“It Just Didn’t Work”—Jeff Chandler & Marjorie Hoshelle
A tall young actor was sitting in his room in the Hotel Sherry-Netherland looking down on New York’s Central Park.
His name was Jeff Chandler, and he had come to the big city to do promotion work for a film, The Great Sioux Uprising, in which he was playing the lead.
This thirty-four-year-old giant with the deep bass voice and the prematurely grey hair should have been happy. After all, this was his home town. This was the return of the native, a classic example of the local boy who had made good to the tune of almost $3,000 a week.
Only Jeff wasn’t happy. He had just finished speaking to his wife in Hollywood, and Marge hadn’t changed her mind. She wanted a divorce. No hurry about it, but after seven years of trying, they both knew it was hopeless. Divorce was the answer.
Jeff got up and paced his room, and as he did, a soul-searing realization overwhelmed him—the more successful his career, the less successful his marriage.
In seven years he had worked his way up from nothing to full-fledged stardom, and in those same seven years his marriage had deteriorated into a series of bickerings, clashes, and almost constant domestic quarrels.
Meyer Mishkin rapped on the hotel door and entered. Meyer is Jeff’s agent. He hero-worships Jeff, his most profitable client, and spends most of his working day in an effort to convince the world that Chandler is the kindest, greatest, most talented actor on earth.
“Here is a for instance,” Meyer will explain to a reporter, “about Jeff’s versatility. You think he can only act? You’re wrong. Did you hear him with Peggy Lee on the radio? Nothing but sensational. She asked him to come back again. Not as an actor, as a singer. Chandler is also a singer, a great voice. He was in Chicago recently, plugging his picture. Vic Damone was on the stage. He called Jeff up. They sang a duet and brought the house down. Now they want Jeff to sign a recording contract. Make records. I’m telling you. The guy is sensational.”
Meyer Mishkin, the cheer leader, is also a perceptive man. When he entered the room, he knew at once that Jeff was unhappy.
“Just spoke to Marge,” Chandler said. He shook his head, and by that one movement, Meyer understood that between Jeff and Marjorie it was all over.
The following morning, the news came out of Hollywood. Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Chandler had decided to call it quits. The studio issued the brief announcement.
The truth, of course, is that Jeff and Marjorie decided to separate before he left for New York, but no one else knew about it.
While Jeff was on tour, he phoned Marge every night to ask about the children. In his heart, he hoped that he might effect a reconciliation.
When announcement of the Chandlers’ impending divorce was made in Hollywood, reporters, remembering that Mrs. Chandler two years before had called off divorce proceedings against her husband, wondered if she might not do the same thing again.
“This isn’t just a separation,” Jeff’s wife explained. “I think we’ve had it. Jeff has moved to an apartment in Westwood, and Tm here in the house with the children.
“What caused the break? Another woman? No, nothing like that. Nothing like that, at all. Just a bunch of little things. Incompatibility covers it. It’s been two years this month since we reconciled. We tried. We really did. Very hard. Call it differences in personality, temperament, outlooks. We just can’t see eye-to-eye on the things that count.
“Jeff is a wonderful man, and we’re both adjusting to the situation. No, I haven’t got a lawyer yet. The same lawyer I used last time? I don’t know. We’re going about this whole thing very slowly. There’s always time for a divorce. He’s in no big hurry to get one and neither am I.
“Will it be one of those Nevada quickies? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m sure it won’t. We’ll get the divorce in California.”
Marjorie Hoshelle Chandler was under contract to Warner Brothers long before her husband first set foot on a sound stage. She was asked if she contemplated a renewal of her career.
“I think so,” she said. “I’m the kind of girl who needs to be busy. I like to have a lot to do. With my children and any jobs I can pick up, I should keep occupied.”
“When you file for a divorce,” a reporter asked, “what will the grounds be?”
Marjorie thought for a moment. “I guess it’ll have to be one of those mental cruelty things.”
“You mean,” the reporter said, “that no one is going to give out with the real reasons.”
