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The Girl With The Glass Heart—Connie Stevens

Four-and-a-half years ago on a November day—November 11, 1957, to be exact—comedian Jerry Lewis became Fairy Godfather to a Brooklyn Cinderella by the stroke of a ballpoint pen. Lewis, in pressing need of a leading lady for his Paramount picture, “Rock-a-bye Baby,” chose a dark-blond, chubby, somewhat frightened ex-usherette whose pumpkin coach was a seat-sprung, consumptive heap, and whose entire acting career, up to that moment, consisted of a twenty-second Langendorf bread TV commercial and a few one-or-two-line bits in some grade B run-of-the-mill quickies.

The blond, chubby, somewhat frightened nineteen-year-old over whom Lewis waved his wand (he had planned to use Debbie Reynolds, but Debbie was pregnant) was, if not exactly of Academy Award caliber, at least unique enough in other respects, as herewith noted:

Hers was a pleasant, if thin and reedy, singing voice coupled with an almost total inability to read music. She weighed close to 130 pounds, but her features were tiny and chiseled and her eyes were the pertest powder-blue. Her baptismal name was Concetta Ann Ingolia, but the name she signed on the Jerry Lewis contract was shorter. It was Connie Stevens.

Italian, Irish, English and part Mohican Indian, Jerry Lewis’ new rock-a-bye-baby was destined to become, inside of three short years, the All-American Girl—and a teenage idol.

Today, Connie Stevens’ ’61 powder-blue Cadillac convertible, a $7,000 pumpkin coach with white-wall tires, sits in the driveway of her big, new Beverly Glen house, or is parked just outside the Warner Brothers Green Room, where Connie lunches every day. This is the supreme status symbol, since only the biggest stars’ vehicles are allowed on the studio lot, and Connie is a big star. She has a personal manager, a business manager, a male secretary and one of the choicest dressing rooms at Warners. Her fan mail edges close to four thousand letters a week. She is not only the perky Cricket of ABC-TV’s, “Hawaiian Eye,” but she was handpicked to star—against some of the most green-eyed competition—in Warners’ “Parrish” and “Susan Slade.”

Yet Connie, in her secret heart, still feels herself the searcher for love, the rock-a-bye baby on the tree top afraid that the bough will break and the cradle will fall. Her frequent loneliness belies the cheerful “Connie Stevens’ smile” she shows the world. She is far thinner now (officially she is “110 pounds”), but her lunch is still a lettuce leaf and part of a glass of milk. She sleeps with the light on, for she has had, since childhood, a kind of terror of the dark; and she goes to bed wearing her green eye makeup, perhaps so that she can reassure herself, when she faces her mirror in the morning, that she is still “Connie Stevens, Movie Star.”

Her earth, like yours and mine, whirls on its axis at a dizzying 1000 miles per hour, hurtling through space in its orbit around the sun. But for Connie, even this break-neck pace is sometimes barely fast enough.

If it were possible, she would somehow tumble twice twenty-four hours into each of her days, for there are times when, for Connie, nothing is ever fast enough. There are other times, however, when she remembers that even for a Connie Stevens, night must sometimes fall (“I just never want the day to end,” she says), and then she takes refuge in an old Walter Mitty dream. In the dream she sees herself clamping a mighty brake around the hastening earth, squeezing the brake lever tighter and tighter, telling herself, almost desperately, that if she can only slow the flight of time, the girl on the treetop will stay on the treetop and the cradle may never fall.

This is Connie, the paradox, the girl with the glass heart who cannot bear to have it broken.

From bounce to blues

Bouncy and ebullient one moment, Connie’s moods can turn the bluest indigo the next. The sudden melancholy may stem from a memory escaping out of her broken-home childhood, a stab of pain because she wants both a career and marriage, and is unable—at this moment—to blend the two; the almost lacerating need to love and be loved; or the awareness, as she once confessed, that “I don’t think I’d make a good wife now.”

It would take nothing less than an IBM computer to tabulate the list of Hollywood’s ever-lovin’ males Connie has dated or is dating. Like a hummingbird darting from bloom to bloom, Connie today seems to flit from male to male faster even than a person can tally.

Studio apologists smile this off, maintaining that Connie believes “there is safety in numbers, and it tickles her to confuse the columnists.” It is a glib and easy explanation, but truth lies deeper.

