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The Men In My Life—Piper Laurie

I don’t know why it is, but as soon as time takes a girl out of her teens and into her 20’s, people begin wondering why she doesn’t get married. I won’t be 21 until January, yet already people are looking at the naked third finger of my left hand and leering ever so slightly.

I wish they’d give me time. I want to get married some day, sure. When I was little I had plush daydreams about growing up and falling in love and walking down the aisle. But it isn’t quite that simple, I find. I have a supreme advantage in that I like men. I like them, as a tule, much better than women. I think they’re more interesting and that they play the game more fairly. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find somebody I like who also likes me. It’s usually been the case that when I set eyes on some tall and likely-looking male specimen, he either looked the other way or stepped on my foot and didn’t bother to apologize. I guess you could sum the whole thing up that way; either he couldn’t see me for dust, or if he could, he turned out to be the type that only a mother could love.

Not that I’m any prize haul myself. I have a temper to go with the color of my hair, and a lot of other faults which I won’t enumerate because there isn’t that much space. But when people want to know why I haven’t found The Man, I can give them a lot of reasons.

The first date I ever had was a crunchy example. I was 11 and so was he, and when I asked Mom if he could take me to a movie she said yes. We were awfully young, but there wasn’t any argument about it because our families were very friendly. He and I had gone to Sunday

School together ever since we were old enough to know the truth about Santa Claus. It was a real date all right; he called for me and even paid my admission into the theater, but we’d no sooner sat down than he wanted to hold my hand. I thought the whole idea pretty silly—just a year ago wed been breaking baseball bats over each other’s heads—and with all the dignity I could muster, removed both hands from his reach. He managed, however, to get a thumb out of the collection, and held on to it with a death grip for more than two hours.

So you might say that my first date turned out to be a wolf, junior edition, and this type, junior or senior, has pervaded my life for the past ten years. A wolf isn’t necessarily such a bad animal, but it’s just the way they go about it. My first date, for instance, couldn’t leave well enough alone. Two weeks later he invited me to a party, and when I got to his house I was immediately steered to a movie, where I paid my own way. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that it was his way of getting even with me.

The idea that I liked men came to me pretty early in life. I suppose I imagined myself as sort of a huntress, because in adolescence I regarded every new date as an addition to my trophy room. This trophy room was purely mental, except perhaps for the little book in which these unsuspecting males got themselves recorded. I guess I was about 14 when I bought it and painstakingly inscribed on the first page, “The Men In My Life.”

Half the “men” were under 16, and I ran out of pages by the time I reached high school. These were the days when I hadn’t yet entered the world of Hollywood, and my dates were almost always my classmates, who in general continued in the same pattern.

There was one I was madly in love with. I used to walk out of my way in order to pass his house on the way to school, and sometimes he joined me. My strategy was particularly necessary because between his house and the school there lived a girl who had also set her cap for him, and I figured a two-block start on her was an outflanking maneuver. After I’d almost given up trying to win his admiration he finally asked me for a date. What happened? He brought his dog along. “Where I go,” he said, “my dog goes.” This was all right with me—I love dogs—but before the evening was over, Rover had bitten me twice.

Willie was one I didn’t have to scheme for. He rode the same bus to junior high school, and he always stood up and gave me his seat and then carried my books for me. He was the perfect gentleman, but he was also fat as a squab and looked as though he might be my kid brother. He probably looks like Anthony Eden now, but then—well, a girl can’t get romantic about a tub of lard wrapped up in knickers.

Willie’s rival was a lanky, string-bean type of boy who followed me not only around school, but also in my neighborhood, which was far from his home. He never spoke to me, just followed in patient adoration. I felt awfully sorry for him, and one day stopped in my tracks and turned to face him. “Is there something I can do for you?” I said. He turned scarlet and swallowed until his Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down like a yo-yo. “Why don’t you come over to my house on Sunday afternoon?” I said. “We could play some records.” He stammered an acceptance, and on Sunday showed up in a starched collar, his new suit and a pair of bright orange shoes that squeaked dismally when he walked. He didn’t walk much; just sat in a straight, high-backed chair, and Mother and I spent two hours trying to draw some conversation out of him and make him feel at ease. It didn’t work; it was as though I had petrified him.

