“Debbie Reynolds, You’re Free Now-When’s The Wedding?”
Only a very few late, late diners remained in Lucey’s New Orleans House in Hollywood. It was past midnight. Two waiters stood idly talking together around the end of the bar, one yawning noticeably in anticipation of closing time.
In a secluded part of the restaurant (an area reserved for those who want privacy), sat a very attractive woman and her stately-mannered escort—both seemingly unaware of the late hour. They were barely visible in the soft light from the candles on the table as they talked in low, serious tones. Once, the bespectacled gentleman bent over to whisper in her ear. The words brought a smile to her face and she whispered something back into his ear.
Finally, one of the waiters, carrying a pitcher of water, approached the booth in which Debbie Reynolds and Harry Karl snuggled as if they had been hit by cupid’s arrow. They looked up, startled by the realization that the place was nearly empty. Debbie rose hurriedly, carefully adjusting her mink stole around her bare shoulders while Karl signed the check. Her low-cut bouffant gown glimmered in the flickering light, illuminating the actress in a beautiful, goddess-like elegance.
Both appeared to be engrossed in serious thought as they walked past the stares of the remaining patrons, to the door. Harry reached over and put his arm affectionately around Debbie’s waist as he pushed the door open. They exchanged tender smiles.
“They come in often,” the waiter yawned again. “Always the same booth; they just sit and talk. You know what? I’d be willing to bet that they get married one of these days.”
The waiter certainly wasn’t talking through his hat, either. From the bistro chatter buzzing around town, the past few months, and the way Harry and Debbie have been acting together, it could happen any time.
As one leading Hollywood columnist put it: “Someone very close to Debbie believes that she’ll marry Karl, who has been in love with her for a long time.”
With that news item, there was renewed speculation that Debbie might marry the shoe tycoon, now that she is free to wed under California law. Will she? Nobody really knows, least of all Debbie.
“Right now, marriage is the farthest thing from my mind,” she says. “I don’t even think about it. I’m not saying I will never marry again. How can anyone predict that? If marriage does come, it will be because I believe it is the best thing for myself and my children.”
It has always been Debbie’s philosophy that whatever happens is for the best or the worst, depending on what you make of it. “I think I’m having a great time now,” she told an interviewer recently, “and I think I’ll keep right on doing that. . . . Inside, I’m happy. I really am, but it has taken time to acquire that philosophy.” As for Harry Karl, she comments: “He is a very kind man, a very generous man. He is one of the most generous people I have ever known, and I don’t mean just in gifts. I mean in the open-hearted way he deals with people and their problems.
“He’s also fun to be with. People think of Harry as being very dignified, and he does have dignity. But he also has a quiet wit and a wry way of looking at things.”
At first, Karl had never been considered a top contender for Debbie’s affections. Many thought he was running a poor third to Bob Neal and Glenn Ford. Karl, a well-built six-footer, first met Debbie five years ago in connection with the Thalians, a charity organization that aids hospitalized children. She’s always taken an active part in the work and Karl, throughout the years, has been one of its chief advisors and benefactors.
On April 23rd, of last year, Debbie and Harry dated for the first time. They dined at a Sunset Strip restaurant. Debbie termed the date, “strictly for business purposes.” The shoe store tycoon turned over a $10,000 check to her for the Thalians. After that, they dated again and again.
At that time, Debbie was dating no one, and Harry was playing the field of several glamor girls. After his brief marriage to Joan Cohn, he began calling on Debbie. Their dates became more frequent and his attentions more notable. Last Christmas, for example, he gave her an emerald necklace, earrings and bracelet valued at $40,000. Pretty fancy baubles, even for a millionaire.
Lately, she has been seeing Harry two and three times a week. And it was pretty obvious that “some of the business” at hand was romance. As Debbie, herself, said in a recent interview, “Before I was married I dated, but I never dated just to date. I liked to go out with someone I really liked, or not go out at all.”
After her divorce, Debbie felt the same way. She was selective about the men she dated. When friends invited her out with them, because they had a man from out of town and wanted to line up a date for him, Debbie would agree to go. But she was always careful to go in her own car and come home in her own car, so there were no problems. “That way the evening is easy for me,” she explained. “If I want to go home early, I can go home early. I don’t have to take anybody out of his way. If I’m stuck, I can come unstuck.” If she didn’t like the way a man behaved, if she thought he was drinking too much, for example, she was always free to go home—and she did just that.
