The Bachelor And The Secretary
Suddenly the rain fell on the windowpane and I turned from my typewriter to look at the extras and technicians hurrying through the studio Street outside, making for the shelter of the huge M-G-M soundstages. It was four o’clock. I sighed and watched the cloudburst and wondered if it would stop before five because I’d forgotten my umbrella.
I was about to put my feet on the waste paper basket and relax for a few minutes when the door swung open and a tall, blond young man burst into the office, dripping wet, coat sagging, his hair hanging down over his face.
“You look like a drowned puppy!” I started to laugh, when Leslie—for it was Leslie Nielsen—silenced me with a stony stare.
“Miss Ullman,” he said oddly, running his fingers back through his wet hair, “will you please take a letter?”
His manner was so distant, so formal, my chin dropped a little from surprise. I was just a studio secretary and my job did include helping players, but Leslie and I had dated—yet suddenly, I was just plain Sandy Ullman, secretary, to him. I picked up my shorthand book and pencil and tried to hide my disappointment. But I didn’t have to bother. Leslie wasn’t watching me.
He had gone over to the window where he hesitated for a moment. And then he began, “Dear Miss Ullman: ” Automatically, I took his words down on the pad. “Will you marry me?” he dictated and as I was scribbling this sentence, I did the biggest double-take ever. The pencil and pad dropped from my fingers and I stared up at him. He was trying to keep a straight face but he couldn’t hide the happiness in his eyes—any more than I could keep the answer to his question out of mine.
But just to make it official, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote, “Dear Mr. Nielsen: Your generous offer of June 29th is accepted with gratitude. Yours very sincerely, Sandy Ullman.” I handed it to Leslie. We both started to laugh and suddenly the rain stopped, the sun came out and everything seemed bright, shining and wonderful. No fortune teller predicted that we would fail in love but I do think there was something a little fateful about our romance—Kismet, as they say in Turkey. If it hadn’t been for a question and answer game with my boss, producer Richard Brooks and my MG suddenly developing lung trouble, well, I hesitate to think what I would have missed. But maybe I should begin at the beginning.
Leslie says he saw me in the studio commissary the very first day he was at M-G-M. Being new to Hollywood (he had come from dozens of starring roles in New York TV), he took it for granted I was a starlet! But it was to be eight months before we met.
One day I received a memo about the signing of a Leslie Nielsen. I decided she was probably a new foreign import. This was fairly sensible guessing since I knew the studio already had another foreign-born Leslie under contract—Leslie Caron. That I couldn’t have been wronger is an understatement!
So, things went on normally until one day late in 1955 Mr. Brooks came in raving about a young contract player he’d seen in a privately-screened movie the night before. “Very good looking,” he said. “Very fine actor.” Only the name had slipped his mind.
We played “twenty questions” trying to figure it out:
“He’s six feet two,” Mr. Brooks said.
“Marshall Thompson?” I suggested.
“No, he has light brownish hair and blue eyes.”
And so it went, with neither of us getting anywhere. Finally Mr. Brooks had to leave to direct a test for “Ben Hur.”
I dug into a pile of work only to be interrupted by a phone call about fifteen minutes later from Mr. Brooks.
“Sandy,” he said excitedly, “that actor I was talking about this morning. He’s here now on the set. He’s the one who’s been picked to do the test with Bill Travers. Name’s Nielsen—Leslie Nielsen. Come on down. I’d like you to meet him.”
I came, I saw and I was kind of impressed. Not bad looking, I thought, maybe even attractive. As for his performance— it was very good. Afterward, he, Mr. Brooks and I had a cup of coffee together. On the way back to the office, Mr. Brooks was chuckling to himself.
“What’s funny?” I asked.
“I don’t know if you noticed it but it was certainly obvious to me.”
“That Nielsen boy. He likes you.”
“Oh, how can you tell so quickly?”
“Just you wait and see.” he answered, still chuckling.