“It has been very nice speaking to you,” Mrs. Chandler said.
When Jeff was approached and asked to comment on the divorce, he shrugged his broad shoulders. “What can I say?” he asked. “It just didn’t work out.”
But there are others in Hollywood, friends and acquaintances of the Chandlers, who have much to say.
One radio actor, for example, who has known the Chandlers ever since Jeff got his start on the Our Miss Brooks show, says, “I think it’s a case of jealousy, pure and simple. Two acting careers in one family never work. Marge used to be much bigger than Jeff. So what happens? She becomes the wife and mother and he becomes the star and the celebrity. Unconsciously, she resents that.”
“Look,” an actress points out, “I know women, and I understand what makes them tick. Marge Chandler is the kind of girl who dies a thousand deaths every time Jeff hits the road.
“Marge Chandler has been in show business a long time. She’s nobody’s fool. She knows all the angles. She has friends. She hears what Jeff is doing wherever he is. She knows that girls go nuts over her guy. My feeling is that the minute she lost sight of Jeff, she began to worry.
“Mind you, I’m not saying this is exactly what happened between Marge and Jeff. I’m just suggesting the possibility based on my own analysis of the situation.”
In all fairness to Mrs. Chandler, it must be pointed out that when a man and wife separate in Hollywood, the person who is under contract to a studio usually receives the better press. Studios must protect their investments and cannot afford to have their stars subjected to close scrutiny.
This, for example, is what happened with Shirley Temple and John Agar. To this day, Agar has never given his version of their marriage and divorce. “I would never do anything to hurt Shirley,” he said.
Marjorie Chandler feels the same way about Jeff, which is why, in the interest of fair play, it is equitable to hear from a director who believes that in every marital failure, blame may be attributed to both parties.
“I like Jeff,” this director points out, “and as actors go, he’s a pretty nice guy. He’s level-headed. He has both feet on the ground, and he has a good mind. But let’s face it. He has changed. He has arrived.
“The guy has confidence in himself. He knows he’s a star. Whatever humility he once had—well, it’s gone. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s inevitable. Same thing has happened to a lot of kids who were born poor. They may deny it, but money makes a lot of difference to them. It introduces them to a new kind of life. Humility is not one of its large components.
“Jeff got himself a wonderful agent in Meyer Mishkin. What I’m waiting for is the day that Meyer goes up to Jeff and in all honesty says, ‘Jeff, you know that last performance you gave? Well, it wasn’t great.’ I’m waiting for that sort of objective appraisal. Idolatry is what most actors love and what they receive from the subordinates around them. Especially Jeff! He may step out of line once or twice, but who is going to tell him? Well, I think Marge told him and told him in candor and honor and objectivity. And I think his vanity was hurt. That’s how quarrels start, and sometimes they never stop.
“Also—and this is very important—there comes a point in a woman’s life when she realizes that her husband no longer needs her advice. He’s a big shot. He has got it made. His stardom is achieved and from here on in, if necessary, he can go it alone. There was a time when Jeff needed his wife’s advice, her encouragement, the benefit of her experience. That’s no longer true, and Marge knows it. The realization must hurt.
“Marriage is very tough for a career woman. She is torn by two instincts, the maternal one and the professional one. She wants fame, and still, she wants to take care of her children, to supervise their growing up. It’s very tough.
“I’ve been very long-winded about it, I know. But I just want to be sure that you don’t make Marge out to be all wrong and Jeff to be completely right. There is always that temptation when you write about a movie star. We forget that movie stars are also made of flesh and blood and have weaknesses as well as virtues.”
Now, Jeff Chandler would be the first to admit that. I remember not too long ago when he was discussing his first break with Marge. “A funny thing,” he said, “but success can be an influence in any separation. When you’re very poor you don’t have enough time to analyze and figure out why you’re not ecstatically happy all the time. You’re too busy making a living. When you do make a few bucks, you have some leisure to stand back and evaluate and criticize. One of my main troubles in my marriage was my moodiness. When something bothered me, I didn’t speak out; I clammed up.”