What possible reason could Debbie have for seeing so much of Harry? That was the question asked by many. Here was a man more than twenty years older than she. A quiet-mannered man. Definitely not like the carefree, party-loving Bob Neal, who was then her leading admirer. Certainly Karl couldn’t be a match for the dashing actor Glenn Ford, who came into the picture later. But Karl outlasted both of them and Walter Troutman (an Eastern admirer) as well.
After her divorce, Debbie found herself meeting and dating many different men. “I get many different kinds of conversations,” she told a reporter, “and although I find them all amusing, I don’t believe a word they say. Not a word.” But though Debbie may have been a bit cynical about the “lines” most of the men she dated were handing her, she never grew cynical about the men themselves. “Once you grow cynical toward the other sex in general,” she said, “you’re lost.”
Debbie was asked, in an interview, whether the fact that she’s a divorced woman means men make more passes at her.
“Verbal passes, yes,” she answered. “Not physical passes. It’s like a football game, I keep wondering who’s going to throw the longest pass.
“I toss it right back,” she added, “as if it were a hot potato. But it’s stimulating. I have to be alert.”
And Debbie also added that when, finally, she meets a nice, attractive man, and he is honest with her, she will be able to know that he is being honest. Perhaps, her friends speculate, it is Karl’s honesty that has put him out in front of the others.
He is often her escort to banquets and other formal Hollywood events. They even go bowling together, if you can imagine that. But the thing that they like to do best, is see movies. Debbie admits to being a movie fan all her life. Harry often picks her up at the house and they head for the new movie in town, watching it raptly as they munch on popcorn.
Debbie sees Harry more than any other man, and it is apparent that he is the Number One man in her life in all respects. This is not amazing to those who know Karl.
Amazing is the fact that rarely has a good photograph ever been taken of him. In nearly every picture, the gray-haired millionaire appears to be out of place, looking expressionless. His charm and well-groomed appearance, however, make him quite a lady’s man. He’s one of the best dressed men in town. He even has his own tailor. His overwhelming attentiveness to his female companions on dates, is beyond reproach. Harry always has been surrounded by beautiful women.
Nearly everyone—his ex-wives excluded—agrees that he is a very likable fellow. Debbie admires his gentle authority, his quiet wit, his ability to converse on many topics. Furthermore, Debbie has developed more appreciation for older men since her divorce. She realizes Eddie’s immaturity was a major factor in destroying their marriage. She doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.
Debbie would never have to consider that Harry might be marrying her for her money. She is on her way to being a millionairess, but he has dealt in millions for many years. Security would be assured if she married him.
To speculate whether this fast friendship will lead to true love and a marriage, requires some knowledge of Harry Karl and his background. Most people know little about him, except for his benefactions and his marriages (sometimes synonymous).
Three times Karl married and all three ended in stormy divorces. His first wife was Ruth Winters. The only satisfaction Karl gained out of this union, was becoming the father of a daughter, Judie. She’s now 21l-years-old. She’s married and a mother, making Harry a proud grandfather.
His second marriage was to Marie (commonly known as “The Body”) McDonald. This was the stormiest of them all. They were wed, unwed and re-wed. Their domestic brawls became periodic headlines in the newspapers. Two children were adopted by the couple in an effort to salvage things. Shortly after that, Marie became pregnant—nine months later making Harry the father of another daughter. All this didn’t help, however. Finally, on April 16, 1958 (eleven years after they first said their vows), Karl divorced the actress for the third and final time. It was a year after they had reconciled, again, following the mysterious (still unsolved) kidnaping of “The Body.” The final parting, surprisingly enough, was not a bitter one.
“Marie has a wonderful career ahead of her,” Harry declared to the newspapers. “She’s a great girl, but there is no longer any affection between us.”
Debbie and Harry continued their so-called “business” dates up until last summer. Something happened. Their dating stopped and it was Bob Neal who, again, moved into Debbie’s life. They dated on the Coast and in New York. His gift of a diamond brooch started off rumors that he had proposed to the actress. Where was Harry Karl? He was involved in a romance, but not with Debbie.
Harry suddenly began courting Joan Cohn, the lovely widow of Harry Cohn, who’d been head of Columbia Pictures. One of Karl’s associates claimed his sudden new interest was “to forget Debbie.” But whatever the reason was, it led to marriage last September and another marital downfall for Karl.
Joan sued him for divorce after being married for only twenty three days, charging he treated her with “extreme cruelty and wrongfully inflicted extreme suffering.” No one in Hollywood has been able to determine what ended the marriage so swiftly. But they were apparently twenty-three costly days for Karl. Joan claimed the marriage had cost her $54,000—what she lost in monthly inheritance payments under her deceased husband’s will—and requested a total alimony sum of $110,000. Harry paid. Not long afterward, Harry was back in Debbie’s life.
