Duff’s Gone Fishin’—Howard Duff
A few weeks ago, right after he’d finished The Lady From Texas with Mona Freeman, Howard Duff decided to get away from it all.
This meant no more dates with glamor girls—like Ava, when she was angry with Frankie, and no more beach parties with Ida Lupino, and no more premieres with Marta Toren. No more Hollywood for a while, because Duff had things to think over. Marriage, for instance.
Howard Duff isn’t the happiest man in the world. He’s an introvert, who’s always studying his own soul, and right now the sight depresses him. He thinks, though, that he’d be very happy if he were married and had a family. “After all,” he says, “that’s what counts most in life.” But he can’t find a wife.
During the war he thought he’d found one, but when he was shipped overseas she went off and got married. Today she has two children. Is Howard carrying a torch for her? “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says. ‘“That’s all done and forgotten.”
In June of this year, Duff started looking for a place to mull over his problems. What place is more conducive to long thoughts than the ocean? No place, thought Howard, so he signed on as a hired hand aboard a fishing vessel for two dollars a week. The name of the vessel was “Mike.” It was 50 feet long and headed for Mexican waters to find albacore. (Albacore is a long-finned tunny, closely related to the tuna. Like tuna, it’s highly valued for canning and brings a good price over the grocery counter.)
When Duff signed up as an ordinary seaman, he also signed to receive a percentage of the catch. “Mike” departed from Point Loma, outside of San Diego. and stayed on the high seas for 18 days.
Once aboard, Duff was treated like any member of the crew. He asked no favors, and he got none. He pulled watch, swabbed down the decks, hauled in the catch, worked ’round the clock.
“When he first came aboard,” one of the regular crew says, “we thought we were going to have a Hollywood dude. We didn’t know who he was, but when those photographers came around and started taking pictures, we figured he must be somebody.
“Anyway, he didn’t pull any airs with us. He told us right off that he was a landlubber and didn’t know the bow from the stern, but he sure learned. I used to think those Hollywood actors were a bunch of fancy pants. But that sure ain’t true of Duff. That kid can sail with us any time he wants.
“Matter of fact when Ernie (Ernie owns the boat) told us that Duff was an actor, a lot of the boys wouldn’t believe it. He sure doesn’t look like an actor. He looks like a regular fisherman, I mean, a human being.”
How Duff came to sign on the “Mike” is a pretty interesting story in itself.
Having finished his picture at Universal, he was lying on his shoulder blades at home one Saturday evening when the phone rang. It was director George Sherman.
“Some of the boys are coming over for a while,” George said. “Why don’t you drop in?”
“Thanks, I will,” Howard said, and, since he didn’t have a date, he drove right over.
At Sherman’s, Howard ran into Ernie Gann, a writer and flier who also owns a fleet of fishing boats out at Monterey.
“A funny thing,” Howard said. “I was going up to San Francisco in a few days, and I was going to call you there.”
“What for?” Ernie Gann asked.
“I want you to give me a job on one of your boats,” Duff said.
“No, I’m dead serious,” Howard asserted. “I’m a little fed up, hanging around town. I’d like to get away. You know, get a chance to think things out. How about it, Ernie?”
“How soon could you leave?”
Duff thought for a moment. “Practically any time.”
“That’s fine,” Gann said, “because I have a boat pulling out of San Diego tomorrow morning at nine.”
“Whom do I see to sign on?” Duff asked.
“You see me,” Ernie said. “I’m the skipper.”
“Okay,” said Howard. “I want on.”
“I want to warn you, this is no pleasure cruise.”
“I know,” Duff said. “I can work as well as the next guy.”
“Okay,” said Gann. “We’re going out looking for albacore. You’ll get a cut on whatever the catch is worth.”
Duff and Gann shook hands. The next morning, they both flew down to San Diego and boarded the “Mike.” A shor circuit in one of the motors delayed the boat’s scheduled departure but after a clearance from the insurance company, the “Mike” took off.
But on the ocean, pulling watch at night, Howard Duff had time to think, to evaluate his life, to find out whether it had any meaning for him or whether he was aimlessly drifting.
“I decided,” he says, “that if I don’t get married within the next two or three years, the chances are I will probably never get married.”
“Once a fellow hits 35 (Duff’s 33 now), he becomes pretty set in his ways. Then, too, how good are the chances of marrying a girl who’s 28 or 29? By that age most of the girls have been grabbed up, so that usually, a man in my spot marries a girl who is 20 or 22. That’s too great a difference in age I think.
Out there in the Pacific, I had a pretty good chance to work things out. I love Hollywood, and I think it’s been great to me, but in order to get any perspective, a fellow’s got to get far away from it once in a while.
“When you’re at sea, things become pretty elemental. Problems that were complicated on land seem to reduce themselves to essentials.
“Take me, for example. I’m ready for marriage. People make me out to be a recluse, but I’m nothing of the sort. And I’m not that moody, brooding guy you read about.
“I’m very much in the market for a wife, only Hollywood is a very tough spot to find one. Naturally, I meet a lot of actresses, but unless they give up their careers, actresses usually don’t make good wives. Two acting careers in one family rarely mix. So where am I? I can’t go beating around the U.S., announcing that I’m looking for a wife, and there’s no sense in proposing to the first girl who comes along.
“Some of my friends have suggested that perhaps I’m afraid of marriage. Well, that’s true of some bachelors, but I honestly don’t think it’s true of me.
“As soon as I find the right girl, I’m proposing. And say—if you know someone, let me have her number. One thing I can assure you. Howard Duff isn’t hard to get.”
—BY JIM BURTON
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1951