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Confessions Of A “Used Bride”—Janet Munro

Come January I’ll have been married to Tony Wright for three years, and, although it breaks my heart to admit it, I’ve felt like a bridal dummy in a shopwindow, a toy, a showpiece whose novelty wore off and was chucked in the junk pile.

Tony and I have been separated by mutual consent for nearly two years. In England, it’s not legal to divorce until after three years of marriage (unless, of course, your doctor attributes a failure in health as a result of it).

I’ve never before talked about my marriage because I’ve been so confused by it. Now, living in America, I’ve had a chance to think about it in a proper perspective, and I want to share the truth of my marriage with you, hoping it might give you some insight into what a mess the wrong kind of marriage can be for two people who do like each other but who mistake affection and a longing for security for good enough reasons to get married.

Affection isn’t enough. But Tony and I didn’t know the meaning of love, of real passion. We were attracted to each other, yes. Tony was Britain’s Mr. Beefcake, terribly good-looking, tall, muscular, with bright blue eyes. He was what’s known in England as a ‘restaurant stopper.’ As soon as he entered a dining room, everybody put down knives and forks and stared. He was that handsome.

So let me start at the beginning. I came from the provinces—or ‘the sticks.’ I was born in Blackpool, a seaside resort where my dad, Alex Munro, was performing in a vaudeville act.

I never had a real home. I grew up in a stage trunk, learned to live out of cramped suitcases with my traveling parents, and, during my teens, I took up acting, too. It was the only life I knew. I played in over three hundred and twenty plays in stock all over England, and, one evening, a J. Arthur Rank talent scout spotted me and asked me to come to London for a screen test. I was tickled pink and I walked on Cloud Nine until I heard the results of my test. “Too individual” was the executives’ comment. They also told me I didn’t have the proper Kensington accent which everyone prefers in English films.

I stayed on in London, alone, living out of a tiny fourth-floor furnished room, and I got a job as a hatcheck girl in the Kismet Club, which is famous for shish kebab and spicy curries and rosepetal desserts. Every evening the management burned incense in the dining rooms for atmosphere. I wasn’t on salary, just on tips, but I managed to eke out a living to meet expenses. The only trouble with the club was that the men customers liked to pinch the bottoms of the waitresses and the hatcheck girl, and, consequently, I suffered from constant black and blue marks.

One evening Tony Wright walked in, looking for all the world like a Greek god with his manly physique. We flirted a little, and a couple of nights later he asked me out for coffee at midnight when the club closed.

We dated. We liked each other, but there was nothing serious between us. I was lonesome, and it was nice to have an escort, and Tony liked the way I didn’t fawn over him in public. There was a nice warm feeling between us, and we respected each other as individuals.

After a month of dating I was offered a role in a touring play and I decided to take it since the money was better than the meager Kismet Club hatcheck tips.

Tony was disappointed. He hated to see me leave London, and I admitted I’d miss our dates. They had become a habit.

On the road I played nothing but one-night-stands. I tell you this because I think it explains my craving for a home of my own. One morning I received a long letter from Tony with a marriage proposal, and I was shocked. My first reaction was, “He’s being cute. How can the two of us marry when we’ve only seen each other a dozen times?” So I wrote back and said I couldn’t consider marriage until we knew each other better.

Tony wouldn’t take my no for an answer. He wrote and wrote, bombarding me with cards and letters, all of them asking me to marry him. He telephoned me constantly, and he showered me with beautiful bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolate candy and bottles of fine French perfumes and colognes.

Dream of home

This had never happened to me before. A man had never paid so much attention to me. Possibly it was because I was so overwhelmed that I wrote back, a few months later, and agreed to our marriage. I was tired, exhausted from touring the provinces. Mother had died when I was seven, and all I could think of was the comfort and security a home would give me. I was twenty-two years old, a vagabond; all of my life had been a mad chase to a new town where I’d perform, spend the night in a small hotel, awaken—only to be on the move again.

I yearned for roots, the strong binding roots of love and marriage and family. Dad had married and divorced twice since Mother’s death so I had little home life with him.

I wonder now if I wasn’t selfish to expect so much from marriage. Maybe my expectations were too much. But as I wrote to Tony Wright and accepted his proposal of marriage that drizzly gray September day, all I could see in my mind’s eye was a cozy flat of our own with gay chintz curtains, comfy maple furniture, a roomy kitchen where I’d fix all our meals. I dreamed of having happy children with rosy-pink cheeks and tousled hair who’d smile and call us Mummy and Daddy, who would grow up and make us proud in our old age.

Fool that I was, I simply took it for granted that such were the rewards of all marriages.

Later I learned and suffered the bitter truths of reality.

Now, of course, I say to myself if . . . if . . . if . . . . if . . . .

Danger clues

If only I had stopped to think about it all as it was happening, wouldn’t I have suspected something was wrong? There were danger-ahead clues even before we wed.