What hurts him most about the failure of this, his first marriage, is the effect it will have upon his children. Both he and Marge are children of divorced parents. Jeff’s youth, as a matter of fact, is something he has almost succeeded in blocking out of his consciousness. It was tragic, jammed with heartache, and he hates to think about it, much less to talk about it.
So more than anything else, he wants his two little girls to enjoy a normal childhood. If there should be another reconciliation, the welfare of his daughters would be his primary motivation. One of Jeff’s most acute little sorrows lies in the fact that he was separated from Marge and away from home when his daughter, Dana, began to mutter her first few words. It was Dana, too, who didn’t recognize her daddy in 1951, when he landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Marge and Jeff had decided on a reconciliation over the long distance phone. When Chandler pulled in from New York, Marge and the two girls were on hand to greet him. Only Dana had to be told who her daddy was.
A sensitive man, Jeff remembers all this with poignancy and pain. He remembers the glowing pride and the wonderful hope when, seven years ago, he and Marge were married in the home of their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Slottow, in Beverly Hills.
Jeff had been out of the Army only one year. He had practically no money, and Marge married him because she loved him and for no other reason. They spent their honeymoon in a motel out in North Hollywood. It was a small motel off Ventura Boulevard. No scenery. No de luxe accommodations. Only the smell of gasoline and the roaring of the trucks bound north for San Fernando. But they cherished every minute of it, and when it was over, they moved into a one-room apartment in Hollywood. No kitchen. One Murphy bed. A small hotplate. Seventy dollars a month and plenty of love.
The early years were the good years, so good, in fact, that the Chandlers were remarried in Glendale, a second ceremony just in case there had been some legal hitch in the first. And then there was the little house they bought on Jeff’s G.I. Loan, and the arrival of little Jamie, and Jeff’s contract at Universal and another deal at 20th Century-Fox. It all seemed too good to last. And it didn’t.
After five years and two daughters there was a separation. It lasted seven months, and in that time Jeff learned that he was in demand with the ladies. It was very flattering to have many of the biggest names in the business make a play for him. But as he says, “I found it was no substitute for marriage.”
So he called Marge from the east, and they both agreed to let bygones be bygones. Marge had bought a new home, and she introduced Jeff to the domestic staff. He felt a little awkward at first, especially with his new daughter, Dana, but gradually he got used to it. After three months, it seemed to all of the Chandlers that Jeff had never been away and they were very happy.
Then Chandler’s contract was renewed by Universal at a large increase. The studio rushed him into one picture after another. His fan mail tripled. He began to dream up a Jeff Chandler comic book. Demands for benefit appearances grew geometrically.
Jeff decided to branch out. He began to take singing lessons. And his marriage began to crumble. One columnist said it was because he worked too hard. Another expressed the opinion that Jeff’s agent who was also Marge’s, should spend less time praising Jeff and more time finding jobs for Marge. Other bystanders declared that Marge was jealous, Jeff was jealous, Marge was ambitious, Jeff was flirting, Marge was an extrovert, Jeff was an introvert, Marge was retrogressing, Jeff was developing, Marge was frustrated, Jeff was neurotic, and on and on ad nauseum.
Quarrels at the Chandler household became incessant and all of the Chandlers were unhappy. One night Marge and Jeff decided it was senseless to continue. Perhaps they were mismated. Whatever it was, their unhappiness was certain to tell eventually on their children. This, neither of them wanted.
Secretly, Jeff hoped to bring off another reconciliation via long distance telephone. In New York, just before he returned the coast to do Yankee Pasha, he learned that he hadn’t a chance. The die was cast and the announcement was made.
Fortunately, Jeff and Marge are mature, intelligent adults who decline to lead their private lives in public. As a result their marital difficulties have never inspired fault-finding, recrimination, or name-calling.
It is sorrow enough for both of them to realize that after seven years their marriage will end in a divorce court. This high price to pay for success, but it is the price Hollywood chronically demands.
—BY ALICE FINLETTER
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1953