She Dared Him to Marry Her
Throughout the ceremony that made her Charlie O’Curran’s wife, Betty Hutton prayed. It was a simple, childlike petition and, like most simple things, it came from the heart. “Please, God, please, God,” she prayed, “please bless this marriage—”
Objective readers may be inclined to point out that God helps those who help themselves, and that the blessing of this marriage lies chiefly in the hands of Mr. and Mrs. O’Curran. You’d find Betty in full accord with that view. To her, prayer doesn’t mean the shifting of responsibility to Divine shoulders but a plea, humble and reverent, for guidance. She knows herself as few people know themselves, shortcomings and all. With one marriage behind her, she’s intensely alive to the pitfalls of the wedded state. Of course she’d need help. So she turned for it where she’s turned instinctively since the days of her anguished childhood. “Please, God—”
Hollywood said: “She’ll never marry O’Curran.” There was a time when she’d have flipped back: “You’re so right!”
This is the story of how she changed her mind.
They had something in common from the start—mutual dislike. He disliked her for good and sufficient reasons. She disliked him for no reason but feminine illogic. They met on the Paramount lot while she was rehearsing her trapeze work for “The Greatest Show on Earth” and he was doing the choreography on “Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick.”
Charlie retains the more vivid memory of that meeting. The voice calling, “Hi. Bee!” as he crossed to the commissary with Bee Allen, his assistant. The introduction “You know Charlie O’Curran, don’t you, Betty?” The blue glance fleetingly uplifted. ‘Oh sure. Sure I know him. What else is new, Bee?”
He watched the trim figure depart. “Where she comes from, don’t they say hello?”
“That’s a swell kid, Charlie. She just doesn’t see people when she’s excited—”
Last July she started “Somebody Loves Me.” In the commissary producer William Perlberg brought Charlie over to her table. “Betty, I’d like you to meet your choreographer—” She took in the tall figure, the lean face, the eyes that seemed to regard her with amused detachment, and hostility rose in her like a tide. What Betty feels, she makes no attempt to mask. Instead of the friendly “Hi!” that’s normal to her, she came out with a frozen-faced, “Howd’y’do.”
At the dance rehearsals that followed, she’d have no part of him—quite a feat in view of his key position, but she managed nicely. “Go away, I’ll learn it from Bee, Bee can teach it to me better than you can—” Seemingly unruffled, he’d take Bee through the step and she’d pass it on to Betty. Far from pacifying the lady, his good humor served only to nettle her further. “I know I’m acting like a brat,” she confessed to Bee. “But there’s something in him that brings out the worst in me.”
Nevertheless, she felt a little shame-faced and made an effort or two with the olive branch. “Ever see me in any of my pictures?” she inquired airily.
Again there was the mocking glint in his eye. “Only a couple I thought you were lousy in. But I heard ‘Annie’ was great,” he grinned. “Have to catch it some day.”
On another occasion, flushed and happy over mastering an intricate step, she turned to him, for the first time naturally. “Well, how’d you like it?”
His Irish humor got the best of him. “Well, I thought it was pretty bad—”
Seconds later she found her voice. “You—burn—me—up,” she snapped, each word a tiny explosion, before flouncing out.
Echoes of dissension reached Mr. Perl- berg, who sent for O’Curran. “If you can’t work with Hutton, I’ll have to take you ofl the picture.”
“I wish you would.”
“Look, Charlie, she’s really a swell gal. Hard to handle, maybe, if she thinks you’re against her. But if you’re with her, she’s a lamb. Let her know you’re with her.”
“A cinch!” was the grim reply. “Especially when she’s not even talking to me—”
. . . They were shooting the dances now. The exit step of the Todalo number baffled Betty. Take after futile take was ruined. Her head dropped into her hands. “I just can’t get it!”
Checking Bee, who’d started toward her, Charlie strode over to the huddled figure himself. The workers on the set went tense. Everyone liked them both and their battling hadn’t been any fun. “Listen, Betty—” said Charlie. Her head flew up, her eyes blazed into his, which remained gentle. “Let me show you this once what you’re doing wrong. Then if you want to go back to the old way, it’s fine with me.”
