“The Lie I’ve Lived—The Person I’ve Cheated”
CONNIE STEVENS sighed and sank bark against the plush,, pink upholstery of her chair. In some indefinite, mysterious way she seemed to have aged and matured in the past several months. It was almost as if she had donned a mask that transformed her from a pretty, vivacious girl into a beautiful, sensitive woman. Perhaps sensing my thoughts, she smiled and softly said, “I’m different now. I’m not the same Connie Stevens you used to know. Would you like to know why? It’s because I’m suddenly conscious of all the things I’ve done wrong in my life and I’m determined to correct them. You see, I know now that I’ve lived a lie—
“Just think for a moment of the success I’ve had without really trying very hard,” she declared earnestly. “Last year I won Photoplay’s Gold Medal Award as the most popular actress, though I’ve never taken an acting lesson. I’m considered one of the top three female singers in the country, yet I’ve never had a singing lesson. I’ve won the Motion Picture Exhibitors’ poll although I have never been a really dedicated actress.
“All these things have come to me the easy way. I’ve read columns which refer to me as the ‘Golden Girl.’ I think perhaps that might be a good description of me, only because everything I’ve ever touched professionally has turned to gold. It’s happened so often that after a while I began to take all my good fortune for granted. But not any more. Now I ask myself why. Why should I have been so fortunate? What did I do to deserve it? I never worked terribly hard, I never studied. So, why?
Connie paused a moment and then added softly, “Do you know that in all the years I’ve appeared on ‘Hawaiian Eye’ I never even took the time to really study a script before shooting? Do you realize that I never knew what the completed story would be until after the show was shot? I was like a sorority girl, more concerned with extracurricular activities than with work. Why knock myself out if I could get passing grades? Why work hard if I could pass the test anyway? Like that girl, I never realized until later that the only one I was cheating was myself.”
She shook her head firmly to emphasize her next words. “It wasn’t right,” she said. “I know that now. I cheated myself before, but I’ll never do it again. I’ve changed. I’m a new Connie Stevens. Not only professionally but in every other way. I want different things now—from myself, from life, from love.
“Why have I changed? The answer to that is pretty complicated. Gary Clarke, the studio, the people around me—they were all part of it. But it wasn’t until I was in Australia last year that I really took a good, hard look at myself and decided I didn’t like the person I saw.”
Connie’s face was grave now, her eyes clouded with pain as she recalled, “I remember how tense I was as I waited in the dressing room before my opening night performance at the Chevron Hilton Hotel in Sydney. The evening was so very important to me! It was to be my debut as a night-club performer, but it was even more than that. It was my chance to prove I was capable of expanding my professional horizons. I had gone on suspension from Warner Brothers over this issue and now, in a few moments, I would have a chance to prove to the studio and to the world that I could be more than just a television actress.
“I was so nervous. My knees shook uncontrollably as I waited in the wings. I was so afraid the audience would notice my legs shaking that I pleaded with the production manager to allow me to change into a floor-length gown. He laughed and told me how silly my fears were while he gently steered me toward the stage. I felt like I was in limbo. I could hear the music announcing my entrance, but the sound seemed a million miles away. I must have floated—or been pushed—because the next thing I knew I was standing by myself on the stage with hundreds of people staring up at me.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that audience. Perhaps they were so extraordinarily nice because they sensed my fright. I grabbed the mike and stammered, ‘Hello, all of you. I wish I wasn’t so nervous,’ and they laughed. They applauded. They called out that they were with me. They were my friends, all of them. They responded to each song I sang with wild, enthusiastic applause.
“By the time I finished my act and came back on stage for an encore I could actually laugh about the fears I had had. I was filled with a heady confidence, a giggly exuberance. ‘They like me!’ I told myself. ‘I was right all along. I can be a successful night-club singer!’
“My smugness lasted only until the next evening’s performance. Opening night audiences, I discovered later, are a very special lot. They understand a performer’s nervousness and will tolerate mistakes.
“I discovered how unique they are when I walked on stage the second evening. This time I wasn’t hampered by fright or feelings of unsureness. ‘You knocked ’em dead last night,’ I assured myself and saw no reason to believe I wouldn’t be a success again that night.
“I was so terribly mistaken. Before I had sung my first number halfway through I knew something was wrong. By the end of the show I felt as if someone had unceremoniously kicked my legs out from under me. In no uncertain terms, I had fallen on my face. Oh, the patrons applauded, all right, but only because it was the thing to do, politely and half-heartedly. At first I couldn’t understand it. Then, as I walked offstage, I turned to look one last time at the audience. Suddenly I knew what was wrong. These people were not my friends. I had no right to expect them to be. They were strangers who had paid to see a professional performer give them all of which she was capable. They felt cheated.