There is in Connie a kind of steely single-mindedness about the things she wants, and an almost irresistible drive. Yet there is in her, too, a curiously childlike quality and an ever-present doubt. “That Connie kills me,” one of her former escorts mused. “For a long time she was a real nail-biter, out of sheer nervousness, I guess. Anyway, she stopped, and one day she proudly showed me her new, long nails. I think she was happier about kick- ing that habit than being a star.”

To Director Delmer Daves, who worked with her in both “Parrish” and “Susan Slade,” Connie is a “real goer,” a girl who must be champion, no matter what, but one, too, whom a single cross word will destroy. She goes into a big silence when upset, and won’t say what’s bothering her. She doesn’t sulk or pout; she just withdraws. “Often, she deprecates herself needlessly,” Daves said, “and I had to keep building up her confidence.”

There was one big scene in “Parrish,” when Connie fell into a panic and couldn’t face the camera. The scene involved Connie and Troy Donahue; a scene in which Connie, as Lucy, the little tobacco field hand, had to break the news to Parrish that she was going to have his child.

“It was to be our very last shot on location,” Daves recalled. “We had a chartered plane standing by, waiting to fly the company home. I don’t know exactly what it was costing us, but every minute meant production overhead that could ruin us. And that was when Connie, white and shaken, came to me and said, ‘Del, I’m sorry. I just can’t do this scene.’

“ ‘Of course you can,’ I said, trying to soothe her. ‘It’s a big scene, sure, but you’re up to it. You’ve done everything I’ve asked you so far. Why worry; you have it made.’

“ ‘No,’ she said, ‘I shouldn’t even be here. I can’t act. I don’t belong. Five minutes ago I couldn’t come up with a single tear for the scene, and here I am weeping bucketsful in front of you. I’m no good, I tell you; I’m no good!’

“Well, there we were with that plane waiting, and Connie ready to collapse with fright. I put my arm around her quivering shoulders, dismissed the company, and took her with me for a little walk beyond the tobacco bam. I could see she was all tensed up inside, so I talked to her soothingly, like to a baby. I told her that even the biggest, most experienced stars sometimes find themselves in a panic, that I had faith in her. the studio had faith in her, and there was no reason for her to be so afraid.

“After a while she wiped her eyes, looked at me and smiled, ‘All right, Del,’ she said, ‘give me one more chance.’

“Of course, she did the scene finally—did it perfectly, after just one rehearsal. And if you saw the picture, you know there wasn’t the slightest sign of what Connie had had to face.”

Connie, remembering that day, said, “I knew that if I blew up, I’d ruin the whole thing. I couldn’t bear being responsible for holding up the company. You see, I have this theory about life: If you tell yourself you can’t do something, you find yourself unable to do it. And here I was saying that I couldn’t face the camera. It really got me scared.”

Talking with Connie and her friends, tracing her background, tracking down the luck, the breaks, the qualities inside her that have helped capture the fancy of teenagers, one finds in Connie a curious refrain. “All this” (meaning her success), she keeps saying over and over, almost compulsively, “happened to me in just three and a half years.” It is as if she herself feels unworthy and unbelieving, and cannot yet grasp her success.

This reporter remembers a sunny Saturday afternoon not long ago, when Connie’s house, as always, was filled with people: her father, her brother Charlie, her two little nieces Christy and Corey, her housekeeper, her publicity man, a covey of old friends and a photographer.

Watching all this in wonderment were the two little nieces. The photographer’s cameras and flash bulbs meant only one thing to them. “Connie,” little Corey piped up, “Connie, are you a movie star?”

Connie reached down and kissed her little niece. “No, darling,” she murmured softly, and it seemed to me there was a sob in her voice. “No, I’m not a movie star. I’m just your old Aunt Connie.”

There are some who say that the real Connie Stevens, the one you rarely see, is the girl on the treetop, the searcher: a Connie secretly, and all too frequently, frightened and unsure.

Yet there is still another Connie, equally real, equally admirable: the every-day Connie who has a “specially built-in radiance that enables her to cope with life.” With it, she can sometimes—for a day or even for an hour—escape her fears.

Somehow, out of some reservoir of strength, out of the sheer joy of being alive, she finds the courage to hide her loneliness—at least much of the time.

This Connie is the bouncy, perky girl with the cute face, the ponytail and the funny little speaking voice who is Cricket Blake, the All-American Dream.

This is a spunky, courageous, willing-to-laugh-at-herself Connie, who can say, of what friends declare is her gravest fault: “It’s not that I’m not punctual; I’m just never ready on time.”

