“How normal a life can you possibly have?” someone asked Mrs. Freddie Karger.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” and Jane’s eyes sparkled, “My kids are so tall they should be sixteen, when actually Maureen’s under thirteen, Terry (Fred’s daughter) is a year younger, and Mike’s only nine. They’re way over-sized, my poodle’s way under-sized, and I have poinsettas blooming in June!”
It was exactly the sort of answer you’d expect; for Jane Wyman, in her long career as a star, has been consistent in one thing only: inconsistency. She has been called “a Hollywood rebel,” but this isn’t true. She has always felt that Hollywood’s been wonderful to her, extended helping hands all along the line. She’s just a rebel, period, an individualist who has learned what she wants out of life. And what she wants doesn’t include fancy clothes, or jewelry, or sharing her life with the public.
When Jane and Fred got married, they did it so quietly that no columnist had even linked their names. “If you’re going to get married,” Jane says, “you don’t need opinions. You have your own. You’re building your life and that is something you must do quietly, privately, without distraction.”
Actually, this is the first personal story that Jane has agreed to since their marriage. All the world has wanted to know what goes with the Kargers; but first Jane wanted to know herself. She wanted the freedom to find her way in privacy, and she’s found it. She and Freddie haven’t even had a honeymoon yet; they haven’t had time. They’ve been at home in a house filled with youngsters and filled with music. When they do manage time for that honeymoon (any minute now), they’ll probably just toss their golf clubs in the back of the car and head up the coast, staying at motels and playing all the excellent golf courses along the way. And there won’t be any photographers along for the ride.
In the early days of her career, Jane had a different slant on publicity. “When you’re first kicking up your feet, of course you want publicity. You want to become a screen personality. And as you do, publicity builds into a monster you can’t live with. Not really live. Suppose your hobby is ice skating and you’re pretty good at it. You find yourself skating all over the place. Then you decide to paint. If you mention it, you’ll find yourself painting all over the place before you’ve even discovered whether you can or not. Your freedom to experiment is gone. So is your personal freedom.
“I feel an obligation to the public that is two-fold—to make good pictures and to lead the best possible life. Outside of that, what else can there be? You can’t take the public into your home; there isn’t room. If you open that front door and let the world in, if you open your heart and let the world in—how do you maintain an intimate relationship with your husband, with your children? It’s as simple as this—would the public rather live in my house or see me on the screen?”
None of this is temperament. Jane has none. She has spirit, verve, originality, imagination. But no temperament. “That,” she says, “is a sign of insecurity, a chain around your neck. There’s no room for it in the world, far less in our business.” And Jane’s approach to her business is strictly business-like. She wants no phony adulation from the people she works with. Essentially, the people who surround her would have been her friends without benefit of payroll. As it is, she’s one of the few who listens to the people she pays: her agents, her publicity representatives, etc.
While many successful people expect only agreement from their advisors, Jane wants advice. It’s her willingness to take it that has kept her business life from ever getting into a rut. From a sexy leotard in “Let’s Do It Again” to the pathos of “So Big” to the first big love story she’s ever done, “Magnificent Obsession,” her pictures show an exciting variety of mood. Her personal life is never in a rut either, but that’s a personal matter. That’s her ability to run a ten-ring circus. She’s no Johnny-one-note.
“As you go along,” Jane says, “you gradually learn how you can live the most happily. Once you learn, don’t ever let anyone talk you out of it. If you need opinions, ask; but develop the ability to form them for yourself. This is a slow development. In your early years, you’re just existing, sort of an amateur. Then you begin to assimilate experience, the good and the bad, everything that happens to you. I know it sounds like a cliche, but you have to learn to live alone before you’re able to share living with others. You have to get acquainted with yourself.
“I won’t say that I’m completely acquainted with me, even now, but I’ve learned to enjoy doing things myself. I’m not restless alone, and how lucky, for when Freddie comes home with a score to write, I’m not lost or upset or idle. I’m busy painting a picture or straightening bureau drawers. It’s enough to know that he’s in the house, and we’re together.”
Rebel Jane, single for five years, constantly rumored about to marry this one or that one, could easily have moved with the momentum of friends and fans who wanted to see her “happy.” But she didn’t. She realized suddenly that this wasn’t her own idea at all, that her life was settled into its own groove and it was okay as it was. And then she met Freddie Karger.
Well, that isn’t quite accurate. They’d met casually years ago. “I’d seen him around for years and it was always the ‘Terribly glad to see you old bean’ sort of thing.” They didn’t really know each other. What Jane knew was Freddie’s music; and when she went to Columbia to make “Let’s Do It Again,” she asked for Fred as music arranger on the picture. It was no personality matter; she knew what a fine arranger and choreographer he was.
