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A New Kind Of Love—Jimmy Darren

FROM THE LOUDSPEAKER overlooking the verdant green Kleig-lighted lawn and the large warm-watered swimming pool came the pre-recorded strains of “Let There Be Love.” A nippy breeze cast up from the Pacific laid a nocturnal chill over the Columbia Ranch in Burbank. The public address system sent Jimmy Darren’s plaintive ballad to every corner of the sprawling movie-making compound.

Jimmy’s voice was warm and gentle. He mouthed the words as he sat under a tree with a group of frolicking young men and women while the lawn party scene was set up. He wore a pale blue chenille robe over his bathing suit and seemed to be enjoying himself. It was the beginning of a shooting session that was to last all through the night. Then “The Gene Krupa Story”—in high-budgeted color and Cinemascope—would be in the can.

After that—as the song said—let there be love!

How fortuitous that Jimmy’s big number should be a revival of “Let There Be Love.” It was that very romantic determination that explained the monumental changes in his private life. He had had his share of counterfeit emotions, his share of frustration and groping. Now he proposed with a purpose that could not be turned aside—let there be love!

And there was—deep, abundant love.

I stood on the sidelines with a willowy girl in black capris and a softly undulating black turtleneck sweater. Evy Norlund’s eyes were china blue, her skin a glowing alabaster in the night light, and her hair the sunspun yellow of cornsilk. I watched as the lovely Danish young lady lovingly watched her handsome young man.

Before there could be love, for Jimmy there had to be growth.

First Jimmy had to let there be feeling. Only then did the sun rise over his once darkened horizons—dark with the sad miscalculations of an impulsive teenage marriage, dark with burdens of guilt and confusion when the marriage brought despair instead of happiness. It was only after he learned to turn loose his emotions that he was able to let there be love.

Sal Mineo and Susan Kohner stepped in front of the cameras as Jimmy stepped away from them. We sat on a pile of lumber beyond the line of equipment, warmed ourselves with paper cups of coffee, and Jimmy talked about it—the marriage that was meant to be, his marriage to Evy. Evy, who had come to these shores as Miss Denmark, who had come into. Jimmy’s life as a contract player at Columbia. He talked easily, with the assurance of a surprisingly contained young man who had an inkling of what life was about. He talked with excitement and with feeling.

“Evy is so swell,” his voice was quiet and full of well being. “She’s such a beautiful girl, such a genuine girl. When I’m with Evy I’m so relaxed, so comfortable. When you’re in love you’re so satisfied.”

Jimmy recalled his first enthralled awareness of it when he did a screen test with Evy. They had met several months after his separation from his childhood sweetheart, Gloria. Knowing Evy, had opened up feelings that he never suspected he had, and he was really startled at the salutary effect on his functioning.

“My acting improved so much,” he smiled, still incredulous, “that it was unbelievable. I used to hold back. I used to be afraid to show my emotions. When I did this scene with Evy, I felt I accomplished something as a human being. My back was to the camera all the time, and yet all the people recognized it. I was able to feel my emotions so strongly that I could express them even though 50 people were standing around watching.”

Jimmy pulled his robe tight against the chill night air. The memory of that crucial test with Evy, and what it meant in terms of his growth as a person and as a performer, seemed to warm him more than the steaming coffee.

“I had to feel love in this scene,” he explained. “Before I would have been inhibited. Out of that love I had to beg her not to commit suicide over another man. She felt she was not good enough for this man, and I was trying to convince her how wrong she was. I noticed all the people around me, and for the first time in my life I was able to tell myself they didn’t mean anything. Any other time I could never have conveyed the required love. But this time I was able to take what I felt for Evy and use it. I finally recognized love and saw what it was like to be in love. I felt rich inside.”

It was so different from those years when Jimmy Darren, nee James Ercolani, felt empty inside, not rich. And Jimmy was able to talk about that, too—without flinching.