She’s late, she claims, despite her three alarm clocks, because she had to sit up with a sick poodle, or couldn’t find a pair of shoes to match (she owns some 150 pair), or her plane had a flat tire. “You could make up a book of 200 pages, containing excuses,” one pal said, “and you still wouldn’t have them all.”

She loves her TV show and the fame it has brought her. But when she felt that her increasing stature entitled her to a Grade A dressing room, rather than Grade Z, she wheedled until she got it.

“Sure, I battled for a better dressing room,” Connie giggles. “They had me in a kind of barracks before. I’ve been around here for ages—well, a couple of years, anyway—and suddenly I noticed that ‘transit’ actors, people who come in for just a day or two of work, were being treated better than the regulars. So I screamed. Now I’ve got a real cute place—a kind of little apartment, with a kitchen and a bath, decorated real girlie-girlie. I’ve got a lot of boys’ pictures on the walls. It’s wonderful, and when I look at it, I know I’ve arrived.”

Ask her why, at twenty-three, she obligated herself to the extent of some $70,000 to buy her big new house and she’ll tell you, pertly, “Well, after all, I wouldn’t want to meet Cary Grant, say, living in a shack and wearing a sweatshirt and dirty old jeans. People in the public eye should dress well, don’t you think?”

In the plush Warner Brothers Green Room, the menu lists a dish called a “Connie Stevens Special”—a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Connie is less concerned about the honor paid her than the fact that her fellow actors and actresses avoid the concoction like the plague. “It’s really a lovely dish,” says Connie straight-faced, “that is, if you like peanut butter and bananas.”

Little Wit’s End, Iowa

She has been known, when asked, to reel off statistics about herself like the chorus of a “June-moon” song: “I’m five feet two (check), eyes of blue (check), and oh, boy, what I could do for you (double check)! My weight is one hundred and ten and that’s a fib. My age is I’m-not-going-to-tell-you! and don’t say I look sixteen; I probably do.” Yet she can also, in impish moments, confound interrogators by telling them she was born in, say Little Wit’s End, Iowa, in 1903, when her real birthplace was Coney Island, and the year was 1938. “I only do this,” says Connie, twinkling, “when I’m bored, or if the questioner isn’t listening, or treats me like a child.”

No one under-estimates Connie’s native intelligence, at least, not for long. But friends close to Connie are often amused by a kind of special innocence she has, a quality of wide-eyed wonder. “By now, you’d imagine she’d be blase or even disenchanted with movie stars,” said John Ashley, whom she dated before he wed Debbie Walley. “Connie’s been around enough of them. But she’s still got that star-dust in her eyes. Not long ago I took her to the opening of the Ice Capades, and she sat there open-mouthed, staring at all the big names.”

It was Ashley, too, who watched in disbelief the day Connie bought fifty-five pair of shoes, all in one fell swoop. “This gal is plain bargain-crazy,” John laughed. “You’d think she’d go to Magnin’s or Saks-Fifth Avenue, but no, this was in a middle-class department store. She started to buy just one pair, but because she thought she was getting a good price, she wound up buying fifty-five pairs. I had to carry them all out for her. You know, I doubt if she ever wore them all. She’ll buy dresses three sizes too big if she thinks they’re pretty or ‘good buys.’ Then she’ll hang them in a closet and forget them.”

Ashley is eternally grateful for the interest she took in his burgeoning career. As Ashley puts it, “I think Connie liked me as a friend and companion, but she also knew it was helpful to a newcomer like myself to be seen and photographed with her. She gave me confidence, and her advice on my career was always shrewd and sound. I’ll never forget the time Connie read in the trade papers that I’d been signed to star in ABC-TV’s Straightaway. She called me up and said, ‘Ashley, this is your agent. Where’s my ten per cent?’ There’s no one like her.”

Probably no one but Connie Stevens could barge into Cuba on the eve of a revolution, and come out unscathed. Connie was barely twenty when she decided to take off for a Mexico City vacation all alone. “I’d never been anywhere by myself, and I wanted to see if I could manage. In Mexico City I met some people who had a house in Havana, and they invited me there. So I went. Of course, it was just when Castro was taking over. Everywhere I looked, the streets were filled with bearded characters waving machine guns. I got out, but fast. But I discovered that little Connie Stevens could manage things by herself. It was the kind of challenge I’ve always liked.”

