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Janet Leigh: “I’ve Never Had A Birthday Party”

Janet Leigh shifted a little uneasily before settling back into the black leather seat of their convertible. “Kelly’s mother is getting slower and slower these days,” she laughed gaily, smoothing out her blue trapeze maternity dress as she waited for her husband to start the car. She looked at Tony, and noticing his nervous fumblings with the ignition key, she realized he hadn’t even heard her.

“You seem to be lost . . .” she started to say, but something made her hold back. I mustn’t criticize, she thought. He’s been working so hard these past weeks. Instead she waited patiently for him to adjust the seat, start the engine and back the car out of their winding driveway.

“You know,” she said, finally breaking the silence, “I’m a little surprised at Debbie . . . I mean, I don’t understand why she couldn’t leave Carrie for a few minutes. Did I tell you? She called up this afternoon to wish me a happy birthday. I asked her over, but she said Eddie’s still in Las Vegas and Carrie had a cold. Do you think we could stop by now, for a second, on our way to dinner?” she asked.

“I don’t think we’ll have time, Jan,” Tony answered, checking his watch against the car clock. “But after all, it was up to Debbie to get over . . .”

“Oh, that’s not fair, Tony,” Janet interrupted defensively. “You know Debbie would have if she could.” And then a car pulled out in front of them and she shouted: “Watch out, Tony!”

“I see him,” Tony assured her and with a sharp twist of the steering wheel, he turned the car into Santa Monica Boulevard.

“Mind if we stop at Martindale’s Bookstore?” he asked. “I promised to pick up a new golf book for Dino.”

“Now?” she asked, a little incredulous. “Couldn’t we do it when we go shopping tomorrow morning?”

“It’ll only take a minute.”

Tony was gone ten minutes before she saw him in the car rear-view mirror, coming out of the bookstore.

“Had trouble finding a copy,” he called out, half-running toward the car and waving the book in his hand.

“You know you were in there at least twenty minutes?”

“Ten,” he flipped back, smiling. “Next stop, La Scala. Dino said they were going to have dinner there. It’s just across the street. How about stopping in for a few minutes and dropping the book off?”

“I’ll wait here, Tony,” she answered, “or we’ll really be late.”

“Ah, c’mon, honey, just to say hello. You haven’t seen Dino and Jeanne for a while. We won’t stay long,” he begged, and she could never refuse him when he looked at her that way.

“Oh, all right,” she said finally, but added: “It’s 7:30—we’re already late for dinner.”

Then Tony did something she’d never seen him do before. He opened the door and ran on ahead, leaving her to get out and find her way among the parked automobiles.

What’s wrong with him today? she asked herself, somewhat annoyed, and gave a forced smile to the doorman who greeted her. “Good evening, Mrs. Curtis,” he said, opening the restaurant door. “Mr. Curtis just went in.”

“I know he did,” she answered, telling herself: Now, Janet, keep calm. As she entered, Tony popped out of a side door, motioned for her to join him and playfully knocked two hanging Chianti bottles together before disappearing back into the room.

“Tony, what’s the matter with you today?” she asked sharply as she caught up with him. “All this fuss about seeing Dino. I’ve . . .” and then, without warn- ing, even though Tony’s smile should have told her, she heard Dino singing, “Happy birthday to you” and Joan Collins and Lauren Bacall called out “Surprise! Surprise!” and the room was filled with her friends and Tony kissed her and all she could do was stand there and say: “Oh, Tony. Oh, To-ny.” Then she started to cry and between tears tried to explain to them all—“I’ve never had a birthday party before.”

Wiping her tears, she suddenly spotted Debbie Reynolds and without thinking, blurted out: “But what about Carrie? I thought she was sick?” And then she realized why Tony wouldn’t stop by the Fishers’. “You knew all the time Debbie was going to be here, didn’t you?” she laughed.

“And you didn’t want to stop by for my book either, did you?” Dino Martin teased. “That’s how much you worry about my golf game!”

And all Janet could do was blush with embarrassment, finally saying, “But Tony kept me waiting fifteen minutes . . .”