Always conscious of appearances, Debbie would not date Harry until Mrs. Cohn had sued for divorce. But once the suit was filed, they became steady companions. Harry often calls at the house, bringing gifts for young Todd and Carrie as well as for Debbie.
One of the family
Bob Neal slowly became Debbie’s second date choice. While they were making “It Started With a Kiss” and “Gazebo,” Debbie and Glenn Ford became good friends. They dated, but it was always Harry Karl who managed to take her out twice as many times. True, Glenn put on his tuxedo and took Debbie to the Foreign Press Awards. That night, Karl was dateless at the Moulin Rouge, but the next night he was again with Debbie dining at La Rue’s. It’s also true Debbie had dinner with Glenn three nights in a row, but people who know Debbie well said this didn’t change anything. Karl was still number one on her list.
“I think Debbie likes Harry,” one of her friends told this writer, “because she has known him so long that he’s kind of like a member of the family. She feels secure with him . . . more relaxed.”
And Karl is practically a member of the family, too. He’s well-liked by both Debbie’s mother and father. Debbie’s brother, Bill Reynolds, recently married a twenty-year-old Glendale secretary, Jean Arntsen. None other than Karl, escorted Debbie to the wedding. At the reception, in the home of the bride’s mother, Debbie and Harry chatted merrily with the guests. It was a small wedding (about 150 guests) and just close friends of both families were invited. Debbie’s mother even designed and made the wedding gown for Joan, who is cute enough to be in the movies, herself.
Both Debbie and Harry appeared extremely happy for Bill, who had been living at Debbie’s two-story English-style brick home in Holmby Hills. With Eddie Fisher gone, Debbie had been leery about staying in the place without the protection of a male. Bill had set up housekeeping in a room that the former owners built as a bombshelter.
Not only did Harry attend the ceremony, but he and Debbie drove the newlyweds to Squaw Valley, during the Winter Olympics week, for their honeymoon. The trip was made in Harry’s limousine.
Over the past six months, Debbie has maintained that she would marry, again, when the right man comes along.
“I’m not looking for any particular type of man,” Debbie told a reporter at the El Morocco in New York. “I wasn’t looking for any specific type before my marriage to Eddie, and I’m not now.”
However, the day her divorce was filed against Eddie, she was understandably bitter.
“I’m not interested in men at the moment. If I go out at all it will be with old friends, just to have an escort. I don’t make new associations easily.”
Yet Debbie has always liked people. She’s found that she can be hurt by them easily and that, also, she is very sensitive to the impressions she’s making on others. She can tell, almost immediately, whether people like her or not.
For a while, after the divorce, Debbie built a wall around herself, to keep from being hurt by people. In the past few months, dating almost from the time that she and Harry Karl began to be seen together so much, that wall has started to come down. “I started to feel alive again,” Debbie said.
The day she received her final divorce papers (one year after she filed), Debbie cautiously continued to be noncommittal about her romantic status. Queried about the rumors that she would wed Harry Karl, she sternly stated in her dressing room at Paramount (she was making “The Pleasure of His Company”): “Harry Karl is a good friend. I think very highly of him. As for marriage, we never talked about it.
“My main concerns are for my children and my career. Todd just turned two years old and Carrie Frances is three-and-a-half. They’re not infants anymore, and they need a lot more love.”
As Debbie spoke, she kept glancing at a new photograph of Todd on her dressing room table. He looks older than his age. His features are more like Debbie’s and resembles Eddie Fisher only a little now that he is older. But Carrie Frances has inherited many of the crooner’s characteristics. Lately, Debbie has managed, despite a heavy work load, to spend more time with the children.
Maybe it’s partially a guilt complex. The divorce from Eddie had shattered Debbie both mentally and physically. To overcome the pain, she buried herself in work. Five pictures in a row took her away from Todd and Carrie for weeks at a time. “No more separations from now on,” vows Debbie. “Where I go, the children go.”
Now that Debbie’s brother Bill is married and not living with her anymore, her fears about being without protection, at night, are back. Even while her brother lived with her, Debbie kept a loaded gun beside her bed. “If I were really alone,” she said at that time, “I’d be miserable.” Therefore, many feel that this could hasten any marriage plans. However, any decision to re-marry is not an easy one. I imagine that she’s battling a conflict with her own self on the pros and cons of such a decision. Or course, only she can come up with the answers, and the questions are numerous. Can she make a second marriage work? Is Harry Karl the right man for her? Has life without a partner, for more than a year, made her too independent to be able to adjust to another marriage? Would she find marriage dull? And so on.
