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Pal Peter Lawford

About fourteen years ago a boy in London wrote a fan letter asking for an autographed picture to a boy in Hollywood who happened to be in pictures. The English boy, too, had had rather a brilliant career in British movies, unfortunately cut short by a law which was passed prohibiting children under fourteen from working for stage or screen, The English boy received his picture from some dutiful secretary, for the American lad was all of eleven, then. And that was that.

Frankly, I don’t remember the incident. Although the letter was sent to me, I never saw it. But I certainly believe it happened because it was told to me by its writer, who now is my best friend and whose word I would take on anything. His name? Peter Lawford.

Quite a guy, Pete. I’ve never shared so much with a friend as I have with Pete during the past year and a half. He’s the first guy my own age—he’s a year younger than I—that I’ve ever had as a pal. Most of my friends were always quite a lot older. And he’s my first close friend who is also in pictures; I’ve always seemed before to pal with non-professionals. Additionally, each of us is an only child and always missed having a brother; our friendship seems a compensation on that score.

Shortly after we met at Lynn Bari’s and Sid Luft’s home we discovered that temperamentally we were alike, which of course is another fortunate coincidence. We’re both restless, can’t sit still very long—except at the beach—and like to be doing something constantly. We are both nuts about outdoor sports and the beach; like music, the theater, movies, dancing and night clubs, the same kind of clothes and, most important, the same type of people. Down-to-earth people.

Very conveniently, my wife June and Pete are also mutually fond of each other. She has a wonderful sense of humor and a maternal quality unusual in so young a girl; Pete loves the former and leans on the latter. He treats her and talks to her like the sister he doesn’t have. To make the picture complete, our baby Jack Junior is crazy about Pete. One of the first words he was able to say after the usual mama and dada was Peter, which came out something like “Beeter” but was close enough to satisfy Pete’s pride as an adopted uncle.

Pete has had so much publicity as a Young Man About Town, because of his dates with many of Hollywood’s younger glamor girls, that the public might be inclined to imagine his primary interest is night clubs and parties. Believe me, Pete is a man’s man. He is athletic, direct and honest. Except for his English accent he is what we like to call “as American as apple pie.”

Pete has plenty of guts and the gumption to meet a rugged situation. In the last several years things have been going well for him, but at seventeen he proved he could lick adversity. Until that time Pete had been brought up in a reasonable facsimile to the lap of luxury. Except for his one year of movie-making in London, he and his parents had traveled all over the world. He always had private tutors. The works!

Then in 1939 the Lawfords were visiting on Long Island when war was declared. British currency was frozen and they were unable to get funds from England. They bought a low-priced car and drove to Florida, because of his mother’s health. And that’s when Pete proved his mettle.

First he hitch-hiked back to New York for a fling at radio. Nothing happened. So he thumbed his way to Florida again where he convinced a skeptical real estate man he could manage a parking lot for $25 a week and tips. By the summer of 1941 he had saved $700! So the family turned the old car westward and came to Los Angeles, where Pete had made “Lord Jeff” four years before. (That second brief career also terminated abruptly when his voice started changing.)

Assured for his eighteen years, Pete managed to find an agent, but no movie jobs were forthcoming, so he took a job as a theater usher at $15 a week in Westwood and stuck with it until he finally had a nod from flickerville. I don’t believe Pete ever will find it necessary to go back to ushering or parking cars, but if he did, I know he’d do all right.

Pete is smart about money. He’s generous, but he saves, too, probably because he learned the value of dollars when most kids were having their first fling at spending them.

Many times Pete has said he doesn’t plan to be married before he is thirty. Im sure he means it, although marriage is an event I think no one, including Lawford, can predict. He has great respect for marriage, wouldn’t enter into it lightly, and right now he’s concentrating on his career. He feels he has a long way to go and must justify the faith his studio and his parents have placed in him. I think that’s why he dates so many different girls rather than centering attention on one, which might cut into his concentration on work. And he works darned hard, going from one picture to another.

Pete likes to tell June that when he does marry he wants a girl just like her, which makes me feel pretty proud. He likes the way she takes care of me without being possessive—and also lets me take care of myself. He shies away from possessive females and those who demand constant attention and compliments. I’ve heard girls say he is the perfect escort, but non-committal; he never lets his dates know if he likes one more than another.

One time he said his Ideal Girl would preferably not be in the picture business. She must have a sense of humor and wide interests, poise and intelligence. He would like her to be attractive, but not a sensational beauty. Well dressed, but on the conservative side in choice of clothes. Wear very little makeup. Like sports as well as social frills.

He doesn’t mention shortcomings he would condone in his Dream Dame but I know he allows for them, for Pete’s pretty honest about his own. He is always late, except for work. For everything else, one can always expect Lawford to be tardy. When he, June and I were going to San Francisco a few months ago, he offered to pick us up and drive to the airport. I telephoned him an hour ahead, but he was late anyway. We missed our plane, and only through good luck managed to get on the next one.

He’s always chewing gum and pops it with the finesse of a bobby-soxer. (He tried to teach me, but I have yet to learn.)