“Twenty minutes last time,” Tony interrupted. “Woman, you always exaggerate.” And Dino explained that Tony was forced to delay her because they were ten minutes early, and Janet collapsed again into laughter. “That’s why . . .” she gasped. “It’s all your fault that I got mad at Tony,” she threatened Dino, and Tony escaped into the kitchen to get Janet’s surprise birthday cake.

“Why do they make matches so short?” he said nervously to the manager as he lighted the candles on the twenty-pound birthday cake he had designed himself. It was pink and blue with a border of sixteen white candles. “You’d better light the rest or I’ll burn the whole thing up,” he said handing over his pack of matches, “before we even take the cake in.”

Here comes the cake, here comes the cake,” sang Judy Garland as Tony wheeled it in, and Dino and Sammy Davis, Jr., joined in and for an encore: “Happy birthday, dear Janet, Happy birthday to you.”

“Do you realize, Hon, how much it would have cost to get that trio to sing for us? I thought it would be cheaper to feed them,” Tony kidded.

“That’s what you think,” shouted Sammy. “Wait ’til you see us eat!”

Tony watched Janet, her every move, as she looked at the cake and her eyes filled with tears. She’s lovely, he thought. Her eyes glowed, and her smile, lighting her whole face, told everyone more than words how she felt. She always talks with her hands, he noticed, when she’s excited. His expression softened as he thought, We’ve been married seven years . . . seven years goes fast when a marriage is good . . . when two people try hard to make it work. That’s the wonderful thing about Janet. She’s never really so satisfied she doesn’t keep trying to make ours better. . . . She’s reaching for something, just as I am. He smiled as he watched her bend over the cake and clasp her hands together. She looks like a little girl, he thought. He had told her that yesterday and she had thought he was teasing her, but he wasn’t.

He had never thought of giving Janet a birthday party before. In fact not until a month before did she tell him she’d never had one—when they were talking about giving a big party for Kelly’s second birthday and had flown back from New York earlier in order to get things ready for it.

“This is her first party so everything must be just right,” Janet insisted, as they planned the games and prizes and party favors and guest list. “How’d you get to be such an authority on the subject?” he’d teased.

She was silent for a minute. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “I—I never had a real birthday party with other kids and games.”

That’s when Tony began planning tonight’s party. I’ve never had so much fun planning anything before, he thought, watching Janet.

“Oh, it’s lovely, just lovely,” she was saying. “It’s the loveliest cake I’ve ever seen. I won’t want to ever cut into it.”

“What does it say?” Lauren Bacall asked.

“Happy birthday Janet,” she answered, giggling. “But it has a small house . . .”

“With the way you’re expanding your family, it’d better be a big one,” quipped Sid Luft.

“. . . and it has a car with Doc written on it . . . and, let me see, trees, and our Benedict Canyon mountains . . . and,” she burst into a radiant smile, “here’s the stork.”

“Carrying what?” asked John Forsythe.

“A purple-people eater,” quipped Sammy Davis, but Janet was so preoccupied that she answered seriously: “No, it’s a baby.”

“Boy or girl?” Tony asked with a laugh.

And turning, her eyes meeting his, she smiled, “It’s your design. You tell me.”

Janet started counting the candles, pointing with her finger, missed one and began all over again, and suddenly she wasn’t smiling any more and Tony thought she was going to cry.

“Blow hard,” Jerry Gershwin called. “You have to blow all the candles out to get your wish.” Janet took a deep breath.

Then in an excited voice, with all the magical belief of a child, she announced happily: “I get my wish! I get my wish! I blew them all out!” And throwing her arms around Tony, she gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek while Tony, almost bashfully, answered with: “C’mon, honey, let’s eat.”

Oh, look, Tony,” Janet pointed as they sat down at one of the five large round tables that Tony had especially decorated for the party, “There’s a telegram under my plate.” Ripping it open, she said, “It’s from Las Vegas . . . oh, from Rosie and Jose Ferrer” and with Tony leaning over her shoulder she read their regrets that Rosie’s engagement at the Sands Hotel prevented them from attending. “But it was sweet of them to wire, wasn’t it?” she said and tucked the telegram safely into her pocketbook so she wouldn’t forget it.

