Deborah Walley & John Ashley
“When I’m away from Debbie—when there’s time and space and distance between us—I panic. I go cold inside. I sit down, put my head in my hands, shut my eyes and try to bring her picture to my mind. It comes for an instant, then goes away and I cannot get it back. It almost drives me crazy with fear. I say her name over and over to myself, trying to drive out the thought that I have seen her for the last time. And then I know that the only important thing in my life is to keep breathing till I see her again,” confided John Ashley.
“Then, when we are together and she’s standing in front of me, smiling, I put my arms around her and hug her so tightly, it’s a wonder I don’t break her ribs. And the wonderful quiet sigh of joy that comes from her is all the music in the world.
“Moments like that—I’m speechless. They make up for the loneliness and the thousand longings that torment me during the times when she’s away from me.”
Ashley shook his head and smiled the age-old smile that young men in love have smiled through the centuries.
“I’ve never been so confused,” he said. “Or so in love. Love! It’s a swinging insanity—happy misery—tormenting joy! But I wouldn’t trade one split second of what I’ve known with Debbie—for anything! Not ever—not for anything in this world!”
In many respects, John Ashley’s love for the bright and effervescent Deborah Walley should never have happened. For the past two years he’s dated a long list of mature young women—and more than one was considerably older than his twenty-four years. On the plus side, he’s dated Annette Funicello and Connie Stevens. On the minus—well, we’ll forget those. Just take it from us—Johnny’s dated ’em all!
That’s why, when it got around that Ashley was dating Deborah Walley, it was casually dismissed as an item, a plant, just publicity, it’ll never last.
“As a matter of fact,” says Ashley, “I didn’t believe it myself. Do you know that only a few months ago I used to get Deborah mixed up with Pamela Tiffin? How could I do such a thing?
“Then one afternoon a friend of mine suggested that if I was bored with Hollywood girls (which I wasn’t) I ought to try to meet Deborah.
“ ‘You mean the chick who plays Gidget?’ I asked. ‘C’mon, you know that’s not my type. Not this week anyhow!’ My friend looked at me for a moment and said, ‘Okay, Ashley, Okay! Just spend the rest of your life cataloguing girls in types—but don’t blame me if you miss out on the one girl who could make you happy.’
“Well, I don’t go for the philosophical jazz. I’d been around long enough to know the kind of girls I preferred. I knew girls who didn’t like my type. So what? That’s the way life is.
“The name Deborah Walley didn’t enter my head for days after that. Then one afternoon I was sitting around the apartment staring at the wall. The phone rang. It was my friend. ‘You ever call Deborah?’ I said, ‘Nope,’ and smugly added that I had no intentions of ever calling her.
“My words seemed to make little or no dent on my friend’s consciousness. He reeled off Debbie’s number—twice. I didn’t even write it down.
“Now I’ll tell you something strange. Three hours later that number was still bouncing around in my head and I’m a guy who can’t remember phone numbers.
“So to get rid of this haunt, I picked up the phone and dialed. I didn’t know it then—but from the moment Debbie answered, I was a goner.
“We small-talked. How long have you been out here? How long will you be here? What else is new? When I ran out of that, I said something entirely unrehearsed, ‘Would you have dinner with me tomorrow night?’
“ ‘Gosh, I have a date,’ Debbie said, ‘but what about Friday?’
“Again I found myself saying something I hadn’t planned on. To be exact, ‘Friday’s fine.’ Now what made me say that?”
Ashley got the surprise of his life that Friday. No one had told him Debbie has red hair. “And I don’t Hip for redheads.” he said. “I don’t know why—I just don’t.”
To top it off, Debbie was wearing a green (his least favorite color!) coat!
“I hope you’re John Ashley,” she said politely. “I really didn’t know what you looked like.”
Shaken somewhat by the very words he had spoken to himself about her, he nonchalantly asked, “Where would you like to have dinner?”
“Any place you choose is all right with me.”
“Isn’t there some particular—?”
“No, it doesn’t matter.”
“Would you rather eat first and then go to a movie?”
“Whatever you say.”
“Are you hungry?”
“I can wait if you prefer.”
“Any movie in mind?”
“Anything you like.”
Today Ashley laughs as he recalls that first brilliant dialogue. “And if there’s anything I hate,” he points out, “it’s a girl insisting I make all the decisions on a first date.”
John and Debbie went to a theater that was showing “Bridge To The Sun.” The usher told them it would be over in a little while.
“Shall we wait in the lounge?”
“If you like,” Debbie replied.
Ashley shrugged. They sat down in the lounge.
“You know,” Ashley recalls, “I was angry and I didn’t know why. But when we sat down, Debbie sat very close. I turned and studied her. For the first time realized how pretty she was, and how beautifully groomed. I noticed how her eyes sparkled, and how quietly she sat—as if she was waiting for me to say something. I forgot about being angry. I don’t remember what I said, but when I started talking, it was as though I’d never talked to a girl before. We discussed dating, childhood experiences, careers, plays, sports car racing—everything.”
An usher walked by them.
“Say, man,” Ashley asked, “picture over yet?”
The usher looked at his watch. “About half an hour ago,” he said.
“I looked at Debbie. She laughed. I laughed, too. We sat through the whole feature in the lounge.
“We went back to talking and almost missed the beginning of the picture a second time.
“When we came out Debbie was daubing her eyes. ‘You cry in the movies?’ I asked.
“ ‘All the time,’ she smiled.
“We went to La Scala, a popular Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.
“ ‘You eat that food like a full-blooded Italian,’ Debbie said as we grappled with the spaghetti.
“ ‘Well,’ I said. ‘I’m pretty sure I am.’
“She stopped eating, puzzled by my reply.
“Then she laughed. ‘For gosh sakes, don’t you know who your own parents are?’
