Carol Lynley: “I Know They’re Talking About Me Behind My Back”
I don’t know where to start blasting! I have a terrible temper, and I want to shoot it all the people who have told those mean lies about me. Bang! There goes the one who said I can never meet a nice boy because my mother keeps me locked up in my room. And bang! That’s for implying that I will probably snack my way up to 300 pounds. So everyone can say, “Oh look, there goes Miss Jello of 1960, the former Carol Lynley.”
Some of the lies told about me are big fat ones that smack you across the face like a wet, heavy towel. And others are the sneaky kind. Like: “Carol always looks so sad because she is frustrated” or “Carol Lynley is the pitiful result of a broken family.”
When I hear these things I am really shocked and they pain my mother, too. Sometimes they are such gross exaggerations that they’re funny—in a way—but it’s a hurting way. I don’t think it’s very nice to do this to a girl, or her mother, or anybody. And if I sound flip, it’s because it’s sometimes the easiest way to talk about things close to you.
I know they’re talking about me behind my back. But I’m no longer afraid to take those lies out in the open and pick them up one by one, like: “Carol Lynley has no self-control when it comes to eating.”
Now it’s true that if I eat too much cake and candy I’ll put on unnecessary weight. But isn’t that true for millions of teenagers? Does it mean we’re all going to hit three hundred pounds? No! Three hundred times no!
Besides, I do watch my diet. And when I look tragic about not having chocolate cake for dessert, my mother laughs and remarks that I was on a hunger strike for the first ten years of my life. Before she left the hospital with me, I had dropped from the eight pounds, eight ounces I weighed at birth, to seven-six. She was scared to death I’d just fade away. But from the time I was eleven—the year I grew six inches, incidentally—my attitude toward food changed.
I’ve heard people say they put on a pound just looking at a cake. Not true for me. So long as it’s behind a store window I’m safe. But I’ll admit that once it gets into the house it’s another matter. So why do we have cake in the house when my mother doesn’t want to tempt me or herself with calories? Well you see, there’s my brother Danny. He’s six-two and cute, but he weighs only one hundred and twenty-eight. My poor mother, she worries if I gain and worries if Danny doesn’t.
And this is how it works out: Mother stocks the refrigerator with oranges, grapes, carrots and such rabbit food—for me. You know who raids the refrigerator and gobbles up the oranges, grapes, etc.? You guessed it. Danny. And mother buys cookies to encourage Danny to drink milk, only they hide the cookies somewhere in his room. Well, they don’t have to hide any cookies from me. When I walk into the apartment my built-in radar automatically switches on. I step into Danny’s room, stand stock still for a few seconds, the radar takes over, and guides me directly to the secret cache.
A broken home
Yet it’s not true that I suffer from creeping calories. While ’’m home in New York, like now, I spend three hours a day in dance classes. I carry lunch with me, usually hardboiled eggs and carrots in a paper bag. Just like any other girl, I want to keep my figure on the straight and narrow. Though I admit it’s sometimes plain torture.
But this doesn’t come from unhappiness that stems from a broken home. Actually there are two lies here. In the first place I am not unhappy. And in the second, while my home life may be a little kookie at times, it’s not broken. Let me give the picture. I live with my mother, brother, Samuel Katz (a Siamese cat) and Frankel (a dachshund). We moved into a comfortable apartment off Central Park this past December. We have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, so we don’t bump into one another. I have my phonograph and Danny has his phonograph. Danny has his records and Danny has my records—which I can always steal back. We live in peace and dignity and we respect each other’s feelings. Take our dachshund, for instance. He does look like a frankfurter, but rather than offend him we call him Frankel.
There is only one pattern of unhappiness and it’s with us almost every morning. I admit that at that moment of the day my mother, brother, Samuel and Frankel really hate me. But can I help it if I’m one of those unfortunate beings who wakes up whistling, smiling and full of gab? So Samuel and Frankel hide under the sofa, Mother tries to pretend I’m not there, and Danny, with his face to the wall, says, “Carol, if you must be cheerful in the morning, go into your room and be it in private.”
But that is our only genuine problem. Danny and I are as close as brother and sister can be. We have our own peculiar way of showing affection. I come home and Danny grumps a hello that is more like a snarl. But Mother tells me later he’s been sitting around worrying where am I, and asking her to phone around and find out. By the same token, Mom complains that I give her altogether too much advice on how to raise him.
