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Connie Stevens: “How Can I Tell If I’m Really”

“I never meant to fall in love with John Ashley,” Connie Stevens said. “He was just a friend, a date. Oh, he was fun and I absolutely loved being with him. But falling in love? That I never dreamed of. I was in love already! With a wonderful fellow whose name is Gary Clarke. And you just can’t be in love with two boys at the very same time—well, not really in love, anyway. Or—or can you? She doubled two small fists under her chin and just sat thinking real hard. “I’m not exactly sure what ‘really in love’ means,” she then admitted. “How can you tell? If it’s that goose-bump feeling because someone special is near, then I’ve got it. If it’s wanting to laugh and cry for joy at the same time while John’s holding my hand—I’ve got that, too. But I don’t understand how it can happen to me? Not after three years of being in love with Gary and still feeling he is one of the most precious things in my life. Even if I don’t understand it,” she said, “I can tell you what happened. John and Gary and I were part of the young-no-where-yet set. We all palled together and had wonderful fun parties and generally clowned around while working hard for our big breaks. When I got mine, I had to go to a lot of fancier parties and places. By then, I was Gary’s girl, and he’d go to them with me when he could. But when he was working and couldn’t, he didn’t mind if someone else took me. We had that kind of an understanding, we knew each other’s problems, we didn’t make a big thing of my inviting another boy to take me to someplace important. Just so he was a good friend—like Edd Byrnes, Mark Damon, Kenny Miller, Troy Donahue.

‘‘I had never asked John to be my escort, though I’d known him so long. No reason, it just happened that way. But one day I did ask, and he said Yes. When he came to pick me up, he looked handsome in a tuxedo. I liked his nice way of helping me into the car, I liked a lot of his attentive ways—he didn’t table-hop like so many men in Hollywood. It was a real fun evening and so, after that, we had others. He took me to premieres, studio parties, the Golden Globe Awards dinner—all formal things, but we always had fun. And I guess when you’re laughing a lot, and talking your head off, you don’t realize what’s happening. . . .

What did happen was something that hit John and caught him off guard just as it hit Connie. He was the one who told me of an evening that started like the others but turned out very special.

“The funny thing is that we weren’t even each other’s dates that night,” John said, shaking his head in wonderment at the strange ways of love. “She was with somebody else—I can’t even remember who—but it wasn’t Gary. And I was with a girl. Who? I don’t remember that either—only that she wasn’t Connie, because the moment I walked in and saw Connie, I was suddenly sorry we hadn’t come together. All our other dates had been such a ball—she’s a great girl, that Connie.”

The party, which was in somebody’s house, was going fine. A combo played rock ’n’ roll; one by one guests stood up and did impromptu bits. Kenny Miller sang, then Connie, then Burt Reynolds was on, and he called John up next. The combo struck the opening bars of “Don’t Be Cruel.”

John told me, “I was at one end of the room and Connie was at the other, but suddenly our eyes found each other and I was singing to her—only to her in that whole room. I never sang like that before. I was letting myself go! If I’d wanted to tear my eyes away from her face, I couldn’t! I couldn’t stop looking at her. And—she kept looking at me.”

John’s second song told her even more. He’d chosen “Trying to Get to You.”

“I felt like I was doing a scene from a movie in technicolor,” he told me. “You know, the hero takes one look at the heroine and the violins start playing. Maybe a rock ’n’ roll beat isn’t exactly the haunting sound of a hundred violins—but that’s how it felt to me.”

When he finished, he went across the room and sat next to Connie. The silence between them was so electric that she had to break the tension with talk. “She bubbled over,” John said. “She praised my singing to the skies, said she’d never heard me ‘live’ before, and it was good. She was so excited that I felt like Frank Sinatra! That’s how Connie makes a guy feel, anyway, but you also know she won’t say anything she doesn’t mean.

“We got up to dance—and that was it! We were in a roomful of people and we were alone in a world of our own. I didn’t know where my date was, Connie didn’t know where hers was. We’d danced together plenty of times, but tonight we were doing the same steps and everything was different. Most of all, she felt different in my arms. I knew it—and she knew it. Only we didn’t say it.”

I thought you’d never ask!”