Tony wouldn’t let me make any of the wedding arrangements. Maybe because I was so awed that I was marrying a film star I held back my suggestions. He was adamant about choosing my wedding dress, a fitted bodice with a trailing skirt of pale lemon and white organza. He insisted that we be married in the Church Registry office, but I finally broke down and cried. I’d always dreamed of a church wedding with organ mUsic and a Mass.

Tony wanted a man I’d never met, Earl St. John, an executive producer with Tony’s film company, to give me away. This gave me the chills. I had a feeling Tony was ashamed of my dad because he was a vaudevillian.

“Everything’s got to be done properly for the press,” Tony kept saying. However, after much pleading and begging from me, Tony compromised about the church. He agreed the marriage could take place in a small chapel near a friend’s country estate.

When I awoke the morning of my wedding in the spacious and elegantly appointed country home, I realized I was all alone in a world of strangers. We’d arrived the night before, and I was ushered to my corner bedroom with its canopied bed and flowered wallpaper by a stiff, imperious butler. I couldn’t help thinking this was a showplace, that the farm was not a lived- in farm. It served merely as a stage setting.

The day of the wedding I had to pose, at Tony’s request, a number of times in my wedding gown—in and out of the church—for newspaper photographs. Since the late afternoon sunlight wasn’t strong enough for TV cameramen, Tony arranged for us to have a ‘mock wedding’ at noon in addition to our actual wedding later in the day.

All through that morning and afternoon, before Tony and I took our vows of holy matrimony, I had the eerie sensation that our marriage was an important business matter to Tony — and nothing else. I was afraid of hurting him so I didn’t say anything, trying to comfort myself with the thought that every bit of publicity was worth its weight in gold to him since he was a popular matinee idol.

What really broke my heart was a silly thing, I guess. It was the way my wedding gown looked at the time of my marriage. Every time we posed for newspaper pictures I ironed it so it would look fresh. During the mock wedding, I tripped on a TV camera cable, and my gown ripped. When the hour of our wedding arrived, my gown was limp and ragged, like a used costume from a play that needs dry cleaning. All the ironing in the world couldn’t save it; it looked worn.

And my beautiful bridal spray of white butterfly orchids had wilted.

I felt like a “used bride”

I couldn’t help thinking I was a paper doll, a stage prop, a “used bride,” but I chided myself on being over-sensitive. Yet, as I stood beside Tony in his neat navy blue suit (which was pressed countless times by his valet), I couldn’t help wondering if ours wasn’t a movie marriage, staged for the cameras and by evening the two of us would return to our respective homes.

The morning after our marriage Tony announced we had plane tickets for Paris that afternoon. After we boarded the plane and soared into the wintry sky, I turned and looked at him in his impeccable glen-plaid going away suit. He was handsome, and a thrilling virility charged through his being, but I had a terrible premonition I would never know him deeply as a husband, the way I imagined all wives get to know their men. I reached over and put my hand on his as the plane motors roared, and I said, “Tony, darling, what’ll we do on our honeymoon? Will you show me all the wonderful places I’ve heard about in Paris?”

He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes and announced he would be very busy since he planned to do some location film work in Paris and Marseilles. . . .

When we returned from France, Tony took me to an apartment in London he had had done up by the set decorators from the Rank Studios. It was a cute place in Shepherd’s Bush on the outskirts of London. All my life I’d dreamed of furnishing a place of my own, and now that joy was taken away from me. No doubt the decorators did a much better job than I would have done, but I would have loved the pleasure of choosing furniture and sewing curtains and shopping for pictures for the walls. Even the kitchen cupboards were stocked with dishes, pots, pans and foodstuffs.

Tony worked every day at the studio and, oftentimes, he arrived home late. Gradually, as the months passed, I became bored sitting alone in that three-room apartment in Shepherd’s Bush. Tony was called away time after time for location work abroad, and there were moments when I thought I would go mad. One afternoon over tea, one of my neighbors, after listening to how lonely my life was, suggested I go back to acting. So I began seeing agents and casting directors during the mornings to while the hours away.

I was offered a role in a B-movie, Small Hotel, in which I was to play a sixteen year old. I accepted. On the strength of my work in Small Hotel, I was offered a role in The Young and Guilty.

Tony, meanwhile, returned from one of his location jaunts, and he demanded I stop working.

“You’re my wife,” he told me repeatedly. “What’ll people think? That I can’t support you? I want you to stay home like a wife and look after the apartment.”

I kidded him. “But I’ve sewn all the I missing buttons on your shirts. And the maid does all the heavy cleaning. There’s I so little for me to do.”

“I don’t care,” he told me. “I don’t want you working. It’ll make a terrible impression with the press.”

Maybe I should have been nattered, but I wasn’t. I knew I could go crazy sitting in that apartment of ours with nothing to do. Tony was thirty-two when we married, and he was always used to having his own way. I tried to understand this, but I realized, more and more, that he’d been spoiled by the studio.

Not that I was perfect, by any means. I had no one to talk to about marriage before I went into it. Had my mother been living, she probably would have told me things I should have known. Sure, I was a ‘green’ wife, and maybe Tony was impatient with me. But I loved him—or, at least, in my naivete I thought I did. And I believed our love would grow and the two of us would develop together from it.

