“I Won’t Let Him Have My Baby! I’m Not An Unfit Mother!”
Never had Carol Lynley sounded so lost, so broken, so infinitely sad as she did that Saturday morning in late March—the day the newspapers announced her separation from Michael Selsman.
For Carol knew her marriage was definitely over, even though the separation was labeled a “trial” one in the official announcement. (A few days later, she and Michael sued each other for divorce, charging extreme cruelty, and each parent also sought full custody of their pretty little year-old daughter, Jill Victoria Selsman.)
“I’m all right,” Carol insisted that Saturday morning, in answer to my worried question. “It’s just that . . . this whole thing isn’t very easy for me, Jim. . .” Only a close friend of Carol’s—and I had counted myself one for the past five years—could realize the full, aching truth of her words. For admitting the failure of her marriage before the whole world involved not only a personal tragedy, it also carried a bitter dose of humiliation.
When she married Michael, an ambitious young press agent, she had gone against her mother’s wishes and warnings. At the time of the wedding both mother and daughter tried to deny that fact in order to avoid embarrassment. (However, it was not true, as some newspapers reported, that Carol’s mother failed to mail her the birth certificate she needed in order to expedite her marriage license. It was, as she said at the time, held up in the mail.)
But Carol’s mother—now Mrs. Arthur Broderick of Los Angeles—had the good sense not to say “I told you so” when Carol called her and said, “Michael and I are separating. I wanted you to know it before we told the newspapers.” Whatever her inner feelings, she accepted the fact without comment and offered motherly sympathy. And the next day—after Mike had moved out and Carol was alone in the big house in Benedict Canyon, except for the baby and a Spanish-speaking nurse, Mrs. Broderick called her to ask: “Would you like to come over for dinner tonight? We’re having your favorite pot roast. . .”
To me, Mrs. Broderick predicted: “Now people will probably start saying that I broke up the marriage. But I didn’t.” And she was telling the truth The difficulties between Carol and Mike were not caused by her mother. They were the result of deep and, finally, fatal differences that existed between the two young people themselves.
These differences existed, like hidden time bombs, the day they married. But the young couple had to live together in order to discover them. And Carol’s increasing maturity—she was only eighteen when she married—not only failed to help the situation, it made her more conscious of its hopelessness, and less willing to endure it forever. Mike steadfastly refused to admit the possibility of divorce until those time bombs finally started going off all around himself and his young wife. And when the smoke had cleared, it was too late, and the marriage that had started so hopefully lay in ashes.
A few days after the separation announcement, I spoke again to Carol between takes of her movie, Columbia’s “Under the Yum Yum Tree,” which she had just started. Actually, for Carol—as for most people, it would have been much harder to sit at home alone and brood about her misfortunes. So the necessity to work hard in order to keep up with her more experienced co-stars (like Jack Lemmon and Eddie Adams) was a blessing in disguise, and one which she seized gladly.
Carol was reluctant to discuss the breakup for publication, but felt that if it had to be done, it would be better to have a personal friend write the story. “Please emphasize one thing,” she told me. “Basically it’s just a difference of personalities, plus the fact that we got married when I was very young. There’s no scandal, there’s nobody else involved on either side. People may try to see things in the separation that aren’t there, but that’s really all there is to it: Our personalities were just too different.” I listened without comment as she spoke.
I knew that while that was the basic reason, there was much more to it than that. And so, of course, did Carol. Apparently she read my thoughts, for she added, “Jim, you know the whole story, because you saw it happening. Just write the truth.”
My first question was about Jill’s custody. This was before Michael asked for custody in his divorce suit. Carol’s answer was particularly significant in view of later developments, for it showed that she thought she and Michael had worked that problem out.
“Oh, she’s with me. There’s no question about that,” Carol said confidently, adding that Michael would have liberal visiting rights. She continued: “It’s always difficult with a child involved, but . . . it just seems better to separate now rather than wait until she’s older and really understands a lot. It’s really not fair to raise a child in a home that’s not—uh—regular. . . .”
