Once In Love With Jane Powell . . .
This is a kind of anniversary in a way. A kind of double anniversary for Jane Powell. Just about the time you will be reading this article, Jane and her husband, Geary Steffan, will be celebrating their third wedding anniversary. And Jane will be celebrating her tenth year in Hollywood. It seems proper, then, to take a look back, as sentimental people do, and once again savor the high spots and laugh at the low. And, best of all, look closely at the present.
Well, the present, for Jane and Geary Steffan, is pretty ordinary, if you call things going according to plan ordinary. No great comedy or tragedy is current in their lives. But, as they took stock of things the other day, Jane and Geary sat and smiled like a couple of kids who were close to the last payment on the car or had just finished finally, after several seasons, getting rid of the snails-in the lawn. They weren’t smug, because anything can happen. But they were, never-the-less, serene in the knowledge that they had accomplished most of what they had promised themselves five years before and had overcome the hurdles they had expected to encounter.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Jane, “not just because we’ve been happy, because we expected that, but wonderful that we’ve done so much together and know each other better and have faced so many pitfalls together and still love each other so much.”
In any other town but Hollywood a young wife shouldn’t get a medal for being able to make that statement, but here she should. In Hollywood a marriage or a career can tumble as easily as a kid on his first pair of roller skates. The daily papers prove that. And even though it’s only been three years, several of the marriages of Joan’s. and Geary’s friends have long been dissolved and new alliances made. Jane and Geary Steffan may not be able to take bows because they’ve been married three years, but they can take them because they bet on a slow horse that’s holding his own in the backstretch. That’s the way Hollywood looked at their marriage. Being sensible, they faced up to it before the wedding day, and they can begin being a little cocky about what they’ve done.
The odds against Jane and Geary were pretty great, if you take a good look at the circumstances. Geary was a young fellow not long out. of the army with the whole wide world full of roads before him and no sign posts. By profession, actually, he was an ice-skater, and a good one, making a lot of money. Sonja Henie doesn’t pick dubs for partners and Geary, they say, was the best she ever had. The army had taught him to be two things, a soldier and a ski expert. And with a war over, there wasn’t even a 2nd Lieutenant’s salary in that. He was a boy without even a hobby he could get rich at, and he was in love with a girl making a lot of money, who couldn’t, because of her station in public life, be taken to live in a one-room apartment.
But Geary had two things—guts and pride. You can, however, tell that to the man in the corner grocery all day and he won’t let you take home a pound of bacon. The guts and pride had to be put to work before you could marry the girl, and they had to be put to work fast, because the girl was beautiful and the world, it seemed, full of suitors with a head start.
The romance between Jane and Geary began at their first meeting. Geary was not of the picture crowd, although an entertainer who had skated in a couple of pictures, but he did have a few pals who had turned to acting and associated with movie people. One of them was Marshall Thompson, a young fellow who was working at MGM. It was through Marshall that Geary met Jane. And their friends like to say they knew it was mutual enchantment at first sight. It was lucky for Geary that none of this younger set had a lot of money to spend. Contrary to popular opinion, young actors and actresses do not become millionaires upon the signing of the contract. So Geary was in his proper element and a suitable date for the pretty, young singer. Even if it wasn’t love at the first gander, it was something, because they went steady after that.
The first hurdle came a few months after they found out they really liked each other. Geary began to think things over and he knew he had to subtract the time he was in the service from his life and get a move on if he wanted to make something of himself. He had opportunities to be an actor, but he didn’t want that. He tried real estate and thought of a few other lines that might make a career. Finally, he decided on the insurance business. He knew that each year a man worked in insurance he built up a bit of an estate, because the big companies cut salesmen in on the continuing premiums. That was what Geary wanted. He was much more interested in the future than a fast dollar today. The best job he could find was in Chicago, so Geary moved there and said goodbye to his girl and his home town for he didn’t know how long.
A fellow makes mistakes, and Geary found out six months later that he had made one. His business was fine, but his life was pretty dull. Then fate, as it will, intervened. Jane Powell went to Chicago to make a personal appearance. Well, if Geary didn’t meet the plane, he got in touch with her right after. And for the three weeks Jane was there he never left her side. When she left town, it was a sad farewell. And when Geary was alone that night a terrible thought came to his mind. He wasn’t ready to marry Jane right now. He knew that. But suddenly he realized that if he stayed in Chicago, somebody else might. No man ever quit a job, packed a bag and headed for California faster.