Challenges, indeed, have always intrigued her, and her way of accepting the challenge can vary as the hours of the day. Sometimes she will say, as if in explanation of her actions, “Now if I were a normal girl, I probably wouldn’t do that” . . . “normal” meaning, in Connie’s unique and special language, someone who is not an entertainer.

I’m gorgeous again!”

Yet Connie’s reaction to a fit of depression, a bout of moodiness, or an attack of the blues is “normal.”

“When I have insomnia and can’t sleep, and this happens to me pretty often,” Connie says, “I get up, straighten out my clothes closets and clean out my dresser drawers. Sometimes I stay up till two or three o’clock. The next morning they seem messed up, but I feel better.

“When I’m nervous or worried about something, I chew gum like crazy, or else I’d be biting my nails. And, of course, when I’m real depressed—and nobody can stay up on Cloud Nine forever—I do what every woman does. I shop. Then I come home and say to myself, ‘Well, I’m gorgeous again!’ ”

All par for the course, as most any woman knows. But Connie’s powder-blue Cadillac convertible is a different story, a strictly Connie Stevens’ story.

Some gossips around the studio maintain that Connie bought the car as a status symbol. Connie’s version sounds more like Connie. “It happened last Christmas Eve, when I was finishing ‘Susan Slade,’ ” said Connie. “I’d been sick with a bad cold, and I was feeling terribly let down and blue. I still had to do the most dramatic scene in the picture, and I was scared to death I’d flop. Everybody was either gone for the holidays, or going, and there I was with my nose running and my eyes all pink, and feeling like a lost soul.”

As Connie remembers, at that particular moment the salesman who had sold Bob Conrad his Cadillac walked on the set.

“Hey,” said Connie, out of some sudden and inexplicable urge, “do you have a powder-blue convertible with a white top and white-wall tires?”

“Why, no, Miss Stevens,” the salesman said, “but I could get one for you in about six weeks.”

For Connie, who wants what she wants when she wants it, this wouldn’t do at all. “Why don’t you call your office and see what you have?” she wheedled.

There was, it seemed, a powder-blue convertible with a white top and white-wall tires available; a customer had ordered it and hadn’t taken delivery.

“Fine,” said Connie, “can you deliver it to me right now?”

“Now?” the man begged, “this is Christmas Eve. You know we can’t do anything that fast.”

“Well,” Connie said, “if you can’t deliver it within an hour, it’s no sale.”

An hour or so later, Connie was behind the wheel of her new Cadillac. Stimulated and keyed up by her victory like a shot of adrenalin, Connie went through her big scene in “Susan Slade,” the one that had frightened her so, in one quick take. “My blues had completely disappeared,” Connie remembered, beaming like a cuddly, blue-eyed imp. “I asked my stand-in Claudine to drive my old car home and I drove the Cad. I never felt better.”

This drive to get what she wants when she wants it runs the gamut from automobiles to movie roles. “When I was campaigning to get one of the leads in ‘Parrish,’ ” she said. “I was knocking on every door, kicking ’em in the shins.”

Those who know Connie well also say that she’s a get-what-you-want-and-get-it-right-now girl because she’s fighting like crazy to forget her past. Connie herself says, “For a long time back there in Brooklyn, I had practically nothing. Now that I’m doing well, I intend to make the most of it.”

It may indeed be that Connie Stevens is fighting to strip herself of her past, for there are curious inconsistencies in her attitude toward her early years and the heartbreak she faced when her mother and father divorced.

“It’s funny,” Connie said recently, with a kind of wonderment in her voice, “when I go East to visit my mom and my half-sister, Ave Maria, and my half-brothers, Ralph and John Megna, I say to my Hollywood friends, ‘I’m going home.’ I still think of Brooklyn as my home.”

At nine, her world fell apart . . .

Of her early life in Brooklyn, Connie says defiantly, “I never felt unloved a minute of my life. Sure, when I was nine years old my world fell apart. I could only sit and wonder ‘what’s happened to me . . . what’s happened to my mother and my father . . .’ but I never felt unloved—not for one minute.”

The ill-starred marriage of Connie’s parents lasted less than ten years. Both parents were young, perhaps even much too young to marry and start a family. Connie’s father Peter Ingolia (he later took the professional name of Teddy Stevens), was a musician and night-club entertainer, and he was just nineteen when he became a bridegroom. Connie’s mother Eleanor McGinley, Irish and part Indian and a singer, was barely seventeen.

“They were in love, or thought they were,” Connie says now, “but maybe they just weren’t mature enough for marriage. Dad was always on the road somewhere trying to earn a buck. There were times when he couldn’t get home for months.”

