A Lot of Love Went Into Our Divorce—Russ Tamblyn
Have you ever been so deeply hurt that you’ve said to yourself: To heck with what others think! So much on the defensive you’ve figured: If they won’t try to understand me, can’t remain unbiased and refuse to give a guy the benefit of the doubt, then why should I care about them? Why should I bother to explain? I owe them nothing! As far as I’m concerned, you rationalize hotly, they can all go soak their heads!
I went through such a phase last January when Venetia (Stevenson) and I separated and, subsequently, were divorced. While I’m not particularly proud of my attitude, in retrospect I know that in a way it was right—right for me at the time. How else can you react when your heart and head are tied in knots, when you feel you’re being pulled in a dozen different directions?
Sometimes it takes days, weeks and months before you adjust your life and regain a normal perspective. The process is painful, too, but worth it because it enables you to see yourself through the wrong end of the telescope. By this I mean that everything pertaining to you is for the first time minimized, and you no longer magnify its importance. When this happens, you start evaluating again.
It’s happened to me, and that’s why I’m anxious to write this open letter to you.
There have been many published and verbal “inside” versions of what happened between Venetia and me. Most of them were based on conjecture and some were out-and-out lies! Let me say right now that you will never read the true story, as we won’t discuss what concerns only us and must be kept, we feel, just for ourselves.
On the other hand, there is something to say that has never been said before. Another reason for this letter.
If time would permit, how I wish I could sit down and write a personal letter to each of you who believed we failed because our marriage was a mistake. We definitely don’t believe it was a mistake. Although we were in a state of shock—and this may surprise you—a lot of love went into our divorce!
The case itself was simple. In divorce proceedings it’s customary for a wife to file suit against her husband. In line of order, therefore, Venetia was required by law to substantiate specific charges.
Unless you’re ridden by bitterness (and the good Lord knows she wasn’t), you have no desire to call names. When Venetia took the stand, the papers quoted her testimony. She said I swore in front of guests and refused to tell her where I was going when I left home. She couldn’t say less and she wouldn’t say more. She was fair about everything, and our divorce went through—uncontested.
Then the unexpected happened! I was deluged by letters—letters from people in every corner of the United States. A great number were sympathetic and their good wishes most appreciated. The other kind should have been anticipated, for as we all know, it isn’t possible to please everyone. I just wasn’t prepared to face such an outburst of resentment. The same people who had once been my friends and wished me well, now told me to drop dead in just so many words. Some of them returned autographed photographs torn to bits and said they’d like to throw them in my face. I must confess, that really cut deep.
To Venetia and me, marriage is so sacred and the things we gained mean so much, we don’t want the whole world to know. We realize a portion of our lives must be lived in the spotlight, but we still prefer not to be like open books. Please try to put yourselves in our place, and you’ll discover it’s quite a revelation. Anyone who doesn’t understand, doesn’t want to understand. But that person’s feelings can’t possibly go beneath the surface and I can’t feel too sorry for him.
You see, there was no big blow-up. It wasn’t as if we had a sudden fight and decided to quit. Our separation was the result of an understanding, and the night before Venetia went into court we spent eight wonderful hours talking about many wonderful things.
We knew then that we still had as much love for each other as any two people who go into marriage with full intention of working it out. Strange as it may seem, it still didn’t mean that we must remain married! Once again, our reasons belong only to us. We had listened to many people talk pro and con on the subject of marriage. I can only say we thought we knew our way—but how do you know until you marry and try? It’s like trying to read ten books on how to drive a car. You never really know until you get behind the wheel yourself!
Venetia and I went together a full year. The difference is, before marriage you go along with each other believing you can adjust to differences after marriage. But when you live together night and day, you can get on each other’s nerves, although you make every effort to prevent it. Up to a week before we separated, there was nothing we wanted more than our marriage. We would have given up everything if we could have believed it Perhaps it didn’t have a had a chance. chance right from the start.
We started out allowing our marriage to be built up out of all proportion. No one is to blame. Studios are in business and they wanted to cash in on the publicity. We wanted to be cooperative and the whole truth is there wasn’t much choice. Newspapers and magazines had been good to us in the past; reporters still had jobs to perform; and we didn’t want to appear ungrateful. So we were given an interrupted honeymoon, in exchange for endless interviews and picture spreads. Sometimes, before you’re aware of the risk, you fall into a pattern that turns out to be—a trap!
In today’s fast-moving world people want and need fantasy and escape. Venetia and I were so young and seemingly untouched by life. Many of you saw only one side of the picture—an idealistic boy and girl who were in love. When people like us are placed on a pedestal where we don’t belong, it can be pretty scary. We talked it over and hoped and prayed we could live up to what was expected of us.