Next morning, John phoned and asked her out. And this was different, too. In the past, it had been a rising young star inviting a friend to escort her to something her best beau couldn’t make. An arranged thing. This time it was John asking Connie because he wanted to. Because now he realized that she’d spoiled other girls for him, Just the first few premieres and parties with Connie, and after that he’d often felt that dates with other girls fell flat. Now he knew why. But he still had trouble saying it, because she was Gary’s girl. So he didn’t say it. But he’d seen her eyes last night, finding his across the room as his own gaze searched for her. He’d danced with her, sharing a silence that said more than words. And so in the morning he called her. He asked couldn’t they go somewhere, just the two of them, no parties, no crowds, no premieres. And no dressing up—just a casual date. She didn’t answer for a long time, while he waited. And then she laughed happily. “Oh John,” she said, “I thought you’d never ask!”

Next evening they went to dinner at Kelbo’s, which specializes in Hawaiian dishes. “Connie looked like a Hawaiian dish herself in capris and a flowery blouse,” John said, “with me in jeans and a sport shirt. It was the first time we’d gone out when she wasn’t in three inch heels. She seemed so little in her sandals, like a twelve year old. She was cute—real cute. We had a waiter named Henry, a special dinner, and frosted drinks served in scooped out pineapples. We sat in a booth, and we didn’t need crowds around to make our evening exciting! Then we decided, on an impulse, to go to the movies. We found an all-night show with a double bill neither of us had seen. We bought a box of buttered popcorn and sat holding hands and stuffing ourselves, even though we’d just eaten. We got out of there at four in the morning.

“Ever since that night, Kelbo’s has been our place. When we go there we have the same booth, the same waiter, the same dinner and the same scooped out pineapple concoction. Funny how doing the same thing over and over again is exciting when you’re with the right person. Connie has been seeing me two or three times a week—but she also sees Gary as much as ever. I guess it sounds like a kookie situation, but the three of us accept it and there’ve been no conflicts. It’s outsiders who talk about triangles, and say I came between them. In a way I did, and I don’t want to hurt Gary, we’ve been friendly for years. But in a way I didn’t—it just happened.

“I’d be lying if I said I was sorry. Connie makes a fellow feel like he’s a king, the greatest thing that ever walked. She can be serious, or she can clown, but she always says the right words about anything when you need them the most. We don’t talk about the future, about John Ashley versus Gary Clarke, we just have fun. But it couldn’t work if Connie wasn’t so honest with both of us and herself. She’s so sincere and down to earth, so open about her feelings that I’m grateful for every moment with her. All I know is, when we’re together, something magic happens. Call it chemistry or whatever—but it happens.”

Connie knows this is how John feels, and she can’t say she’s sorry either, but it doesn’t solve her dilemma.

“The thing that jolts you most,” she said thoughtfully, “is when you discover that your new attraction hasn’t done anything to your feelings for your one and only. It sounds kookie, but that’s exactly the way it is. When I’m with John it’s the greatest. I think maybe . . . but then I see Gary and my heart still does flip-flops. When I’m with him it’s like always. Nothing changed. I love him but . . .

Love is confusing

“It makes everything so this-side-and-that. I’ve had three wonderful years with Gary, and six wonderful months with John. On the one hand I’m in no rush to settle down, but on the other I know a husband and children are the most important things in the world. I’m pulled to two boys, yet I know marriage for me will be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

The small fists were under her chin again.

“Love,” she said. “It’s so confusing. But it’s so wonderful, too, that I don’t want to let it get me down. I don’t want to fight love, or fight myself against loving one or the other. I keep thinking of my favorite song, only with the words changed a little: ‘Some day they’ll come along, the men I love . . .’ Well, they have—both of them! And I’m true to both of them. I know that once you’ve said I do it’s very wrong to love two men at the same time, but until then, maybe it’s all right. What else can I do, what should I do?

“My feelings for John go deep. We talk about everything endlessly.” She told me how in April, twelve young entertainers planned to fly together from Hollywood to Dallas to play a benefit.

“John and I deliberately missed the plane,” she admitted to me. “We wanted to be alone. We were literally up in the clouds. We talked the whole trip about life, ourselves, our work—everything.”

She sighed, and cupped her face in her hands again with that “what-am-I-going-to-do” gesture. “I don’t know where its all going to lead,” she said. “When I’m with John I’m sure this is it, forever. Then I see Gary, and I’m confused because I’m not the fickle type, actually. Am I really in love with two boys at the same time? How can I tell?

“I’ve been crazy over Gary since I was eighteen,” Connie went on. “That was three years ago, and I’m still crazy over him.”