“ ‘No,’ I said, ‘only that they were Italian. I’m adopted.’
“ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I thought you were joking. . . .’ She took my hand. ‘Johnny, I’m sorry, it was so stupid. . . .’
“I didn’t hear anything else she said. She had taken my hand! It was the first time she’d touched me, and there was so much voltage I thought I was going to light up!”
They talked on and on. It was nearly 2 A.M. when they came up for air and Debbie looked around.
“We were one of three couples left in the restaurant,” Ashley remembers. “In one of them Marlon Brando was sitting with Tarita—tossing grapes in her mouth across the table. In another booth, Jane Fonda was earnestly talking to her date. I didn’t know till later that they were the first movie stars Debbie had seen in public in her six weeks in Hollywood.
“After dinner we went to Debbie’s apartment. We talked and played a few records. That was when another strange thing happened to me. You know, Debbie is a very sexy-looking girl. She’s got a great figure, face and personality. And there we were, all alone in her apartment. What a set-up for a pass! And I sure wanted to make one. But I didn’t. I didn’t even kiss her goodnight.
“For two reasons,” he continued. “First, I realized it had been the happiest date of my life. Second, to go wolf would have spoiled everything. I wanted to remember that night the rest of my life.
“When I said goodnight, Debbie looked at me for a long moment. Then she said. very quietly, ‘Thank you, Johnny. Goodnight.’
“I have that memory now. So does Debbie. No one, nothing, can ever change it as long as we live.”
Despite the heady happiness of that first date, they had their problems in the weeks that followed. In John’s presence, Debbie was a vivacious, spontaneous charmer. But he soon discovered that she was reluctant to show these qualities to others. He also learned that she disliked crowds and big parties. When he asked why, she said, “I just don’t like mobs.”
“I’ll fix that,” he promised.
“At our first party,” John remembers, “Debbie was a recluse. She sat in a chair by herself for the whole evening. She didn’t pout; she smiled and looked very attractive. But it was a party. You swing a little at parties when you’re surrounded by your friends. I didn’t dig Debbie that night at all.”
On the way home he blew his switch.
“Look,” he said, “those were my friends you froze tonight. Good friends. What’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know,” Debbie said, “I just can’t do it that way.”
“Okay,” said Ashley, “we’re going to change all that. Because those people are going to remain my friends. You can’t hide out in a chair. I’m not going to let you. I’m telling you now—the next party we go to, I’m going to leave you. I’m going to ignore you. I won’t even speak to you. And don’t come after me. You’re a beautiful girl; you’ve got everything. You’re going to turn yourself on if it takes ten parties. And we’re going to stay to the very end of every one.”
A few nights later Debbie and John attended a party at Doug McClure’s.
“From the word go,” Ashley said, “Debbie really turned herself on. An hour later she was the life of the party. I was proud of her. I walked up and said, ‘Honey, you’re marvelous.’ And you know what she did? She looked right through me. Wouldn’t talk to me all evening!
“It wasn’t long after that, while driving her home one night, I told Debbie I loved her. It was the biggest moment of my life, and the first time I’d ever been afraid—afraid that she didn’t feel the same way about me.
“But when I took her in my arms I knew it was all right. When I remember how she whispered, ‘I love you too,’ I still get dizzy. I guess I’m the luckiest guy that ever lived. I know every man feels that way when the girl he loves loves him—but it’s still as though it had happened to me, only to me.
“But it was when I had to go to New York for ten days on business that I really discovered how much I really loved her. That’s when not being near her drove me crazy. Her voice on the phone was so far away. And the more she told me to be patient, the more impatient I became.”
Ashley shook his head. “And the letters she wrote. Beautiful, wonderful words of love that couldn’t seem to stop. Not wild letters, but full of warmth and happiness. So alive with feeling that sometimes I’d think I could hear her voice saying the words. As much as I loved her, I didn’t realize how deep and tender were the yearning in her heart until she wrote them on paper. She held nothing back.
“My letters? You know the best I could get off, don’t you? They began ‘Hi, babe. Sure is cold here in New York. I miss you.’
“That’s pretty potent stuff from a guy in love, don’t you think?”
Since his return to Hollywood, John and Debbie have become inseparable. They scheme and connive to see each other every day.
I asked Ashley if the Ashley-Walley romance might not be so hot it would have to cool down.
“It might,” he said. “if I felt the same way about Debbie as I’ve felt about some other girls. Don’t misunderstand—she’s a beautiful girl, so it can hardly help be a physical attraction in part. But it’s not just sex. It’s like this: The other night we were walking home from the movies and acting like a couple of kids. Debbie balancing along a low fence like a child on the way home from school.
“Suddenly she jumped down and said, ‘You know where I’d like to be right now? This minute? In New York walking along Times Square with you in the snow. I’d show you all the different kinds of snow-flakes there are and I’d let them fall on my hair and eyelashes the way I did when I was a little girl! And I’d run up to perfect strangers and say I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love and this is the man!’
“Then she put her arms around me and cried out of pure joy. And you know what I think? Any man who can make a woman that happy would be a fool to ever let go.
“So sex isn’t everything,” he said, “and I’m glad it’s not. Because what I’ve learned from Debbie—a man can fail in love without even trying—once he’s looked into her heart.”
Ashley swallowed the last of his drink. He was through talking, too. Until he remembered one more thing.
He gave me a funny, quizzical sort of look—then came out with it.
“But there’s one strange thing that’s happened to me,” he said. “Since I asked Debbie to marry me—I just don’t seem to like crowds any more.”
Debbie’s in Buena Vista’s “Bon Voyage.” John appears weekly on ABC-TV’s “Straightaway,” Wed., 8 P.M. EST.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE APRIL 1962