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Jane Powell’s Strange Interlude

The prophets of gloom and the countless members of the I-Told-You-So League have gathered to mourn the passing of the Jane Powell-Gene Nelson love affair. Undoubtedly, you have read their comments

“That Gene Nelson! Why doesn’t he marry the girl?”

“Right at the start, I knew no good would come of it.”

“I feel sorry for Jane, but it serves her right for leaving her husband.”

“Maybe Geary Steffen wasn’t glamorous, but at least he loved her. How long can she say the same about this dancing fellow?” That’s the kid of post-mortem currently making the rounds in Hollywood.

At this writing, even though they have separated, Jane Powell and Gene Nelson are still in love. Eventually, if this love stands the test of time and the test of separation, they hope to, get married.

“We have decided,” Jane announced through her studio last November, “that this is the best thing for both of us at this time. We hope that the situation can be worked out, but in the meantime we both will be seen with other people.”

The significant part of the announcement is, “We hope that the situation can be worked out.”

No one said, “This situation is hopeless. Gene and I have decided that we’re finished. We have no intention of seeing each other again.”

All of this means simply that Jane and Gene have decided on a trial separation to test their love.

They must find out what their lives would be like without each-other. They want to date other people in order to evaluate the constancy of their affection for each other. Before they plunge ahead into second marriage, they want to be as sure as possible that they are right.

Jane married the first young man who came into her life. Before she met Geary Steffen (Marshall Thompson introduced him) she had a successful career in Hollywood. But that’s all she had.

“I have no real friends here,” she used to say. “If you don’t drink, smoke or go partying, you’re left to yourself. I’d like to get married.”

She was unhappy at home; her parents were involved in divorce; she was drowning in loneliness, she felt that she was a wayfarer between two worlds; and she unwittingly used her marriage to Geary Steffen as an escape. Maybe that’s one reason the marriage didn’t last.

Of course there were lots of reasons. Although Jane had been miserable at home, she found that marriage per se is not the answer. From the outside her marriage to Geary Steffen looked idyllic, but Jane didn’t find it easy.

That was the situation when she started working on Three Sailors And A Girl. That’s when she fell in love with Gene Nelson. And that’s why Jane left Geary and Gene left Miriam.

Jane doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice. She doesn’t want to try to escape from an intolerable situation by the first route she finds open to her—only to find her situation intolerable again. Gene Nelson agrees.

That’s why they are not seeing each other for a while. They have not made a permanent break. The day after MGM issued Jane’s statement, Gene telephoned her to say, “Darling, I think I’ll go down to Palm Springs for a few days. The phone’s been ringing like mad. Everyone wants to know about you and me. You’d think the world had come to an end.”

That Saturday, Gene had custody of his little son. He went fishing with Chris in the morning, took him to a horse show in the afternoon, returned him to Miriam that night.

A day later, Gene was down in the desert, away from it all. He takes flying lessons and he managed to add four hours in the air to his log. From Palm Springs he called Janie again, just to find out how she was. Does this sound like a final, conclusive break?

Jane couldn’t go to Palm Springs because she was rehearsing for a picture. She went to the Julius Caesarpremiere and the Mocambo and the annual Screen Photographers’ Ball escorted by Pat Nerney, the former husband of Mona Freeman.

Twice during the evening, she ran into her former husband, Geary Steffen. Somehow or other Steffen always seems to be seated near Jane. At the Photographers’ Ball with Ann Alexander, he sat right next to Jane. Jane asked to be moved.

“I don’t mind these things myself,” she says, “but it is sometimes embarrassing to my escort and the other people around.”

If Jane wanted Geary back, she could probably have him. Apparently, however, Jane is determined to maintain her freedom for a while.

It cost her a great deal. In the divorce settlement, she gave Geary three lots worth $15,000 adjoining their apartment house in North Hollywood. She gave him a $16,000 note which she has been paying off at the rate of $200 a month plus interest. She agreed to assume all the financial obligations and liabilities of the marriage, including income tax. Geary got his insurance business (in which policies on Jane’s life are a major asset) stock in an automobile business, and some other financial advantages.

Jane Powell’s lawyer was against this kind of financial settlement, but Jane was adamant.

She believes in making firm decisions and plans and acting on them at once. She cannot abide temporizing and indecision. Gene Nelson goes slowly.

At the cost of half her worldly goods and some debts, on August 6, 1953, Jane obtained an interlocutory divorce decree scheduled to become final on August 6, 1954. She assumed that Gene would follow suit and that his wife would file for divorce a few weeks later. At this writing it hasn’t happened. That’s the “situation” which Jane mentioned in her announcement.