She didn’t fall for Gary right away. They met in a drama class and kept running into each other at odd moments until they found themselves working in the same small-budget picture, “Dragstrip Riot.”

“He was as easy to talk to as my brother,” Connie remembers, “and wonderful to work with because he had such talent. We used to have lunch together every day, then sit on set in a corner by ourselves and study our lines. Until one day, a very pretty girl showed up. She sat watching us shoot, and soon as the cameras stopped she walked over to Gary, put her arm through his as if she owned him, and they walked off together. And there I sat in our corner! I tried not to watch them, but I couldn’t help it. And I could hear them laugh together. Well, it was no concern of mine, he wasn’t my boyfriend—merely a friend.”

Her clear eyes crinkled with sudden laughter. “I guess I’m as logical as most girls,” she said. “Because the second after I shrugged the whole thing off as no business of mine, I suddenly saw red! I wasn’t going to sit there watching him two-time me under my very eyes! I got up, walked off the set and went home. Next day, I didn’t say one word to Gary except what was in the script. For a week I was like ice to him. And if he didn’t know why, that was his hard luck. I wasn’t even sure myself why I was so mad—I was just sore, insulted and feeling awful. My stomach felt all butterflies. I was so miserable.”

For a week, Gary went around looking confused over the sudden cold-shoulder treatment from his little friend. Funny, she’d always been like a nice little kid . . . Now it hit she didn’t like being treated like a cute little sister and a pal. But he wasn’t sure, and he didn’t quite know how to bring it out in the open. So he did nothing. Just let Connie ride out her mood.

“And that’s exactly what I did,” she said. “I couldn’t stay mad at him more than a week so I started talking and smiling again. And I got my reward, he asked me out. It was divine. We went out once, twice, three times. Then, pow, both of us knew we’d fallen head over heels in love! We started going steady, and right from the beginning we talked about love and marriage. But both of us wanted desperately to make a success before we considered settling down. Through those early months of struggle we had each other and our dreams and the wonderful knowledge that someday, when we had it made, we’d get married and spend the rest of our lives together.

The kitten with the crooked smile

“Meanwhile, whatever we did was wonderful—just so we were together. We couldn’t afford expensive dates, but a drive or a walk was great with me, or a fifty-cent neighborhood movie. Sometimes a whole gang of us ‘struggling artists’ would pool for a beach feast—hot dogs, Cokes and a community bag of potato chips. Kids like Edd Byrnes, Mark Damon, John Ashley, Gary and I—we’d sit around the fire singing, or dreaming out loud how it would be when we were all rich and famous.”

Connie was very earnest as she remembered the struggling years for so many of them. “I used to pray for Gary’s chance first, and mine second,” she said. “But Fate wouldn’t play it my way. I got my break and he’s still waiting. If our love wasn’t so real and deep it could have pulled us apart.”

But it didn’t. They went steady a year, two and into the third. They knew Connie would wait for him, forever if it had to be. But they also had an understanding. Gary knew how it was in their business. that a girl doing pictures, records and TV had to appear many places. He knew she went out with other boys, she would never try to hide that or anything from him, but he also knew that he was the one. And that if other men did take her to the Beachcomber, she was happier eating a hamburger with him at a drive-in.

But they were human, they had their quarrels, too. Once, after a fight, Connie deliberately dated another boy, not out of necessity but sheer spite. She admits it now. But her eyes go tender as she tells what happened after.

“My date took me home,” she said, “and there was a funny-shaped package sticking out of my mailbox. I pulled off the paper—it was a little stuffed kitten with pearl buttons for eyes and a crooked smile. No card, no note—but I knew. And it tore my heart. I couldn’t say goodnight to my date fast enough! Then I made a mad dash for the phone and called Gary. We made up for an hour.”

Eventually, Connie’s busyness and Gary’s side jobs began taking its toll of their time together. The “arranged” dates with other boys became more frequent. “Until the Christmas party last year,” Connie shook her blond head with a baffled expression on her pretty face. “I still don’t understand. A boy stands up in front of a roomful of people and sings a song. He looks right at you and you look back and your heart does nipups. You close your eyes, and tell yourself it’s crazy. Insane. It can’t be happening. Then you open your eyes and look into his, and you know it is happening!”

She wrapped her arms around her shoulders till she was in a huddle with herself and thinking—thinking hard.






1 Comment
  • zoritoler imol
    24 Nisan 2023

    Great wordpress blog here.. It’s hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! take care

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