Piper Laurie Calls The Tune
Piper Laurie lives in a simple bungalow with her father and mother in a very quiet section of Los Angeles. But she is by no means languishing away as a demure little stay-at-home. Piper is a magnet for the Hollywood wolves. And just as Piper handles every other situation with quiet subtlety, she’s worked out her own neat way of dealing with the wolf pack and keeping the baying at bay.
Take, for instance, the time Ted Briskin, Betty Hutton’s ex, took one look at Piper, whistled mentally and chortled, “That’s for me!” He was so smitten after their one meeting in Hollywood that when she came through his native Chicago on a personal appearance tour several months later, he went to work on an all-out campaign. He not only met her plane, but since it was a rainy day he drove his car straight up on the sidewalk in front of her hotel so she wouldn’t have to so much as set her foot on that nasty old puddle-polluted pavement.
And then began the daily bombardment—long-stemmed roses every morning and daily phone calls. Piper finally agreed to have dinner with Ted. She arrived for their date all right—with two people from the studio publicity department as chaperones, one flanking her on either side.
Nicky Hilton, who has called her time and again, got the demure brushoff too. And so have all the rest.
Don’t get the idea, though, that Piper scorns dates or men. She is legitimately sweet and legitimately shy. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to have fun—provided she can do the deciding with whom.
Piper and Dick Anderson have been a fairly constant twosome in recent months. They have a sincere devotion and regard for each other, but just how serious they may become, only time will tell. Before Dick, Piper was seen at several premieres with Rock Hudson. And she was, admittedly, very serious about a young man in the New York office of Universal-International, until their religious differences separated them. Her religion is very important to Piper, and she would no more think of giving up hers than she would ask any man to give up his.
Currently, she has frequent dates with Leonard Goldstein, who is one of Hollywood’s leading producers. Despite the age difference—he is forty-eight to her twenty—they have great admiration and respect for one another. And there it stops. Except for one thing: Piper learns much from Goldstein’s maturity and breadth of mind and experience. She consults him on all the important aspects of her career, follows his advice to the letter. A bachelor, he lives with his two older sisters. They are devoted to Piper, as she is to them.
Besides her talent and her red-headed beauty, it is probably this characteristic of learning from everyone that has helped Piper zoom to stardom in less than two years. But you are never aware of her effort. She is never the outward eager-beaver as, let’s say, Joan Crawford was at the same age.
Maybe this reticence comes from having an older sister. When Piper was seven years old. back in Detroit, where she was born, she already knew she wanted to become an actress. But one day when their mother asked the girls what they intended to be when they grew up, she lied rather than run the risk of being laughed at by Sherrye, her sister. Sherrye readily admitted her desire to be a singer, but Piper said she wanted to be a manicurist. No competition that way.
She had a happy childhood, despite having been born during the depression which for the first few years of her life kept her father out of work more often than he was in. Mrs. Jacobs—Piper’s real name, as she quickly tells everyone, is Rosetta Jacobs—kept them eating by baking for the neighbors. Sometimes Sherrye and Rosetta went around from door to door, selling the pastry, a humiliating but humanizing process.
“But no matter how tough things were with us,” Piper explains, “Mom always saw to it that we were clean, that we went to school and that we ate well.” They formed a loving and devoted family. Today Sherrye is married to a young Los Angeles doctor, leaving Piper and her parents a close-knit threesome. Mrs. Jacobs is half-owner of a Los Angeles furniture store and Piper is allowed to contribute only her own support to the upkeep of their little home.
She was seven when the family moved to Los Angeles, and that is when she first learned to swim. Today swimming is her favorite sport, and playing tennis is second. She is so clever that she was valedictorian of her graduating class at John Burroughs Junior High and heaven knows what her rating might have been at Los Angeles Senior High if she hadn’t embarked on a course in dramatics so intensive that it would have taxed Laurence Olivier.