Gene Nelson has been discussing divorce with his wife for months. Through her attorney, Bernie Silbert, Miriam Nelson has agreed to give Gene a divorce “but she wants a fair and equitable settlement for herself and their child.” She wants 25% of his gross earnings and a minimum of $450 a month as a guarantee.

Gene says, “The way my lawyer figures it out, that comes to about 65% of my net income. I think that’s a little too stiff. I don’t see how I can pay that and have enough money left to support another household. I don’t want to go into another marriage and get behind the eight ball, psychologically, because I can’t hold up my end of the expenses.”

In other words, Nelson doesn’t ever want to find himself in Geary Steffen’s position.

“I can’t commit myself to an agreement,” he says, “in which I am prevented, financially, from re-marrying.”

What does Miriam Nelson have to say about all this? “I’m not talking to anyone about Gene and me,” she states. “Ever since he and Jane decided to stop seeing each other for a while, my phone has been buzzing every few minutes. Reporters want to know if Gene and I are reconciling. They should ask Gene, not me.”

Just before Gene took off for New York to appear on Omnibus, he said, “There’s been no breakup between Jane and me. We sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk. We’ve been seeing an awful lot of each other, maybe too much. I’ve got problems to solve and at the same time I’ve got to go on making a living and planning for the future.

“I want to do what’s right for everyone. I explained that to Jane. She’s a wonderful girl. She understands. She’s willing to give me time to put my house in order and to take the steps that have to be taken.

“Under these circumstances, it wouldn’t be fair for her to sit around, twiddling her thumbs, waiting for me and my lawyers to reach a decision, if a decision can be reached. She’s entitled to do anything she wants to do. It certainly is not fair for nopolize her time, and I know it.

“We decided that until I straighten out my affairs, it will be best if she dates other fellows. She’s a free agent now, and perhaps she’ll come across some guy she’s nuts about. Then again, maybe she won’t. But certainly, she’s entitled to the opportunity.”

Jane, on the other hand, would be satisfied to continue dating Gene on an exclusive basis if only he would reach some financial settlement with his wife.

Jane doesn’t say this but it’s hard for her to understand why—since she was willing to give Geary Steffen practically everything he asked for—Gene isn’t willing to do the same thing. She feels that Nelson should give Miriam what she’s asking for, get his divorce, and then make plans with her for a 1954 marriage.

Gene, on the other hand, knows that he must be able to support two households. But his lawyer and Miriam’s had reached an impasse and Jane, having divorced her husband, ostensibly to marry Gene, was finding her position untenable.

Gene asked for the right to work things out in his own way without pressure.

Jane said okay, but she just wasn’t going to be caught holding the bag. Suppose Gene didn’t get a divorce? Suppose the financial settlement was never reached? What was she supposed to do?

It was then that both Jane and Gene decided to stop seeing each other until Nelson can work out his problem. Once he decides what he wants to do, he and Jane can take up where they left off, provided Jane finds no new loves in the interim.

Once they reached this decision, Jane, forthright as ever, said, “I’m not going to sit around the house waiting for Gene to make up his mind. I know he can’t help feeling like this about things. I know he wants to be sure, and maybe I’ve been pressing him too hard, but while he’s making up his mind, I’m certainly going to have other dates.

“Stories to the effect that we’ve had a big fight are not true. It’s just that the timing has been bad. Our agreement not to see each other for a while was a joint decision. We’re not mad, and we feel friendly toward each other. I speak to Gene on the telephone all the time.”

Gene Nelson may well worry about his financial status. Last year, after grossing $43,000, he had a net of only $14,000. If he were to give his wife 25% of his total earnings, he would wind up with about $8,000.

Now, $8,000 is not an awful lot of money for a Hollywood star. As a single man Gene might get along on that sum very well—he has gotten along on much less—but that $8,000 annual income would look extremely small in comparison to Jane Powell’s earnings. Her Metro salary is $2,500 a week and in night clubs she’s good for as much as $10,000 a week.

Gene has no intention of becoming “a kept husband.” He is also worried about having two careers in one family. Miriam obligingly broke up her career to give all of her time to being Mrs. Nelson when Gene got his Warner Brothers contract. Jane has had a career all her life and she has no intention of renouncing it.

Jane feels that love and the togetherness of marriage will solve these problems. She’s impatient, but she’s willing to give Gene all the time he needs to make his final decision.

If he takes too long, he may lose her. This is a risk they are both willing to take. Jane is gambling that her presence will strengthen Gene’s resolve to get a divorce. If her strategy doesn’t work, she is prepared to take the consequences.

As a friend of hers recently remarked, “it’s better to have loved and lost than to have lived only in a vacuum.”



(You may see Jane Powell in MGM’s A Bride For Seven Brothers.)



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