Edd Byrnes—. . . Someone To Watch Over Me
Edd Byrnes checked his watch. It was seven-fifteen. He’d been delayed at the studio. Now he had only half an hour to shower, shave and dress. He crossed the living room, flipped the switch on the hi-fi and loaded the turntable with records.
For the next few minutes the music was drowned out by the staccato patter of water bouncing off the tile floor. Then, drying off, Edd attempted a precision-like job of lathering his face, making even strokes with the razor while keeping time to a rock ’n’ roll tune. He grinned. Next time he’d better try it to something a little bit slower.
Twenty minutes later, after putting links into the French cuffs of his white shirt, straightening his black tie and slipping on his suit jacket—stopping just to take a fast look in the mirror—he headed out the door. It had been a long while since he’d looked forward to a date with such anticipation. He’d been on a real merry-go-round lately; weeks just seemed to fly by. His routine consisted of work and more work, followed by sack time, with no hours of relaxation in between. Then the other day, on his first free Sunday in months he’d met a girl and had asked her out for the following Wednesday night. She was cute; in fact, she was downright beautiful, he thought, as he started up the motor of his white T-bird and headed for her house. Funny, how sometimes when you weren’t even looking, a girl could walk into your life, just like that.
He’d been down at the beach, stretched out in the sand, soaking up the sun. Suddenly he’d felt a splash of cold water on his face and arms. He’d looked up just in time to see a trim redhead dashing by, soaking wet. He’d sat up and smiled. She’d turned around to apologize and, in doing so, had accidentally kicked up a mound of sand, which, mixed with the water she’d already shed, made tiny rivulets of mud on his arm. For a moment, they’d just looked at each other; then both had burst out laughing. After she’d apologized, they’d struck up a conversation, discovered they had mutual friends and wound up splitting a couple of hamburgers. Then he’d asked her out and she’d accepted.
He’d liked her from the moment he saw her. She had reddish-gold hair, caught back in what must have started out as a ponytail, but ended up a hank of hair, dripping wet and clinging limply to her neck and shoulders. Her skin was the milk-white kind that probably got burned even on a foggy day. Already there was a pink glow on the tip of her nose. She was natural looking, attractive in a simple sort of way. Yes, Edd had to admit it, he was really looking forward to this evening with Janie (for obvious reasons that’s not her real name). He cruised up and down the block until he found the street address she’d given him, parked his car, walked up the front steps and rang the bell. A tall blond girl answered the door, a boy by her side.
“Hi,” she said. “Come on in. Jane’s expecting you. I’m Sally, her roommate. This is Bud. We were just leaving. Make yourself comfortable, Jane’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
After Jane’s roommate and her date had left, Edd sank down in an armchair and relaxed. The apartment was small, cozy and livable looking—there was nothing gaudy or overdone about it—just like the girl he was about to spend the evening with. Minutes passed. Five. Ten. Twenty. What was keeping her? Did girls always have to make an entrance! Ah, relax, he told himself, picking up a magazine from the coffee table. He tried reading, but couldn’t get sufficiently involved in the story not to be aware that thirty minutes had elapsed since he’d walked through the front door. Finally, he heard the click of high heels on a wooden floor, and she came walking into the room. He looked, then discreetly looked again. It took several glances before he was sure this was the same girl he’d met a few days ago. As he stood up to meet her, he noticed that her hair was pulled back tight in an overly ornate knot that was perched on top of her head, and she had on a dress that was, well, just a little tight!
Then she smiled and said hello, and as he walked over to help her with her coat, he couldn’t avoid observing that, even under all that makeup, the peeling on the tip of her nose was plainly visible. For a moment he saw her again as she had been, standing on the beach, wringing wet and laughing. She had certainly made a drastic transformation!