After the divorce, the court awarded custody of Connie and her older brother Charlie to Teddy Stevens’ Sicilian parents. The elder Ingolia was a shoemaker; his wife worked as a part-time seamstress. There was Uncle Sonny, who had a fish-market, and Uncle Joe and Aunt Francie and scores of cousins. They were decent, simple people—small property owners, who owed no man a dollar.

Both Connie and Chuck insist that “no kids were ever closer than we two, nor had as much warm family love as we had. We had a good home life; we never lacked anything; we had uncles and aunts and cousins all around.”

In the close-knit, tribal Italian way, the grandparents were “Mama and Papa”, but it was “Mama” who held the family together. Their big, cluttered, old-fashioned house was one of a row of four they owned on Gates Avenue, in the noisy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Out in the back yard were peach trees and grape arbors and tomato vines; artichokes and rabbit hutches; rosebushes and crimson hollyhocks. “It was like a little farm, right in the heart of Brooklyn,” Charlie said. “Mama” tilled the earth and braced up the vines, heavy with clusters of purple Concord grapes. She held the too-greedy Connie’s swimming head when she’d eat the grapes before they were ripe and make herself sick.

Often it was long past midnight before Connie could be coaxed to bed. There were no hours; she went to sleep when her grandmother went to sleep, and even then Connie had to be bribed with a huge bunch of grapes. “Maybe I didn’t know any better,” Connie said, “but I thought this was the way life was supposed to be. Dad was away so much; Mom had re-married—she lived way up in Queens—and Charlie and I saw her only rarely. So our grandparents were really ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ to us.”

How to become a good pool player

And Connie and Chuck were always together; without him, she admits, she would have been lost. Connie shined her brother’s shoes for quarters, saved the money in an olive jar until she had two or three dollars, and then would find herself “loaning” the money again, when Chuck would be short of cash for a date or for an evening with the gang. “That con artist,” she laughed, “he never paid me back. By the time I was ten, he must have owed me at least $7,000!”

Often, too, when Chuck began dating—he was about fifteen then—Connie would have to be brought along. If the gang went to the movies, Connie was with the crowd. If it was a day at the beach, Connie had her swimsuit ready also. “Poor Charlie couldn’t get rid of me,” Connie grinned. “I remember he’d go up to Daddy and say, ‘Dad, I’ve got this hot date; can I have my loot?’ Then Dad would say, ‘Yes, but you’ll have to take your sister along.’ Charlie might grumble, but he’d take me.

“But sometimes, if the girl was a little prettier than the rest, Chuck would pretend to take me with him, and then drop me off at the corner pool hall. There I’d have to stay with the fellows, while Charlie went off with his date. Since I had nothing else to do, I’d pick up a pool cue and get in the game. That’s how I became such a good pool player.”

Yet, by some curious magic, little Connie seemed to carry a shield of innocence around her. “Our section,” as Charlie tells it, “was a pretty bad neighborhood when we were growing up. There were gang fights all the time. Where we lived was the Williamsburg area, but to give ourselves a little class, we said we lived in Ridgewood. Just the same, Connie could go any place in Brooklyn where I was known, and she was safe, because she was ‘Inky’s’ sister. That’s the nickname I had, since our family name was Ingolia.”

She could go, too, this Connie, all alone on the bus to visit her mother who lived miles away in Queens. The bus fare was three cents, plus a couple of pennies for a transfer, and Connie would sometimes pick herself up and go to see her mom for an hour or two. It wasn’t too often, Connie admits; she could have seen her mother more frequently. She and Charlie

had the money; there was “always money,” as she says now, for Teddy Stevens, when he was home, was forever passing out five dollar hills to his kids, urging them to go see their mother. Even their grandparents kept their pockets filled.

“But we were too young to understand, to realize that we ought to see Mom more often,” Charlie explained. “Connie and I would talk it over, and we’d say, ‘Well, should we go visit Mom, or take this money and see a movie, maybe take in Coney Island?’ I’m sorry to confess that all too often we voted for Coney Island or a movie. We were just dopey kids. Today we’re closer to our mom than we ever were when we were young.”

Connie and her brother were constantly going to the movies. Charlie maintains that, already at the ripe age of seven, Connie was forever telling the family, “I’m going to be a big movie star! I’m going to be a big singing star!” “Yes, I said it,” she giggles, “but I don’t know if I believed it or not.”

