Big Guy! Big Future! Big Romance?
It’s just one of Hollywood’s little ironies that a good actor and a good-looker like Steve Cochran can go along for years turning in excellent performances and doing a fine job—but:
It takes talk of a hot romance with a star like Ginger Rogers to get him into the talked-about bracket—the big league gossip columns and, yes, the social whirl. That’s Hollywood for you.
It’s enough to make a player like Steve, coming along toward stardom legitimately as fast as he is, a little cynical. Even I, who have known Steve since he was married to Fay McKenzie and they were battling and reconciling with every edition, never thought of doing a story about him until Ginger came into his life.
And, as usual, the first thing I threw at him after he arrived for our appointment was—just how serious is his romance with Ginger? Enough to end in marriage—or just another Hollywood love affair scheduled to end after the excitement has worn thin?
Steve was neither annoyed nor embarrassed by my question. Personal questions obviously do not faze him.
He’s handsome in a way—his way. Even off screen, he has that same solid, virile wallop Gable first had. There’s just 175 pounds proportionately spread over his six-foot-one frame. His hair is dark, his eyes green. He’s a type women go for.
I think that Fay was still crazy about him when they parted.
“You tracked me down at the train the first time Fay and I parted,” Steve reminded me. “You also had the first story of our marriage.”
“Now I’d like to have history repeat itself,” I told him. “How about the first story on what you and Ginger Rogers intend to do?”
As I said, the question did not rattle him. He didn’t quibble. “As of today there are no plans for marriage,” he said. ”What will happen tomorrow, no one can say. Ginger and I have a perfect understanding. We enjoy each other’s company so much at this time that neither she nor I go out with any one else. But look here, Louella,” he went on, “I’ve been married twice. The first time to Florence Lockwood—for eight years. Fay and I didn’t stick it out that long. They were both wonderful girls—so maybe the trouble was all my fault.
“Right now, my career is pretty important to me. I’ve made nine pictures for Warners in a little over a year. I’m very grateful to Jack Warner.”
I knew all about his career. “Where did you meet Ginger?” I cut in.
Steve laughed. “When we were making ‘Storm Warning’ together. I thought she was lovely the minute I saw her. But she would have no part of me. She was seeing Greg Bautzer then. And Ginger is no two-timing female. I asked her for a date—and she turned me down cold.
“In fact,” continued the honest Steve, “she laughed in my face. Then we went to Miami for the premiere of ‘Storm Warning’ and surprise! surprise! Ginger accepted my invitation for dinner one night. Maybe she was just feeling sorry for me—because I had a broken leg. But we had a lot to say to each other and had a wonderful time. It was just about the time she and Bautzer were beginning to cool. But it wasn’t until they were definitely through that she let me take her to parties and theaters and see her most of the time.”
What Steve didn’t tell me, but what I happen to know, is that he seldom went to any Hollywood parties until he became Ginger’s escort. Since that time he has beau-ed her to the Gary Coopers’, the Jack Warners’ and to other social events.
At the Coopers’, Steve and Ginger ran into Greg Bautzer—who came with Jane Wyman. Steve admits it was a pretty tense moment for Ginger. “She was pleasant to Mr. Bautzer,” he said, “but she didn’t go overboard and I took her home.”
Did I sense a little touch of jealousy? Greg is mighty good looking, too, and a very successful lawyer. But luckily for Steve, apparently, that chance meeting did not revive the old magic where Ginger is concerned. Steve told me that he was going with Ginger and her mother to Ginger’s Oregon ranch.
“How do you get along with Ginger’s mother?” I asked.
“Lela? Say, isn’t she a great woman?” He was sincerely enthusiastic. “I like her fine.” And, believe me, if he didn’t like Lela Rogers he would have said so.
Steve likes a drink now and then—I don’t mean by that that he’s addicted to the bottle. By no means. But Ginger is a complete teetotaler.
“How about that?” I asked. “How do you get along on the subject of a cocktail or two before dinner—or a highball?”
“We get along fine,” he grinned. “Ginger keeps liquor in her house and gives me a drink when I want it. She doesn’t touch the stuff herself, but she has no objection to my having a drink—or any of her other guests.”
Ginger is an ardent Christian Scientist and Steve shares many of her ideas on the subject of religion.
To all outward appearances, then, these two seem to have much in common—a similarity of tastes, a mutual understanding and considerable pleasure in each other’s society. Many Hollywood marriages have been based on less.