Above all, there is one thing Debbie may fear if she becomes Mrs. Harry Karl or Mrs. Anybody Else—the day one of her children might say . . . “Mommy, will I have to call that man Daddy?”
Both Todd and Carrie love to see “Uncle Harry” when he comes to the house. In Palm Springs, where Debbie owns a home, which she and Eddie once shared as man and wife, Karl spent a weekend just playing with the children and showing them the sites around town in his spotless limousine. Debbie was along, too.
The last year, has been hard on Debbie in more ways than one. She tried to be both a mother and father. At times, this brought her close to emotional breakdown. Carrie came down with tonsilitis. Even though Debbie had 6 a.m. calls that week, on “The Rat Race,” she took care of Carrie for three nights in a row, getting hardly any sleep at all. Carrie even slept beside Debbie, so she could comfort her.
And then, at the end of March, little Todd required an operation. It was a minor operation, the doctors told Debbie, but still, she felt she should notify Eddie. Then she found that she had no idea where to get in touch with him. When he had been informed, finally, Eddie flew to his son’s side at St. John’s hospital. But the anxiety and fears at this time pointed out dramatically how difficult it is for one parent to try to be both mother and father.
In many ways, Debbie appears over-protective. Mainly because she’s alone. She takes no chances when it comes to the children. Her stand-in, Donna Leary, nearly scared Debbie to death. Donna’s six-year-old son, one morning, decided that he would smoke—just like Mommy. While Donna was asleep, in the bedroom of their apartment, the boy took a cigarette and lighter into the closet. Moments later, flames were racing through the house.
Debbie was so upset about the near tragedy, that she gave orders to her children’s nurse not to leave them alone even for one single minute during the day. All the matches and lighters in the Reynolds household were hidden.
Even when Eddie Fisher was permitted to visit the children in Las Vegas, for a weekend, Debbie was apprehensive. She gave careful instructions to the nurse not to let them out of her sight. One of her girlfriends claimed that Debbie was nervous and on edge during all the time that they were away. Debbie even canceled a fun trip to Mexico, because she didn’t want to go without the children and her doctor advised her against taking them South of the Border.
Everything but a husband
So, the one big thing missing in Debbie’s life is a husband. And, up until recently, that hadn’t seemed to bother her. She once told a reporter: “Every woman would like to have a happy marriage. The trick is to have one. You have to be careful. Particularly the second time.
“I’m free in every way. I have everything—everything beyond what I ever dreamed of years ago. I always wanted to have children. I have my family. I have a lovely house. I have a good job. I’m able to buy almost anything I desire.”
But, now, things have changed. In reality, Debbie probably knows she doesn’t have everything, but may soon gain the thing most lacking in her life—a husband. Harry Karl is her number-one choice. And he certainly has been persistent. Besides the $40,000 worth of jewelry he gave her for Christmas, some of his other gifts have been a mink coat and a red electric golf cart (they cost $1,900).
Another plus, is Karl’s position. He is outside the entertainment business, so there will be no question of competition of their careers, an element that entered into Debbie’s and Eddie’s problems. Yet, Harry has been in and around show business for years, so he understands a movie star’s problems.
They made quite a hit at the recent Thalians’ Mardi Gras costume ball for new members. Debbie borrowed May Murray’s 35-year-old rhinestone dress from the silent picture version of “The Merry Widow,” out of the M-G-M wardrobe department. Karl wore top hat and tails. They made a grandstand entrance with their faces made-up in blackface and Pat Moran brought up the rear as their slave in chains. One of the new members was Bob Neal, but he never showed. It seemed to confirm rumors that he was completely out of Debbie’s life.
The man to watch is Harry Karl. His divorce from Joan Cohn won’t be final until October in California, but that doesn’t mean he would have to wait that long in order to re-marry. As in the case of Eddie Fisher, Karl could obtain a divorce in Nevada in six weeks time.
Close friends of Debbie, believe that if she does say “yes” to Karl, the wedding won’t take place until October, but the big question in this writer’s mind is:
“Can Debbie convince herself that Karl is the right man for her children to call Daddy?”
—BY ROBERT DEAN
SEE DEBBIE IN PAR’S. “THE RAT RACE” AND “PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY.” DON’T MISS HER SPECIALS ON ABC-TV. HEAR HER SING ON DOT. BE SURE TO WATCH FOR HER IN COL.’S “PEPE.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1960