They worked together closely, day after day for weeks under tremendous pressure. This was Jane’s busy season of the year. There were benefits to play, in addition to work on the picture, and Fred played for her benefit rehearsals. One day, Jane asked him if he’d “condescend” to accompany her at a benefit. He was delighted. From then on, there were many after-hours shows, and dinner together and time to talk. In nothing flat, they were in love and Jane was thinking of exactly what she’d planned never to think of again— marriage.
“And I’m not going to tell you anything about that,” laughs Jane. Suffice it to say that high-strung Jane found peace in this even-tempered musician. It was a pleasure to work with him On a set, where pressure was tense, there were no blow-ups with him There’ve been few in their personal relationship. “He doesn’t test my temper.” She won’t analyze him, but this much she will say: “He’s a serious man with tenderness and a great sense of humor, a composite of everything.”
When it came to marriage, Jane had to stop and realign her values. But it didn’t take her long. Certainly they’ve had adjustments to make. What married couple doesn’t? For a while last winter, there was some fairly serious friction—serious enough for the crepehangers to say in ghoulish glee that the Kargers were separating. But Jane and Fred weathered that. They’re both adults who’ve been married before, who know what they want out of life, and who know how to compromise.
In the past, says Jane, her house was just a place where she and the children “hung our hats. We were always streaking off somewhere.” Her marriage to Fred has changed all that. The white house is a home now, and bursting with activity. In the new organization of the household, Fred’s definitely the Captain. Jane’s the Lieutenant. “And I’m the Major,” pipes up Mike; to which his mother quips, “You’re lucky to be even a buck private.”
There is no question, Jane says, that the children respect decisions which they’ve helped make. The most recent decision is typical of a rebel household. Where most well-to-do parents send their children to private schools, last fall the Kargers started theirs in public schools.
“In the first place, we want them to live at home,” says Jane. “In the second place, we want them to know how the rest of the world lives.” Informal meals, with everyone cooking, are the order of the day. Fred invents drinks and supervises seasonings. The youngsters serve and keep the ping-pong table busy. Jane’s province is the barbecue. “Outside of the barbecue, the only things I can cook are creamed chicken, macaroni and cheese and salad; but at the barbecue, I’m set.” Jane loves a kitchen full of friends all busy cooking.
And who are her friends? Not the “right” people. The usual social whirl, she skips Most of her friends are people she’s known well for twenty years; there’s no tension, no pressure, just the fun of being together.
As for business, in a profession where broken contracts are the order of the day, where stars are frequently involved in hectic disputes with their studios, Jane has been at Warners for eighteen years. Until eight years ago, she says, she was no money-drawer and there were no problems. When she became an important star, she and Jack Warner sat down together and talked for six hours. They discussed what road to take. It was not a question of whether Jane would do comedy or drama; it was a matter of general principles. “We have a mutual respect. If one of us says ‘It’s raining,’ the other doesn’t bother looking out the window to see.” The minute there is the slightest possibility of disagreement on a prospective picture, Jane allows no chance for an argument. She simply asks to be taken off payroll.
R ight now, she’s on loan-out to Universal International for “Magnificent Obsession.” And though a star of Jane’s stature can throw a good deal of weight around as to what director she wants to work with, and what leading man, Jane is working happily with two people completely new to her, Director Douglas Sirk and the leading man, Rock Hudson. In a profession where feuds between actresses and actors are a legend, Jane can’t rave enough about Rock. She’ll stake everything that this young man is going to be a big star. ‘Before I met Rock, we ran ‘The Lawless Breed’ so I could see him. And hard-bitten actress that I am, I sat there with tears in my eyes. For this kid has a strength and virility reminiscent of Gable, and he has an acting ability all his own.”
See Jane at the premiere of one of these pictures of hers, and she is as glamorous as any star in the business. Her clothes are exquisite; but those are her “work” clothes. But when the search lights aren’t focused on her, Jane’s clothes are the kind she’d wear if she were a trim secretary.
She has no jewelry except her wedding band, a string of pearls and her watch. She did once have a fabulous collection of jewels. She didn’t wear many of them often, but there they were. Then, about a year ago, her home was robbed and all the jewels that she was saving for Maureen and tor Mike’s bride some day were gone. And her furs. “I’ve never replaced them. I’m far more relaxed without them.”
Practical isn’t the word for Jane, but realistic is. She’s realistic about her career, about her time, her money and her family. Her likes are violent. She likes to live . . . to love … to make movies . . . to paint . . . to make her family happy. Her dislikes are violent too. But there’s only one of ’em, a dislike for anything that interferes with those basic likes. She’s worked hard for her happiness. Let anything move in on the freedom that underlies that happiness—and watch her rebel!
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1954