In the car, on the way to the party, they took turns talking about a lot of things, trying to hit upon a topic that would be mutually interesting. Sometimes you could go out with someone who was practically a stranger, and yet it seemed you’d known each other all your lives. Then sometimes, well, sometimes it didn’t work out that way. At that point in the evening, Edd wasn’t quite sure how things would work out. Now and then she would smile across at him, but almost every attempt at conversation seemed to fall flat.
They arrived at the party. Jane knew only one other couple there, so Edd introduced her around; then they went and sat down on the couch. The room began filling up. People drifted by and exchanged hellos. Sounds of laughter, mixed with snatches of dialogue, tinkling glasses and loud music blaring from the record player, made talking to one another almost impossible. Edd glanced around; at the opposite end of the room he saw a girl who looked familiar. He couldn’t place her at first, then—no wonder she looked familiar! He’d taken her out a few times! He tried to recall forgotten details, such as when he’d last seen her and why he hadn’t called her again. Then he remembered he’d taken her out just before he’d gone to Arizona on location for “Yellowstone Kelly.” He’d promised to call her when he got back, but that was at least two months ago! This must have been the first time he’d ever been so busy working that he hadn’t remembered to call back a girl he’d enjoyed dating. He looked across the room to see whom she was with, but she’d disappeared. Then he heard someone call his name and realized he’d been so preoccupied he hadn’t noticed that she’d come over and was standing by the side of the couch.
“Hi, Edd,” she said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, Carol. And you?” he asked, standing up. “Carol, I’d like you to meet Jane,” he added.
There was a strained silence; then Carol sat down on the couch. Jane just sat quietly, making only the barest attempt to be friendly. Suddenly Edd had a sinking feeling that something embarrassing was about to happen. Carol had obviously come over because she’d been hurt that he hadn’t called, and at any moment now he was expecting her to be typically “female.” There was nothing he could do. He’d have to politely divide his time between them. But, as Carol started chattering away, he realized, with a sigh of relief, that he’d misjudged her. She was being very friendly and had probably come over just to show she had no hard feelings.
The party had become unbearable—too much noise, too little to talk about—so finally Edd suggested he and Janie leave. They got into his car and headed for the Sunset Strip. Earlier in the evening, Edd had suggested they stop for a late supper after the party; now he was sorry he’d mentioned it.
Finally, he shrugged his shoulders. “Jane,” he mumbled, “would you mind very much if we didn’t stop for something to eat. I have an early call in the morning and it’s getting late.”
“No, Edd, that’s all right,” she said quietly. But as he glanced at her, he noticed she looked sad.
When they got back to her house, he stopped the car, got out, opened the door for her and walked her quickly up to the front porch.
“Goodnight, Edd,” she said softly. And then, “Edd . . .”
“Oh . . . nothing . . . never mind. . . .”
He waited until she’d opened the door and was safely inside. Then he said goodnight again and walked to his car. That second goodnight had meant goodbye! But he hated saying goodbyes. Besides, he was sure Jane realized he wouldn’t call her again. Girls could sense things like that—couldn’t they?
He got home and went right to bed. The evening had been a real drag. He’d looked forward to having such a good time and had been disappointed. Maybe if he stayed up for a while he could figure out why the evening had been such a failure. It worried him—had it worried Jane too, he wondered? Had he misjudged her maybe? Had he done something wrong to contribute to the evening’s unpleasantness? But it was his usual pattern to sleep away depressions, not to sit and dwell on them. Well, tomorrow was time enough. He’d think about it then. He’d try to discover how it had happened that a girl he’d forgotten to a back suddenly seemed so appealing, while the girl he’d looked forward to seeing had been such a terrific disappointment.
All the next day Edd was preoccupied with his work. It wasn’t until he had stopped off for dinner and then come home alone that the previous evening came back into his mind. He turned on the hi-fi and walked outside. He pulled up the canvas chair and sat down on his back porch. He was tired. His mind was full of fragments of ideas. He sat back and relaxed, looking out at the valley below; at the ribbon of colored lights strung across the streets like a necklace of gems; at the steady stream of cars threading their way along the avenues. Every once in a while he found himself straining to catch the lyrics as they drifted out to where he was sitting. He’d put on a Sinatra album—“Only the Lonely”—how appropriate! he decided.