To genuine kindness, she responds like a kitten being stroked. But she’s stubborn, too. For a moment, the warring impulses clashed, then she rose to her feet. “All right, show me.”
He did—to such purpose that on the next take she whirled offstage in a triumphant exit. Returning, she went straight to Charlie, her face oddly sober after the glow of exhilaration just past. Those on the set fell silent, sensing something in the air. “I owe you all an apology,” said Betty. “Charlie’s been right and I’ve been wrong. I want to tell him and you that I’m sorry. I want you to know it won’t happen again.”
That’s when he began falling in love I with her.
She wasn’t in love with him. She liked him. Professionally, she admired and trusted him. When they asked her to do a benefit at the Cocoanut Grove, it was Charlie who staged a roof-raising number for her. It was Charlie who had to stand where she could see him, to keep her from being scared to death. But all this was by way of business. After the show he took her and some friends to dinner. The girls rode in Betty’s car. Charlie trailed them, tooting his horn all the way. Real silly, thought Betty, but kind of cute. And dismissed him from her mind.
Betty’s a complicated girl. Show business runs through her veins, and at sixty she’ll doubtless be doing a Sophie Tucker. On the other hand, she aches for the haven of a husband’s love, and remains doggedly convinced that you can mix marriage and career, if you find the right man. She knows she’s strong-willed. Without that will, she’d never have reached the spot she’s in today. But strength has its drawbacks, and she holds it partly responsible for the failure of her first marriage. She must find someone stronger than herself, someone her name wouldn’t overshadow.
One night Charlie took Betty to the Tropics for dinner. In the car on the way home, his arm slipped around her. She removed it firmly. “Charlie, I like you. I think you’re a swell guy. Let’s keep it that way. Anything else is out.”
“But Betty, I love you. I’m in love with you. I want to marry you tomorrow.” Flatly she answered, “I wouldn’t marry you in eight million years. It would never work out.”
“Do you love me, Betty?”
But she did know. And the thought scared her.
“Just don’t talk to me about anything but dancing. Just keep it business.”
But that didn’t work at all. She missed the warmth and gayety of his companionship. Indeed, she felt lost without him, though this she wasn’t admitting even to herself. They went out together, but the inner conflict still raged and she clung like mad to her original line. If they couldn’t keep it business, they’d keep it friendship. So long as he understood that marriage was out.
There was nothing dramatic or sudden about her reversal. Little by little the conflict lessened. One morning she woke up to find her vision clear.
Betty has a complex about herself. All her life she’s been hearing, “You’re too forceful, you act like a man,” till she came to regard her strength as a kind of weakness, which put her on the defensive. Basically, she’s as feminine as the next, a fact to which she scorns to draw attention. Charlie took her femininity for granted. It never seemed to occur to him that you were less a woman for having always stood on your own feet. In charming natural ways he made her feel like a girl, He wouldn’t let her open the car door. He told her she was beautiful. Conditioned to years of underrating her looks, she turned on him. “I’m not beautiful, I’m an ox.”
“You’re beautiful,” he repeated tranquilly, and her heart sang in spite of itself. It’s nice for a man to think you are, she exulted, especially when you’re not.
She found that with Charlie she could always be herself. There was no undercurrent of strain. Working on a rigid schedule, she reacts against any pattern in her social life and likes to play impromptu. If she craved a hot dog instead of steak, or was seized by the yen to bake a potato in the fireplace, Charlie didn’t think it was crazy, he thought it was normal. They could sit in the stupidest joint with a jukebox, and have a million laughs. Simple-minded, maybe, but so what? For the first time she’d met a man who was hep to her professional problems and shared her sense of fun. It made for an atmosphere both stimulating and relaxed.
Her career’s a big thing to Betty, but her children are bigger. Whatever she felt for Charlie, if he’d failed to go over with them, he’d have been a dead duck. That they tumbled for him on sight is no accident. He’s the kind who once took eight kids to the playground and came home with nine. The surplus howled like a banshee on being delivered back to his natural guardians.