In her dreams, Connie was the living image of her idol, June Allyson. June was Connie’s very favorite movie star, and her adoration drove the family crazy. She begged her father to buy her a dress with a little Peter Pan collar just like June’s; she combed her hair like June’s, and saved every picture, every line she read, every magazine that carried a picture of Miss Allyson. “I don’t really know why I admired June so much,” Connie says reflectively. “Maybe I was attracted to her because she seemed so soft and spoke so coyly. She was the All-American girl to me.”

Like a demure little June Allyson she looked, this Connie—a girl who belonged to the Catholic Youth Organization, appeared in minstrel shows with her schoolmates at P.S. 75, and sang regularly on Sundays in the choir of St. Barbara’s Catholic Church. “Our grandmother had to drag me to church on Sunday,” Charlie said, “but Connie never had to be forced.”

She was in both the big church choir and the little choir for early Sunday Masses, and she remembers how thrilled she was to be able to sing in Latin. “That was something,” she says. “The Latin was terribly difficult, but we sang it. I loved the color and the pageantry of it; I was so moved, I could almost feel my halo.”

I’m going to beat you up!”

Just the same, Connie, when she had to, could throw a solid right. In their neighborhood, a quick pair of fists was a must, and Connie had been coached by an expert, her brother. It wasn’t that Connie was a fighter, or looking for trouble. But when trouble came, she was ready.

A tough little thirteen-year-old bully discovered how ready she was. One day, when the little tough was crowding the other kids off the sidewalk with his bike, he got mad at his own kid sister and kicked her in the leg. “I saw red.” said Connie. “ ‘Get off that bike,’ I yelled at him, ‘because I’m going to beat you up.’ ”

The boy was older than Connie and far heavier. But Connie didn’t care. She yanked him off his bike, and began pounding him with her fists. “It was a real fight,” Connie said. “He was punching me as though I were a boy; I was getting bruised and hurt, and I thought to myself, ‘This guy is going to kill me.’

“So I threw him on the ground and I was whacking away at his head, and a big crowd of kids came around, yelling, ‘Smack him, Connie; smack him.’ Suddenly my aunt was there in front of us. She had been shopping, and when she saw us, she dropped her bundles, slapped the boy and said, ‘Now you get on home.’

“He went home bawling to his old man, and his father came over to our house, and complained to Dad that ‘your daughter beat up my son.’ Dad almost pushed the fellow down the stairs. ‘If that big bruiser kid of yours can’t handle himself with a little nine-year-old girl,’ Dad said, ‘then he’s in pretty bad shape.’ Nobody gets huffy with my dad.”

That same year, tragedy struck. Connie came home from school one day to find her Uncle Sonny there, white-faced and shaken. “Connie,” he said, “it’s Mama. She’s gone, Connie; she’s gone.”

With her beloved grandmother’s death, Connie’s world fell apart. Her grandfather, shaken by grief, moved to California. Some of her uncles were going into the Army, some were getting married. Teenaged Chuck, much as he loved his sister, was inevitably drawn to his own crowd of older boys and girls. Connie’s father was always away, or so it seemed, playing in some distant night spot. “Overnight,” Connie said, “I seemed to find myself all alone. The house was being closed up, and I didn’t seem to have anybody. I used to sit alone in a kind of daze, asking myself, ‘What’s happened to my life?’ ”

Adding to Connie’s anguish and misery was the knowledge that with her mother’s re-marriage, children were being born—a family apart from her own. It added to Connie’s feeling of rejection, of jealousy, and she thought it “horribly unfair.” “I would go over and see my mother now and then,” Connie remembers, “but I just wound up feeling miserable. It never occurred to me that my mother had a right to happiness, too.”

After a family council, Connie and Chuck were installed in an apartment on the second floor of one of the Ingolia houses, with some family friends above them, and her Aunt Francie and her husband below.

“Aunt Francie could never give me as much attention as she really wanted to,” Connie said. “Her place was with her husband, as it had to be. There were times when he became annoyed with my aunt for doing our wash, looking after our meals, or making sure we were behaving as we should.”

Charlie, help me . . .”

About this time, Connie began to develop sudden and mysterious toothaches and earaches. All at once the pain, for no apparent reason, would demolish her.

“Charlie, Charlie, help me.” she’d cry.

“Sure. sure, honey,” Charlie would say. “We’ll get in the car and go for a ride.”