Leslie came into the office a few days later to see Mr. Brooks. “He’s gone for the day,” I said “and I’m going to the garage to pick up my car. It’s a chronically sick MG and yesterday it really came down with an ailment.” One word led to another and before I quite realized what was happening, we were talking away like old friends.
Then Leslie looked at his watch. “Think I’d better drive you to the garage before it closes?” he asked. I accepted gratefully and we left.
On the way, Leslie asked if I would like to have dinner with him sometime. I said “Yes.”
“Well then,” he smiled. “how about tonight?”
My heart did a small flip-flop. But all I said was “Fine.”
We ate in a little gypsy restaurant. There was candlelight and soft violins and Leslie and I talked about everything but movies. Somehow, it was so easy to talk.
“I was born in Saskatchewan, Canada ” Leslie began. “I was eight before I could pronounce it.”
“I come from Philadelphia,” I said. “Almost as long but not quite as hard to pronounce. I bet you grew up on stories about the mounted police.”
Leslie laughed. “I’ll have you know my father was a mounted policeman.”
How wonderful, I thought and asked him, “Is it true they always get their man?”
“Not always.” He poured some red wine into our glasses. “But almost. How about your family?”
“Oh, Dad was in the book publishing business. He was always tracking down authors. But what I’m anxious to know is, what made you decide to become an actor—instead of being a Mountie, like your father?”
He drank his wine and looked thoughtful. “I went through a dozen ideas before I got to that one. As a kid I did want to be a Mountie but then in high school I got interested in math and Science and decided engineering was for me.” He put his glass down and rubbed his chin with his hand. “I guess it was a summer job at a radio station that decided me on acting. I just had to see what I could do with it.”
“You’re really a very good actor,” I said and meant it. “Mr. Brooks thinks you have a great future.”
“Thanks,” he said and then grew thoughtful. “I don’t mind telling you, there were long periods when I doubted I’d ever make it. I tried Hollywood once before and got nowhere. But I didn’t want to give up, so I went to New York and tried TV. That’s where I was discovered, and it looks like this time it may work out.”
The candle on our table flickered, soft music was playing in the background, and just then a violinist came to our table.
“I guess that’s my cue,” laughed Leslie. “Want to dance?”
Leslie was so light on his feet that I forgot about everything and felt as if we were drifting off into a dream. “Believe in hypnotism?” he whispered into my ear. I don’t remember what I answered then but I know he must have hypnotized me because from that moment on I never wanted to dance with anyone else or date anyone else.
There was no particular moment when we knew we were in love. With love you fail into it a little more all the time. And that’s what’s so wonderful about it—there’s no beginning, no end. Of course Leslie says he had no choice in the matter, that our love was written in the stars. And he’s not just romanticizing—he’s telling the truth.
Three days after our first date I met a friend on the way to the commissary at lunch time.
“How’s everything, Sandy?”
“Fine right now,” I laughed.
“Say, when are you going to let me do your horoscope?” He opened the commissary door for me. “Don’t you think it’s about time to find out what the stars have in store?”
Then it came to me that I was very interested in what the future held. It would be fun to have it foretold. “How about now?” I said.
“Give me your exact birthday and I’ll give it to you tomorrow. OK?”
The next morning just as I was pouring myself a quick cup of black coffee before leaving for M-G-M, the phone rang. It was my horoscope friend. He sounded excited. “Sandy, you won’t believe this but I did two horoscopes last night—yours and that of another friend of mine. It’s amazing, but as I was doing this actor’s chart, it just fit perfectly with yours. There’s no doubt about it—you and Leslie Nielsen are soul-mates. I’ll have to introduce you two!” I had to hold back a giggle but I didn’t say a word to spoil the pleasure he was going to have “introducing” us.
Two days later Leslie and I were having a chicken salad lunch in his apartment when our friend walked in. He took one look at us together and practically fell over. When he recovered, he shouted at me, “Sandy, what are you doing here?”
“Sorry pal,” Leslie answered, “but I’m afraid we beat the stars to it.”
He still hasn’t forgiven us for meeting without the help of the horoscope.
