Marriage Is Like This—Jane Powell
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Twenty-one-year-old Jane Powell grew up in Hollywood and her life has long been bound up with the glamour of the screen. But in her marriage to Geary Steffen, Jane is like any average American girl.
To capture the full flavor of her speech and personality, this story was taken down on a wire recorder as she talked, with the movie-strip pictures made at the same time.)
Geary and I had a long engagement. We waited for him to build himself up in a new profession so that he was completely self-sufficient. We became engaged on January 5, 1949, but we didn’t marry until eleven months later.
Both of us thought about our marriage and about marriage in general and about marriage in Hollywood in particular. Getting married isn’t all emotion, spring and flowers. Common sense enters into a successful marriage, too. And we came to certain decisions that we hope will keep our marriage safe from the average marriage pitfalls and also, the pitfalls of the picture business.
Before we tied the knot, it was essential for Geary to get settled in business. He never would have stood it otherwise. He wanted to select the kind of work that was right for him. He finally found he was happiest and most capable in the insurance business.
He was an ice skater and then he was in the Army. There’s no future to skating. Once you’re a skater, you’re always la skater and there’s nothing to do after you reach a certain age.
Geary, as you can see, doesn’t ever want I to live off me. That was our whole idea in waiting as we did. That may be the fault with some Hollywood marriages where one partner has earning power and position and the other partner is not doing quite as well. That is one rule we’re going to observe—both of us are going to have our careers and be successful at them. But we’re not going to compete with each other. Geary has never been in the picture business and does not want to be. The fact that Geary has nothing to do with pictures will be good for both of us.
Career and marriage, we think, can be combined. We’re going to have marriage with a career, not in spite of it.
You see, we believe in each other and in our mutual and outside interests. Geary doesn’t mind my being in this business at all and he never asked me to give it up and just be a housewife.
He says, “Why should you give up what you like and love when I don’t have to give up what I like and love.” He says my career should not interfere at all unless I have to start going out with someone for publicity or something. Which I never do. That’s the only thing that worries him. I told him he doesn’t have to worry about it because I never have to do it anyway.
These are some of the problems that have to do with Hollywood and the motion picture business. But actually, they’re not just peculiar to Hollywood. Other women have careers, too. And they get along all right. And, outside of Hollywood there are some girls who are quite wealthy and they marry boys who are just getting started. And sometimes they get along, money problem or no. And sometimes they argue about the same things that people who don’t have any money complications argue about.
I came to Hollywood from Portland, Oregon, when I was thirteen and I really grew up here. I think you can make growing up in Hollywood the same as in any other town, if you want to.
But, in my case, it was a little harder because I’d been used to going to grade school with all my chums and I’d been used to having little parties and all. But there I couldn’t because I had to go to school on the studio lot and there were only about fifteen of us in the class. But that’s about the only difference there was, that I didn’t know as many people as I did at home.
People outside of Hollywood think no one in Hollywood is ever happy, but it’s not true. The people in Hollywood have been publicized so much as being unhappy or wild that anything a person does in Hollywood is in the public eye, gets talked about, so consequently everyone thinks that Hollywood is a horrible place. But it really isn’t. The things that go on here, go on in all small towns. If you never hear about them happening in other towns it’s because those people are not in the public eye.
That’s one big problem that people in Hollywood do have to worry about. Hollywood exposes young people to the pitfalls of publicity and taking themselves too seriously. When they start believing their own publicity, good or bad, it’s very bad because it can hurt a marriage.
I agree that we, in Hollywood, are better off financially than most people outside of Hollywood. But we also have a great overhead that other people don’t have, mostly income tax that everybody has, but ours is much greater. And you have to wear better clothes, go to nicer places and do things other people don’t have to do.
Since Geary and I have been married, however, we’ve managed to live on the budget we set for ourselves. That is one of the reasons that we are living in a four-apartment building. We have a living room, two bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen and breakfast room. I brought my desk from home, our oversize bed was a wedding present and so were many of the other things with which we furnished our apartment. We have traditional English furniture, mahogany. The walls in our living room are blue-gray, and our red davenport sits beneath the painting which was Geary’s Christmas present to me. The rugs are gray and the rough texture fabric of the drapes is off-white. We didn’t make any of the drapes but I did shop for everything and we did nothave a decorator.
My kitchen is red and white and it gleams with my copper-bottom pans. Cooking and I were no strangers because I have been cooking for a long time. Until I started work, I did all the shopping and cooking myself. We now have a part-time maid. I get up at 6:30 and Geary gets up at the same time—so we can have breakfast together. Then Geary studies until it is time for him to go to work.
We like to entertain but, because of our budget, we do it simply. For instance, just before I started “Tender Hours,” Geary and I took some friends to the ice hockey games and then brought them back for a buffet supper. I had my table all set so that all I had to do to my table was light the candles. I had made the spaghetti sauce, had my salad greens ready and my dressing made. Then while the spaghetti was cooking I mixed my salad. I had made some brownies in the afternoon and this, plus a big fruit compote, already mixed and in the refrigerator, was our dessert.
As well as budgeting our money, I have to budget my time, too. Even when I’m not busy on a picture, in addition to doing all my own housework, shopping and cooking, I also take dancing and singing lessons. In addition to this, there are publicity pictures and stories to do.
To date, ours is a smoothly running household. The only trouble we have is with Demi (short for demitasse), our Siamese cat. Although we have a bowl of water for him in the kitchen, he prefers to drink out of the flower bowls. And often, I come home at night to find the flowers scattered about the dining room and the yarn I have put away carefully on a shelf draped all over the couch.
When we are not working, Geary and I just have fun. As I mentioned, we have people over to the house or we visit our friends. Sometimes we go swimming at someone’s house or square dance. We don’t go to the late spots unless there’s someone we particularly want to see.
We like to listen to records; we have a collection of more than 5000 of them. Lily Pons and Lauritz Melchior are our favorites. We go to the movies once a week. We’ve only been to see one of my pictures, “A Date with Judy.” I guess Geary liked it very much. He was proud, I think. He was quiet all during the performance. He’s soft-spoken anyway and doesn’t talk about things too much. I could tell he liked it.
We’re both fond of sports, skiing, water skiing, tennis, skating, and spend much of our free time at those activities. When we got married, we decided to pattern our marriage away from our careers. We leave our work at the studio and office at the end of the day.
In years to come I hope to be able to combine concert work with my movie job. I want to travel to all parts of the world and I hope that such concert tours will take me there. Geary wants to travel, too, and we plan to do so together when he builds up his business to the point where he can take trips with me.
As for the people we associate with, they’re mostly happily married. Fortunately, we have been around people that are happy. We go out with a lot of non-professionals and the younger movie crowd like the Marshall Thompsons, Bill Williams and Barbara Hale, Elizabeth Taylor, Conrad Hilton and Roddy McDowall.
There was a lot of gossip before our marriage saying that we weren’t getting along, that our parents didn’t get along, but none of that was true. Geary and I have never argued about one thing: and our parents, well, we’re always going to their house for dinner. And they’re always coming to our house and there’s never been any dissension. How a rumor like that gets started, I’ll never know.
There were several things I learned while Geary and I were going together that are helping our marriage along now. One is never to leave an argument unsettled. The other is not to let little things bother you. I was, I guess you would say, temperamental, a little critical of people. And Geary has helped me out of that so much. I see people in a different light now and little things don’t bother me as they did. I’m happy, too, that makes a big difference in everything.
—BY JANE POWELL recording for Ezra Goodman
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1950