As we said, just about now is also the tenth anniversary of Jane Powell’s start in Hollywood. She was just 14 years old and fresh from Portland, Oregon, where her life had been pretty full, for she is gregarious, makes friends easily and people are important to her. She was a beautiful child and a magnificent little singer. She was put under contract to MGM, but she made her first picture for Charles R. Rogers, an independent producer, a film that is now being seen on television called The Song Of The Open Road.
After the picture was finished, Jane went back to MGM and became lost in the huge plant. She wasn’t terribly important and she didn’t know many people, so she spent miserable hours sitting at home wishing she were out of it all and back in Portland with- her true friends, having the fun she used to have. But when school started, she perked up a bit, because she met a few kids who are still her closest friends, among them Elizabeth Taylor.
Like two kids from any ordinary school, Liz and Jane had an affinity that enveloped them completely. They’d get out in back of the school house and sit on the ground eating peanut butter sandwiches and talking about life, grown-up liberty and the pursuit of adult happiness. They’d talk about the men they’d marry and the crushes they had and the idiots who didn’t think they were gorgeous, dangerous women when they wore forbidden lipstick. The talks were so memorable to them that when Jane got married—and one of the dreams was fulfilled—Liz sneaked a peanut butter sandwich into her suitcase which said, in a beautiful and subtle way: “Well, it all came true.”
Jane grew up and became a star. She got more famous as each year went by. But she was a sensible girl and retained a close contact with the kids of her own age. There came a time when the MGM wardrobe department had to ask for instructions from the front office. Jane, it seemed, was supposed to be playing the tiny, elfish girl she’d always been in films, but the costumers were having a devil of a time keeping her from looking like a miniature can-can dancer. She was a woman now, for sure.
These were the things that Jane was accomplishing professionally—the things that belonged to the tenth anniversary. In her private life, though, we deal with three years, maybe four. She was 19 when she knew she was in love with Geary and wanted to marry him. Geary had joined an insurance firm in Los Angeles and, although he was progressing nicely, he knew darn well he was in no position to marry a girl who was making a fortune a week, even though he was madly in love with her. And she’d have married him if he wanted to take her to live in a tent. However, prodded no doubt by Jane, he bought an engagement ring and one night when he was driving her home he pulled the car over to the side of the road and put it on her finger. And they sat for a long while and had a sensible talk and tried to figure a way to tell her folks.
That was something they needn’t have worried about. They quietly let themselves into Jane’s house and tip-toed to her parents’ bedroom to see if they were awake. They were, and in a moment Jane was sitting on the edge of the bed and Geary was standing beside her as nervous as a burglar.
“Mother,” Jane said, determined to win her over, “we have something important to tell you.”
“Is that so,” said her mother. “Well, let me see the ring.”
The wedding of Jane Powell and Geary Steffan was a pretty fancy affair. It was a church wedding, celebrated the way a girl who knows she’ll only do it once would like to remember it. Liz Taylor was one of the bridesmaids and all of their close, long time friends turned out in fancy finery to make it a real gala occasion. And then they went to live in the apartment they’d picked out together and began a marriage that would be a model for any town. There were, of course, skeptics—as there still are—who said it couldn’t work. Mainly, they opined, because of the difference in careers and income. But Jane and Geary were determined it would.
A magazine article appeared in MODERN SCREEN a year after they took their vows telling why it would—and some of the things Jane and Geary said in that article make pretty sound sense. They pointed out that their marriage had not been consummated in an “adolescent romantic haze” and they outlined their plans for what they considered a suitable financial arrangement. They would split their expenses right down the middle—considering they both worked for a living—and Jane would be able to afford no more than Geary or vice-versa. They would, they said, attend only the night clubs that Geary could patronize sensibly and they stuck to it. As a matter of fact, Jane, who had a pretty penny in the bank, used to visit friends who lived in nice houses and almost cry because Geary wouldn’t let her buy one. They waited until he was able, and then bought a sensible, small home without most of the frills you generally find in a movie star’s home.