By “not regular” both she and I knew that she meant a home in which the parents are quarreling—as she and Mike had begun to quarrel. When the arguments became frequent and bitter, Carol finally decided that it was better to have Jill raised in a home with only one parent, if necessary—as long as that was the only way to keep the home happy and harmonious. Better than Jill’s being involved in constant friction.
“When you and Mike were married. you said you were planning to convert to Judaism. And you told me that this was your decision—that Mike himself was not particularly religious and wasn’t really as interested in Judaism as you were,” I reminded her. “Then later on you told me that you’d changed your mind about a formal conversion, because you already felt Jewish, and that the formalities weren’t necessary. You also told me that Jill would be raised in the Jewish faith. How does the separation affect that decision?”
“I still intend to raise her in the Jewish faith,” Carol said firmly.
“Which brings up an interesting point.” I told her, “since you were baptized a Catholic, and then married Michael in a civil ceremony—by a Justice of the Peace on December 30, 1960—rather than a Catholic ceremony, in the eyes of the Catholic Church you have never been married. So you could marry someone else at some future date within the Roman Catholic Church. How do you feel about that?”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t affect me at all, because I’m not a practicing Roman Catholic and am not concerned about those matters. As I told you, I feel Jewish. I still do. That’s closest to being the religion that I can identify with.”
I told her of her mother’s fear of being blamed for the breakup, and Carol assured me, “My mother had nothing to do with it.”
On the other hand—as Carol and I both knew—her problems with Mike were not free of the “mother-in-law problem.”
Mike’s father died several years ago, leaving Mike to support his mother and his younger brother and sister. The brother is a college student, and the girl is sixteen. From the very beginning, it became very clear to Carol that Mike was not only devoted to his mother, as any good son should be—he was also determined to keep her near him . . .
When Carol and Mike were first married, they rented a little one-bedroom apartment at the end of the subway line in New York City, out on Long Island. Mike was then a publicist with 20th Century-Fox, and Carol announced that she would make no pictures that couldn’t be filmed in New York, because she didn’t want to be separated from Michael. “Anyway, I hate California.” she said. And I knew this was true! For Carol has always disliked the hot sun. She was born and raised a New Yorker, and she wanted to stay there.
But Mike had other ideas. After leaving his job at 20th and taking a position at Paramount Pictures’ New York office for a few months, he again went job-hunting—and this time he accepted a position in Los Angeles, with the Arthur Jacobs publicity office. So Carol had to swallow her distaste for California and, dutiful wife that she was, move to the West Coast.
And so did his mother, his brother and his kid sister.
For a while, the five lived together in an apartment in Los Angeles. But as soon as they could, the newlyweds rented their own apartment in the San Fernando Valley, where apartments are reasonable—for they were trying to live on Mike’s income, as any normal couple would.
And Mike’s mother, brother and sister took an apartment right across the street.
By now Carol was pregnant. But Mike wouldn’t let her reveal the fact. He pointed out that if her pregnancy were known, she would possibly miss out on some acting jobs. And Carol herself was anxious to keep working as long as possible, sensing that acting was perhaps more important to her happiness than she’d thought. Several months of sitting alone in a Long Island apartment, looking at four walls and waiting for Mike to come home from the office every day, had shown her that cooking and dusting were not adequate to hold her interest. In New York she had resumed modeling, and in Hollywood—now that she had moved there—she wanted to act. Carol enjoyed acting.
“Finally, I began to look more and more pregnant,” she told me at the time she was expecting the baby, “so I’d say, ‘Honey, announce it! Please!’ But he thought we should wait. He’s a press agent, and it was very important to him to break the news properly.”
By “breaking the news properly,” Mike meant telling a columnist at the proper moment. As a press agent who had to keep in the columnist’s good graces because he was handling several clients, Mike was very careful not to offend her by giving the story to someone else. He had always made a point of staying friends, and he wanted to keep it that way.
But finally the magic moment arrived, and Mike informed the columnist—and through her the world—that the Selsmans would soon be three. By this time that fact had become perfectly obvious.