There is an excellent dramatic coach in Hollywood named Betami Schneider but he will not bother with amateurs or very young people. But Piper being Piper, she managed—at sixteen—to fool him about her age, and she never mentioned her school status at all. In fact, she did a neat bit of acting. She convinced him that she was a working girl, with a burning desire to emote professionally, but alas, could attend only evening classes. And that she did—night after night—turning down every date offered her by practically every boy then in L.A. High.
Now L.A. High, having graduated Donald O’Connor and several others of that dramatic ilk, has lots of dramatic classes and puts on several plays a year. Piper tried out for all of them—and lost out every time. Even so, she was signed by Universal-International the November before she was due to graduate, with the understanding that her contract wouldn’t go into effect until she had her diploma.
By coincidence, her graduation day and her eighteenth birthday came on the same date, January 22nd, 1950. Three weeks later, ‘she was at work on her first picture, “Louisa.” Her studio, seeing her in that film, knew they had a real find in this hazel-eyed redhead who had never before faced a camera. Quick like anything, they made her Donald O’Connor’s leading lady in “The Milkman.”
Then came “The Prince Who Was a Thief,” with Tony Curtis. And since that big hit Piper has made “Has Anybody Seen My Gal,” with Rock Hudson, and then followed two more pictures with Tony, “No Room for the Groom” and “The Son of Ali Baba.”
Despite the studio’s persistent and successful pairing of Piper and Tony, there’s a rumor making the rounds that their celluloid honeymoon is just about over. The story is, although it is denied by Piper and Tony and the studio, that they get in each other’s hair and have no enthusiasm for playing opposite one another again.
Perhaps one explanation is that both Piper and Tony want to appear opposite more experienced stars to further their careers. If so, Piper’s getting her way again, for she is to be with Tyrone Power in his U-I production, “Mississippi Gambler.” It’s said that Ty was somewhat reluctant to have a lead role entrusted to Piper—but in a few days she won him around to agreement.
Piper and Tony Curtis used to date each other, before Tony began to concentrate solely on Janet Leigh. And when Piper and Tony were making “The Prince Who Was a Thief,” they were great friends. But as the title of the picture indicates, it was slanted to be more Tony’s picture than Piper’s, but it ended, somehow, more hers than his. Soon their friendship began to cool. And the beginning of the end, possibly, set in while Piper and Tony were making personal appearances.
A group of fans in Bay City, Michigan, presented Piper with a week-old kitten. Piper, Tony and their two studio chaperones ooh-ed and aah-ed over the tiny animal. But once they were alone, the press agents leveled on Piper. “Naturally, you’re not expecting to keep that pet,” they said. “For the next six weeks, you’ll be living in hotel rooms. How do you expect to care for a kitten that hasn’t even got its eyes open?”
“I can order up bits of liver and stuff from room service and it’s no trick to put a saucer of milk down on the floor. The kitten won’t be any trouble. I want to keep it.”
The press agents shrugged and gave in for what they expected would merely be a day or so. But they were wrong on two scores. Piper took devoted care of the little cat, so much so that right now it is enjoying a glamorous growing-up in Hollywood. And she also took her pet with her on all her newspaper interviews and photographic sittings on the tour from then on.
Maybe she thought that all out. And maybe she didn’t. You never can be positive with Piper. But until the kitten came into their road act, Tony had been getting all the headlines, all the attention. Handsome, charming, outward-going, Tony really makes with the words.
Piper doesn’t. She is truly shy. And she is also truly determined, in a very feminine kind of way. Don’t misunderstand. There is no meanness in her and no deceit. She is naturally cooperative and charming. But she is never blunt about anything—and most particularly about things she wants to avoid.
Piper hasn’t exactly had time on her hands in her career. The two and a half years have changed her—but all to the good. The generally frightened little school girl of 1950 has been replaced by an alert and very charming young woman.
She never drinks hard liquor but she does smoke. This past Christmas she bought herself her own favorite gift: a new car. Until then, her mother had driven her back and forth from the studio, and spent the day, while her daughter acted, taking care of Piper’s fan mail. Mrs. Jacobs still does all fan mail, except the letters postmarked Korea. Those go into a separate pile, unopened, until Piper has time to go over each one of them herself and write a personal answer. As she gets thousands each month, this is a real labor of patriotism on Piper’s part—but she does it with love. “If those boys can be over there fighting under those terrible conditions, the least I can do is write them letters,” she says.
