stay married. Naturally, there are contributing factors, such as exaggerated ambition, intolerance, vanity, impatience and good old “temperament,” or a plain mixture of selfishness and contrariness. But, usually a husband can take these in his stride. The thing that curdles him is coldness. That’s a slap in the face to any man.
By this time, Anne had become a hound for efficiency. She felt she had the whole world to conquer, and would like to do it during the next three years. So, when one of our recent importations from England gave her a chance to kill three birds with one stone — a certain misinformed Hollywood columnist said four birds — she really embraced the idea in a big way.
Gerald Brookes (that name will do for our purpose) was playing an important part in Anne’s picture, and his very excellent English accent fascinated her. Wouldn’t he, she asked, help her attain a trace of it?
Being a perfectly charming fellow, he would. In fact they could rehearse together, and kill two birds with one stone. Then he discovered that Anne was taking riding lessons.
A friend of his had offered him the use of his stable. It was a bit silly riding alone, but if Anne would let him offer his services she could rehearse her lines, add a bit of England to her charming accent, and brush up on her riding, all in one jolly swoop.
Of course, the gossip rags soon were smacking their lips over it. But I knew Anne too well to give any credence to their nasty hints. In fact, I still don’t, and never will.
Anne had the bit of ambition in her teeth, and no time for romance. The only thing in the world that interested her was her career. She has proved that since our divorce. But I was getting fed up on the eternal question of her young life.
I had thought it all out. My own Anne was lost to me forever. She had been cultured and calculated right out of existence, and I was beginning to harbor a yen to crack the shellac on the glittering lady she had become.
Frankly, I didn’t like the new Anne. So it wasn’t jealousy that made me ask her one morning, as she swept the breath of the stable in from her car:
“Been riding with Gerald again this morning?”
In that one flat syllable she managed to express all the feminine indifference of a thousand satisfied women.
“The scandal sheets and those lousy columnists are beginning to lick their chops over it.”
“That means nothing to me.”
“It does to me.”
The contempt and challenge in that tone was right out of a picture she had just finished. I objected to having rehearsed lines read at me. It burned me up.
“So it would be a good idea for you to put Gerald back with the other props, and do your riding with me. After all, I’m your husband.”
“You sound like an assistant director. Now run away and don’t bother me.”
“That’s a hell of a way –”
“Listen, Romeo –” Anne continued in a low, flat voice, her eyes cold as slate, “don’t get messy. If you want to impress somebody, try it on some of those dumb cuties you’re peddling. They think you’re a big agent. Maybe they’ll fall for your Casanova line.”
One did. And that’s the story behind the sufferings of a poor little star, and why she had to get a nasty old divorce.
Of course, Anne and I are old pals now. Divorced couples always are in Hollywood.
See books created by our team in the Click Americana shop!
Source publication: Photoplay
Publication date: October 1939