“The Sands Hotel should see this act,” Tony laughed and pointed.

“Where?” she asked, then laughed, too, as her eye wandered past the waiters carrying huge trays of antipasto, to Dean, weaving in and out among the tables, strumming an imaginary guitar and suddenly bursting forth into a lusty Italian folk song.

“Hmmm, that singing waiter has possibilities, doesn’t he, Tony?” Janet kidded as Dino ended his song with a deep bow in her direction and began another.

Finally when Gregory Peck put on a recording of Frank Sinatra’s “Wee Hours,” he threw up his hands in mock irritation and retreated to his table.

“Don’t feel bad, Dino,” Jeanne Martin teased. “Look at the menu.”

“Main course: Choice of Chicken Dean Martin or Sausage and Peppers a la Tony Curtis,” he read aloud. “What’d you order, Janet?”

“Sausage and peppers, of course,” she answered.

“Pardon me, Mrs. Curtis,” said the headwaiter over her left shoulder, “there’s a phone call for you in the lobby.”

“Saved by the bell,” she punned as she followed him out of the room.

“Who is it?” she repeated. “I can’t hear you . . .” and then gave a loud shout of recognition. “Mother! How are you? Yes, it’s wonderful. You mean you knew . . . all the time you knew and you never told me? I wish you and Pops could have come. Know what Tony gave me? A beautiful silver toilette tray that I can hook on the side of the bathtub . . . with dozens of little compartments where I can store all those little things I keep losing. Luxurious, huh? Who’s going to polish it? Why, Tony, of course . . . at least on my birthdays, he said. Kelly? . . . just fine. Me too. And Dad? Give him my love. . . . I will, both to Tony and Kelly. Right. ’Bye—and thanks for calling. ’Bye.”

She stood for a moment in the quiet lobby, her hand still resting on the phone. She always felt a little homesick after talking to the folks. But a loud burst of applause from outside brought her back and she went out to see what was happening.

“Jan, you missed Tony’s magic tricks,” Joan Collins said.

“One advantage of being married to the magician is that you can always catch the act later at home,” she laughed and went over to where Tony was sitting quietly at one of the side tables. “Why so serious?” she asked, placing her hand in his.

“Oh, just thinking . . . remember where we were on your birthday last year?”

“Yes, in Europe, shooting ‘The Vikings.’ Seems so long ago, doesn’t it,” she answered, then brightening. “Guess who that was on the phone? Mother. She said you’re to be congratulated on being able to keep a secret from me. She never could. And what a secret!” she said, looked happily around the room and kissed him on the forehead.

Tony looked up anxiously, “Feeling all right? How’s the baby? Maybe we should think about going home. It’s after two.”

Here, let me carry those packages for you,” Tony offered as Janet started gathering up her presents.

“I can’t wait to get home and open them . . . it’s just like Christmas,” she laughed.

“And here’s the guest list,” Tony said, handing her a large white card, “for your scrapbook.” And Janet read:

Judy Garland and Sid Luft

Dean and Jeanne Martin

Mr. and Mrs. Sammy Cahn

Joan Collins

Oscar and June Levant

Sammy Davis, Jr.

Lauren Bacall

Debbie Reynolds

John Forsythe

Jackie and Jerry Gershwin

Jay and Judy Cantor

Pat Newcomb

John Foreman

Warren Cowan

Henry Rogers

Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Donen

Mr. and Mrs. Harold Mirisch

Veronique and Gregory Peck

“Oh, Tony, what a wonderful souvenir,” and she carefully slipped it into a large box to keep it from crushing.

“And, oh, we must bring Kelly a piece of birthday cake,” she remembered. “Let’s cut some right now. And another one for Debbie to take home for Carrie,” she added, wrapping the cake in a napkin.