“I couldn’t bear to have a doctor or dentist examine me.” Connie remembers, “so we’d get in Charlie’s car and drive all the way out to Nathan’s on Coney Island, maybe fifteen or twenty miles, get some hamburgers or frankfurters, and feast on them at two or three in the morning. Then my pains would disappear immediately.”

“I think,” Charlie says today, “Connie got those pains because she was afraid to be alone in the house. Of course, we had lots of relatives living on the floors above and below—so Connie wasn’t ever abandoned or anything like that. But if I had a date with the gang or a girl, I’d make sure Connie was sound asleep before I went out.”

To the fearful, lonely Connie of that time, the word “psychosomatic” was an unknown term. She had no way of knowing that grave and mysterious pains are often the symptoms of disturbed emotions. Now, with maturity, she understands herself a little better. “I guess those pains might have been my way of begging for attention. I couldn’t bear to be left alone.”

The problem worried Connie’s father. He knew something had to be done.

“Connie, honey,” Teddy Stevens said one day, “I think you’ll be better off in a boarding school. I’ve picked a place—Mary, Help of Christians Academy, in Paterson, New Jersey. It’s a fine Catholic school. You’ll like the Sisters, and you’ll make a lot of new friends there.”

“But I don’t want to make any new friends,” Connie wailed. “I like the friends I have now.”

“Well,” said Teddy, “it will only be for a couple of years, and then we’ll see.”

“A couple of years!” Connie cried. “Daddy, how am I going to stand it?”

But with the resiliency of a child, Connie somehow adapted. She was a rebel, a non-conformist, and more than a little spoiled. If her father said she had to stay in boarding school for two years, she would stay, but she didn’t have to like it. It was, Connie knows now, probably the lowest point in her life. She did “a lot of praying,” but her pride was strong, and she says, “I had a problem. I decided I’d either lick it, or be licked by it. What helped was that a lot of the kids at Mary, Help of Christians were from broken homes, too, and I didn’t feel such an outcast among them. I wasn’t especially happy about my life, but the rough times I had gave me more understanding.”

Rebellious Connie had never really been disciplined by her father, and she had never learned to discipline herself. “I was used to going to bed when I pleased, or when my family did, and now I had to be in bed by a certain hour,” Connie said. “I told myself that I wasn’t going to let the Sisters force me to go to sleep when I didn’t feel like it. Our dormitory was next to the chapel, and it was always light outside at curfew, even as late as nine o’clock. I couldn’t bear to see the day end; I still can’t. By the time the bell rang for lights out, we were supposed to be in bed. We just had time to take a quick shower, shine our shoes for the next day, and brush our teeth. When the bell rang, all the other kids were already in bed, but I was still mooning and staring out the window.”

The discipline was rugged, but Connie survived it. More and more she discovered that the other girls and the Sisters wanted to be her friends, rather than her enemies. “I’ll confess that I hated everything those first few months, or thought I did. I wasn’t going to let myself like anybody, no matter how nice they were. But when the other girls showed me that even though they weren’t rebels they could still play baseball as well as I could, or handle themselves in a fist fight, I thought maybe they weren’t such squares after all, and perhaps we might begin to be friends. And when I was ready to leave Mary, Help of Christians at the end of the two-year period Daddy had decreed, I discovered something. I found out that scholastically, I had learned a lot. This helped me later, when I went back to St. Barbara’s in Brooklyn. And though it hadn’t made me exactly docile—I’ll always be a rebel—I was given wonderful training, taught manners, and made a bit more of a lady. Now I know that that boarding school was one of the good things in my life.”

A summer to remember . . .

Connie was now close to twelve, and ready to take up life again in Brooklyn. But first she was given a summer holiday with some friends in Booneville, Missouri—a wonderful summer that she will always remember. Connie found a couple of girls her age who lived on a farm nearby. She climbed windmills, played barefooted in the creek, drank apple cider, ate corn bread and tangy apple butter—things, she says, “I never even knew existed. That summer I gained thirty pounds.”

She was a chubby little girl when she arrived back home, to live again with her eighteen-year-old brother on the second floor of the old three-story house. At St. Barbara’s Parochial School she was pushed ahead of her age group, because of extra credits she had earned at boarding school. Classmates urged her to enter singing contests; they led her personal cheering section, but somehow Connie never came in first; she always won second prize. Now boys began to occupy her thoughts, and she got violent crushes on football players, track stars, basketball champions, none of whom looked at her.