Soon after Jill was born—in a dangerous Caesarean operation, after Carol had waited many hours for a normal delivery—I visited the Selsmans in their small garden apartment. Carol had called for me in her car, and on the way she admitted to me that she and Mike had already had a number of arguments. Among other things, it seemed, he didn’t like the way she rolled up his socks after they were washed. He was very insistent that she get just the proper knack of doing it—not this way, but this way. If she did it wrong, he was very upset. Also, and not surprisingly, Carol didn’t always get along with her mother-in-law, who had definite ideas of her own on child rearing. But these were trivial things, or would have been, if it weren’t for the main problem: Mike’s general attitude.
We arrived before Mike got home from work, and as Carol prepared dinner she told me that she and Mike had managed to compromise on their tastes in food, which differed radically. Carol ate sparsely, and she was not a particularly good cook. And she admitted it, though she tried her best. So she prepared fairly simple food—things like meat loaves and chops—and when Mike yearned for the Jewish foods he’d been brought up on, he prepared them himself. Since Carol didn’t like Jewish food, when Mike had it she’d make herself something else.
At that time, the Selsmans didn’t have a nurse for Jill. Carol had brought the baby along in a Port-a-Crib when she picked me up, and now Jill was lying quietly while Carol prepared dinner. She seemed a very happy baby.
Soon Mike arrived home from work. He nodded to me, mumbled something inaudible, kissed Carol, and went over to the baby. He picked her up, felt her diaper, and told Carol, “Change the baby!”
He said nothing further, but went directly into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He’s quite a bug on cleanliness and likes to shower and wash his hands a lot, so I assumed he might be taking a shower.
Carol, who was in the midst of dinner preparations that required her presence in the kitchen and dining area, continued to prepare the food and set the table. After fifteen or twenty minutes, Mike came out of the bedroom, felt the baby’s diaper again, and said grimly, “You haven’t changed the baby!” I felt embarrassed when I heard the tone of his voice. I sensed it was no joking matter to him. And while I sympathized with his viewpoint, I didn’t see how Carol could take time out from her dinner preparations right then to change the baby—who wasn’t crying anyway.
Carol, trying to make the best of the situation in front of company, said something about having to get the dinner on the table and attempted to make a joke of the whole thing. But Mike simply glowered. When Carol told me, a year later, that their “different personalities” had made the marriage impossible, I remembered that moment.
At dinner, I kept trying to make conversation about Mike’s job and his plans. He told me that he had an option on a novel by a well-known Spanish novelist. and intended to make it into a movie as soon as he could find financial backing. As far as I could make out, he and a partner had plans for getting a government subsidy in one or more foreign countries with at least part of the picture to be filmed in Spain. Twenty-five-year-old Mike has had no picture experience, so I wondered how he could hope to get financial backing. One way I know is to have a well known star signed up.
So I asked, “Is Carol going to be in the movie?”
“Yes,” he said, looking at his blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned wife. “She’s going to play a Spanish peasant woman.”
Later in the evening, Mike continued to treat Carol in an embarrassingly unkind manner, until finally—when he went outside for some reason or other—Carol told me, “I want to apologize for my husband’s behavior tonight.” I couldn’t help feeling that it was Mike who should do the apologizing. Perhaps Carol should have put everything aside and changed Jill the moment Mike ordered her to. Perhaps her attempts to make light of his criticisms by treating them humorously merely aggravated the situation. But the fact remained that without his rude behavior toward her, she wouldn’t have been put in the position of having to make light of his remarks in order to make them seem less unkind than they were. I thought, “If he treats her this way in front of company, how in heaven’s name does he behave when they’re alone?”
And again, as I talked to Carol a year later in her dressing room on the “Yum Yum Tree” set, I thought of her words, “Our personalities were too different.” It was true—I saw it, Carol saw it. But apparently Mike thought the situation could go on indefinitely, even though there were times during the Selsmans’ brief marriage when they were not speaking to each other.
And there were other problems. With the neighborhood, for instance. One night Mike’s sister gave a party which got so wild she felt she had to call her brother to come over from across the street and throw the troublemakers out. Mike and Carol were so terrorized by these troublemakers that they had to move. They lived in a hotel until they found the house in Benedict Canyon.