Lindsay and Candy call him Charlieocurran, all in one piece. “I’m a queen tonight, Charlieocurran,” Lindsay’d proclaim, “and you’re my slave.”
He’d sweep her a bow. “What is Your Majesty’s will?”
“My Majesty banishes you from my kingdom. Go in the closet.”
There he’d suffocate till Royalty relented, or Royalty’s parent issued her own proclamation. “Enough is enough!”
He’s never showered them with expensive gifts that they need like they need a couple of spare heads. But with natural courtesy, he’d include a nosegay for each when he sent Betty flowers. For the rest, he’d come loaded under the kind of junk that fascinates kids—rubber spiders, and magic tricks which he carefully taught them how to pull on their mother. In this, as in other respects, he’s their natural ally. Candy and nuts on the table are taboo for the youngsters. Or were, till Charlie came along. “What’s on the chandelier, Betty?” he’d ask. Nothing was on the chandelier, but when she looked back, there’d be a suspicious bulge in the cheeks of her daughters. “What have you got in your mouths?” Squealing, they’d make a dash for Charlie, who’d grab one under each arm and sprint for cover.
Betty’s nature is nothing if not direct and honest. In love, all that mattered was yourself and the other person. By now she knew Charlie for what he was—a gifted and ambitious worker, a man of warmth and simplicity and humor whose goodness cropped up in many gentle ways. He went to church every Sunday, rain or shine. Bums took one look at his face and came up for the handout that never failed. Eight million dollars wouldn’t buy the favor of her kids. They adored Charlie for free. These were basic things and the rest was claptrap. Before she left for Korea, they’d reached an understanding.
The understanding included marriage, but not yet, and this was Charlie’s doing even more than Betty’s. As her misgivings melted, his drove deeper. Fully conscious of the risks of marriage to a star, he wanted those risks minimized before taking the leap. His professional goal is to become a director. “It’s only common sense to wait till that happens.”
“Sure,” agreed Betty. “I’m all for common sense.”
What she saw and felt in Korea put sense to rout. The horror and heartbreak, the naked facts of life and death. The haunting loneliness of thousands of kids, wrenched from everything dear to them, trying to hide the loneliness under a wisecrack. But even as you sang and danced to them, you could feel it washing over you, engulfing you, leaving you desolate and alone as they were alone.
“But you’re lucky,” she’d tell herself grimly. “You’re going home, These kids feel the same way you do, and they’re I stuck here. Some’ll never get home, never get to live their lives out. And what’re you doing with your life? Wasting the years, standing happiness up in a corner till you’re good and ready.”
Midst the thousands of men in Korea Betty felt more alone than ever before in her life. Alone—and facing courage all around her, she found courage. Courage not for the main event; that she’d always had. Courage simply to admit she was lonely—and that she didn’t like being lonely.
They were all at the airport to meet her.
The kids said, “Charlieocurran’s been to see us every day.”
Betty’s sister Marion said, “If you don’t marry the guy, I’ll get a divorce from Jack and marry him myself.”
And her mother, Mabel, said, “With this one I’m comfortable. Grammar or no grammar, he never looks at me like I’m fresh from the zoo.”
Jack Douglas, Marion’s husband, turned to Charlie. “You going to marry her? Hm, and I thought we Irish were supposed to be lucky!”
From the shelter of Charlie’s arm, Betty surveyed them. “What gives? When I left, you weren’t so hot for the gent. Great! Makes everything simple.”
“Like what?” asked Mabel, who can smell out her daughter’s meanings quicker than most. But for once Betty held her peace.
That was Saturday. On Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, they started intensive rehearsals for Betty’s engagement at the Palace Theatre in New York. And, with Bee Allen, wound up at Lucey’s for dinner. Charlie unfolded his napkin. “Something terrible’s going to happen today,” he said. “What can happen?”
“On St. Patrick’s Day, I always get into a fight.”
“Then let’s fight about something worth while. Like getting married.”
“Let’s unsettle it.”
“Don’t be silly. I can’t marry you till I’m a director.”
“Don’t be silly yourself. You can marry me now. I love you.”