Piper was a volunteer on a recent tour of Korea. The trip was cold, bitter and uncomfortable all the way, but Piper came back matured and emotionally enriched by it. And again, she proved the kind of extra-nice girl she is by her reaction to her G.I. “fiance.”
He was just the average American kid, in uniform, and he had told his entire outfit that he was engaged to Piper Laurie. Actually, Piper had known him slightly in Los Angeles.
He had dated her sister, Sherrye, a few times before Sherrye married, but seeing him so unexpectedly in this foreign setting, Piper didn’t recognize him. Besides, as she stepped down from the plane in Tokyo, she was taken over by the top brass. Lots of brass. General This and General That, Colonel So-and-So and Colonel Thus-and-Thus, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants. Finally, when she’d shaken all their hands and dimpled properly and said how glad she was to be there, and no, she didn’t drink but she sure could eat, a two-star gentleman said with a romantic flourish, “Well, I know we mustn’t keep you any longer from the one you’re longing to see.” He stepped back and the young soldier stepped forward. “Darling,” he said, throwing his arms around her.
“Well, hi,” said Piper, going along with the kiss. Recognition stirred faintly within her. She knew she knew that face but for the life of her she couldn’t remember the name. It took her nearly an hour to maneuver so that she and her “fiance” could have an instant alone together. She got his name then—and his confession.
“Don’t let me down, will you?” he begged.
Being Piper, of course, she didn’t. She knew she was going on from Tokyo to Korea the next day, so she beamed on the boy all evening, knowing how completely chaperoned they both were. And now, when he’s back at the front, if he’s still telling fables about her, Piper doesn’t mind—so long as it makes him happy and keeps him a big shot with his buddies.
She has, you see, both heart and brains “I don’t want my heart ruling my head or vice versa,” she says, dimpling. “I’d like both of them to stay equal.” What’s more, she practically achieves this almost impossible ideal.
For instance, while she was in Detroit on a personal appearance tour, all her relatives came down to one,stage show. All told, there were eighty of them, all wearing identifying signs. Five bore signs saying, “I am Piper Laurie’s aunt.” Thirty-two were marked out as cousins, and there were forty-three assorted uncles, second cousins and cousins of second cousins. I embarrassed Piper, but she managed to find a special, personal remark for each one of them, finding out who was a cousin of whom and all the rest of it .
Her next stop was Buffalo and there stout lady appeared at her hotel, bearing an orchid. She said she was Piper Laurie’s aunt. If the poor kid had, at that point, announced she had just experiences enough relatives to hold her for some time, it would have been understandable. But it wouldn’t have been either as smart or as sympathetic as Piper is. Stalling this “aunt” at the desk downstairs for a moment, Piper put in a quick call-to her mother on the Coast. Her mother told her, yes, it was true, she did have an aunt in Buffalo. Thus, when this good soul reached Piper’s suite, her niece’s arms were open to greet her and her name was on the girl’s pretty lips.
If she develops as much in the next few years as she has in the past two and a half, she will be a very great star. Unless love interferes, that is.
“I want to be in love,” she says, her eyes just a little wistful. “I want to get married and have many children. But when I marry, I don’t want it just to be for two years or less. I want it to be like my parents’ marriage, a happy one that has endured and will endure for all their lives. I’d like to continue with my career as Vivien Leigh has, or Janet Leigh—or the few others for whom it has worked out. But it is silly to say, ‘I must go on with my career.’ That would all depend upon the type of man I married, and how he felt about it. Because he’d be the boss. Absolutely!”
That’s what she says. And that, undoubtedly, would be what her husband would believe. But don’t overlook the feminine methods by which she gets her way in life. And you can bet you a cookie she will be in love, too.
—BY VICKY RILEY
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1952