“Okay, all set,” she said, slipping her arm through Tony’s as they walked toward the door. “’Nite, George,” she called to the waiter. “Dinner was marvelous. I’ll be down one of these days to bribe you into giving me some of those recipes. And I felt real elegant—white linen tablecloths—no checked ones tonight! Thanks for everything.”

“Hey, look, Jan,” Tony said, pushing open the door and pointing to their famous guests lining the curb pitching pennies! “Gambling is against the law,” he kidded them, “. . . and that includes penny-pitching.” Turning to Janet, he asked: “Feel lucky tonight?”

“Do I!” she laughed, putting out her hand, “Just give me some money,” and clutching a handful of coins, she ran over to join Veronique Peck and Joan Collins, who were tossing the coins against the side of the restaurant wall.

“Pennies,” scoffed Sammy Cahn, from the other side of the walk where the men had gathered. “We’re playing for high stakes over here, Tony—quarters! C’mon over and try your luck.”

“A quarter’s about all the change Jan left me,” Tony said, as he took his place at the curb.

Both teams were silent as a new game began and, except for the noise of early-morning traffic along the Boulevard, the only sound was a dull metallic ring as each coin struck the cement wall before falling to the sidewalk.

Suddenly the quiet was shattered as the ladies’ team began to argue!

“Wasn’t that mine . . . ?”

“No, I think it belonged to me. . . .”

‘I’m sure it was mine,” Tony heard Janet’s voice above the others.

“Hey, girls! What’s happening over there?” Tony called.

“We need an umpire,” laughed Joan Collins. “Everybody’s claiming the winning penny.” And then Janet’s gay voice rang out again: “After all, whose party do you think this is anyway?”

“Birthday or no birthday,” Veronique said, trying to stifle her laughter, “that doesn’t make you the winner. We’ll just have to play that game over again,” and the rivals scrambled for their pennies. The men suspended their game to watch as each girl, serious and determined to win, stepped up to the edge of the sidewalk, gauged the distance, then shut her eyes and threw.

“You’d think a movie contract was at stake,” laughed Stanley Donen to Jerry Gershwin, but he was the first to call out: “Who won?” as the last penny was thrown.

“Me!” Janet cried. “I’m vindicated—that must have been my penny before because I’ve won again,” she said excitedly, “. . . and all fair and square,” she added, emphasizing each word with a nod of her head, then bent down and scooped up her winnings. “We’d better go while I’m ahead,” she called to Tony and ran over to him, “Look, six cents,” she said proudly, “how’d you make out?”

“Never mind about that,” he answered. “A loser never talks. Besides, it’s almost three in the morning. I’ve got to get you and the baby home,” and he hustled her over to the car.

“Goodnight everyone,” she called back as Tony opened the car door for her. “And thanks for everything.”

Let’s drive with the top down,” she suggested and with a long, contented sigh, leaned her head against the back of the seat and smiled up at the stars. “What a wonderful, wonderful night,” and she looked toward Tony. He leaned over, put his arm around her shoulders and kissed the tip of her nose. “I’m glad you had such a good time,” he said, “I planned it that way,” and started the car as Janet turned to wave a final goodbye.

“Wasn’t it nice of Norma Shearer to stop by?” she said as they drove along the quiet, tree-lined streets. “Just think, Tony, if it hadn’t been for her, I wonder where I would be now . . . I’d never have met you . . . wouldn’t have Kelly or all those wonderful friends . . . never made a movie . . . and would never have had my birthday party,” she finished in a tender voice.

They drove in silence for a while before Janet said in a low voice, “You know what made me feel proudest tonight? That all those people—Greg and Veronique, Judy and Debbie and Sammy and Dino and Jeanne and everyone else—wanted to share my birthday with me. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if there ever was a Jeanette Helen Morrison from Stockton, California . . . shy and lonely and so unhappy because she wasn’t pretty or popular. How I used to envy other kids their friends and homes and pretty clothes. I never, never dreamed then that my life could be this happy,” she said with a catch in her voice. “We’ve come a long way together, haven’t we, Tony?”

And putting her head on his shoulder, she said softly: “Let’s take our favorite ride home.”





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