Now let’s see if my relationship with Mother could be healthier. We love each other and there’s always a lot of give and take, but sometimes I don’t think we agree on anything. For example, I don’t like her taste in furniture. She did invite me to shop with her, but I didn’t have time, and so she chose much of our furniture herself. She likes unusual things but I think too many unusual pieces are disturbing. Like the large table lamp with the giraffes chasing each other around the base. Mother thinks it’s kind of fun, and very striking. Well. . . .
My bedroom, which I’m furnishing in early five-and-ten with a touch of Salvation Army, best describes my taste. The furniture is 19th-century American, kind of latter-day colonial, and I decorate it with artificial flowers, which I’m mad about. In another few months my room will be a tropical paradise. I have flowers in bowls and ceramic pots and on those small oval or round-framed pictures which I buy in the five-and-ten. I paint out the picture and fasten flowers to the frame.
In all fairness, I should point out that I’ve got a good bed. Also a very good Colonial desk which Grandmother Felch gave me. And then there is always a stack of magazines and several new books and my phonograph and records. I should think a broken home would have broken records, but there’s not a sad one in the lot. The albums include The Kingston Trio, “Porgy and Bess,” “Nutcracker Suite,” songs by Theodore Bikel, and so forth.
We’re not that kind of people
Perhaps at this point I should tell cute little anecdotes of my mother and me shopping together, bending our heads over a game of parchesi, and giggling with joy to convince everybody that I don’t live in an unhappy home. I can’t do that because we’re not that kind of people. But we always have something to talk about. We like to discuss murder trials, books, movies, plays and politics. We stimulate each other and enjoy each other’s comments.
About that broken home. My parents separated when I was two years old. Danny, who is seventeen months younger than I am, was just a baby. Neither of us remembers any of the details, so you can see it is a distortion to imply that I am a victim of a domestic upheaval. Certainly I have missed something in not having a father in the house, but I have not suffered anything. And that means working. I don’t really hate having a career.
Let me tell you how that rumor started. As a little girl I loved to dance. Mother sent me to dance classes and, when I was past ten, I got to dance on a children’s television program. The producer told Mother, “Carol should be modeling. She photographs beautifully.” This surprised Mother because snapshots of me were very unimpressive. Mother was working as a waitress and she talked about me to one of her customers who used juvenile models. He asked Mother to bring me to his office and in his reception room we met the mother of Patty McCormack, who was there to model.
Mrs. McCormack told Mother that I could make a fortune as a child model and insisted that Mother take me over to a certain agency. Mother did and when we arrived Mrs. McCormack was already there, giving me a build-up. That same day I had two modeling jobs and two more for the following day. I was so busy for the next eight months that Mother didn’t even have a chance to make up my picture book.
The truth is that I didn’t like to model. Now let me tell this straight. It’s not that I feel emotional about it one way or the other, for I still model today. But as a child it annoyed me, because it took me away from dancing. Still, modeling led me to TV work, which led me to acting on Broadway and Hollywood—which I do like. To be perfectly honest, dancing is still my first love and I would rather spend an afternoon at the dance studio than in a movie or watching television. The one thing I hope for is that one day I will get an acting part that will let me dance.
But I’m not pushed into anything. People have been after me for years to take singing lessons and I refuse to do it. I really hate to sing. And recently, as reported in the papers, I turned down a part in “High Time.” I had no refusal rights in my contract, but I didn’t like the part and it was I who personally decided against it. Doesn’t this prove that neither my mother nor anyone else pushes me around?
As for the stories that Mother controls my dating, all I can say is she had to—when I was thirteen. I was in Actors’ Equity by then, and the dance committee at West Point got my name and address along with the names of other actresses. So when I was thirteen and fourteen and fifteen, I received weekend invitations to West Point affairs—which my mother turned down. Now wasn’t that mean? I was eighteen this past January, so you can see that at last my cruel mother relented and let me reclaim my lost youth.
Although Mother sometimes discusses my dates (and what mother doesn’t?), I date whom I please. My hours are flexible, but I tell her if I have a date after dancing class so she won’t worry when I’m late. Sometimes, very infrequently, I forget to tell her when I think I did. Then when I get home I find her worried, but she understands it’s unintentional and I’m quickly forgiven.
Most of the boys I date are not actors and they’re the kind who don’t seem to give a hang that I’m an actress, so we have perfectly nice ordinary evenings. We may go to a movie or theater or concert. One boy who knew I loved dancing came to class with me, but only once—he found it too strenuous. On Sundays I like to go for long walks with a date, or to a museum to look at paintings.
Someone I trusted once said that I’d told her that when I was twenty-one I would quit my career, get married and have children. When it got back to me, I thought it made me sound as if I’d rush out on the street, grab a man and haul him off to church. What I did mean was that when I marry I’ll quit my work. I’m one of those people who can’t do two things properly at one time. Either my career or family would suffer if I tried to do both. So when I marry I intend to settle down and have a family.