It’s almost impossible to get him awake in the morning. Whenever we have an early appointment I telephone him to wake him. He’ll carry on a long phone conversation, then fall sound asleep again. And believe me, his disposition is far from sunny for an hour after he gets up. He wants a couple of cups of coffee—and to be left alone. Then about an hour later he likes breakfast, after which he snaps into the exuberant good humor, kidding and laughter that is the normal Lawford. (I can say this because my own disposition is horrible when Im first awake!) Last summer June and I, Keenan Wynn and Peter spent many week-ends at Laguna. On Sunday mornings we’d never speak to Pete until after he had breakfast. It would have been useless, for he always had his attention on the funnies.

Pete is a procrastinator in letter writing. He isn’t thoughtless, but he does run the limit of time until he picks up a pen. He also suffers from telephonitis. As soon as he walks in a house he always has someone he must call. Actually, he just likes to yak on a phone.

But these slight shortcomings are the human side of Peter. If I told you he had no faults, you wouldn’t believe it—and I’d be stupid, because everyone has some. Pete’s are microscopic as compared with the good qualities that make him a great guy and fine friend. He has the suavity and polish of a junior Ronald Colman and manners that could be an example for anyone, but this is no veneer. It’s ingrained and real, backed up by thoughtfulness.

Pete is at our house several times a week. Our home is closer to the studio than his own, where he lives with his parents, so he often stops at Casa Cooper to clean up, after which the Coopers and Lawtord have dinner, there or out somewhere. If either Pete or I has an early call the next day, the evening is over by 9 o’clock. On an average of two out of three times, Pete doesn’t have a date. When he does it might be anyone from Hollywood’s top glamor girl to some cute little studio messenger girl.

If we aren’t working we go to movies, ball games, a stage play, to hear music anything ranging from a symphony concert at the Bowl to swing as dished out by Slim Gaillard on the Strip.

Pete is a marvelous dancer, but subtle and rhythmic, not an exhibitionist. He loves to rumba and will go all over town to find a good rumba band.

Because we’re both restless we don’t like to go the same places too often nor stay anywhere too long. It’s odd, but we both usually seem ready to leave at the same moment. The only place we can stay indefinitely is the beach, from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Every day in the week, if we didn’t have to work! Beach rats, I guess.

Pete plays wonderful tennis. I had always wanted to but didn’t learn when I was young and was too impatient to take lessons until Pete offered to give them to me. He’s a great teacher, too. In turn I was able to teach him something about horsemanship. He hasn’t had time for me to get him interested in fishing and hunting, but I know he’d be good at them.

At football games we yell and scream like a couple of mad characters and eat hot dogs by the near-bushel. We go to the Friday night prize fights fairly frequently, often with Keenan and Sid Luft. (June urges me to get “out with the boys” now and then.)

Despite the great number of young men who are trying their hands at cooking as a hobby, Pete stays away from it; he can’t even boil water, but his lack of interest undoubtedly stems from his bachelorhood.

Fortunately he seems to need only about six hours of sleep a night, because in addition to all his more active interests, and despite his restlessness, he is addicted to voluminous reading.

Pete doesn’t like big parties, preferring the informality of a small group of people in casual clothes, sitting on the floor, playing games or listening to records. He’s mad about music and has a remarkable record collection, although he doesn’t play any instrument, because of the childhood injury to his arm.

His great feeling for music was shown in its full scope for the first time on the screen in MGM’s “Good News.” His tap dancing, of which he did a bit in “It Happened in Brooklyn,” is even better.

I feel he could be one of the screen’s best musical comedy stars if he stuck to that field. On the other hand, I say he’s a fine dramatic actor. Pete is young and has played light young roles with scarcely any scenes that were deeply dramatic, but long ago he proved he was an artist in “White Cliffs of Dover.” What a future that guy has!

We like to go shopping, and could easily shop for each other because we wear most of the same kind of clothes. Unless the occasion demands a business or formal suit we both always wear flannel slacks in gray ranging from light to dark, a T-shirt, rather loud sports jackets, white wool socks and moccasin-type loafers. We even have the same man who comes to our homes, as well as to other friends, once a week for valet service, to press suits and shine shoes.

Pete is a very thoughtful guy, never forgets birthdays and spends effort and time on appropriate gifts, even for our baby. He always brings June flowers at least once a week, says he does it because he’s there so much, but how many men remember, even if they are around every day?

He is consistently considerate of his parents. We had originally planned to go to San Francisco for a week-end which included his birthday. When he mentioned the fact at home, he gathered his mother and father were disappointed that he would be away for his natal day, so Pete asked June and me if we’d postpone our trip a week. He stayed home and celebrated his birthday with the elder Lawfords.

Our friendship, which started with just doing things together, has gone far beyond that state of mere activitylargely because I guess were both kind of sensitive. I’ve never had so close a friend. We’ve gone through worries together, fortunately minor ones, and I know if in a real crisis I needed a man to turn to I could depend on Pete. Lawford’s okay for my dough, any time!





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