Most of his needs and depressions had been expressed musically. A long time ago a Vic Damone record, “You’re Breaking My Heart,” had been his “theme.” Did other people sometimes feel as though certain songs had been written especially for them? He did.
Now, for instance, there was one about the tide rushing in to shore, the waves rolling out to sea again, and it reminded him of Jane. What had happened to make last night go so wrong? Why had she turned out to be the complete opposite of all he admired in a girl? Why had she found it necessary to be cold to Carol? He thought back to the beginning of the evening, going over the hours, incident by incident. Had he expected too much? Was he in any way at fault? Had he been a little too cordial when Carol had come over? Had he unintentionally created the strained situation?
The more he thought about it, the more sure he became that Jane had been in the wrong. After all, it had only been their first date and she’d had no right to act so possessive. She could have been polite to Carol. As a matter of fact, if he owed anyone an apology, he decided, it was Carol. There’d been an expression in her eyes when she’d come over to him last night, one he hadn’t been able to grasp at the moment; now, suddenly, it had meaning. Unintentionally, by getting wrapped up in work and neglecting to call her, he must have hurt her feelings. That was what he’d seen in her eyes last night—hurt. He knew the expression well. Once he’d been hurt, too. He’d worn his-heart on his sleeve—only once—but it should have made him more aware of the feelings of others.
Feeling moody and restless, he began pacing up and down the porch.
Years ago he’d gotten the wind knocked out of his sails because he’d been too open and sincere about his feelings. Since then, he’d never given his heart completely to anyone. He’d held a part of himself in check, anticipated being hurt, kept up his guard. He’d been a little wary of people’s feelings for him; a little suspicious when someone expressed genuine affection. Were his defenses so exaggerated that even if the right girl came—he wouldn’t recognize her? No. He’d know her . . . of course he would . . . well, wouldn’t he?
Lonely lyrics, something about desire and ambition, reached out to him across the night, and again he thought they spoke for him alone.
Yet it wasn’t that he had no ambition or desire, just that right now it was all being channeled toward his career. He was caught up in the wonderful world of Kookie and “77 Sunset Strip.” But wasn’t that only natural? For the first time in his life a dream was coming true. He was getting the breaks. Fantastic though it seemed, he could see his own face staring up at him from the covers of a dozen magazines at the corner newsstand. He was being interviewed and constantly asked to talk about his theories on life, women, his ideal girl and everything else under the sun. The dream he’d dreamed was coming true; yet despite all the excitement, it was still a long way from completion. Ironically, it occurred to him that because of what had happened just the other night, he was perhaps further away from finding someone to share his dream than he’d ever been before. Reporters asked him to talk about his ideal girl—about the kind of person he wanted to marry. Over and over he’d repeated the same generalities: a girl who likes the outdoors; who has a good sense of humor; a girl who’s attractive, sweet, understanding; someone who could love him completely, be aware of his problems and his needs. It sounded so simple, looked so easy in print. He’d said it so many times that he’d begun to sound like an authority on the very thing that—except for once, a long time ago—had always eluded him.
He sat down again in the chair. Maybe last night hadn’t been all Jane’s fault, he thought, trying to understand why she’d acted the way she had. Maybe she’d kept him waiting those thirty minutes out of a lack of confidence in herself. Maybe she’d looked forward to the evening as much as he had, and wasn’t quite sure how to handle the situation. Maybe she’d been frightened when Carol had come over, and so unsure of herself that all she could think of was to act mad. Maybe her getting all dressed up was as much of a cover-up, as much of a defense, as his “stone wall,” his swiftness to condemn. She’d probably tried to solve things by hiding her down-to-earth self under a “new” personality—the one in a tight dress and heavy makeup. Was that any worse than his method of putting things out of his mind, sleeping away his depressions, refusing to argue, even when the situation warranted it? No . . . the more he thought about it, the more he seemed to understand. Maybe she’d just been trying too hard to have him like her. . . . Hadn’t she tried to tell him something just as they’d said goodnight? Maybe . . . maybe . . .