St. Barbara’s, in the higher grades, was an all-girls school, and since Connie met new boys only rarely, she expended her bounding energy on class activities. Her musical heritage gave her the right to produce and act in all the shows. She starred in and directed virtually all the plays. The freshman class made her their president—but she was “impeached.”

It seems that the World Series was taking place, and Connie was in a frenzy with baseball fever. (“I had a big crush on Yogi Berra of the Yankees for years,” Connie once said. “I thought he was the handsomest man I’d ever seen.”) During the fifth game, the teacher was ill, and as class president, Connie had to keep the class occupied. She borrowed a portable radio, had a couple of the other girls go out for potato chips and pop. The noise was too much for the Sisters, and suddenly there was a delegation demanding to know the reason for the “riot.” The next day, Connie was an ex-class president.

Though Connie, as she declared, “would have scrubbed floors to be in show business,” her father felt differently. Now and then, when he was home, he would let her sing a song or two with his band, but be still wanted her to remain just a “normal little girl.”

“It’s not for you, baby,” he would say. “Sing for fun, if you like, but don’t try to make a career of it. You don’t want a lonely life like mine. It’s not for you.”

And yet Connie’s life was often lonely enough. By now Chuck had married and gone into the Army. The aunts and uncles of her childhood were busy raising their own families. Her Dad managed to get back to Brooklyn only a few weeks out of the year. On the surface, Connie seemed gay and light-hearted, but inside she was scared. There were nights when she felt so lonely and dejected she could only take refuge in food—more and more food. It was the only comfort she knew; but the food did not erase her loneliness; it only added to her pounds.

Teddy Stevens somehow sensed his daughter’s unhappiness and despair, for he decided to quit the road and take a more-or-less permanent job playing at the Roof Garden of the Chase Hotel in St. Louis. He phoned Connie and asked her to join him.

St. Louis, Connie remembers, was not a bad place for a teenager growing up; she enrolled at Soldan-Blewett Junior High, and in time became the school’s leading entertainer. She sang at dances, rallies, fraternity and sorority parties. Evenings she would join her father in the nearby Park-Plaza restaurant for dinner, and if she saw a family group with a daughter her age, she longed to make the girl her friend.

Once, encouraged by her father, she went over to a girl whose appearance she liked and said shyly, “Hello, my name is Connie Stevens. Do you live in this hotel?” The girl did not, but explained that she was just having dinner with her family, who had a large house nearby. “And do you know something?” Connie recalled, “we became real good friends. Through her, I eventually met a lot of nice kids, and I was asked to join a Jewish sorority. I was the only Catholic in it.”

Something new was added—boys!

Soldan-Blewett was co-ed, and this was something new to Connie. In Brooklyn, at St. Barbara’s, her classmates had been just girls—“a kind of one-sex school,” as Connie called it. With boys, handsome, well-dressed, socially prominent boys around her, Connie had some adjusting to do. Her Brooklyn accent, in that Middle-Western climate, struck some of the kids as funny. Her hair was wrong, her clothes were wrong, and she was much too chubby for her peace of mind.

It took Connie a while to adjust herself to this alien world, and once or twice she skipped classes because she was so unhappy. Then she was elected cheerleader, and life changed. She went on a diet so that she, too, could wear Capris and pedal-pushers and attract the football heroes. Her grades, which had been good, started slipping. “I got ‘A’ in boys,” Connie grinned, “but in other subjects I wasn’t too good.” A friendly teacher ultimately helped her bring her grades back up to her old standards.

But before this, while Connie was still a newcomer, she had to face, alone, one of the bewildering moments of her life. This was the night when she suddenly entered womanhood. Always a kind of hoyden, a tomboy, Connie, strangely enough, had never been taken aside and told of the perfectly normal, physiological changes which take place at puberty in a girl’s body. “Daddy was with the band,” Connie said, “and I was by myself in our hotel apartment. I got terribly scared because I didn’t know what was happening to me. I couldn’t ask Dad because he was busy working, and besides, I would have been embarrassed. Finally, feeling perfectly awful, I stammered out my predicament to the woman manager of the hotel. ‘You poor kid’ she said, and then she explained things to me.

“But it was a terrible time, one of the worst I ever remember. I could only cry and ask myself why I had no one around to comfort me and tell me the facts of life.”

Connie was not yet fifteen when she had an even greater crisis in her life, in that glittering dream world for which her hungry heart had yearned. She went to Hollywood, but even there, the dream became almost a nightmare.


See Connie on “Hawaiian Eye,” ABC-TV, every Wednesday from 9-10 P.M. EDT.



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