And there were smaller problems. Smaller problems that began to loom big. With Carol’s hairdo, for instance. Mike just never liked her hairdo—no matter how she did it. In a desperate attempt to please her husband, she finally got him to show her a sketch of exactly the way he would like it and got the studio hairdresser to follow it. But that didn’t please Mike either.
Moving to Benedict Canyon solved one problem: They were out from under the eye of Mike’s mother. But Mrs. Selsman still cast a long shadow over the marriage. And moving didn’t resolve the basic differences that caused the disheartening arguments between Carol and Mike.
It wasn’t Carol’s increasing fame that broke up the marriage. It was her increasing heartache.
That day on the set Carol told me that she was sure she and Mike would have a “friendly” divorce, even though she had already been served with a surprise legal paper that she didn’t understand. She and Mike had talked their marital situation over the previous week, and when Carol told him they couldn’t go on the way they were and that they should separate, he had not tried very hard to change her mind. He seemed resigned to the fact that their marriage had, in fact, come to an end, and was apparently going to accept the situation. He was the one who went home to mother, moving in with his family again.
Meanwhile, she got the surprise of her life. Michael had served her with divorce papers, tying up her bank account at the same time because he declared that all her earnings to date (at least, during the period of their marriage) were community property. Mike wanted to share in her earnings for “The Cardinal” and “Under the Yum Yum Tree,” whereas Carol—who declared in her suit that they had no community property—never thought he would even try to claim any more than a share of their house, if that. (She had paid most of the money on the house.)
He also sought custody of Jill—the unkindest blow of all—claiming that Carol is not a fit or proper person to bring up the child.
“I’m really surprised at what Mike’s doing—I really am,” Carol told me, and I could see that she was stunned by this development. “I thought we’d worked out an understanding, and that there wouldn’t be any bad publicity. Now I don’t care—now that he’s trying to get the baby. My lawyer says Mike can never get Jill, and I won’t let him have my baby. I’m not an unfit mother! But just the fact that he’s trying is so unlike what we’d agreed we would do.”
Yet no matter what Mike Selsman does, Carol is determined to try not to hurt her husband’s name as he is the father of her child and she does not want the child to he hurt now or in the future. Mike Selsman. however, does not seem to share this decent, mature attitude. In addition to already having called her “not a fit mother,” there is the claim that a top producer-director urged Carol to get rid of her husband. Carol—and everyone who knows her—says this is utterly ridiculous, but “somehow” the item was leaked to a widely read columnist.
To yet another columnist (Mike Connolly) “someone” said that Carol was planning to do the movie-star bit by selling her Falcon and buying a Jag and selling her house for a bigger one. Carol denied thinking about an expensive new car, but she told me she was planning to sell the house in Benedict Canyon—but only because now that the baby is out of the crib-and-carriage stage, the location is too dangerous. There are no sidewalks, and heavy traffic zooms unheeding around the curves in the road in front of the house.
As of this writing, Mike has his lawyer planning to take depositions from a number of important people. Carol, on the other hand, doesn’t want to use any more information against Mike than is necessary to protect her custody of the baby and her property rights. There is information that she could use against him that she does not want to make public, she told me, and will try not to unless she is forced into it. She realizes that she and Michael will eventually have to try to be friends for Jill’s sake, so it is certainly better to avoid bitterness now as much as possible.
It is a difficult position for Carol, and a difficult time. The only person she’s turned to when she’s had to have an escort for business reasons is her agent. Ted Witzer, an old friend of both hers and Mike’s. “Poor Ted,” she sighed, realizing how much more could be made of that.
Apparently chivalry is dead where divorce is concerned, at least where money and a baby are involved, I thought to myself. I asked Carol, “With this latest development, and the prospect of a messy time ahead as you and Mike go through with your divorce suits against each other, do you regret that you ever married him?”
Without hesitation, she said, “Not at all! It’s helped to mature me. I didn’t know anything at all about the world until I got married. My marriage helped me to grow up. And above all, I have a wonderful baby whom I love very much.”
And so Carol says she’s willing to pay the price for her unhappy marriage, without regrets. But the price, if Mike Selsman has anything to say about it, may still be more than she bargained for.
You can see Carol in “The Yum Yum Tree” and “The Cardinal,” for Columbia.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1963