How much better it would have been to admit those usual first-year arguments and disillusionments. Wouldn’t it have made us more human and less up in the clouds? I think it would, but we’re never allowed to talk about such things.
As I said earlier, those “inside” stories about our divorce were unauthorized and untrue. According to one popular version, our opposite backgrounds were the cause of it all. For the record: Venetia’s mother is an actress, and her father is a director. My parents were in a different kind of show business for thirty years—but it was still show business.
In some instances, opposites marry because each offers what the other has never had. Not so with us. Our backgrounds are similar, but we differed on likes and dislikes and couldn’t fake or be phony about it to ourselves, or others.
It’s generally known that I get excited about making plans and discovering new interests. As a rule Venetia doesn’t, or when she does she holds everything inside. I’m gregarious by nature and love most people. But Venetia is shy and can’t adapt herself easily on short notice. She’s honest about it; when she’s bored, for example, she shows it.
In this business especially, politics plays an important part, and you can’t always be as honest as you’d like to be. Venetia knows she may make others dislike her at times, but she remains true to her inner feelings. I respect them tremendously. Needless to say, differences such as these don’t cause a divorce, but they do add up.
The real reasons, as I’ve already established, are much more important and will never be discussed for publication. In writing this letter I hope I have made it clear that no one—certainly not us—actually gets married with the possibility of divorce in mind. Believe me, we thought about our fans, friends and families and how our divorce might affect them. Those closer to our situation, naturally, could remain objective. I believe every person is privileged to think as he will, but do you believe folks thousands of miles away should sit in judgment and write derogatory letters? Those were what made me hurt and angry.
It’s true, we could have stayed together to please the public, and it would have been possible to hold on longer than we did. After reading this, I hope those of you who censured us will understand why we made our decision. Trying to please each other would have called for complete dedication. Other couples might do it, but in our business there just isn’t enough time. You have to create out of your own self, and, if God has given you creative ability to start out with, whatever comes out is you and you dare not jeopardize it.
I’ve observed those who are unhappily married and I could name several right now in Hollywood. Some haven’t the guts to get out while there’s still a chance to find happiness. Others kid themselves into believing it will work out. Maybe it will, but too often they wait too long and life has passed them by.
We didn’t want this to happen to us. Last and very far from least, we thought about those teenagers who had written such glowing letters when we were married. They said if we could do it, they could do it. So they were using us as a perfect example, because we had been made to look like a perfect example. We didn’t want to influence them, for how well we knew they could find out for themselves only through their own experience. By refusing to put up a front we may have disappointed many, but I still think it was the only honest thing to do.
AIthough we agreed it was better to separate, we still suffered a great sense of loss. I was so confused and in a turmoil when those letters hit me. I hadn’t worked in a year; my father underwent serious brain surgery; and then I received my draft notice. It all happened at once, and I’ll confess—I guess I did feel sorry for myself.
Well, I had a choice of killing myself—or working it out! Always before, my problems became someone else’s problems. I had lived at home most of my life, and my mother would tell me not to worry about it. So I wouldn’t. Sometimes Venetia, in trying to be helpful, would say, “Don’t worry about it.” And I wouldn’t.
Now, for the first time in my life, I had no one to turn to and so I did worry. Feeling lost, I moved to the beach, where I felt more lost. Believing I wanted to be alone, no one called for weeks. Perhaps it was better this way. At any rate, it was the right move. I started to clear up my own mind for the first time and, thank heaven, I succeeded.
Looking back, I can see that it was never good to have thoughts that someone else puts into your mind. For example, like someone saying, “Don’t smoke, it’s against God’s wishes!” They tell you and you listen. But who told them? Trace it back and you find the first person just didn’t like to smoke. See what I mean?
I learned a lot from our marriage and feel that I am on the verge of wisdom. Out of the joys and heartaches Venetia and I became close, life-long friends, and that’s pretty important. Today we share better understanding than we ever shared before, and for us I really believe our divorce was a step ahead.
Sometimes I wonder about a future marriage and I realize if I married again in this town, I’d still want to marry Venetia. So far I haven’t met anyone who comes close to her complete honesty. I never expect to meet another girl who has such virtuous ideas and beautiful qualities inside.
It is too bad there are those who feel that we let them down, and, for our sakes, I wish they wouldn’t. I hope and pray this letter will help to convince them that de- spite our heartaches we didn’t fail anyone—including ourselves. Venetia and I have grown and gained through divorce. Maybe in a certain sense we did sacrifice each other—but only to learn more about life and ourselves. And we are trying very hard to learn.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1957