“I returned to my hotel room. Without waiting to change my clothes, I threw myself on the bed. I wanted to lose myself in sleep, but I couldn’t. I wanted to close my mind against all the unfamiliar, unpleasant thoughts that screamed at me. I tried to defend myself against the truths that entered my head, saying, ‘You’re exaggerating everything. Tonight you just had a cold crowd. What about your television audience? They’ve always liked your work.’ But Mr. Truth always had an answer. On television I was safe. No one could complain. No halfhearted applause could let me know what people thought of my performance. Not on TV.
“I had waited so long to see what people would think of me as a nightclub singer. Well, I found out. I was slapped across the face that evening by strangers as effectively as if I were a newborn infant being startled into life.
“It was to become my moment of truth. With a sudden awareness I realized I had cheated my audience. I had given them the same thing I was used to giving those who watched me perform on television—just the part of me that took not too much effort. I knew that the fault was no one’s but mine. I had never had the courage to dig down inside me and bring forth all that I was capable of, to work as hard as I pos6İbly could so that I would become as good as I wanted to be.
“When I walked on stage the third evening it was like entering a new life. By the time I finished the show I felt drained. I, who had never perspired before in my life, was covered with perspiration. I worked harder during that one performance than I ever had before. For the first time in my career something hadn’t gone the way I wanted it and I was determined not to accept my defeat. I was mad! I was hurt! I was out to prove I was good! I sold my audience that night. I walked out on that stage, looked the crowd right in the eye and said silently, ‘You are going to like me!’ And they did. The thrilling thing was that they did.”
A faint smile lightened Connie’s somber face as she returned to the present. “I learned that evening that I could be a nightclub performer,” she said, “and I learned something else far more important. I discovered I could never again be content to accept success as something due me. From that moment on I began to be a new person. I was no longer young, flighty ‘Cricket.’ I wanted to study. I wanted to learn. I wanted to grow as an actress.
“By the time I returned home a week later a new Connie Stevens was beginning to take form. I had become accustomed to using my free time during suspension as an opportunity to loaf. That no longer was to be. For the first time in my life I felt really alive— wonderfully, vitally alive. I read. I studied. I worked. I wrote two songs and several short stories. I haunted legitimate theaters to study the techniques of actors and actresses I admired. I spent evening after evening in movie houses, often seeing the same film twice so I could concentrate on its technical aspects.
“I worked harder than I ever had before, but I never felt tired. Where often in the past I had been filled with a depression and a deep weariness, now I was always alert and happy. I went back to work at the studio and threw myself into my first ‘Hawaiian Eye’ role with a dedication I had never known before. I studied and I worked. Believe me, it showed. That episode was the best I have ever done.”
Connie smiled self-consciously as she said. “You know. I started to say before that I had been a fraud, but that’s not true. Not true at all. Trying to be objective. I realize that no one is ever the same person from one year to the next. We all change. We grow. I think that’s what’s happened to me. I’ve grown up. I want different things now, different goals.
“The change that has taken place in me touches many different aspects of my life. I even feel differently about men. A short while ago I wanted nothing more than someone to love. Now I know that is not enough. I know myself better and I know what I need. I must have a man who is as successful as I, who is equal to me in courage, intelligence, glamour and spunk.” She paused, then declared strongly. “No, that’s wrong. He can’t be merely my equal. He must be more. I have lo know that the man I love will be just a tiny bit superior to me in every way. I must feel that be will literally be—and deserve to be—the head of our house.
“I no longer believe that a person knows only one true love in a lifetime. I did before, but now I realize that a first love may be a wrong love. The old Connie Stevens wouldn’t have minded if the man she cared for was a street cleaner. The new Connie Stevens must have a man who is a success. not for the money his success will bring but because of the qualities a person must possess in order to achieve success—strength, wisdom, intelligence.”
A giggle escaped Connie and shattered her serious mood. With the air of a small child uttering forbidden, shocking words she declared. “All this surprises you, doesn’t it? I don’t sound like the old me, do I? Well, you see. I’m not.
“Eve even changed my friends. Eve disassociated myself from many of the people who were constantly around me. I had gathered a group of hangers-on and I must shamefully admit that I had learned to accept them as part of my life.
“The realization hit me one day with a terrible shock that these people were encouraging me to become the type of person I had always despised. I knew I must cut myself free of them. I knew I just had to.