He walked inside, picked up the receiver and dialed her number. It’d be nice to see her again. No answer. So he went back outside and sat down again. And his thoughts began to run together like watercolors on a damp tablet.
What about his attitude toward marriage? Why did he have the feeling that when he got married he would have to give up his freedom? Freedom. He looked about him at the deserted, lonely porch. Why did settling down seem synonymous with losing individuality? Hadn’t he read somewhere that this was the strangely wonderful paradox about marriage: that two people could be “one” and still remain “two”—each conserving his own integrity and identity. Why had those words seemed so meaningless to him when he’d read them? Was it that he hadn’t been ready to accept them, to apply their meaning to himself, personally?
What was it he’d read in that book? Something about love being an act of faith . . . that to love means to commit yourself completely without guarantee; to give yourself up completely in the hope that your feelings are returned. Maybe he didn’t have enough faith in himself. Or perhaps, somewhere along the way, he’d lost the ability to have faith in others.
He took a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, lit it, and drew in deeply.
For as far back as he could remember, his dreams of fame had included a “someone” with whom he could share it all. And hadn’t part of his dream always been to be able to give his wife a nice home and buy her all the luxuries a woman wanted; hadn’t he always thought about sending his kids to college and seeing to it that his family never lacked the security he knew was so important? Now that he was on his way toward being able to provide these things, why did he continue to keep up such a guard?
Sitting there alone, outside, listening to the music and allowing years of stored-up feelings to spill over like a waterfall, Edd began to realize there was nothing wrong in facing the need to be needed. In fact, by being so guarded, maybe he’d been the loser. Before he’d become Kookie, he’d been able to keep these problems to himself. Nobody’d asked him, nobody had cared whether his ideal girl had one head or two! Now all of a sudden he had to express himself . . . had to find out what he really wanted out of life.
He tossed away his cigarette and let his hands drop into his lap. Then he looked down at them and realized he felt calmer than he had felt for years. Maybe he should give love a chance?
Tomorrow he’d call Jane. He might see her again, he might not; he’d have to let things take their course. Then there was Carol—he wanted to see her again, too. Maybe he’d already met the right girl, or she might come along tomorrow, or next week, or next year. He wasn’t going to rush things; marriage meant too much. But at least now he could be on the lookout for love—real, lasting love. It didn’t really matter where he’d meet her, or when. The important thing was that he could—and would—find her . . . some day.
Edd walked inside, slipped on a pair of striped pajamas and went to bed. No need to bother about the phonograph; it would click off automatically after the last record. He settled down under the covers. Slowly it dawned on him that tonight, for the first time since he’d come to Hollywood, he hadn’t had to sleep away his problems. He’d stayed awake and faced them. But he knew also that nothing changes overnight; that tomorrow he might still be looking, groping, making mistakes, getting hurt. It had taken years to develop the attitudes he’d crystallized tonight; it would take time to change. But at least he’d made a beginning.
The Ira Gershwin lines of the last song on the turntable reached him just before he dozed off:
“Won’t you tell her please to put on some speed, follow my lead, oh how I need—someone to watch over me. . . .”
SEE EDD IN “UP PERISCOPE,” WATCH FOR HIM IN “YELLOWSTONE KELLY” (BOTH FOR WARNERS) AND FOLLOW HIM ON ABC-TV’s “77 SUNSET STRIP,” 9:30-10:30 P.M. EDT ON FRIDAYS. AND DON’T MISS HIS RECORDS FOR WARNER BROS.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1959