And yet, somehow I don’t see them getting to the marriage license bureau.
Why? For one reason the set-up is too good. Ginger has just said “adieu” to a long and, as it turned out, unhappy romance. Steve admits he is wary after two wrecked marriages. I would say their romance is placid—without fireworks.
When Ginger was in love with Greg they quarreled frequently. So did Steve and Fay. Now that Steve and Ginger are romancing it seems to me that they are making a bit too much of an effort to fail in love.
Sometimes a “rebound” love affair does lead to a marriage. But that happens usually in the case of kids—and not with two mature, well-balanced people—such as Ginger is and Steve rapidly is becoming.
He wasn’t always! I don’t know how I happened to think about his much publicized fling with Mae West—unless it was because Mae was appearing in Los Angeles in “Diamond Lil” and I wondered if Steve had seen the show in which he once had appeared with her.
“Seen her?” laughed Steve, and it was a good hearty one, “Why, I couldn’t get within a mile of Mae. That musician friend of hers keeps everyone away. But don’t let anyone tell you that she isn’t a swell girl. She’s fun—I’d like to have seen her again had there been a chance.”
I remember when it was reported that Steve, Mae’s leading man on the stage, was romancing with her. “That wasn’t true, Louella,” he said, “I liked her company. That’s all.
“I like women anyway!” he cheerfully admitted. “You know that. Remember when Fay and I were married? She didn’t know she was going to get married when I took her to Las Vegas. I said to her, ‘This is your birthday and you’re going to get a husband for a birthday present.’ So we walked into the Las Vegas courthouse, got a license and were married.”
“Is that the way you do it with all your women?” I laughed.
“Well, I don’t think I’d get very far trying that with Ginger,” he admitted, “but Fay was very young and the idea of an elopement intrigued her.”
“You couldn’t have been very old yourself at the time, Steve,” I went on. “How old are you?” I was beginning to enjoy asking him such questions as I usually don’t put to actors, because he’s so frank about everything.
“I’m thirty-four now. That’s no kid.”
Oh, isn’t it? That’s what he thinks.
Steve’s first acting job was with Florence Eldridge in the Federal Theater in 1936.
“We opened in Detroit—my part was very unimportant. Fact is, until just recently I’ve had a career of unimportant parts. You know, Louella, this is my second time around in Hollywood. The first time, when I did ‘Wonder Man’ and ‘The Chase’ . . . neither the public nor the producers went crazy about me. I had to go back to New York to make a stab at eating steadily. Finally I got the role of Juarez in ‘Diamond Lil.’
“That’s why I’m so happy at being at Warners. After years of being Mr. Nobody in Particular I love all the attention, courtesy and consideration you get when they put that star on your dressing-room door. Anybody who tells you differently—says he hates publicity and all the rest of it—is either lying, or a fool.
“I believe the public has every right to know anything that interests it about my life. It pays me well for that privilege. No one who is all-fired set on his ‘private life’ rights—should take up a “public career in the first place.
“When I hear about actors walking out on good contracts, I can’t understand it. All I ask is to be allowed to stay at Warners and keep going as I am. I spent years praying for this break. Now I’m sincerely and humbly grateful for it.”
With such an attitude—plus his talent—how can he help but go far?
I hadn’t known that Steve was a native Californian until he told me that he first saw the light of day in Eureka, California. Like everything else that has ever happened to him—he’s proud of it and proud that his early “jobs” were as a Wyoming ranch hand, a railroad section hand, a floor detective in Macy’s, a shipyard worker—and a couple of other assorted callings.
As he said, his stage and screen career was far from brilliant until Jack Warner brought him back to Hollywood from New York to make “White Heat” with Jimmy Cagney and Virginia Mayo. He counts the day he got that telegram as the red-letter day in his life. I suspect there are many red-letter days ahead for him. Now that he’s settled career-wise and financially he may even find the love of his life which so far has eluded him.
Will it be Ginger? There’s no doubt this hunk of man intrigues her. Since she met him she’s not nearly as insistent about spending six months of every year in New York which she learned to love last year when she had a whirl there, courted by such cosmopolites as Count Serge Oblensky and others in the social whirl.
As for her whirl with Steve I’ll be surprised if it whirls them to the marriage license bureau. But I’ve been surprised before.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1951