“I was out shopping that day. I wasn’t alone, of course. I never wanted to be alone. I was accompanied by my entourage. I had a large list of errands to do and as we drove up in front of the first store two of the people with me jumped out of the car and said, ‘Sit where you are, Connie. We’ll shop for you.’
“It was that way all day. Anticipating my every move, they ran ahead of me to get a clerk’s attention, to pick up packages, to save me a few steps whenever they could. Obligingly, they went wherever I wanted to go, constantly flattering me.
“In short, it was a day that was fairly common for the Connie Stevens of old, but suddenly I saw it all with a terrible, blinding clarity. I saw for the first time what I had actually become. I was accepting these people around me because I needed them to make me feel important! I wasn’t the only Hollywood performer to be so surrounded. but I couldn’t tolerate it any longer. These weren’t normal friendships I had developed. These people acted as my servants and I accepted it as my due.
“I stopped it. As abruptly as that. I couldn’t hurt them by completely severing our relationships, but I began to make myself less available to them until they were forced to make lives of their own.
“Now Eve found new friends, real friends who are equal to me and to whom I am an equal. No longer do I want people around merely to cater to me. I want friends who are independent and strong.”
Connie’s face was solemn, her words uttered with an intensity that seemed a part of this fascinating new personality. She leaned forward and said. “So that you’ll understand exactly how I feel, I’m going to tell you about this boy. I’m sorry I can’t mention his name. He is one of the most talented young men in Hollywood, but— though I didn’t realize it at the time—very lazy. As our closeness grew he leaned on me more and more until I became his strength and his drive. I would urge him on, encourage him to try. I became his Mother Confessor. Finally I knew that the end had to come. I realized that if I really cared for him I would cut him adrift and force him to make his own way.
“Do you know what has happened since we parted? He has become more successful than he ever was. He had always been terribly shy, but now that he does not have me be has been forced to come out of his shell and meet people. He no longer has my strength to use and has had to develop a strength of his own. Our parting was the best thing for us both.”
Unexpectedly Connie’s mood changed and she laughed lightheartedly as she veered to yet another facet of her new personality. “You have no idea how different Eve become,” she declared. “Why. do you know that I’m even planning on renting my own apartment? I really am. Eve decided the time has come when I should live alone. I needed people around me before. but I don’t any longer. For the first time in my life I feel I can find the things I want more easily if I am by myself.
“What do I want? Many things. I want to become a dedicated actress and a deeper person. I want friends. but only those who are independent. Eventually, I want marriage to a man I can respect and adore.” She flung her arms apart in a gesture that encompassed the whole world and cried, “Oh. I want so very much!”
Abruptly she jumped up, as lightly as a kitten bouncing to its feet. “Oh. I just remembered.” she exclaimed. “I haven’t shown you my latest love.”
She ran from the room and returned a moment later with a large leather pouch which she placed tenderly upon the table. “Look,” she whispered reverently as she pulled from the bag a magnificent assortment of jewels. She held a ring to the light and said, “Isn’t it beautiful? That’s a 30-carat sapphire and those are 40 diamonds that surround it.” She set it carefully down and picked up a bracelet, murmuring as she ran her fingers lovingly against the stones, “These are sapphires and these are diamonds.” Next she displayed a pair of earrings designed to look like delicate flowers with petals of rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds. Finally she drew from an inner pocket of the pouch a tiny golden watch, encrusted with diamonds. “Isn’t it gorgeous,” she sighed. She stared lovingly at the display before her and then murmured, as if the words would help convince her that all this splendor was actually hers, “Do you know these jewels are worth $38,000! I’ll be paying for them for years, but I don’t mind.”
I teased Connie by asking if her jewelry was part of the new, more sophisticated Connie Stevens. She tossed her head back dramatically, ran her fingers seductively through her hair and in a voice that sounded amazingly like Zsa Zsa Gabor said, “But of course, dollink. Vot else?”
Her imitation didn’t quite come off. She looked glamorous and alluring, but she couldn’t hide the impish sparkle that shone from her eyes. Connie has changed. She has become more mature and sophisticated. But she has not lost the youthful-charm, the little-girlish appeal, the charming innate sweetness that her fans have come to know and to love. As much as she might be different. there is one part of herself that remains the same. She still is basically and most definitely Connie Stevens. And for that, we can be glad.
Connie’s latest film is Warners’ “Palm Springs Week-End.” Watch her on ABC-TV’s “Hawaiian Eye,” Tues. at 8:30 EDT.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1963