He was the only male on whom I had such a drastic effect. Most of my dates in Hollywood have taken me out a few times and then either joined the Army or married another girl. It’s been more than three years now since I began working in pictures, and still my big moment hasn’t shown his face. The selection of men in Hollywood is different only in that they are generally better looking and they drive flashier cars. But underneath, they are quite the same and present the same problem—that of meeting someone you like who returns the compliment.

I’ve gone out with a lot of men who aren’t actors, but among the ones you’d know are Roddy McDowall, Tony Curtis, Vic Damone, Nicky Hilton, Ronnie Reagan, Dick Long, Scott Brady, Dick Anderson, an actor at MGM, and Jerry Paris, a New York actor. There’s been Dick Contino and Jerome Courtland and Rock Hudson and Leonard Goldstein, the producer.

The Army took away Dick Long, who’s now in Japan, and also Dick Contino and Vic Damone, who’s just recently been released. Marriage took Jerome Courtland, Tony Curtis, and Ronnie Reagan. Scott and Rock are both wonderful men and fun to be with, but my dates with them have been mostly on suggestion from the publicity department, at premieres and so forth. Their interests lie elsewhere and there’s been no thought of romance.

I still date Dick Anderson and Leonard Goldstein, and since the latter left Universal-International, my studio, I feel a lot easier about dating him because it used to be that every time I got a good role people thought it was because of his influence at the studio. Now when I make any progress there’s no longer suspicion.

Some actors have a habit of talking shop from the time they call for a girl until they deliver her on her doorstep, and while I’m interested in the industry and its careers, I’d like a change of subject once in a while. Then there’s Bill Thomas, a designer at the studio, and while Bill refrains quite admirably from his brand of shop talk, which is clothes, I can’t help but get the feeling that he’s sizing up and criticizing my clothes.

I won’t deny that when I meet a man for the first time I size him up almost unconsciously as potential husband material. I think it’s just instinct in every girl, and any female who claims to be above such thoughts is a first-rate fudger. Anyway I start summing them up, and then almost invariably there comes a hitch.

I recently met a man with a very forceful personality and right away I thought, “Here’s somebody who’s a real man and not a mouse!” Well, I went out with him about, three times, and each time was like the last. He spent the evening making definite statements and then pounding on the table to emphasize the point that he was right, even if he was trying to prove that grass is really pink. You know the type—“I think this is the way it should be, and therefore this is the way it is.”

Then I know a man who’s the home-loving type. Every woman likes this kind of man, including my mother, who is always charmed by any man who tends to stay by the hearth. She’s entitled to her own opinion, but I know that if I ever married this man, he would be choosing the wallpaper and arranging the furniture without even consulting me. And when I get married I like to think I’ll be able to arrange the flowers and buy the face towels without any coaching.

Three years ago I went out with a man who was most attractive and a gentleman in very way. But he used to add up every dinner bill presented to him and usually argued with the waiter. He would figure the tip percentage down to the last nickel, and once he gave the boy at the Mocambo parking lot a quarter and asked for change. It would have been forgivable had he been-on his financial uppers, but he was far from it. Now I don’t approve of throwing money around carelessly, but I am embarrassed by unnecessary stinginess.

Not too long ago I was asked for a date by a man who had received a great deal of publicity around town. Through the grapevine I had heard about certain of his faults, but then he had his reputed good points, too, so I went out with him. It was the dullest evening I have ever spent. He had two subjects of conversation; (a) how much money he had and (b) the kind of drinks he liked. The rest of the chatter was devoted to a strange brand of small talk which was even less than unimportant. We were with a group of his friends, and when I turned to them for something interesting it developed that they talked like he did. The only way I can describe it—well, they just uttered strange and senseless noises, that’s all. Nothing made any sense, and although much of it might have had to do with their own private jokes, I was left out of it as though I’d been on the other side of a six-foot wall. I didn’t know whether to chalk it up to rudeness or stupidity or both, but needless to say I didn’t go out with him again.