This doesn’t mean that Jane is a helpless little doll, unable to cope with most situations. As a matter of fact, generally when they have a business deal on of some kind—like the time they rented their apartment—Jane tells Geary to wait in the car and she goes in and drives a hard bargain. She got them to lower the rent on their first flat.
Now that they look back on the last three years, Jane and Geary have a good deal to be proud of. Geary Steffan is known in insurance circles as a real whiz. He’s the top salesman in the country with his company. Sure he sells insurance to people he meets in the movie business, but he’s like the fellow who joins a country club in any other town to meet prospects. That’s his line of work—and he’s proud to handle the accounts. The Steffans live better than most folks because they make more money than most, but Geary holds up his end and better.
The house they bought three years ago is now getting too small. They have a son, Geary Steffan III, and Jane is expecting another. They want, according to their own statement, four or five, and they definitely will not let Jane’s career interfere with their counting. Her career is important to her because she is an artist who should and must find expression—and it’s important to Geary, because, being a big part of Jane’s life, it makes her happy. Right now, with number two coming along, they are looking for a larger home, and Geary’s friends say that he looks at strangers in the street wondering if they’d be interested in a little insurance. Babies are just as expensive to raise in Hollywood as any place else.
It’s an astonishing thing, but even in what is obviously an ideal marriage, dissension arises from time to time and things have to be ironed out. Jane and Geary have a system for that, too. They sit down, when the need becomes evident, and tell one another their faults. Jane, for instance, found herself getting sick of sitting still while Geary explained something to her, with long pauses, without letting her get a word in.
“That’s a fine thing for an insurance salesman to do,” she said. “Maybe I have to wait until you make sure what you want to say and then find the words. But you’re going to bore prospects that way.”
Geary looked amazed for a minute, then grinned. “Hey, you’re right,” he said. “I’ve got to stop that.”
And if Jane picks up a habit that annoys Geary (like the time he watched her straighten up the living room and fluff up the pillows for the hundredth time, just as they were going to bed), he tells her about it.
She didn’t take it too well that time. She snapped back at him. Then he sat her down firmly in a chair.
“Look,” he said, “this is a very small thing, but it annoys me. And when I tell you, you get angry. Now it’s not a question of fluffing up pillows in the middle of the night, but of my being able to criticize you. If you get this sore over something small, what will you do if it’s over something big some day?”
Jane sat silent for a moment and then apologized. She hasn’t fluffed a pillow since, but more important, there has never been anything they can’t talk about since.
Yes, Jane Powell and her husband are happy, there’s no argument about that. But, like all Hollywood marriages, there have been rumors of friction. These things just happen here. Geary is still in the army reserves and likes to keep active in things military. That involves going away to camp each summer and spending a few evenings a month training at a local army establishment. And his business requires that he make calls on prospects quite a lot. People have said that they are apart too much. Columnists have reported them on the verge of separation.
They both accept these things pretty much as a matter of course because they don’t fool themselves about anything, especially Hollywood.
Recently Jane and Geary and Liz Taylor and her husband Michael Wilding went up to Las Vegas for a few days. Geary is always courteous, especially to the press, because Jane is in the public eye. But he won’t take a shoving around. The four got off the plane and a group of newspapermen were waiting. They chatted for a few minutes and a photographer showed up and wanted to take a picture.
“Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind,” Geary told him, “but it happens that both of these ladies are expectant mothers—and at that time no woman cares too much about having her picture taken, so if you’ll forgive us this once, we’ll be grateful.”
The photographer, a surly rascal, got huffy, and for a moment it looked like trouble. But Geary held his temper and escorted his wife to a car. Somebody should have told the photog that Geary’s dad was once the lightweight champion of the world and had taught his boy a thing or two about fist fighting, and that during the war Geary ski’d down an Italian mountainside at the head of 26 men to attack a German position and that he was one of only three that came back. At any rate, he didn’t get the picture and he’s fortunate he didn’t press his luck.
Geary Steffan loves his life now and he loves his Jane. He’ll work hard for his happiness. He and Jane figure they’ve got a good deal to be grateful for. It’s their anniversary just about now. Wish them well and help celebrate it with them.
—BY JIM BURTON
(Jane Powell can be seen next in MGM’s Small Town Girl.)
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 1952