Actually, I did think I’d wait until I was at least twenty-one before I married, but Mother tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about. As she points out, I’ve never been in love, and when you fall in love, whether you’re eighteen or twenty-eight, the time seems right. Well, you can’t argue with that.
When a boy thinks you’re fast
I have the same dating problems every girl has—plus one. Sometimes, when I date a boy I don’t know too well, he has the idea that all actresses are wild. It’s not in the way he acts but in the way he talks. I mean he may say, “Of course, you drink . . . Of course, you stay out all night.” Well, I don’t drink and I’ve never stayed out later than one. I feel like taking him aside and saying, “If you’re thinking of so-and-so who stays out all hours, that’s her business. But don’t think everyone is like that. I’m certainly not.”
And to the people who say, “If you study Carol’s sad smile, you can see that she has a secret problem,” I’ll admit—that’s true. I have. Characters, real zany ones, collect me and tell me their troubles. Between classes, I often go into Horn and Hardart’s on Broadway to sit over a cup of coffee and read for forty-five minutes. The other day, this nice little old lady came in and took a chair across from me. She was reading in the newspaper about the Shah of Somewhere marrying the Princess of Somewhere Else. She looked up at me and said, “I don’t think he married her because he loved her, do you?” I said, “Well, I don’t know.” She said, “You must have some opinion.” I said, “I know nothing about it.” She said, “Girl, you’re being insolent.” I got out of there fast.
And there was the cab driver who was telling me his wife hates him, his mother-in-law was moving in, and he’d been in jail for collecting numbers. And how he wished he could make more money. But I couldn’t feel too badly for him because the cab he owned was a Mercedes-Benz. And last winter on a cross-town bus, a woman sat down beside me, asked where I got my raincoat, and then told me she had stopped modeling because no one ever paid her. She was starving to death, she said—and yet she was wearing a beautiful sealskin coat. So I got off the bus two stops early. And that’s my secret problem! Sometimes they really get you cornered till you want to blow your top but don’t dare. And that brings me to something else.
There are people who think I’m a perfect angel. “She’s a saintly looking child,” they say and this kills me. I’m not a saint. I’m not wicked, but I’m no saint. I have a terrible Irish temper. Terrible. Four or five times a week I can feel this anger rise in me—but because I’m civilized, I control it.
Maybe I’m a little over-civilized, especially where clothes are concerned. I mean, I’ve been thinking of bikini bathing suits, but I know I’ll never be able to wear one. I’ve got a two-piece bathing suit and the couple of times I’ve had it on, I’ve wanted to run for cover. So maybe I’m a little prim on that score. I feel that a woman is responsible for her clothes—you know, the woman should wear the dress rather than the dress wear the woman. If you walk into a room and people notice your clothes first, then they don’t do anything for you. None of my clothes hide me because I have no secret problems to hide.
I don’t even have any secret problems, if you know what I mean. And if you do know, then you’re not like the woman who said, “Poor Carol, she doesn’t look as if she ever has any fun.” It depends on what you mean by fun. I don’t walk around with a grin on my face, and if I have a serious thought I don’t try to suppress it. Perhaps the woman thought I was stiff-backed, because when she met me she treated me like a celebrity. This is something I can’t take.
At the last West Point dance I attended, along with my girlfriend Lydia Shaeffer, we shared a dormitory room with three other girls and everything was running smoothly until a girl in another room got the impression that I was Carol Lynley, the actress. I saw her running around and whispering. I didn’t like it, because I wasn’t Carol Lynley, the actress. When you’re at a party or dance you don’t want to be a celebrity, because if people treat you like one it spoils everything.
Finally the girl came up to me in the ladies’ room and said, “Please tell me, are you really Carol Lynley?”
I said, “No, my name is Pamela DeMacal and I’m a telephone operator, but I’m Carol’s cousin and that’s why we look so much alike.”
She believed me. I know it wasn’t a nice thing to do, but it meant that my escort and myself had a normal kind of evening. I never get annoyed at recognition when someone is nice about it, but if you’re in a small room and there are lots of young people they will often treat you differently. Then I get so embarrassed I just take off.
I used to get the same feeling, that I wanted to run away when I’d hear those awful things that people were saying about me behind my back. It hurt so, but I just couldn’t come up to them and face them. But now I know that you can’t run away from a lie. This is the first time I’ve had the nerve to answer back, but I wanted you to know the truth about me.
SEE CAROL IN “THE DAY OF THE GUN” FOR U-I.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1960