Sometimes girls dream they’ll bump into Mr. Right when they round a corner some day, or that a blind date will develop into the big romance. Me, I’d rather know who I’m going out with before I accept an invitation. A girl in movies gets a lot of unsolicited attention from men she has never met. They see her on the screen, and if they happen to know someone who knows her personally they get her address or phone number, even if they live in Abercrombie, Alaska. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to turn them down, particularly when mutual friends are involved, but if a girl does accept she almost always finds the same type: Wolf. For months I received long-distance phone calls from a man, then when he came to Hollywood on business and phoned again, I told him I was too busy to see him. But then when he learned I was scheduled to appear in his city during a tour, he grew even more persistent. To put an end to it, I made a date with him. “Call for me at my hotel,” I told him, and could almost hear him drooling over the phone. When he arrived in the lobby I was waiting for him, surrounded by five of my friends, who proceeded to spend the evening with us. His perpetual expression was of a man who has just been stabbed.

I think there used to be an advertisement by a garter company which claimed that a woman wouldn’t marry a man whose socks wrinkled around his ankles. On the face of it that’s a pretty silly objection, but then a man who isn’t. well groomed in one respect is apt to be sloppy in others as well. I notice immediately whether a man’s shoes are shined, his suit pressed and his shirt clean. I don’t mean to be fussy about details, but I figure if I spend a good hour grooming myself for him, he can do as much for me.

As I said before, I’m not perfect, and I guess I’m certainly incomprehensible when it comes to the things I like about a man. I do a complete switch when it comes to promptness, because I’m never on time myself. I appreciate that a man on time for an appointment is showing consideration for the other fellow, but me, I’d rather a man be a little late. I suppose my obsession is a hangover from one man I used to date who was as correct as a Swiss-made watch. If he was to call for me at seven, the doorbell used to ring just as the radio announcer was ringing his chimes. And of course, at that point, I was barely out of the tub. That’s why I liked dating in Mexico. They get so sunstruck down there that life moves slowly, and it’s the only time in my life I’ve been ready for an escort, who invariably arrived at least an hour late.

I like men who are honest, even honest to a fault. I’d rather a man tell me my new hat is a horror, if he thinks so, than lie to be polite about it. Several times I’ve dated a Hollywood actor who’s a very amusing guy—a character, I suppose—but he comes right out with his opinions and sometimes offends people because of his frankness. I’ve never been offended, simply because I like his sincerity.

Sense of humor is one of the first things I notice about a man, and it has to be pretty weird to match my own. I suppose I shouldn’t admit it, but I’m always the first to laugh when somebody falls down. It’s a corny kind of humor but I can’t help it, and unless people hurt themselves, I’m likely to go into hysterics. I like men who can take a joke on themselves, and I remember one swain who went down a few notches in my estimation when I found that he couldn’t. He had brought me home after a lovely evening and was walking down our front steps toward his car when he stumbled. He kept trying to get his footing which resulted in his almost spinning down the walk and then going flat on his face. My girlish laughter could be heard all the way out in Brentwood, but he didn’t think it was at all amusing.

Another thing that regulates my degree of admiration is the way a man reacts to animals. I don’t expect him to get down on the floor and have a wrestling match with my dogs, but I do like to see him pay some attention. I recall the first time I went out with one man—we spent about 15 minutes in the living room before we left the house, and although my dogs were sitting quietly in front of him, begging politely for attention, he didn’t so much as look at them.

Manners make a big difference, too. Of course, now it isn’t like the old days, when a date often would sit outside the house and honk the horn when he arrived. (I just let him sit there and honk until he finally gave up and had to come to the front door.) I go out with older men now, men who are established in life and mannerly as a matter of course. I don’t mind somebody using the wrong fork—I probably do that myself sometimes—but I do dislike rudeness to others.

In my early teens I used to “grade” the men entered in my little book, and it’s fun to look through it now and see why I liked a boy or why I disliked him. It’s surprising, too, how closely I still hew to the same ideas and ideals, even though I’m older and more sure of what I like and want. I remember the first boy who asked if he could kiss me. I was in junior high school, and I was so confused I thought I’d die on the spot. I finally managed to say I thought we were both too young, an astute observation if ever there was one. These days I’m a lot more sure of myself, sure of handling difficult situations and sure of what I want in a husband. Maybe I’m asking for the perfect man, and maybe I’ll end up with somebody who squeezes nickels, beats dogs, lies like Paul Bunyan, and never smiles.

But then I’m a woman and have my prerogative and I can change my mind about all these ideas, and think he’s the perfect man.



(Piper Laurie will soon be seen in Universal-International’s Mississippi Gambler.)



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