Okay, he thought, if she wanted to play games, and he proceeded to marshal her former arguments against her. She brushed them off, so he dug up a few of his own; for instance, he wouldn’t have people saying he’d married for glamour. She snapped her fingers; who cared what people said? He began to perceive that she was in dead earnest and it scared him stiff. She saw straight through his panic and made a frontal attack. “I dare you to call up right now and find out when a plane leaves for Las Vegas.”
“Don’t dare an Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day.”
“We can be married on St. Patrick’s Day if you hurry.”
He returned from the phone, obviously relieved. “No plane till one-thirty.”
“Call Betsy then. (Betsy Dalton’s her secretary.) She’ll arrange for a private plane.” He was really sweating now. What’s the matter, Charlie? Afraid to tarry me?”
“Darn right I’m afraid. But I’ll marry you, anyway. Only—look at me, Betty—you’ve got to be sure.”
The eyes she lifted were steady and serene. “I’m sure, Charlie.”
Betsy and Bee went along, though the bride who slept like a baby all the way needed no moral support, and the groom was too jittery to care. His fever rose and fell like a pitching ship. In the middle of Las Vegas he stopped dead. “We have no ring.”
“Relax,” said Betty, and dropped into his palm a ring her mother had given her, its pearls reset from a cross. “With love from Mabel.”
Being an Irish sentimentalist, he felt better. But it took something more to restore his poise completely. In the chapel of The Last Frontier, they were asked what music they’d like. Through Betty’s mind flitted “Because” or “O Promise Me.” She turned to Charlie. “The ‘Ave Maria’,” he said. As it broke from the organ, beautiful, dear and familiar, his heart soared and peace descended like a mantle, while the girl beside him prayed her earnest prayer.
Not till the final words were spoken did she come to earth. It was twelve-forty. “Never mind, husband,” she whispered as they clung together. “We’ll still celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day—”
Our postscript concerns Ted and the children.
On the phone from Las Vegas Betty told her daughters she was bringing them a surprise. The nurse in turn had a pleasant surprise for her. “Mr. Briskin called to congratulate you.”
So they called him back from Las Vegas. Charlie spoke to him first. When Betty picked up the phone, she was near tears. “Oh, Ted, it was wonderful of you to call. I’ll never forget it. You’ve made me feel so good.”
His voice wasn’t too steady either. “Are you happy, darling?”
“I couldn’t be happier.”
“That’s all I want for you.”
Charlie and Betty got home at two, nervous as a couple of runaways. “What’s the surprise?” asked Lindsay. “Is it Roy Rogers?”
“No, it isn’t Roy Rogers, honey.” Betty cleared her throat. “Charlie and I are married.”
Lindsay and Candy stared at them a moment, wide-eyed. Then Lindsay said, “Now Charlieocurran will play with us every day?” Candy echoed, “Every day?”
Betty dropped to her knees and drew them both into her arms. Her eyes swept up to Charlie, tall and blond, a playmate, yes, but more, her husband. Fleetingly she remembered an interviewer asking Lindsay, then aged three, what she wanted to be when she grew up. And she remembered Lindsay’s answer, “Why, a grownup!” And Betty thought, “I’ve married a grown-up.”
The photographers came swarming that afternoon. Betty put her foot down on pictures of the children. “You can shoot Charlie and me till the cows come home. But the girls are out.”
The photographers understood.
Betty’s a prime favorite in Hollywood. She’s liked for her candor, her color, her scorn of pretense. Because of a bluff exterior few who meet her casually notice her sensitivity. Actually it’s the key to Betty Hutton—to her determination for perfection in everything she does, to the kind of simple, perfect clothes she wears in private life, to the unstinting way she gives herself to every performance, whether in movies, in Korea, or at the Palace, to her awareness as a mother. It’s the key, too, to her marriage to Charlie, for love.
Nobody can foresee the future. But on St. Patrick’s Day—or nearly—two people pledged themselves in faith and in humility and in the passionate will to make each other happy. If these are enough, the marriage of the Charheocurrans will be blessed. Please God.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1952