“I don’t think I was really happy before,” he faced up to it. “Oh, I may have been happy in a way as a teenager. Even then I had limitations. There wasn’t much to make you happy then. You have a bunch of friends and good times. But that’s just doing things. That’s not really being happy, not really feeling. Everything should grow. I had to grow—to meet the demands of life, to become more of a human being. I feel fulfilled now whereas before I didn’t.”

A GROUP of adoring teenage girls came over and politely asked Jimmy for his autograph. He made sure to write each one’s name as he signed for them. The interruption did not break the thread of his thoughts.

“So many people stay married unhappy.” He shook. his head at the futility of it. “They have terrible guilt feelings. They can’t bring themselves to face life as it is. Life is so basic that often we don’t understand it: It seems too easy and we think it has to be complicated, not an easy thing.”

Jimmy spoke out of his own experience. There were doubts he had had to still: before he was able to pick up the pieces and rebuild his own life.

“Its hard to do what’s right when you have guilt feelings,” he said earnestly. “Overcoming guilt is not easy, but it’s so important. It was an unfortunate situation, but that was it. You have to forget about it.”

He did not mean forget about it with callous indifference, out with an honest assessment of the damage being done to everyone caught up in it.

“Could you imagine me living in an unhappy home?” he posed the question squarely. “Can you imagine the effect of an unhappy home on a child, the unhappy life he would have? You can’t fight a situation like that.”

Jimmy had spent endless hours in soul searching—not only weighing his chances for happiness, but his wife’s, and more importantly than either, the stake of his two-and-a-half year old son, James Darren, Jr. But he was able to resolve his problem without being haunted by guilt.

Jimmy showed neither rancor nor remorse. He conveyed the quiet conviction that they had chosen the most honorable and most hopeful—and perhaps the most difficult—of two courses open to them.

“As you know,” he pointed out, “all too often when people have unfortunate marriages, one or the other may be inclined to seek solace elsewhere. That’s something Gloria and I never could do. I feel, and so does Gloria, that that is real disrespect for marriage. We’d much rather have a divorce than that. No matter how they try to justify it, when married people cheat, there’s much more wrong with them than they think. That is never a solution. They only hurt themselves more because that way they will get so many complexes, so many guilt feelings. They could only be miserable.”

So instead of letting there be infidelity and remorse, Jimmy let there be unsparing self-evaluation. Out of it, he let there be light—in the welcome guise of love.

“I realized that something can do you good even though it has done you harm,” he smiled. “No experience is wasted if you learn from it. I realized that I’d missed a lot in life, that I hadn’t known what I was or what I was looking for. Not that I wasn’t always a thinker. Even when I was 15, I would think and think.

“But I would never go deep enough with it,” he reflected, “because I didn’t have enough knowledge of myself to go deeply into it, to really know when I’d like something. I took things at surface value. I used to do things I didn’t really want to do, and I didn’t do the things I really did want to do. I never got down and really took a look at life. Now I can get down and look at life, and come up, still ride the crest and have a better time. Before it was like swimming on top of the water and not knowing what’s down underneath.”

With understanding he found the strength to deal with his unhappy circumstances. Later, when he met Evy, he was ready for something he once bungled by taking it on prematurely. He was ready for love.

“My understanding of life has expanded so much in the last year, more in the last year than the whole span of my life before. My understanding really began when I met Evy.

“I can’t tell you what meeting Evy did for me,” he said. “I grew up. My emotions were greater. My feelings were deeper—deeper for her and deeper in my reaction to other things. Before when I liked things, when I really liked things, I only pretended to like them. Now I’m not afraid to show that I like something, just as I’m not afraid any more to blow my top if I feel sore about something. I think I have become a better person since knowing Evy.”

Certainly that moonlit, kleiglit night on the mall at Columbia Ranch, Jimmy Darren did not run from his emotions. He had not outgrown his boyish charm and enthusiasm, only the doubts and fears that once hampered their expression. Once it would have been unthinkable to be so demonstrative. Now he didn’t think twice about displaying the exhilaration he felt over marrying Evy.





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