I wanted children, a whole flock of laughing kids, but Tony dismissed the thought of a family: I almost became ashamed of mentioning it. No doubt I was at fault here because, out of timidity, I was hesitant to harp on it.

One afternoon, months after our marriage, I had a revelation. I took a stroll through our neighborhood and I discovered that an old movie of Tony’s was playing at a nearby cinema. I decided to see it. I sat there in the pitch-dark movie house, watching Tony perform on the screen, and suddenly I realized Tony’s trouble. He was insecure because of his acting. He wasn’t a very good actor, but he did have a magnificent physique and exciting locks. Like all Mr. Beefcakes, his time in the movies was coming to its end. He had passed his heyday. Looks fade so quickly, and I could tell he wasn’t as handsome now as he was in his earlier movie. Nor was his body as supple. That day it became shockingly clear to me that there was little talent to back up Tony’s looks, and I felt deep compassion for him.

I rushed home and cooked him a chicken pot pie, but he didn’t come home until after midnight. He’d had things to do in London, he commented. I asked him if he wanted me to heat up his food, and he said no, he’d eaten.

I hadn’t. I’d been waiting for him to come home. I didn’t want him to see how he’d hurt my feelings by not thinking of calling me so I stole quietly into our bedroom and put on my nightgown while he watched a late show on television in the front room. I buried myself in bed, tears streaming down my face, depressed over the mess I’d made of my life. I simply couldn’t go on living like this. We were posing as husband and wife. We weren’t married in the true sense of the word: sharing and caring and communicating.

After another week of floundering thoughts, I decided to return to work. This infuriated Tony, but I told him I just had to have something to do.

I was cast in my first TV play, One of Us. Then I acted the lead in Pick Up Girl, about a teenager on trial. Within six months I was awarded the coveted TV Critics Award of the Year for my acting, and Tony was terribly upset. At one point, he suggested I leave the apartment if I continued working. Finally, he made me pay for half of the housekeeping since I was a wage-earner.

The little love I had tried to salvage from our marriage had vanished. We were two strangers, unhappy, hostile, living together under a roof via the guise of holy matrimony.

One evening I asked him outright if he was unhappy with our marriage.

“For heaven’s sake,” he countered, “what do you expect out of life? Paradise?”

“No,” I told him. “I don’t expect heaven, but I do want a little love and tenderness.”

He patted my head and kissed me on the cheek, the way you pat a child or a pet, and I decided the time had come. We should separate. It might do us good to be away from each other for a while. Maybe we could re-evaluate ourselves and decide what we both wanted from life and marriage. Maybe we could compromise.

I dreaded seeing my marriage go on the rocks. I hated admitting I’d made a mistake. But I was certain—if we tried (and with God’s help)—there was a chance it could be saved.

Shortly after our separation Walt Disney came to England and auditioned hundreds of girls for his Darby O’Gill and the Little People film. My casting agent suggested I try out for it, and, as luck would have it, I was chosen! It was a very thrilling moment for me since I’d always dreamed of coming to America, and now one dream, at least, was coming true.

When I was told the news I hurried to a public phone booth and called Tony at his studio. He was cold, uninterested.

“I’ve bought a new carpet for the living room,” was all he said.

“What color?” I asked him.

“Why does it matter to you? You know nothing about decorating,” he answered. No, I’d never pretended to be a professional decorator, but I, like all women, take pride in the way my home looks.

“Tony,” I managed, my throat choked with tears, “I’ve . . . I’ve never felt our apartment’s been a home for us. It’s more like a business.”

“I don’t know why you say that. You’ve lived here almost a year.”

“I know. But I’ve never felt it had the atmosphere of love a home should have.”

“There you go again,” he cut in, “with your fairy tale dreams. You should know I can’t live in just any kind of a place. I’m a star, a big star, and my apartment has to be furnished properly. It’s got to be smart and elegant.”

Then and there I knew we had signed the death warrant to our marriage. I couldn’t build my marriage on chic or elegance. I wanted to build it on love and on the joy of sharing my life with a husband and children.

“Tony,” I said. “I . . . I think we ought to get a divorce. I . . . I just don’t see how we can go on living with each other.”

“Suit yourself,” he told me very matter-of-factly. “You can apply for it when the three years are up.”

I closed my eyes; they were stinging with hot tears. How could he dismiss our marriage so quickly, so heartlessly. Why had he wooed me with love letters and French perfumes and sweetheart roses? Was it all for him to have a stage-prop bride, a purchased wife to pose with him for the film magazines and newspapers?

“Whenever you want,” he added, “you can come and pick up the rest of your clothes. But everything else in the apartment is mine. I’ve paid for it.”

I gulped and hung up the telephone. My hands were sweaty and clammy. I put them up to my face and sobbed in the stuffy phone booth. People looked at me, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d made a mess of my personal life. What could I do to save my self-respect?

Wiping my tears I walked to a tearoom for a cup of hot tea and I told myself it was never too late to grow up. I thanked my lucky stars I was coming to America.

America would help me forget. And maybe, in time, it could help me build a new life for myself.