Some of my friends ask me if I don’t think that long courtships are dull and unnecessary. My answer is a big, fat “NO!” Maybe the ideal conception of romance is to meet a man, be swept off your feet and carried off to the altar in a matter of hours. But that’s just for story-book characters, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve seen too much heartbreak as a result of impulsive marriages. Two out of three of my college chums who succumbed to idealized romance are now getting divorces.
Both Leslie and I have had experience with divorce—he personally, and I through my parents. They were divorced and then subsequently remarried each other. But still I felt the upheaval that goes with the breakup of a marriage. When Leslie and I met, neither of us was in the frame of mind to rush into anything. Long courtships don’t have to be dull. Ours has been two years of perfect moments and the basis of a lifetime together.
No wonder I love him. He sends me flowers for no special reason except that he feels like it. He buys me little stuffed animals and sends me odd trinkets he thinks I’d like. The latest little gift is a hand-carved wooden egg cup which he brought me from Canada. It’s hand-painted and looks like me, sort of. The face has black eyes and wisps of black hair that curls like mine. And it comes equipped with a blue felt cap that fits down over the egg. He brought it all the way from Canada and proudly told of the little old Canadian women who’d carved it by hand. Then I turned it over and saw the words “Made in Italy” stamped on the back. We both roared. He had just wanted me to think it was authentic Canadian and I loved him for it.
I love to kid him about having low-brow tastes such as when I want to see a “good” picture and all he wants to see is “The She Monsters” or something like that. “But honey,” he’ll say, “we have a lot of things in common. Don’t we both think you’re the most wonderful cook in the world?”
I do love cooking. Since Leslie likes to invite hordes of friends over, I’ve become an expert at “stretch-type” dishes—stews and things like that.
We love games. Used to have a mad passion for Monopoly, then Scrabble, and now it’s Clue that keeps us entranced. That’s a sort of whodunit type game with different clues as to the criminal, and just last week for the first time Leslie and I and some friends played penny ante poker. That’s really fun. I won twenty-eight cents and Leslie said, “I suppose I’ll never hear the end of that victory.”
“That’s all right dear,” I told him. “I intend investing my winnings in the business, anyway. So there’s really no loss.”
Maybe I better explain that Leslie’s “business” is an art shop. He and a friend of his specialize in marbles and mosaics. His friend Marty Perfit started the marble business. The night Leslie, Marty and I went to a Home Show to see mosaic exhibits, out of a clear blue sky Marty said, “Hey, Leslie, how would you like to go into business?” Leslie said “sure.” He didn’t even ask what kind. Three days later they opened their first mosaic shop and it’s done so well they’ve added a second place. Leslie may not be impulsive when it comes to courting me, but he opened a whole business in three days.
His lack of impulsiveness started one of our favorite running arguments that has to do with the fact that he never proposed to me. When I mention it, he gets very stern and says “What do you mean I never proposed?” And I say, “Well, you never did. The only definite offer I ever had came from one of your relatives.” And it’s true. You see, both Leslie and I love kids so much we spend a lot of time over at Leslie’s cousin, Alan Hersholt’s, house. They have two darling children. Well, a few weeks ago Greg, he’s six, threw his arms around me and said, “When I grow up I’m going to take you away from Uncle Leslie; unless you’ll marry me now!!”
Speaking of the Hersholts, I must tell you that no one in Hollywood knew that Leslie’s uncle was Jean Hersholt. There are very few aspiring actors who wouldn’t have shouted from the rooftops their relationship to a man who was one of the pioneers of this business. But Leslie never mentioned it until after he got his contract at Metro. He never even told me until long after we started dating.
Leslie has some pretty old-fashioned ideas when it comes to good taste and he has some pretty old-fashioned ideas when ‘it comes to womanhood, too. I don’t want to seem like a traitor to my sex but I agree with him completely. In fact, soon I’m quitting my job. I’m going to devote ten per cent of my time to being the same old Sandy and a heavenly ninety per cent to being Mr. Nielsen’s “private secretary.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1958